We love your clinic reports! If you attend a clinic, send us your review: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s a recap and post-clinic perspective, from an aspiring adult event rider…
By Mary Getsey Bernier
I avidly follow and support the community and sport of Eventing–the horses and riders competing at all levels. Like many aspiring riders, I stand in awe of the talented and athletic pairs who reach the highest levels of our challenging sport. They inspire us. They break records and win prizes; they clear incredible obstacles with seemingly effortless grace. I marvel at the true grit of those who emerge victorious through the roughest of rides, overcoming the odds. When they jump, I jump. When they extend the trot down the diagonal, I float with them. When they clear the water jumps, I feel the splash in my face. I love this sport!
For me, the here-and-now is that I’m a stay-home-Mom and horseless rider with two young kids. I have 30 years of off-and-on again riding on all sorts of horses, in some unusual circumstances in America, and abroad, along with only a handful of what one would call “formal” training. I ride whatever horses I can, whenever I can. I strive to maintain balance as an individual, a rider, a Mom, and a wife. When asked, I describe my riding experience and horse knowledge as a block of Swiss cheese: substantial, but with enough small holes that I work constantly to fill them with every learning opportunity I can find. I attend local clinics, horse trials and shows, volunteer, and of course, my annual trip to the Rolex Three Day Event. When out of the saddle, I’m the proverbial “sponge,” soaking up as much as possible. While I’ve ridden the separate parts of Eventing in my cumulative years of riding (cross country over all sorts of natural obstacles and terrain as a young fearless rider; some show jumping here and there; a bit of dressage), I have yet to do my first “real” competition, combining all three. My goal is to have a horse, to enjoy the process of training and riding, and to Event.
Colleen Rutledge Clinic, January 14-15, 2012
I enrolled to audit a clinic with Advanced **** rider, Colleen Rutledge, over the weekend of January 14 -15. Just days before the clinic, the phone rang–there was a horse for me to ride!!! Thrilled, with butterflies in my stomach, I arranged kid care, and hightailed out to Turnabout Farm, in Mt. Airy, Maryland. I had never ridden with an upper level rider instructor before, so I had no idea what to expect. To make the opportunity even more
exciting, this was the first time I had ridden in over two and a half months, after fracturing three ribs last November, as well as injuring my rotator cuff, just two months prior in September (fortunately, neither injuries were riding related). Before my down time, I had only been riding about twice a week, and had not jumped in over a year. I had no idea I’d be back in the saddle this soon–might as well dive in with both feet and start swimming, right? nerve-wracking
Here we are, warming up on the flat…literally warming up! The high temp for both weekend days hovered just above 30F; I think the indoor ring temperature in the morning was a balmy 40F. I had a short time to hack around and get to know the horse. He was a wonderful 6 year old, with beautiful movement, a great mind, playful, and wonderfully fun!
And then we started jumping…We started with a line down the center of the ring. First, a simple vertical; then two; then three; then, three jumps followed by two strides to the fourth. My recent time out of the saddle was showing. I had trouble keeping my lower leg on, my leg still, I forgot to breathe, (“oh yeah, we’re supposed to breathe…”). My shoulders needed to be back, my chest open, etc. I had to remind myself to lighten up and relax.
Colleen quickly pointed out I tended to freeze over the jumps. Also, I found myself either correct in my upper body position, or my lower leg contact, but wasn’t keeping the two together, consistently. Colleen could see right through me: I was thinking too much, and trying too hard! Time to pull it all together! I rode on, and by the end of the hour and a half ride, I was loosening up.
Colleen is an excellent instructor. She communicated her instructions clearly, making me think about my riding in a new way. In this case, the horse knocking down the pole was a result of him trying to figure out the jumping exercise. It had been drilled into me in the past that a dropped pole was always a reflection of a jump ridden incorrectly by the rider. When my position was correct, it was “not your problem” as Colleen explained. The horse was trying to figure out where to put his feet in between the jumps. Colleen emphasized my job as a rider is to stay balanced, keep the rhythm, straightness, keep him ahead of my leg and forward, and let him do his job: jump. Notice she said he was the one jumping, not me? As I said at the end, “we’re getting there!”
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice…Or as I heard Jimmy Wofford say in another recent clinic I audited: “Practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect.”
We added a fourth jump to the line. Notice I rounded my shoulders and I crouched in my jumping position at the end? He popped over the last jump and my position was behind the motion. Not pretty, but it gives me a good idea of what I need to work on. Colleen pointed out I tend to round my position when I’m not secure, or when I’m thrown off-balance by the horse knocking a rail on a previous jump in a line. I need to leave the dropped rails behind me and focus on jumping the rails ahead of me.
A bit better, but always room for improvement.
After we finished this line, we practiced over a wide jump, getting the horse to lengthen. (Where was my leg?! I think I was beginning to tire, but was still having fun!)
After that, we moved on to a line of bounces, to get the horse to shorten his strides. Colleen taught us to start stretching and lengthening over the jumps first to get the horse to extend, and then move to the bounce line, to get the horse to contract. We rode both days for a bit over an hour and a half. The camera battery died at the end, so sadly no footage of those exercises. In the end I was sore, but I learned so much, and had such great FUN!
By the end of the clinic, I had acquired so much useful information, and I left the clinic thinking about my riding in a completely different way. More importantly, I took home lessons I felt confident I could work through on my own (such as the gymnastics, my position), until I have a chance to return and train with Colleen again. I must work on the foundation of my riding, my position. I plan to spend more time on the flat, trotting in jumping position, working without stirrups, strengthening myself, stretching and staying flexible. I must be steady and not block the horse’s movement by pinching him with my knees, or throwing him off balance by being too much ahead of the horse: a direct result of my weak lower leg, lack of calf contact, and fatigue.
Colleen helpfully pointed out I tend to not look at the top rail of my fences as I approach them. How can I see what I’m jumping if I don’t look at it? Colleen explained I must focus on the top rail of the fence, on the approach, until it cleared my horse’s ears. At that point, I had less than a stride to jump, and if I didn’t have it right by that time, I got what I prepared for, good or bad. I also learned I tend to completely ignore or look beyond things that made me uncomfortable (insert whistling sound here, “la la la, nothing to see here, move along…pretend there’s nothing there, just get over it….la la la”). It is funny how these things seem so blatantly obvious, but only after they are pointed out to you. Another “light bulb” moment.
Taking this knowledge with me was important, as I don’t always have access to a trainer when I ride at home. When you’re horseless, and initially learned to ride in group lesson formats on school horses, or in an environment where you’re constantly told how to ride (but not always why to ride in a certain manner), you tend to become too reliant on being told what to do, without learning what to do, instinctively. Jumps and poles were always set up for me in a lesson, without explanation of distances. I knew the basics of how far apart to set poles and jumps, but Colleen spent time going into detail about why the distances were set as they were, for the whichever particular exercise we were working on, at that particular moment. While working with Colleen, I also learned I have a very good sense of “feel.” I know when a ride is right; I know when it is wrong. Having that sense of “feel” is very helpful for when I ride and practice on my own. What I undeniably need was more time in the saddle, more mileage. Being able to take home the lessons I learned from Colleen, and not only know how to apply them, but the sequence in which to apply them with the needs of the particular horse I was working with, the “why, what, when, and how,” on my own, was very important to me.
I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed the clinic. Colleen has a keen eye for evaluating each rider and horse, gauging their strengths and weaknesses and knowing just what is necessary to motivate them, setting them on the right course. From my BN perspective, Colleen was incredibly helpful in teaching me how to work on the basics I need to master, before I am in a position to safely take myself and a horse to our first BN competition. I had a great time. She’s not only a terrific rider and competitor, but also an enthusiastic educator and excellent communicator. The clinic was challenging, but also fun, inspiring, and simply put, she was an all-around awesome person to ride with. I met some new horse friends, and enjoyed watching the other classes in the clinic over the two days. The other riders who rode with me appeared to enjoy it as much as I did, having their own one-on-one moments with Colleen, to focus on their positions and horse’s particular needs.
Catch Colleen’s next clinic, support her on her path to Badminton and beyond, have fun, and go ride. For more information, visit her website and blog at: http://