Leslie Law instructs a group out on cross country. Photo by Jessica Kerschbaumer.
2014 marked the fifth year of the Leslie Law clinic here in Alberta, and also my fifth year riding with him. Needless to say, he has seen Sunny and I through most of the tough times and struggles we’ve had together, and has helped us so much. Since he only sees us once a year, I use his clinic as sort of a gauge to see where we are and what we need to work on.
This year, I lucked out a bit; in addition to the usual two day clinic, which consists of flat/stadium on day one, and cross country on day two, I got the opportunity to ride again the day after and have a private dressage lesson with Leslie as well, so I was very excited about that!
A common theme in Leslie’s teaching for both dressage and jumping is the training scale. You can’t accomplish much without first having relaxation and a rhythm, and with Sunny lacking in that department, I have found out first hand exactly just how important both of things are. He starts with the basics and then works up from there with each horse and rider.
Leslie looking on as a rider negotiates the bank. Photo by Jessica Kerschbaumer.
On the first day of the clinic, we warmed up with some flat work with the emphasis being on the training scale, no surprise there! Leslie put us through our paces: walk, trot, canter, and leg yield. Then, because our group was the “Intermediate” level group, we also worked on some shoulder-in and haunches-in, with Leslie adjusting our position as needed and giving each of us tips to improve our horse’s way of going.
We then got into the jumping with some grid work. First, we trotted line of poles, and then cantered them, all the while concentrating on rhythm and relaxation. We quickly built up to a simple grid of three verticals one stride apart with placing poles, focusing on suppleness and keeping our horses straight and uphill throughout. Leslie also had us canter a figure eight pattern over an oxer, making us use our eyes, weighting our stirrups, and using an opening rein to ask the horse to land on the proper lead.
From there we moved on to a short course of jumps, putting everything together. Sunny was a rock star for the jumping, and our flatwork is definitely coming, although still very much a work in progress.
My helmet cam from day one:
On day two, everyone was excited for the fun stuff: cross country! Leslie likes to incorporate a lot of stadium fences into cross country schooling. He explained that it is a great way to introduce things and ask different questions of the horse and rider in a forgiving way, before they tackle the question over solid obstacles.
Photo by Jessica Kerschbaumer
We warmed up doing a mini course over some smaller straightforward fences, before moving on to the ditches and the coffin. Next was the water complex, and we did several different lines through, both forward and backwards to test us over different questions.
For our final exercise at the water, Leslie built a large airy corner out of stadium jumps coming out of the complex. He had us drop down into the water over a log, and then we had to make a sharp right hand turn to exit out up the ramp and over the left pointing stadium corner, testing our line and accuracy.
We then moved over the bank complex, and did a fun bending line: A roll top, three strides to a one stride bank up and down, then another three strides to the large corner. After we mastered that, Leslie had us gallop a trakehner, then immediately come back to a skinny chevron.
We ended the session with another coffin exercise, this time with narrow stadium jumps on either side of the ditch simulating skinnies, and we played with a few different lines of varying difficulties.
Leslie explains how to ride a line through the water complex. Photo by Jessica Kerschbaumer
My helmet cam videos from cross country day:
I was very excited for my dressage lesson the next day. Mother Nature started off my session with an insane hail storm, but luckily we escaped to the indoor and had the lesson in there. Once again we went back to basics and the bottom of the training scale.
Right off the bat Leslie had me riding Sunny more forward that usual, concentrating on the rhythm. Once Sunny started to relax into the tempo, we worked on suppleness. Turns out all this time I’ve been asking her either for forward or bend, and haven’t really asked for both at the same time, so there was definitely a big hole!
It was excellent to work through, with Leslie right there guiding me and talking me through everything. We did a lot of spiral in and out, and leg yield on a circle to activate the inside hind leg and transfer more weight back to the hind quarters, and that also helped keep the hind quarters active in downward transitions.
Over the course of the ride Leslie had me gradually shorten my reins as Sunny moved into a more uphill, shorter frame. There were so many little things he had me do that made such a big difference, I couldn’t possibly list them all here.
We ended the intense session and I had a huge smile on my face, and a brand new game plan for my dressage work. It’s all about the basics and the training scale! The more I learn, the more simple and methodical everything becomes. Sure you have to tailor things to each individual horse, but the basics are all the same. Leslie is great at breaking everything down, and making it easy to understand for all levels of riders.
All in all it was another great clinic, and I can’t wait till next year! A huge thanks to Kathleen Ziegler and the Alberta Horse Trials Association for bringing Leslie in yet again, and to Ulrika Wikner and Alhambra Stales for hosting everyone at her great facility.