For Day 2 and 3 of the clinic, Trainer was riding Henry. She’s just getting back into her normal riding routine post-baby, and really only has young horses at the moment, so she hasn’t jumped anything of much size or technicality for like… a year. Henry is kind of perfect for helping a rider knock the rust off, because he’s got a high tolerance for mistakes, but at the same time he’s a HUGE tattletale. If you do something even slightly wrong, you’ll know it. Basically they got a little bit of a teacher-student role reversal this weekend, and Henry got to return the favor to someone who has really been so instrumental in bringing him (and me!) along over these past couple years.
Her stadium lesson on Saturday went a lot like mine. Lots of working on rocking the canter back onto the hind end and lifting his ribcage UP to his withers, and lots of working on her own body control. Henry seemed kind of pissed about stadium 2 days in a row when there were a bunch of lovely XC fences just outside of the arena, but he tolerated his torture with nothing more than large amounts of Resting Mare Face. It was pretty fun to watch the lesson progress and see Trainer finding her “sea legs” again as things went along.
The weather was quite miserable, so freaking humid in the morning that everything had a layer of wetness to it. The day ended up being 92 degrees with 60% humidity by the afternoon. Seems pretty excessive for mid-October, Texas. Henry had to spend a while under the hose to get cooled down when he was done. I was glad that I had clipped him the day before the clinic, although I’m not sure how helpful it really was considering the humidity.
Sunday was cross country day, finally something Henry was happy about. They started with little exercises, eventually stringing together some courses and then some harder combinations. A lot of the focus was on the ability to quickly bring the horse back from an open XC canter to rebalance for more of the shorter bouncier stadium canter that is required for combinations… a little bit of a struggle in the beginning with Henry, but eventually she got it done. He was pretty pumped to be out and jumped everything she pointed him at, regardless of mistakes. The first time he leaped into the water I’m pretty sure he was screaming “CANNONBALL” as she had to quickly gather her reins back up to make the turn for the jump out.
Really cross country day heard a lot of the same concepts repeated from stadium day… especially “put him up into your outside rein”. Like if I had a dollar for every time I heard outside rein all weekend from Ashley, for real. She ain’t wrong, though. Another thing she really stressed was that it was important to keep a conversation going with your horse all the way around, instead of just sitting up there like a bump on a log (“bumps on a log don’t go cross country”) or setting your pace and then just kind of expecting the horse to gallop along on autopilot. It was important to continually check in with them, make sure they were with you, make sure they understood what you wanted, make sure the balance was always there and ready, etc. It really helped the horses not just perform better, but they seemed more confident in the exercises.
At the end, Ashley’s main takeaway for Henry (both for me and Trainer) was that either we could let him go around and be an average cute little horse, or we could really ride every step, create the powerful canter, improve the balance, and then suddenly he was a machine. Or more accurately, she said it like “MA-CHEEEEN”. He performs to whatever level he’s ridden, basically. Ride him averagely, and he’s an average horse. Ride him well and he’s a great horse. Which really is absolutely 100% accurate, so I need to make myself be a better rider so that he can be a better horse. What else is new?
But now I feel like I have a lot more specific tools in my toolbox to get that done. When we got home I unloaded Henry from the trailer and immediately drove out to my jump field to set up some exercises while everything was still fresh in my mind. I will be riding around thinking about straight bouncy canters, outside rein, my core, separating my hands from my body, quicker reaction times, and riding his girth uphill to the base. Maybe we’ll actually even succeed and get better.
Either way, I can’t recommend Ashley enough. She isn’t just a naturally talented rider, she’s also a really excellent teacher, and it’s hard to find both of those things together. She can very clearly get her points across and knows exactly when to push and what to say to get the results she’s looking for. It’s also really obvious that she cares a lot about what she does and she really gives it 110% of her effort and attention. I’ve been to a lot of clinics with a lot of people, some of them really big name riders, and none of them were as useful to me as she was. It wasn’t one of those “one size fits all” things where there’s one exercise set up and every horse does the exact same thing throughout the day. Instead everyone got exactly what they needed, individual attention, and specific exercises to help them with their particular horse. Nothing cookie cutter about it. Those of you in Area 2, I’d definitely look her up and try to ride with her. But if any other folks out there are thinking of bringing someone into your area for a clinic, for sure look at Ashley! 10/10 would recommend.