Rode a day clinic with Kip Fladland yesterday. It was held at Chance Ridge Event Center, one of my favorite places to go with and without a horse. Kara Mehaffy had agreed to scoop up my pony and I was delighted that I would have Royal there. I would have begged or borrowed (prolly not stole for all the obvious reasons) to get a chance to ride this clinic but it was really neat to do it on my own horse.
Photo thanks to Tracy Speck Bagley
I used to start my clinics with having people tell me briefly who they were and why they were there. That gave me a heads up on what to look out for with them and I hoped it would give them a marker to look back to when by clinic’s end they were hopefully miles away from that starting point. That did work out quite a few times just that way.
Here’s a thing that came home to me on a different level yesterday (hence the light bulb part). We go to these things with ideas in mind of what we want to work on with our horse. At least, I usually have an idea of the benefit I want to gain. Yesterday it was give my horse more exposure to another environment working within a large group of other riders. The side benefit was getting to soak up more of this really great horsemanship from easily the best guy in our area to teach this stuff. Other people came with different goals as well they would.
Turns out, it’s not about working on whatever problem we think the horse has. They probably don’t have that problem anyway. Braciness, pushiness, whatever is almost always stemming from us, our timing, our try or lack of those things that tell the horse what to do. We are late, we give up, we are awkward with the tools. All those things happen and it’s okay, it’s part of the process. As we get handier, learn how to better organize what we are going to ask for before we ask for it, we get smoother. Quite amazingly, our horses get smoother too. Opportunities to work on whatever we find arise organically and we handle them in the moment.
Yesterday I picked up that as the ribcage passes in front of me, while doing the half circle exercise I need to cue for the hip to untrack so that by the time the horse is to my side, it is ready to shift it’s weight back on it’s haunches, bring the front end through with a good reach from the outside foot and we start again. I have always waited too long on that. That piece falling into place (I am sure it is not the first time I heard it but it IS the first time it sunk in) helped my horse immeasurably.
The cue came at the right time to allow him to get his feet right to do what I was asking him to do.
That’s it in a nutshell. Do that, things work out. Sometimes the horse has things to work through because of all the other miscued timing, and unreasonable requests we have made previously. That’s okay.
Kip did things just a little different yesterday. I thought about how many times people have said to me or I have heard in other clinics “But so and so does it this way. Why is it different now?” The answer is, it really doesn’t matter. If what so and so does looks good and works out for you, great, file it away in the back of your head to revisit later. Give who is teaching the clinic a chance to make their point. If I am at a clinic and someone is teaching very differently from the Tom Dorrance tradition that Buck, Peter, and Kip follow, I am going to view that with a very skeptical eye til I see it also work for the horse, and then I will go from there.
Won’t it confuse my horse? I have also been asked this question too. Probably not any more than the hundred or so things we do that we don’t even know we are doing does. This at least is on purpose. Has a beginning, middle, and hopefully a release at the end.
Lightbulbs flashed here, there and everywhere for me yesterday. Most of them won’t make sense or matter to you as they have to do with me and my horsemanship journey. It’s stuff I have had the foundation laid working on with Peter, and was the next available level for me. An important one that I will share was what happened during the fast walk, slow walk transitions.
I have honestly thought this was mostly about being able to rate your horse’s pace which is no bad thing. Anyone who knows Royal and I knows we have a problem with straightness. He is lightening fast as most Arabians at escaping out the hind, but is not above utilizing his neck or shoulder for said task.
Kip (as Peter does too) has us find a soft feel in our good fast reachy walk. He had added us asking for elevation while standing first. This was a new piece to me too. As the light bulb flashed, I remembered Peter talking about how important it is not not let your horse’s poll sink lower than the pommel on your saddle. Ex pleasure horse trainer this is hard for me. I have spent the last year asking Royal to put that giraffe head down!
Giraffe head not at all the goal here either! Chin down and in, head and neck slightly elevated. Kip explained this opens up the shoulders, allowing the back to naturally raise. I’ll be darned. Thinking about how our soft feel falls apart at the trot, with me trying to ask my horse to round down and over. Shoulders are closed in that position. Spine can’t go through the roof, as it were. . . no wonder he has a hard time with that. Good to know. Spine raised allows the hind to come up under and no matter what discipline we ride, we all want the horse working off the hind.
Anyway, as I am using my body to tell my horse to slow his feet, but stay straight between hands and legs, don’t lose your soft feel (this didn’t happen in an instant folks), something happened that has not happened for us before doing this. Royal got straight, soft and slow for two footfalls and I pushed him the reins to walk him out as directed and that soft straightness stayed with us! Not forever, but I felt it! There was an entirely different feel to his movement! We got that several times. Now that I know, I am going back for more of that!
We did several other exercises to refine and define. I have a roadmap ahead of me to ask with more clarity, more consistency and I have a further developed picture of what the end goals are for us, right now.
Photo thanks to Diane Beckham. I did look at that supporting right hand during the course of the day. What the heck are you doing way up there and got it down by my thigh where it belonged, LOL! The things we do!
Kip talked about eventually being able to use your reins at a 45 degree angle. That’s where my head started to hurt. Just as it did when Peter started talking about stepping the hind over an 8th, and then bring the front around in a 7/8’s turn. Math has never been my strong suit, but along with other preconceived ideas of what I can and cannot do, which have been getting shattered right and left, it makes sense to me. Shattering those preconceived ideas of my limitations in the saddle has made it possible to shatter them outside the barn.
It is almost never about the problem I think it is. First. Then; do the work, do it as best I can, build the best and most consistent habits possible, don’t quit when things get hard, no excuses, and it’s amazing the changes that can be made. It works out when I go to saddle Royal as well.
Icing on the cake was riding the clinic with so many people I know! A day on horseback with friends, learning wonderful things! It does not get much better than that! I hope people will take time to comment and if you rode the clinic, or want to talk about whatever your latest learning experience has been, I’d love that very much.
Thanks to Kip Fladland for being a fun and engaging teacher true to the horsemanship traditions I think are the finest anywhere. Can’t wait til Feb 9, March 23 and then we will take it back to Peter in Archie MO come May.
Photo by Diane, edited by me