Laine Ashker was nothing short of superwoman this past weekend, teaching all day Friday at Candle Light Farms in northeast Ohio, then flying back to Virginia to support her mom Valerie in her final stop on her incredible ride across the country, then hopping on another flight back to Ohio to teach another day of the clinic.
On Friday Laine taught back-to-back dressage lessons, giving insightful advice to all riders, who varied in level of experience from Training to Beginner Novice. All horses, from big Dutch Warmbloods to adorable Haflingers benefitted from the exercises.
A method she greatly focused on was riding your horse from your seat, rather than your legs. She started this by encouraging riders to push the horses into their trot by using only the muscles in their seats, no kicking or spurring. Some riders even had their spurs taken away to emphasize riding from their seat. She encouraged riders to use their seat as more of their “go,” and for their legs to simply be guiding the horse.
“I learned from the upper levels of dressage that you physically can’t kick every stride doing tempi changes or one-time changes. You have to train your horse from your seat,” Laine said. Many riders were amazed at how much easier it then was to sit the trot or get results from their aids once they practiced the exercise a few times.
Another exercise she worked on was turn on the forehand. It came naturally for some horse and rider pairs; for other it took the horses a bit longer to understand, but the horses remained very in tune to the riders’ cues. She urged riders throughout the lesson to ride softly with their aids and have quiet hands.
The flat exercises that riders worked on also tied into the jumping portion. For horses that tended to get a little faster in their trot, Laine had them focus on setting the rhythm with their posting. Slowing their post in turn slowed the horses without the riders needing to use their hands.
Jumping day was in full blizzard mode, dropping from 75 degrees on Friday to 30 degrees on Sunday with several inches of snow on the ground. Everyone bundled up in layers and broke out their winter breeches and quarter sheets. Between riders and auditors, I’m pretty sure we went through three boxes of hot chocolate and several pots of coffee!
Since the weather confined riders to the indoor arena, Laine made sure riders were going extremely deep in their corners and staying balanced in tight turns. The course she set up was very educational and made riders focus on straightness and turning with enough room to successfully jump their next fence.
The course started with a grid, a single vertical with poles leading to an oxer. Afterwards, the riders had to make tight turns to the left or to the right and continue to three oxers on the long side, each two strides apart.
Laine was constantly reminding riders: “The walls are your friends.” The walls naturally slowed the riders down when using the idea of using the wall to slow down the horses and collect them again to go to the next set of fences. The riders then had a quick turn off the wall to a one stride with plank jumps; they were kept small with the idea of staying balanced to prepare for another tight turn to a barrel with guide poles.
“Widen your hands and let the horses funnel between your hands,” Laine said. “You don’t see anyone riding down to the Head of the Lake at Rolex with their hands close together.”
If riders weren’t straight to the barrel, horses either stopped or jumped to the side, knocking the poles. Straightness was necessary to successfully get over the barrels. After jumping the barrels, riders made a right turn back to the two-stride oxers, then used the wall again to slow their horses down, collect and jump another barrel.
All riders from Beginner Novice to Training completed the course with Laine’s teaching, and there was a noticeable difference for every rider from start to finish. I highly recommend taking the opportunity to take a clinic with Laine if she’s ever in your area or audit one of her clinics because they are fantastic and extremely educational.