Well, y’all, I think I found my new favorite clinician. I also got my ass completely and thoroughly kicked. It was awesome.
Since I was letting Trainer ride Henry in the actual clinic on Saturday and Sunday, I had a private lesson with Ashley on Friday evening. I have to admit that I didn’t really know a whole lot about Ashley going in. I knew that she had taken an OTTB all the way up through 4*, and that my trainer said she’s amazing, and that she’s worked a lot with Buck and Kim Severson. I had quickly perused her faceboook and Instagram, like a proper internet stalker, but you never really know someone until you see them in action. Over the weekend I got to know her more, and it seems like she’s ridden horses for just about every BNT, plus she rides timber racers, plus she coaches the Randolph-Macon eventing team. I don’t know where she gets the energy, but omg she has a ton of it.
I went out for my lesson and we did the usual “tell me about you and the horse” thing, then we went right to work. I got about one lap into canter before the feedback started. And never stopped. Right off the bat she nailed me for my canter being too long and weak, so we spent a while working on me properly getting him back on his hocks and getting him bouncy yet forward and straight. Since he’s kind of a downhill horse she wanted his poll to stay a little bit higher, and think about bringing his ribcage up toward his withers. That alone helped tremendously. Ashley has a really good way of wording things that make you easily visualize what you’re trying to do, and therefore you end up automatically applying the right aids to get it done.
From there we moved on to a grid of bounce canter poles, to further cement the idea of getting the horse light on the forehand and driving from behind. As we went, she built the grid up, and really focused on my position and how it affects the horse. Especially my inability to really separate my hands from my body. When my hands go forward, my shoulders tend to follow, and vice versa – when I actually sit up, I tend to lift my hands with them. I’ve always had an issue with this, and I struggled with it here too. I’ll definitely be spending a lot of time at home over tiny bounces and small jumps, working on making all my parts more independent.
It didn’t take long through the grid before Ashley could easily see my biggest issues, and what the likely effects of them are. Basically she said that my reaction time on the backside of the fence is slow and I don’t get him rocked back enough, which means he probably gets long and flat and has rails in the combinations, etc etc. I mean… she pretty much perfectly described our stadium round at Meadow Creek a few weeks ago. Creepily accurate.
So we started doing some courses, many of them with some tighter turns to really force me to use my outside aids, get my shit back together sooner, and keep him back on his hocks. At first there was mixed success. She is really really insistent on riding EVERY step and really producing the horse’s best canter and best shape. It’s work, y’all. There wasn’t a single stride where I could just sit there and be like “whee I’m on a horse”. Yeah no. If that happened I flubbed the exercise and got the dreaded “No, start again!”. So, like… sit up and ride the damn horse EVERY STEP. Duly noted.
The biggest things she said that really stuck with me were 1) I tend to get a stride out and think my job is done, just kind of sitting there the last step. That means he’s weak off the ground that last stride and doesn’t jump up and around with as much power. I have to be sure to really hold him with my core all the way to and through takeoff, so that we aren’t losing it all in that last step. 2) The best thing she said to me all weekend (that is my new mantra) was “ride his girth uphill to the base”. So basically think of really lifting his rib cage and riding him UP all the way to the fence. Ride everything like it’s uphill, keeping him back on his hocks and making sure the hind legs stay active and underneath his body. For some reason the words “ride his girth uphill to the base” just made the whole feeling really click, and it worked out extremely well.
While it was definitely never perfect, it was much better by the end. He just really needs that help from me to get the proper canter, and to keep it all the way to the jumps. And I need to stop collapsing my core at the base. And use my freaking outside leg. No big deal right?
For a 45 minute lesson, I came home with a ridiculous amount of homework. But I also feel like I came home with a much better understanding of what we need to be working toward, and how my horse really needs me to ride him in order to be at his best. Definitely some epiphany moments there. Ashley is a magician. Her eye for both the horse and the rider is pretty incredible… a lot of the time you get one or the other, but it’s hard to find someone that sees so much minute detail in both. Totally worth it!