john-michael durr clinic w the suzukini

Winter is for clinics, right? That’s what I’ve learned in the last five years as an Equestrienne. And fortunately for me, I got to ride in one pretty early!  Suzy’s lovely owner rode with John-Michael Durr (heretofore JM) on Friday at our barn, and I got to have the ride on Saturday at another barn about an hour from us.

Suzukini was a freaking champion on Friday, while simultaneously giving a really accurate reflection of her current training issues.  She wants to get tense and rushy and solve problems by putting her head down and going for it.  The problem with that method is that it gives her the perfect position to just… not go.   She pulled this trick twice, and JM tactfully guided Suzy’s owner through riding the mare better to the fences and presto — the mare jumped like magic.  Suzy jumped everything huge, and had no second thoughts about 2’3″ verticals and her first oxer!  I was very proud.

On Saturday, we loaded up Suzy and a friend’s horse (who was actually bred by Suzy’s breeder and used to live with her!) and headed over to Clay Station Ranch for our second jump lesson. Suzy hauled like a champ and stood at the trailer like a seasoned professional when we got there. The only problem I encountered was that her bossy broodmare-ing of me started to come back out again as we walked around — subtly shoulder checking me to get me to go where she wanted to go. I not-so-subtly shoulder checked back.  I kept our warmup really simple — walk and a tiny bit of trot in the outdoor arena, hoping to keep her calm and avoid working her up before we got in to our lesson.

Unfortunately, my warm up strategy didn’t really walk.  We got into the indoor for our lesson and Suzy was suddenly on fire.  She veered around the indoor choosing where to turn and when to turn and what to look at.  I tried to keep her slow and relaxed instead of rushing and charging with minimal input.  JM immediately told me to create the horse I wanted instead of restricting the horse I had.  Did that make sense? Nope.  He backed it up: instead of constantly telling Suzy “don’t look there, don’t trot so fast, don’t veer in here” he wanted me to tell her “go like this, turn right here, look over there” and then reward her for doing those things when I asked her to.  That I could do.


girl likes to jump everything big right now

JM’s theme for the weekend was creating a supple relaxation in the horse that you could add power to if needed — but taking the speed out of the equation.  We started by cantering a small X, which Suzy got right up to and then promptly said “nah, no thanks” and tried to run out to the right.  We approached again at a trot and she politely declined once more. JM had me walk her up to the fence and go over it from a walk, at which point I was really glad I brought my grab strap.

Our approach to the first fence foreshadowed the rest of the day.  Suzy wasn’t totally on board, and wanted to do things her way or not at all. JM had me slow everything down.  If we cantered, it had to be a relaxed and steady canter.  If we trotted, it still had to be a relaxed and organized trot.  He wanted me to show how being relaxed and steady would make life easier for everyone.

I got left behind a lot all day

This worked really well for most of the fences, though we never managed to nail the relaxed and steady canter approach.  All of our fences ended up with a long trot approach, and maybe a stride or two of canter at the end. A couple of times Suzy burst through the relaxation and charged the fence, but it got better as we went along.  Each time we would approach a fence with new filler (new concept for her also — we haven’t put much fill in for her at home), Suzy tried to charge out over one shoulder or the other.  I wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping my leg on to the fences at this point either.  JM pointed out that I would feel Suzy start to pull me down to the fence and then take my leg off.  What he wanted was for me to keep my leg on, but compress her stride and sit her up.  This would make it easier for her to jump the fence instead of choppily stopping in front of it.

she is awfully cute though…

This strategy worked really well when I remembered it, so to remind me JM yelled at me to kick about three strides out from a fence.  This resulted in a bit of fence rushing after some pretty good, relaxed approaches, but at least she was jumping and listening!  Kicking a few strides out from the fence actually helped me stick with Suzy’s jump a bit better, because it made it easier to predict where she was going to jump, instead of riding hyper-defensively in case she decided to pull me out of the tack with her big, heavy head.

Though I tried to be both firm (you have to jump) and supportive (but it’s okay if it’s not pretty), I’m afraid I didn’t give her the best ride for the way she was feeling. I’m very, very, very glad that I had JM there to coach me through it.  It was seriously one of the toughest rides, both mentally and physically, that I’ve ever had. I was using every muscle in my body to keep leg on, lift her up, steady my post, steady her strides… definitely am not in shape for this kind of riding!! (But I hope to be soon.)

errr sorry kiddo

It wasn’t my prettiest ride (except that one picture above), but it was productive for Suzy and myself.  I learned a ton of new concepts that I can put to use on her, and I got confirmation that the instincts I’ve had about her training (can’t let her rush around, have to teach her to relax and balance upward, etc.) were correct, which is so nice to hear! Even better, I got some great ideas for adjusting my ride on Murray.  The idea of relaxing my horse through a turn and adding leg to balance upward to a fence is definitely different from how I typically approach a fence — i.e. kick my ass off down to it and hope that we don’t add until we’re underneath it. So all in all, an excellent clinic.

Plus, JM is fun and supportive to ride with. Highly recommend him as a clinician!

That night, I went to Peony’s house for a Horse Girl Party and we watched FEI TV. I chose my new sport — I think that vaulting to the Dr. Strange theme is going to be much less physically demanding!

 

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