Yesterday, I had the pleasure of riding three of my mounts in a clinic with Linda Heiny. It was at Centerline Stables in Greencastle, IN. The facility was beautiful and boasts a 20m x 60m indoor arena with heated viewing area and bathroom. The footing was lovely and the arena was full of natural lighting. It is an ideal place for a dressage clinic and those who board there are indeed lucky!
The clinic itself was also fabulous. I started by riding Magic who is one of my training rides. He has a lot of the stiffness issues similar to Jewel. I keep some lateral flexion in order to help him stay soft. He’s pretty much a 2×4. He also can’t be allowed to hang on me anywhere. I must constantly soften him and help him to yield his jaw and poll. Part of what I learned is that I must be very conscious of the outside rein and not lifting it or bringing it across the wither. It was a very revealing lesson for me and what I need to do to help support him. The key though will to not allow him to hang on me or ignore my aids all the while, I must not be reactionary. He reacts to things versus thinking about them.
The second ride was on Jewel. This lesson was amazing! Jewel has a very hard time loosening her back. Linda helped me to see what I was doing to block her hind legs from really coming forward so that she could stretch down and track up behind. My big issue is blocking that forward motion of the outside hind with my outside rein. I have a much better understanding now of what I need to do to allow her to take longer strides with the hind legs. By half way through the lesson, Jewel had really loosened her back and was swinging over her topline. It was really cool!
One of the biggest challenges I have with Jewel is shifting the weight back onto her haunches and getting her to sit. Linda gave me an exercise to work on that will help her learn to lift and sit. Here is the outline of the exercise done at a trot:
– make a 20m circle at one end of the arena to soften the horse
– with the horse soft, come across the diagonal
– about 2 strides in, change bend and go into shoulder-in (while still traveling on the diagonal)
– from shoulder in, move into haunches in
– in haunches in, do a 1/4 turn on the haunches
– continue straight and then change bend
So for example, to start, 20m circle to the left. When the horse is soft, come across the diagonal. Straighten and change bend to the right. Shoulder in to the right. Haunches in to the right and 1/4 turn on the haunches to the right. Continue straight ahead and change the bend to the left. When done correctly, the horse shifts its weight onto the haunches, sits and raises the forehand during the pirouette (1/4 turn). Jewel’s challenge has always been to sit. This exercise really helped her figure out how to sit. Linda said that she could see her sit and lift her wither a couple inches when doing the pirouettes. This is huge for her (Jewel). I’m excited about having a tool to really help her shift her weight.
My final ride was on Roman. He came out and I told Linda that I loved this little horse. She kind of gave me this look like she just didn’t understand. As always, Roman’s appearance is deceiving. For starters, he looks like a QH. He has a giant butt, short legs and his neck is set on low. He just simply looks like he’s going to have a short strided gait. However, once he gets moving, how he looks just standing there is completely forgotten.
Regarding his movement, Roman has the most amazing natural self carriage, “uberstreichen” and “schwung” of any horse I have ever ridden — including warmbloods. He doesn’t look like he should carry himself the way he does, but he does! Unlike the other horses which needed to be ridden with some lateral flexion in order to create longitudinal flexion, Roman didn’t need interference. As Linda put it, for whatever reason, he was like a young warmblood just starting off under saddle. He has tremendous natural impulsion and just needs to be ridden straight and forward. In fact, all she had me do is ride him straight forward and comb the reins. He automatically sought out the bit and stretched down. I rode him on the buckle with is head down nearly to the ground. And although his head and neck were stretched all the way down, he was not on the forehand. He was overstriding behind by 6-8 inches. The swing and impulsion were incredible and he just floated around the arena. Linda, I and the others there watching were in amazement. It was the most amazing feeling — and so unexpected. I knew he was a good mover, but this lesson was truly an amazing ride. I can say without questions that Roman is the most talented dressage horse that I have ever ridden.
AT the conclusion of the lesson, Linda was all smiles. She was just as thrilled as I was with his natural talent. One of the things that she said that stuck with me was “if he is like this now while still with racing muscle and very little self carriage muscle…imagine what he will be like when he actually has the correct muscle! There is no limit to his ability. He is truly a diamond in the rough.” I must admit that I am quite fond of Roman. While I adored JC, I just love Roman to pieces. He is an extremely talented little horse.
On a side note, Roman showed some of his true character as well. Centerline has very large mirrors. I have mirrors at home, but they’re set up a little higher. I don’t think he can see himself in them. Every time we went past the mirrors yesterday, Roman looked at himself. He was quite smitten with himself and it was very funny. He had to turn his head and look at himself each time we rode past. It gave us all a good chuckle.
And so I am home resting today and giving all of the ponies the day off. Aside from being tired, its really chilly out. However, I’m excited to implement the tools that I learned in my lessons throughout the coming rides. Linda will be back on March 21 at Centerline and I hope to be able to ride all three with her again at that time.