10 June 2011 – 12 June 2011 Geoff Clinic

June 17, 2011

A good friend and colleague of mine, Geoff Butler of Unique Sporthorses (http://uniquesporthorses.com) was kind enough to fly over from Holland last weekend so HorseGirlTV (http://horsegirltv.com) could host a clinic with him. I’ve known Geoff since 2007 and spent a great deal of time talking theory, sport horses and the future of dressage extensively when I was over in Holland training in 2009 and the last several years in general thanks to Skype and email! When you find someone that clicks with the same ideas you have, I say, you stick with them and Geoff offers a great eye, kind personality towards both human and horse and is generally a joy to be around.

In this clinic, I rode my 2005 Sir Donnerhall gelding, Hansel which I imported from Holland as a 5 year old who, at that time, had been backed only 5 times. Yes, we started from scratch and I’ve learned so very much from him this past year about myself, my riding and how to be more sensitive. When Hansel arrived from Holland, he stood approximately 16h. (Below is the first time I backed Hansel after he arrived stateside! Look how tiny!)

In the last year he sprinted upward to now touches a good 17h and subsequently the training this last year has been touch and go around his development from a compact horse to a gangly looking teenager to a more mature horse who’s body has finally grown into his legs and is starting to fill out and develop beautiful muscling.

In this clinic with Geoff we started to hone in on the basics. We worked on tempo control and not slowing Hansel down to the point where I stopped the hind leg which in turn stops the engagement from behind. This currently means riding in a tempo that’s a bit higher as to help him maintain adequate activity behind. In this current study of tempo control it was important that we focused on his balance so he could maintain that balance throughout the tempo changes rather than making the difference in tempo so great that he was searching for such balance. Early on, I was focusing too much on bringing him back thus my reaction to send him forward too slow as I was already stopping the hind leg so… In the beginning of tempo control the changes themselves should be relatively miniscule so that he has the chance to develop his strength and gets the feeling for maintaining engagement throughout the transitions within the gate. An added bonus is these small tempo changes will help him build confidence. To improve my reaction time with my softening and sending him onward aid I would be strong in my core and close my fingers slightly only to the point where I just barely began feeling him react. It’s at that moment my reaction needed to be to send him forward again after softening my fingers. The idea with the work is meant to train him to soon be able to stay active going in a slightly slower tempo. Hansel adapted to these subtle changes rapidly over the 3 days I rode with Geoff so as he continues to develop his strength and confidence I’ll then be able to be more ambitious with the changes of tempo.

His current tendency is to first hallow from the base of his neck then to drop in his back so, for now, all this current tempo control work the goal is to stretch from the base of the neck while going as relaxed as possible in a long and low frame comparable to training and first level work. This lowering from the base of the neck helps to free up his back so that he can truly push from behind maintaining more engagement and activity behind thus creating the ability to get more of a connection through his body. This is the goal at least! (Below is a clip from his trot work)

[jwplayer config=”Blog Player” mediaid=”2986″]
WATCH this video on your iPhone, iPad or non-flash friendly device HERE!

This long and low tempo control was worked on not only at the trot but likewise at the walk and canter. I found the canter to be the easiest gate for my personal feel.

[jwplayer config=”Blog Player” mediaid=”2987″]
WATCH this video on your iPhone, iPad or non-flash friendly device HERE!

I do worry that working too much in the walk one can turn a quality walk into a short horrid lateral experience but Hansel was a champ and maintained a wonderful and true four beat walk slightly slowing the tempo, shortening the walk with a firm core and gentle closing of the fingers keeping my legs off and he equally responded well to the opening of my fingers, slight undulation of my core muscles and general pulses of my calf muscles to increase the stride.

Since the beginning I’ve been told the importance of quality of gates but it wasn’t until the last six years, I’ve genuinely began to see the great importance of quality of gates. Without that, you’ll go no where but probably on the forehand, hallow or backwards. I know playing with movements is fun but unless the quality of gates is there it’s just tricks and not really dressage BUT I was excited when Geoff said we were going to work on some lateral. Hansel gives a great feel and he has a natural gift for lateral so Geoff asked me to stay in a rising trot as to not to interfere with activity and lead the shoulders off the rail. My initial aid was too drastic and he was way into a four track but a second and third school we achieved a nice, somewhat steady, three track. Each direction we touch on schooling this shoulder-in and from there we touched on riding a shoulder-in feel on the diagonal (AKA beginner half-pass). Two serious days of working on engagement plus many years of studying/riding shoulder-in and half-pass lent itself to actually a quite nice beginning feel of this movement. I wouldn’t go as far as saying we (Geoff, Hansel and I) “trained” shoulder-in and half-pass but we certainly touched on them both not to forsake the more important work at hand of tempo control and developing a balanced, forward and active horse.

[jwplayer config=”Blog Player” mediaid=”2988″]
WATCH this video on your iPhone, iPad or non-flash friendly device HERE!

Some great take away terms for developing the relaxation from the base of the neck where to play with bending the neck off the inside rein with a relaxed outside rein allowing the horse to stretch around that outside rein as well as when working on the circle thinking of leading the shoulders off the track with the inside rein more so when traveling right as Hansel tends to fall out on the left side of his body. Previously I’d worked on this issue with a counter-flexion feel. It was just another subtle relaxation tool.

I don’t remember how but it was a tactful question like… So you’re riding in draw reins but not using them at all. Why? I didn’t have a good answer and the tack change/reduction was made in the subsequent lessons. 🙂

A final take away from the long weekend was in regards to the canter when working tempo control. Our goal is to work on a quick reaction to my leg aid when I ask him to go forward with the result not being a quicker tempo but more so that he gets quicker from behind, improved jump in the canter and ultimately improve the canter quality.

Hansel has taught me so much about myself about being a more thoughtful and sensitive feeling rider in a short time. I know we have a long way to go but the thought of starting from scratch with him and moving up is ever exciting. I’m looking forward to having Geoff back in the fall!

Next month HorseGirlTV is hosting USEF “S” judge Elizabeth Madlener here and my goal is to have our tempo control within the gates dialed in, building on that by improving the quality of our transitions between the gates so we can continue to advance. This will be my first time riding with Elizabeth but I interviewed her last year (https://blog.horsegirltv.com/?p=2418) for HorseGirlTV. She was inspiring to talk theory and I’m looking forward to getting in the sandbox with her then journaling back here on Barnby Notes with our progress. I’ll hope to have the PA system setup so we can include some clear audio with any clips!

Thanks to Rachel Edwards (a member of Barnby Notes Courtney King-Dye Barnby Mentorship Program) for videoing my lesson so I could include some training clips to complement this journal entry!