Rider Position Clinic Recap

Two weekends ago, I participated in a rider position clinic that the trainer was hosting. It was a casual atmosphere with a small group of avid learners, and started out with a lecture on what good rider position looked like, before doing a short yoga class, and onto rider demos.

Much of what we discussed was the proper alignment of the body, from head to toe. The visual that was used over and over was of the pelvis as a bucket, and that in a correct position, the bucket is neither tipped forward or backward. Because of my own conformation, I tip my bucket forward and have a very hard time getting the darn thing to sit straight. But more on that later.

Bucket visual

Our yoga class was fairly challenging, and the teacher emphasized places that equestrians (and in particular, women equestrians) could improve. It’s been years since I last did a yoga class, and definitely found myself much shakier than I was back then.

Turns out this is pretty hard. And thank goodness no one photographed us trying it

Having a strong core was absolutely essential for most of the yoga poses, and as it turns out, was pretty darn necessary once I got on Jack. The lesson started with just getting Jack to calm down- he doesn’t tend to have the best downward transitions on the lunge line (a work in progress), and took several minutes of showing off his fancy prancing before I hopped on. After just a minute or so my stirrups were taken away, my reins tied to the bucking strap, and away we went.

Much of what was discussed I was aware of- my issues getting the long flat part of my thighs on the horse and my lower hollow back. The first the instructor worked to resolve with what she called ‘frog kicks’. These entailed taking my whole leg off the saddle, kicking outwards and back with each leg, then putting it on the horse and allowing my leg to be dragged along the saddle until it was underneath me again. I can’t tell you how many of these frog kicks we did during my ride- but my outer thighs in particular were fairly upset with me as a result.

Yup, pretty much like that.

For the lower back issues, we tried all sorts of things. What you see in the video is mostly related to that. In order to get me to engage my core, she asked me to put my arm out in various positions. Her challenge to me was to not allow any bend in my arm, and not to let my arm bounce. She also used a mental image that my trainer often uses, which is windmilling the arms slowing backwards, thinking about scooping water forward at the bottom. As you imagine the ‘scooping’, you also allow your pelvis to scoop forward, which in turn engages the lower core muscles and helps fill the void in my lower back.

One thing that was also called out in the lesson, though we didn’t focus on it much, was how I tend to tilt my head without realizing it. This (but more often paired with my shoulders) has also haunted my jumping lessons of late, and was helpful to hear within the rider position context where I could really focus on my overall alignment.

Overall, this was a great way to get off property and focus on me for a change, instead of Jack. Although I will say that one of my biggest take-aways from the day is just a feeling a pride for Jack’s behavior and how well he handled what can be a spooky place. Despite my not being able to walk in a normal fashion for a few days, I would absolutely do one of these again, and hope that lunge lessons can be incorporated into our routine more often.

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 2 Recap Continued

When we left off yesterday, we had just gone up and down banks, and Jack was having plenty of green moments throughout the day. Well sadly, those green moments only increased from there.

Our next exercise was over ditches. Oh lordy. Jack and I had yet to do a ditch together, and I suspect that the last time he did a ditch was last winter. We warmed up over a tiny (like, green-as-grass) “ditch” and then moved on to the only other ditch on the property- a max-Novice (maybe even Training) ditch.

Boyd schooled us through the introduction first- coming at it with more steam than necessary to just get them over it, and then slow things down on each subsequent approach. We were to have long reins, with our hands essentially in our lap in order to have our crop at a place that we could tap the horse on the ribs if need be. Again, not only am I bad at the whole long reins thing, but I also could not reach Jack’s ribs with my pony bat. After explaining to Boyd that A) I had fat thighs (yes I said this) and B) I had a short bat so C) that wasn’t working for us and D) oh yeah, and I have no idea what this horse is like with ditches, he then made me trade with another for a crop that could actually reach and sent us on our way. Below is the result of that.

And yup, I nearly ran Boyd over. Multiple times. But we finally got over it, and Jack Jack got lots of pats for being a brave ponykins. You can see that we got over it a couple more times, and then we had to move on to the next thing. We have a schooling planned for a different venue in a couple weeks that has different levels of ditches, and this is definitely one of the goals for that session. Get ready for moar ditches, Jack!

At that point, I won’t lie, I was a little brain dead. But we kept rolling, and next on the agenda was the bowl. We were told to keep an up hill, showjumping canter through the base of the bowl, and once we got to the sharp hill (with a small fence at the top), we were to accelerate and not pick to any kind of spot. Then the task was to roll back to a small log going back down the hill, and then reverse the order. Welp, you can see how that went for us.

I should have fought for it more, in truth. He tried spooking at the hanging log on the way back down as well, but I got him over it the first time. Pony- stop being such a spaz!

We wrapped up the day at the water complex. Going through at trot to get their toes wet, and then trotting up and out up a bank to a small log, which happily rode really well for the golden boy. Doing that in reverse… well, not so good. Again we got in a pickle of there not being a baby-version of the drop into water to work with, and despite trying a leader and lots of encouragement, Boyd suggested I come back and school that another time. We finished by cantering through in order to end on a good note.

Overall I found Boyd to be a very positive instructor, whose knowledge and experience really shine in showing how to approach different fences based on the type of horse you are riding. He definitely showed us where there are holes in our training, particularly on cross country, and I now have a plan on how to fill those holes and prepare for competition settings. Thanks to all the folks who came out to audit and take the video/media you see on the blog this week, and thanks to Boyd for kicking our butts and still giving us hope!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 2 Recap

Day 2 of the Boyd Clinic was cross country- which I admit is probably my weakest phase. Probably because my education in the 3 phases is balanced like this:

And even that may be generous for XC

So I was a bit nervous going into XC with Boyd. My goal was to do my best, given that I had schooled Jack XC exactly 3 times, and try not to run over Boyd Martin.

We started out looking at our galloping position, with Boyd describing how on cross country it’s better to keep a longer rein throughout the course rather than be constantly adjusting, and how to plant our hands at our horses withers so that we had 4 points of balance (2 hands, 2 legs) while galloping along. I will be the first to say I am bad at this, and throughout these videos you’ll hear Boyd yell at me to lengthen my reins.

We then moved on to some small fences. Jack decided XC day would be the day to bring out his spook, and we had quite a few of them- at jumps, shadows, even different colored grass. Granted we had never jumped the tires before, but it was a little annoying to be that person after feeling so good the day before. But that’s why we train, and it was all a learning opportunity!

After that we strung together even more fences, practicing our gallop between the log and the coop. He’s subtle about it, but Jack continued to be a bit of a looker through this and the rest of the day as well. After thinking about stopping to the final fence (which looks so much smaller in the video than in person!), I asked to come again. Like I said yesterday, Boyd doesn’t seem to mind if a pair isn’t picture perfect- the goal is more about being effective, fair, and getting the job done. But he allowed me to do the last two fences again and suggested trying to take out a stride between the two. I got corrected on how I “perch” a little forward in my gallop position, and I need to sit up and shoulder back on XC. I think I improved on this throughout the day, and a lot of it I’m sure is being weak in my core and legs- lots to work on!

Banks came next, and he had us focus on getting a deep spot to the up-bank out of stride, and anchoring our hands up the horse’s neck, almost getting ahead of the motion for this one type of fence. Then Boyd talked us through 2 approaches to going down a drop. One being leaning forward slightly and going with the horse down the drop, and the second, which we practiced, was leaning back, with long reins and getting behind the motion of the horse.

I’ll save the rest of XC day for tomorrow’s post, which will include the infamous ditch video you may have seen on instagram, and describe in detail how I almost did fail my goal of not running over an Olympian. Until then!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 1 Recap

If you want to burn off Thanksgiving dinner in a hurry- don’t do what I did (which is A) drink too much wine and B) do a clinic two days later). Do something… more relaxing.

I don’t know what’s going on here but it looks easier.

Boyd started out by discussing the various lengths of stirrup, and so we lengthened our stirrup to a flatwork length and warmed up with an emphasis on dressage- compressing and lengthening, getting the horse soft through the neck, etc. Jack started out fairly tight because of the number of horses and spectators, but finally settled once he understood the job.

We then moved on to building through a gymnastic line. We trotted a circle to get the horse round and soft (something Jack struggled with after standing) and then approaching the line- 1 stride to a 2 stride to a 2 stride. Jack’s stride is really big, and he definitely had a hard time compressing to meet the first two stride question. Each time the emphasis was on keeping the horse straight and landing and cantering in the opposite direction of our approach. We haven’t done so many combinations yet, and at one point in time Jack spooked coming into the sea of rails. But overall he jumped well and Boyd was very complimentary of his abilities.

We next went to doing a figure 8 over the crossed gates you can see in the background of the above video. Boyd cautioned us not to use our torso to get the horse to land on the correct lead. Instead, we needed to keep our upper body straight and not jump ahead, and focus on just using our head and an opening rein to guide the horse. Even though it was a figure 8, he also placed guide rails on the backside of the fence so that we would stay straight for 2 strides after the jump- avoiding the temptation to keep turning in the air instead of giving a straighter approach/away.

From there we started stringing fences together. First with bending lines incorporating the liverpool and big oxer in the corner, and quickly adding on other elements that tested our balance and getting the correct lead.

Since the line, which most horses got in 6 strides, was riding in a forward 5 for Jack, Boyd had me ride very quietly into it and wanted my to end on 6 strides for the day. So we finished by having all the riders go around the outside of the track, and I was challenged to keep Jack steady. Again our greenness with combinations showed through the treble, which was a tight one to a two stride, and we finished by adding on a bending line to another oxer at the end.

Overall, I learned a lot about my horse- that he’s a good jumper, but we have work to do in regards to teaching him that he now has a 3rd gear he can use- and that’s a quieter step that’s still active and balanced. My leg still needs to get tighter, and I learned that I need to not obsess over getting the perfect ride every time. Boyd was positive and encouraging, but definitely rewarded a gritty ride that got the job done. We wrapped up with a drink and some chili and Jack went home for some well deserved mash and a little rest before day 2!

Clinic Recap: USDF Instructor Workshop

Screenshots until I compile all the video

Saturday TC and I participated in a different kind of clinic as demo riders. The ‘clinic’ was actually an instructor workshop, as a learning opportunity for instructors working towards their USDF certification at that level. The format then, was a little different. I rode, and received feedback from the participant, who then received feedback from the clinician on her lesson plan, how she gave me direction, etc. Basically it ended up being a free lesson for us and an excellent chance to get us off-property in a relaxed (though effing cold and blustery) atmosphere. Win-win!

Once TC realized the horses in the giant outdoor mirrors weren’t going to eat him, he quickly relaxed into the work. Overall the crowd, clinician, and his owner (plus myself) were all thrilled with him and highly complimentary- everyone wanted to sneak him onto their trailers and take him home. Not bad for a barrel-racing bred paint pony. And I admit, I’m a little proud of him- the way his body has changed in the last couple months has been pretty impressive.

For me, I felt like they were less impressed. I had to engage my thick-skin mode and soak it up as a learning opportunity, since in order to educate the participant’s eye, all of my flaws were described in detail. The highlights include:

  • I sit left. Very left, all the time. How does this help the horse, who also is heavy on the left? None. It helps none.
  • I ride like a chicken- I need to keep my elbows close by my side
  • I collapse my right side
  • I balance myself on my stirrups
  • I brace my legs into downward transitions
  • I hollow my lower back
  • I lift my shoulders and get tense in my upper body
  • I need to open my hip flexors and get my legs back

In order to fix a couple of my offending traits, a few things were proposed:

  • Take my stirrups away – it’s hard to be crooked/lean without stirrups
  • Do lunge lessons
  • Get stronger in my core
  • Teach me the breathe
  • Get that sweet pony a different rider (just kidding)

I also left with some exercises to set us up for success- and mostly this was focused around working on getting that left shoulder lighter (which of course would help if I didn’t constantly try to grind it into the dirt with my weight). We need to work on turns-on-the-forehand, since his lack of education around this was a low point in our lesson. We can also do a tear-drop type exercise to pick up the left lead canter while he’s in my outside (right) rein. Similarly, leg yielding in and out by closing my outside leg and encouraging him again to weight the outside rein.

Overall, I came away with some new opinions about myself as a rider, but feel determined to improve from the experience. I learned what TC is like in a new environment, and am so pleased that he stepped up to the plate. It gives me confidence that more outings are definitely going to be in our future!

Two Years


A friend sent me this over the weekend. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Foster and I’s last outing, a clinic where we aimed to get around our first Training level showjumping course.


While it wasn’t without its blips, I’m still pretty effing proud of having at least done this with Fosterpants, despite nearly peeing my pants in the process. (Two one-stride combinations, max height/width fences, and a horse without a motor- I shudder to think of it still!)


This was also the one of the few clinics I did with Foster, and I think I learned more from it than any other clinic I’ve done before- those lessons still stick with me today.

Because this makes me happy, I will reuse it for eternity

Because this makes me happy, I will reuse it for eternity

Part of me is also a little sad that the only “competition” I’ve done between now and then is the little GaG CT I did with Smitty back in October. Of course when it comes to horses there is no such thing as plans written in ink, but somehow I imagined having done just a bit more over the last 24 months. How on earth have I kept this blog going otherwise?


Still, one day I hope to get back there, jumping all the things, even if I have to convince myself not to be a total weenie in the process.

clinic canter

It’s all about the journey, right?

A time when I had bigger balls. Kind of. Actually I remember being terrified walking that course.

Phillip Dutton Clinic Recap

So, I’m a little late on this, but between the AEC’s, and first outings with the baby pony, it’s been a busy time.

Earlier last month, my friend A participated in a clinic with Phillip Dutton. The clinic was broken into a showjumping day, and a cross country day, and so I chose to come audit the showjumping and see what wisdom the man himself would impart. First impressions confirmed that Phillip is a relatively soft spoken individual, but I was surprised to see him really get after riders, no matter age or experience, if they weren’t getting it done. During breaks he very kindly acquiesced to answering all of our questions and recalling his time in Rio just a week before.


As for the clinic, I watched levels from Beginner Novice up through Preliminary, and each set did basically the same exercise with subtle variations for height involved.

The Warmup
After reviewing their challenged and making introductions with P Dutty, each set of riders had an identical warmup. Trotting on a large (30 meterish) circle, alternating between really collecting and lengthening the gait, following by leg yields on/off the centerline. Then they would canter and again collect and lengthen, getting up in two-point position while lengthening and going for a bit of a hand gallop.


The Exercises
All groups but the prelim group then hopped over a little cross rail a couple times, cantering away on landing. Then the fence was raised to a vertical and the work began. The main exercise revolved around a 3 fence combination featuring a straight line to a bending line. Phillip demanded a thinking rider, and asked the participants to put in 5 strides between each fence, and come back and do the same in 4 strides. The bending line caused riders the most problems, and he advised to use your line as well as the pace to set the horse up for the correct number of strides between fences. He also was adamant that the rider not make corrections right before the fence, but that they prepare and stick to a plan and be quick on their feet mentally.

After each group successfully did the entire line, they then had the work on adjustability within the line, doing 4 strides to a 5 stride line, and then the reverse. Again, planning your line and having a rideable horse made a huge difference in how successful each pair was.

Eventually Phillip added in the small corner you can see in the arena, creating a bending line, to a straight line, to a bending line again. Again, each rider was made to vary the number of strides they fit between each element, now with the addition of a skinny fence for accuracy. At that point, the horses were extremely adjustable and most handled it without a fuss.

The Wrap Up
To finish off the day, each pair was asked to try their forward, coming stride through a one-stride combination. The fences were set at a solid height, often at the level above what each rider was competing at. The riders I spoke to were pumped with this accomplishment, and you can see how it would apply to the next day, which was cross country.

Final Thoughts
Overall, it was obvious that Phillip is a seasoned pro, as any mishaps were waved off and no matter the size, age, or level of the riders, they were made to come again and do it right. Sometimes this required multiple attempts, but Phillip would press and demand accuracy of each pair. What surprised me the most was that his expectations did not decrease for the lower levels, and riders who had learned to gallop just the week before were nonetheless asked to make the forward pace happen between fences. Based on his amazing save on the Rio cross country course, I would propose that his demands of the participants are nothing compared to what he demands of himself. Each student was pushed slightly outside of their comfort zone and as a result, grew as a combination throughout the day.

P dutton

Bobby Costello XC Clinic Recap

It’s no secret that I’m a fangirl of Bobby- if you’ve met him, you’d know why. The guy knows his stuff, is funny as all get out, and somehow inserts both serious knowledge drops and biting humor into every lesson. Or in this case, clinic.

So when my friend Ali decided to participate in a January clinic in Southern Pines, I was immediately on board as groom. I was stoked to pick up new tidbits and more than happy to return the favor of videoing, since Ali filmed my lesson with Bobby last summer.

Any memories of a warm summer day when we had last been there quickly were replaced but what could, by North Carolina terms, be called the blizzard that started as soon as we rolled up. The snow was coming down at a hellish pace, but when we saw the first group of riders hacking to the cross country field, we started up our toe warmers (and donned every layer of clothing on hand) and prayed for the best.

Spectator selfie- trying to stay warm!

Spectator selfie- trying to stay warm! PC: A

Thanks to the elements, it was occasionally hard to hear everything being said, but here are three key takeaways from the day.

First – shoulders over hips- do NOT get ahead of the motion.
In cross country, where terrain is often part of the question, it’s important to sit back and allow the horse the balance to do his job. Also, the adoption of a more defensive position can make for a safer ride and being with or slightly behind the motion can channel a nervous horse more easily. I loved the visual of “shoulders over hips” as you can immediately see it in other riders as well as use it as an alignment cue for yourself in the saddle.

Break down the elements.
With every group, whether Beginner Novice or Prelim, he started combinations or exercises with the most simple approach, and then added elements from there. Each session started with working on the gallop position, and then over a small vertical, before moving onto the day’s work. For the bowl combination, first riders went through just the bowl, followed by adding in a small vertical, and then putting together the vertical, bowl, and hanging log to finish off. Bobby was great for instilling confidence in both horse and rider by taking this approach to combinations.

Push outside the comfort zone.
You don’t learn anything new by not trying anything new. Bobby asked each pair about any weaknesses or sticking points. And if a rider said their horse was ditchy, that didn’t mean they avoided ditches. It just meant that they got a little bit more vocal support as they worked on it, or for each group there was an advanced rider that they could follow on the heels of to get through the exercise (an awesome feature!). Watching each rider overcome their cross country demons made for a fun day where each horse and rider combination walked away better than they came.

Following the clinic we found the one place open in Southern Pines for Sunday lunch and swapped stories as we thawed and congratulated Ali on her first proper outing since “retiring” Baron two years ago. Looking forward to tagging along with her for her private lesson with BC next month!

Tami Batts Clinic Recap

Saturday I spent the day about an hour away, where USDF gold medalist and “S” judge Tami Batts was giving a dressage clinic at her own Fellowship Farm. I won’t lie, one of my primary reasons for making the trip was to spend the day with an old friend and meet her new Trakehner mare, Rea. Besides investing in my dressage education, the clinic also gave me the opportunity to try out my “fixed” camera- which was wonderful and means that I finally have new [dressage] media!


Unlike the Janet Foy/Chris Hicky clinic I audited a few months prior, Tami spent somewhat less time on theory and put more emphasis on each horse and rider combination’s effectiveness of training. She would also check in with the audience every so often to discuss how we thought the pair would score in an actual test, either for that movement or in the Collective scores, and then work with the pair on how to improve those scores, which was really insightful for those of us watching it happen.

Rea and N in action

Rea and N in action

From each session, I gleaned bits of knowledge that I thought could be applied to most horses, or that specifically could help my own horse. Sometimes this involved the rider’s position or approach:

  • For the canter to trot downward transition (and I quote): Put your crotch in the saddle and sit up!
  • In the half-pass, the inside leg is the smart leg- it keeps the horse bent and keeps the ribcage lifted
I developed a girl crush on this mare

I developed a girl crush on this mare

Or how to warm up a horse:

  • Think of the warmup like lunging, just getting the trot out
  • Get the horse moving forward until all the steps have push/engagement/bounce from behind


Sometimes it involved telling when a horse needed correcting or was likely to struggle:

  • Ear tilting can indicated a dropped ribcage on that side
  • A horse that travels faster in one direction is probably falling-in in that direction
  • Confirmationally speaking, a horse with a dip in front of her shoulders can be harder to connect from neck to shoulder


But most of all the feedback centered on how or when to ride certain movements:

  • Use haunches-in to help you bend
  • Use both leg aids together once quickly to prepare the horse for walk-canter
  • When you feel the horse brace you need to relax for a moment
  • For the half-pass, if the haunches tend to lead, try riding 3 shoulder-in steps, followed by 2 strides of half-pass


With each session, the horse and rider pair improved remarkably. Tami as a clinician and instructor was very positive with her feedback, but kept her expectations high, which left each rider feeling confident and having accomplished something by the end of their ride. It was a great day spent with a great friend, and a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow dressage addicts as well!

There goes my money

If you didn’t catch it in yesterday’s post, I have been considering a clinic as part of our summer of training. And not just a little clinic- a 3 day clinic, dressage, showjumping, and cross country, with the head of the Canadian Olympic Eventing Team- Clayton Fredericks.

This being officially the biggest (read: most expensive) thing I have done with Foster since our recognized show last year. No big deal. (Read: It’s a big freaking deal!)

So of course I went youtube stalking on his previous clinics to see what to expect. What was immediately obvious is that the man loves him some canter poles. You know who doesn’t like canter poles? Foster. So, that’s one item we will be working on between now and the end of July. We started out with 5 on the ground (which I thought was soft versus Clayton’s 8), and took a few attempts to get through without leaping and flailing.

I also set up the ‘box’ angled fences as seen in his clinic report on Eventing Nation.

Credit: Eventing Nation

Credit: Eventing Nation

In reality, I probably set the placement poles a little close to the 2′ vertical, but Foster went through in both directions without fuss.

Since the theme of the day was apparently footwork and technicality, I also took him through the thread-the-needle exercise as seen on Evention:

Although instead of 4 verticals set one stride apart, I used 3 set 2 strides apart. Obviously this was too easy for Foster, and he went through it with nary a waver. Next time they’ll be one strides, buddy.

Take-away from our little jump school? Skinnies- no problem. Angled fences- no problem. But canter poles? Well, we’ve got work to do.

No problem- almost 2 months to prepare!