The Hawley clinic was, as in past years, super fantastique. I was a little apprehensive getting started because of Murray’s Friday antics, but I shouldn’t have worried too much. Even if Murray didn’t settle (he did), Hawley had a sunny attitude about his silliness and laughed both with us and at us. While I appreciate the seriousness and advice of people like Yves and Chris Scarlett, I also really valued Hawley’s advice on how to get the best out of Murray in a show environment and keep riding through the antics to keep making it about learning.
We started, of course, with a circle of death. Actually, we started by telling Hawley about our ponies. I was in a group with two friends, one riding her young gelding, and the other catch riding. I told Hawley that Murray and I have been fighting about basics lately since I’m bad at being strict about them, and therefore we slip easily. Great! she said. Today will be all about the basics!
The circle of death was a tough one. Much more of an ovoid-of-death, we were literally limited in our space by a fence that Hawley was sitting on. No worries, girls, just don’t smash into the Olympian. No problem. Murray couldn’t get it together to start with, flipping his tail and cross cantering and counter cantering and doing anything but cantering right, really. Hawley was insistent that we stick to the track — horses learn by repetition, so you must keep repeating the correct exercises so they understand. But I had to get off the track one time to get Murray moving forward and cantering properly. Left was much better.
Next was an exercise of three step poles (9 ft apart) to a small vertical, three strides away, then straight down to the end of the arena before a left or right turn (alternating). Hawley asked us what 9 ft step poles meant. I said that it would mean pushing Murray forward, but the other girls were pretty confident they could just canter through. Hawley reminded us: “And what is a horse’s stride length? So this will be a little bouncy for them.” This was where Murray’s sassitude really came out. He hadn’t quite worked out all the kinks in his back, evidently, and bucked all over the straight aways and tried to use any distracted to bubble out to the right.
I kicked him pretty hard in the side to push him off of my right leg at one point. Instead, Hawley suggested that I get off his back and focus on pushing him forward, and not pull on his face. “So he’s feeling good,” she said. “You can still do the exercise. And then we keep doing it until that tail settles down and he can get through it steady and with rhythm.” Steady + rhythm were very much the theme of the day.
On our third go through the poles-jump-jump exercise Murray just couldn’t contain himself and tried to buck right in front of the oxer. The jump snuck up on him and he had to pop his feet down for a second to get us over, but he did it. I’m so glad he knows how to get out of his own way. I just wish he would use those powers for good a little bit more?
We built up the course to include a couple of sharply angled lines, between the center fence and the two fences of the circle of death (see above). The angle was made challenging by the arena wall right there on the outside of the fences, and the fact that it was a mere two strides (four for extra special ponies named Murray) between the two fences.
Hawley reminded us to sit tall but not too deep on the approach to the angle, fix our sights on a point on the wall, and leg up to the fences. She demonstrated how even a few inches of differences in shoulder position could affect the ride (though also claimed that you could fake it through Intermediate, so YAY for us leaners?), and told us to keep sitting really, really tall. To a rider in an earlier group I heard her describe it as keeping more air between your chest and the horse’s neck, which is a great image.
Murray rode through the angle well the first time, but in the other direction saw the ground poles on the other side of the fence and objected mightily. Hawley had me hold the line and then kick forward over the fence. That is one amazing thing about little fences — you can walk right over them! Murray didn’t love it, but he’s pretty familiar with the “go over this from a stand still” routine so he went.
As we moved through the courses Hawley started pushing us to get the correct striding between fences. She wanted five from vertical to oxer and down to the next vertical, and seven on the opposite line. After a gentle tap with the crop to remind him that it was there, Murray was very responsive to my leg and moved up to the fences. Murray got a little wiggly to one oxer and the barrels the first time around, but I kept my leg on and he went. Hawley encouraged me to push him forward to them more. The first time I tried this I still instinctively held for the shorter stride, but the second time I really pushed Murray into a forward but not rushed canter and the lines worked out perfectly.
All in all, another great day, and I’m very glad the lessons weren’t cancelled for rain. Murray stepped up and worked hard after a bit of a doofy start, and I felt like I rode better and better through each course. Though the fences were small, I think I would have felt confident moving them up, even a foot, with how well Murray was listening.
I’m realizing now that all the media I’m posting is us being at least a little dweeby, but it’s all about transparency, right? I swear some of our efforts were solid.