I’m getting a little spoiled riding with Olympians back to back weekends! I followed up the George Morris clinic with a Leslie Law clinic this past weekend. Opportunities to ride with trainers of this caliber are rare within driving distance of St. Louis. It was an easy three hour drive just north of Bloomington, Ill,. to Tom and Sandy Mercier’s beautiful Hunter Oaks Farm.
I was quite nervous about the group I was in. I signed up for the Prelim group because I have dreams of moving up but all the other riders in my group had experience up to at least the Intermediate level. It’s good for me to step up and stretch a little and get to watch and learn from such good riders.
I’ve ridden with Leslie before, so I was confident he would challenge us without over-facing or risking our confidence. The atmosphere was a little more relaxed this weekend, and as we were tacking up Saturday morning Leslie asked if we might want to switch the schedule around and do cross-country first since storms were expected that night and Sunday; it was a pretty easy decision.
After a quick warm up, we started jumping with two galloping-type Training level jumps. On the approach, Leslie wanted us to rebalance early enough so at four strides out you would close your leg and come forward to the fence with a soft arm. Throughout the clinic he would walk off four strides out and stand there so we could use him as a marker. This is especially important for me, (if you’ve read my past few clinic reports, you know) as the biggest struggle with my horse, Tupelo, is getting him off his forehand.
The rebalance up and then leg on to keep him coming forward while staying elevated is absolutely vital, especially as the jumps get bigger. Leslie explained when Tupelo is on his forehand he has to add up at a longer distance, and if he is rocked back and balanced we have options.
Things really clicked for me this weekend but I still struggled with Tupelo pulling me down with him so I have to really focus on holding my upper body and hand while maintaining the pace and impulsion.
Leslie wanted us find a balance working with our horses. He explained that with beginner riders, the horse carries the rider as they work on grabbing mane and keeping their heels down around the course, but as riders are educated and become “experts” they try to manage every detail.You must find the partnership with your horse so you are both taking some responsibility, it’s difficult to find that middle ground between giving it all over to the horse and becoming a control freak.
We had a few bobbles the first day. Our initial attempt at a big table to a corner wasn’t very pretty, but I was very happy with how well we kept up with the group. Hunter Oaks offers fabulous terrain questions which we hadn’t been able to school before.
We got to do quite a bit the first day but there were a few more elements we wanted to see, so Leslie offered to split Sunday’s session and do half stadium and half cross-country. Fortunately the majority of storms missed us so we were able take him up on that plan.
In the stadium portion, we started out doing a figure-eight over an oxer that went up a few times and then we put together a course. One horse in the group struggled with his right to left lead change, while Tupelo was a star, landing on the correct lead for the figure-eight exercise. I did do a change through the trot during the course (when the tighter turn wasn’t there for me to cheat with). Leslie said he doesn’t put any pressure on a lower level horse to get the lead changes and prefers to avoid the additional stress and keep them balanced with a quick trot step change.
We finished up the day with a few good cross country questions, one being a roll-top, three strides to an up-bank bounce to another roll top. I tell everyone the things that scare me the most about Prelim are bounces and sitting the trot! This was the first time we’ve seen bounce on cross country. I know a bank to a jump is a good introduction and should ride easier than jump to jump, but I was concerned about having enough momentum coming up the bank to get out.
The line walked in three but it was a little uphill and after watching a long-strided horse stretch a little for it and a short-strided horse get a nice four, I thought we were safer with the four. Leslie told me to ride what I have in the moment.
This is going to be the biggest learning curve for me when I move up. I’m really good at riding the plan, but things are going to happen faster and I’m going to have to be able to adjust and react quickly to what is happening instead of relying only on the plan.
We got the four and the bounce that I was so stressed about seemed like a non-event. We finished the day with a down bank bending line to a corner, I was thrilled with how well Tupelo held the line not even thinking about drifting out.
I’m still on a high from the weekend, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I went up on my own and made new friends, the weather and footing were amazing for the end of June, and the Merciers are the most generous hosts doing all they can to make sure everyone feels welcome. Leslie is an exceptional clinician, I’m already looking forward to the next opportunity to ride with him!