I was thrilled to receive an extremely gracious invitation from Courtney Carroll recently for my daughter Lily and I to attend the Hannah Sue Burnett clinic here in Lexington to benefit the University of Kentucky Dressage and Eventing Team. It’s a common saying that if you want something done, ask a busy person, and that must be why Courtney is doing such a good job as Vice President of the team and organising the clinic, not to mention her and her horse Chloe were a delight.
Just to add to her workload, I did ask Courtney if she’d like to babysit too!
It seemed fitting that Hannah come back to her Kentucky roots, and especially now at the end of a phenomenal season – she finished 8th at Rolex in the spring, and represented the US at the Pan Am Games in Mexico last month, bringing back Team Gold and Individual Silver. Now, she explained, she’ll spend the next few months while her horses are off, teaching and reevaluating, and maybe even squeezing in some precious down-time with friends and family.
The clinic was held at Jan Whitehouse’s Red Gate Stables, and although it was something of a gamble to hold an outdoor clinic in mid-November here, it paid off, and despite a blustery wind, Hannah taught a full schedule of students, both in the arena over show-jumps, and outside over cross-country.
During the cross country session that we watched, Hannah stressed position – there are four she wanted to see: galloping, preparation for a jump, jumping, and drop, as well as bridging the reins while galloping.
“Your hands shouldn’t leave the neck, and your bum shouldn’t touch the saddle while you’re galloping cross country.”
Hannah was patient and attentive, but also demanding. Being close in age to the students she had a natural rapport with them, and they all seemed to respond really well to her. The students were all well turned out, well-prepared, on time, and very impressive; they were ready to do their exercises immediately in turn which made the whole clinic move along efficiently.
Hannah asked questions of the students and auditors as she went along,”Why is it harder for this horse in canter?” “Are his hocks bending?” etc, and at the end of one of the stadium sessions treated us to a “master class” when she rode Boots, and talked us through her working him.
Straightness was of paramount importance; she told us every horse is a little bit crooked and gets used to its rider’s preference, but that it’s relatively easy to correct and can make a huge difference. Boots, above, wanted to go with his haunches to the right and take hold of one rein to “protect his body,” a common habit. Hannah showed us how to encourage him to do the opposite, moving his hauches to the left and pushing his shoulders to the right, and to reward him when he wanted to stretch his neck down in a straight outline as he’s naturally built very uphill.
On the flat in the warm-up she also stressed shortening and lengthening within the gaits “to see what you’ve got,” and make sure your horse is responding. The first exercise was a simple related distance, but not so simple when you have to fit six, eight and even nine strides into a seven stride distance! Again Hannah stressed straightness – bending to fit the strides in was “cheating!” Also position and posture – very important and she corrected the riders often, “don’t look down on landing, look between your horse’s ears.”
The girls (all girls, no boys!) were all really game. I was surprised how hard Hannah pushed them, and impressed with how she dealt with things when it didn’t all go perfectly – patiently, calmly and firmly. She was equally quick to praise often when it all went right.
The exercises were simple, but at the same time hard to do correctly: four fences on a circle, trying to fit in an even number of strides between each fence to make the circle symmetrical. Lots of outside bend, Hannah repeatedly told riders to land with weight on the outside stirrup to help landing on the right lead.
At the end the riders got to put it all together – bending lines and related distances over fairly decent fences.
Many, many thanks to Courtney Carroll and the UK Dressage and Eventing Team who were so friendly and welcoming, and who are also big EN fans – woot woot! Many thanks of course to Hannah Sue and congratulations again, and many thanks to Jan Whitehouse for hosting at her lovely facility – wishing her daughter Marty luck at Ocala next weekend.
Leo wearing Wildcat blue and taking it all in. Go UK, and Go Eventing!