Day 1 of the Hawley Bennett clinic was stadium day. Considering the trouble we had at Greenwood in stadium with Henry getting flat, pulling me past all the distances, and being generally careless, I was really looking forward to getting some assistance from Hawley.
When I got on Henry and headed into the ring, he felt VERY fresh. He’s typically not a horse that gets very fresh, so as he trotted around at Mach 10, pretending to spook at everything outside of the ring, I was groaning a little on the inside. After a brief warmup Hawley called us into the middle and asked us about our horses, problem areas, and what we wanted to work on. Then she sent us out to do a pole exercise. It was just three poles set close together on the curve of a circle, so it looked deceptively easy, but it’s really not. It immediately highlights any kind of straightness issues you have, or rhythm issues, or pace issues, or bend issues, or if you’re weak with your outside aids. I have no video of the canter poles so you’ll just have to trust me on this one – it’s both awful and fantastic. We did the exercise continuously both ways at the trot and canter, until the horses (ahem, riders) did it right, and it helped Henry settle in and focus. Hawley made sure to emphasize that this exercise is hard for the horses, so you should always reward them by quitting or taking a break when they do it correctly.
Then we moved on to a grid – a bounce, one stride, bounce, adding some jumps before and after, and going through the canter pole exercise in the corner as we went around. It was awesome to have those canter poles in the middle of the “course” because a) they were a great “rhythm check” – if you lost your canter rhythm, the poles did not work out well, b) the poles really helped put the horses back on their haunches going into the turn. I love/hate those stupid poles.
After that we moved on to some course work. The arena was set on a slight slope, so it was good practice to jump things up and down the hill. Henry spent most of the lesson wanting to pull me around, but it was more of a fresh, forward type of pulling than a flat, dragging kind of pulling. If that makes any sense. He was still obedient and listening, just stronger than normal.
I got to watch most of the groups throughout the day, and watching was just as educational as riding. The main points of emphasis were:
- shorten your reins (pretty much everyone got told this at least twice, myself included. Let’s all just agree that when in doubt we’ll shorten our reins.)
- shoulders back (constant throughout the day)
- if it doesn’t work the first time, try something else (ie if it doesn’t ride well off one approach, change your line, don’t keep making the same mistake)
- keep your rhythm (the whole point of all the work we did was finding and keeping a good consistent rhythm)
- reward the horse when it does something right (ie if he saves your ass, pat him. If he does the exercise right, stop drilling it.)
Quality of canter was huge, as was correct upper body position and straightness.
Hawley demanded a good, thinking ride (if you clucked, broke to trot, or forgot your course you were getting off to do push-ups) but I thought she was overall very positive and kind. She said that one of her biggest pet peeves was people making stupid mistakes like going off course, because there’s really no excuse for that. “Competitions are too expensive to make stupid mistakes” – and she’s right. Focus and self-discipline are always good reminders. She was complimentary of my horse and my riding, but I still walked away with a few good things to work on. Overall a very good first day! And I didn’t have to do any push-ups, so that’s a win…