theory vs application

We all know how it goes*: you’re at a clinic and the clinician has you and your horse going better than ever before.  Their timing is impeccable, their advice is spot on, and it’s exactly what you need to make your horse move like they have never moved before.  Even when you make mistakes, which you do because you’re only human, it’s just fine!  Because you can correct them with the helpful wisdom of your spirit guide, and you are soon trucking along with the perfect shoulder-in angle, in a fantastic renvers, doing some baby half-passes across the arena like a badass.  And then you try to replicate this ride outside of your clinic lesson and instead of angels singing you’re hearing sad trombones…

clinic magic not for you

*At least sometimes.

Usually when I try to apply all the magic that I learned at a clinic I end up wondering if I’m remembering all the things I’m supposed to be remembering and cursing the fact that it just doesn’t quite feel right.  I’m simply not good enough to replicate everything I was taught at the clinic all at the same time, so I have to break it down piecemeal and then put it back together.

So let’s take my lesson with Megan as an example, because it’s the clinic I most recently rode in.  Right now I’m simultaneously trying to teach Murray to connect to the outside rein, not lean on the inside rein,  bend around my leg instead of his own shoulder, track his hind feet up under his body, and not move laterally on a circle at all times.

IMG_8822-2It’s a lot of things.  And when Megan is telling them all to you in this magical stream-of-consciousness fashion and you’re just doing it all and you feel these moments of rightness, it’s great.  And then I got on my horse for my first dressage ride after that clinic and Murray was falling all over himself, dragging himself towards the inside of the circle on increasingly tinier and tinier circles, couldn’t connect to the outside rein to save his life and mostly spent his time just trying to counterflex around that outside rein, and I was seriously booting him off of my inside leg (especially when it was my right leg) with these huge full-leg-slap-kicks that I’m sure Murray really appreciated.

(I personally needed to go cold turkey on the inside rein, and that ride helped me be a lot more accountable for my inside rein use and using it consciously.  But it wasn’t really a fair or nice thing to do to Murray.)

am I really surprised that I get responses like this when I kick him like that?

Instead of trying to approach everything I learned head on, I try to break the lessons up into sensical pieces that I can accomplish really well and practice them until it starts to feel natural.  Right now I’m just focusing on the connected outside rein, inside leg for bend, and no inside rein.  Those three things are hard.  And it takes dedicated practice* for me to insert them into my repertoire.  This is also dedicated practice for Murray — he is slowly figuring out that he can’t just fall through my inside aids and end up on a hot mess of a 5 meter circle.

* Something honestly worth its entire own blog post

That’s my strategy.  But I want to know — what’s your strategy?  I (really really hope that I) can’t be the only one out there who can’t just replicate their clinic rides at home, but you all somehow incorporate them into your riding repertoire too.  So tell me — how do you make those ever-so-valuable clinic lessons carry over into your everyday riding?

(And because I’m a nerd I also take notes.  And measure things.  Quantifiability, yo.)

7 thoughts on “theory vs application”

  1. my experiences are definitely similar (and i’m right there with ya on note-taking!). the biggest difference for me between riding *in* the clinic vs riding at home afterward is that i’m paying more attention to the horse in the latter scenario.

    it’s not that i ignoe the horse in the clinic per se, but my attention is divided and often the clinician gets the lion’s share. so when the horse is doing weird things, or being a little resistant, or being tense and bracing or whatever – i’m listening to the clinician for strategies to fix it, rather than actually dwelling on it.

    but then i’m at home and the horse does all those same things and it’s all i can see and it feels terrible and i freak out that i must certainly be doing something wrong bc it’s so awful omg!… what i’m learning tho is to just stick with it remember that feeling of almost ignoring the horse’s antics while focusing on the exercise – the horse usually figures it out anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am in the same boat! It’s hard to remember ALL THE THINGS, let alone be able to do them all at once. It takes a ton of practice. I agree it’s a good strategy to take it one thing at a time.

    This summer I’m able to ride with a clinician 3 times over the course of several months, so it’s really a great opportunity to build on the things I can do well from clinic to clinic. I’m certain that in the next one she’ll have many things to correct, even though I’ve made large changes in my riding already.

    After all, it’s the journey, right? No one is ever done learning to ride, and we can just keep layering on experiences.


  3. My rides after a good lesson used to be total crap. I tried to recreate the whole thing, which was maybe not that smart. Cause, often my horse was a little tired, or not mentally able to handle that level of work the next day. And, I was a little too invested in things being perfect.

    When I take an approach of “we worked on this, and got it, but here’s the steps we took to get there, and I’m gonna work on those steps” things go much better. We focus on the feel, and the mental space, and taking comfort in “we did it once, we can do it again.”


    1. This is part of what I was trying to get at, I think. I too would try to recreate EVERYTHING we were doing, and it would NEVER feel right, and the perfectness was not there and that was THE WORST. But if I can just try to recreate steps or some feel a piece at a time things tend to work out better.


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