John Meriwether, Area VII Adult Rider Coordinator, sent in a report on Peter Gray’s clinic at Aspen Farms in Yelm, Wash., last month. Peter worked with riders from the Beginner Novice through Intermediate levels and even donned Seahawks gear to show his support for the Pacific Northwest. Many thanks to John for writing, and thanks for reading!
Area VII Adult Riders lured Peter Gray away from his winter headquarters in Florida last month to teach a clinic at Aspen Farms in Yelm Wash., and got him to speak at our Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet as a bonus. Peter was a trooper standing up through countless photo ops with our area honorees, though his Florida tan contrasted sharply with us Pacific Northwest natives who only dimly remember what sunshine looks or feels like.
Among the messages he delivered, one that resonated was the need to ride at your level — to spend the time to develop yourself and horse there and not be overly concerned with moving up. The lessons learned at Beginner Novice are lessons that are refined and built on at subsequent levels. While this is nothing new nor earth shattering, it was a good reminder that riding success is about the basics.
Day 1: Dressage/Gymnastics
Each group from Beginner Novice to Preliminary/Intermediate started with the same simple introductions, including downward transition from trot to walk while posting to keep the back soft and through; using flexion on the straights and bend in the corners, which lead into some leg yield and shoulder-in; and a slow trot to keep the horses relaxed and soft.
Peter made good use of cavaletti on an arc to engage the hocks in walk and trot, stressing the need to come in slowly and ride the line that is appropriate for your length of stride and gait. This transitioned seamlessly to low gymnastic work with lots of changes of bend and direction. He emphasized rebalancing with soft hands and then softening more before the fence to let the horse use itself.
Peter’s skill in reading horse and rider capabilities dictated the progressing complexity of the exercises without needing to raise jumps. Even though this is a time of year when many Area VII horses are in lighter work, the horses finished the first day relaxed and confident. The riders had plenty to chew on overnight.
With a microphone, Peter delivered his messages in a quiet, soothing voice that made necessary corrections of egregious errors palatable. He also engaged the auditors and had them reciting his mantra — “Strong Legs, Light Seat, Soft Hands” — for the riders.
That evening, co-organizer Laurie Williams invited everyone to her lovely home to watch the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers for a spot in the Super Bowl. Every good clinician knows his audience, and Peter showed up each day in a Seahawks hat and scarf.
Day 2: Cross Country
The next morning when we returned for day 2 of the clinic, it was evident most riders had also digested the previous day’s lessons. We moved from Aspen’s large covered arena into a larger outdoor arena, where farm owner Jonathan Elliott had set a mix of stadium jumps and portable cross country jumps. With one entire side of the arena made up of banks, Aspen is a wonderful event clinic venue, even during the wet months when we keep off the cross-country courses.
We progressed from gymnastics to galloping between fences, balancing back before fences and maintaining rhythm while using different seats. Shifting from two-point/galloping position back to three-point jumping position while maintaining Strong Legs, Light Seat, Soft Hands, we worked on sitting up into drops and the liverpool. Even the Beginner Novice group worked the liverpool and the banks in gymnastic combinations as they effectively learned how to employ the different seats.
Peter proved to be the consummate clinician. Everything he taught was a step in a methodical progressio,n and the logic is easily seen. As a clinic organizer, I knew the clinic was a success when riders and auditors asked about the next clinic after the first day. We hope to make repeat clinics with Peter a regular part of our Area VII Adult Rider clinic calendar.