Last weekend Sable and Bentley hopped on the trailer and we jetted over to Ganaraska to attend the Beyond the Basics clinic hosted by Bob C. and Chrystal. We had the privilege of one-on-one time with Canadian Endurance legends Nancy Beacon, Carol Steiner and Bob Gielen. There were only 10 of us riding in the clinic, so for 2.5 wonderful days, we sponged up as much information as possible and had fun in the forest.
Our drive there was eerily relaxed – when you aren’t competing there seems to be no panic of what has been forgotten, and we seem to survive on much less. With no rush, we still managed to get there and set up camp in great time. We were greeted by Bob and Carol and in no time, we were tacked up to ride with both Bobs. On our way out, Emma and her parents pulled into ride site and she tacked up in record time. Linda and I were insanely jealous of Emma, whose parents let her bugger off with us while they set up camp. It was discussed later at the campfire that night we needed another clinic on how to train husbands to do stuff like this for us.
The ride was lovely and we plowed through a lot of fun single track trail with tons of moguls, twists, tight trees, and of course on a 16.1 horse – lots of ducking. Bentley was great but snarked a lot at the other horses since he didn’t like being bunched up with a group. Halfway through the ride Bob 2 mentioned we should all try and keep at least a horse length between us and we all tried very hard. It helped a great deal with seeing the terrain in front of us, and dialed down the Bentley snark as there were no dragons puffing their magical cranky breath on his rump. My GPS had us just shy of 16km for our fun little ride (about 1hr 45)
Saturday was the official clinic start. We were divided into 2 groups of 5. We started the morning with a centered riding lesson from Carol. I rode this one in my regular saddle (cross country jumping saddle) and tall boots. We started by working on different types of turns: looking turn (no legs or reins) which is a Bentley specialty (since we spent a lot of our winter bareback with dropped reins), then opening rein, then inside rein to belly button, then single rein stop and turn/stop with inside rein and half-halt on outside.
Next we each got individual assessments of our riding position. I had to shorten my stirrups one hole, which brought me to my regular lesson length – I usually drop them for trail, thinking it is more secure as I have less ejection during the rocket-trot, but in fact its more secure as I can securely weight my heels and can keep my leg steadier, using my muscles better. She did tests like moving my leg forward and back, reaching over and pulling my hands over etc, to show the differences between good and bad position – all things that are nothing new (like thumbs on top, elbows bent etc) but it gave me the real understanding as to WHY with respect to trail riding and seat security (its not just looking nice for a dressage or show ring) – it makes me realize there is a huge need for competitive distance coaches and lessons, you just don’t see them near us and while we learn lots from our jumper/eventer/dressage coaches, its very valuable to get it rephrased once in a while in a way that makes sense to your discipline. Principles are generally the same, terminology and application not necessarily the same. If you ever get a chance, GET TO ONE OF THESE TYPES OF CLINICS!
PS. Everyone had the same instruction for stirrups – get them up! We all whined, then hit the trails later in what felt like jockey stirrups, but I think most of us agreed it worked!
Then we did some straightening exercises for the horses – shallow serpentines using our inside to keep the shoulder from falling in.
We wrapped up the lesson with engaging the hindquarters. Going down the long side we picked up the big forward trot on the forehand, then going into the corner: eyes up, chest up, shoulders back, engage the horse. Just that, no pulling or driving, just using the eyes and position to bring the horse forward and back. We weren’t getting much difference, then she said I had to get my eyes WAY up, meaning look right at the sky. Uhh, can’t see where I’m going, but boy did those hocks engage. A few tries at this and I started getting the feel for it without counting clouds.
After a tasty lunch we sat down with Bob and Nancy to answer all our burning endurance questions. I would go into all of the things we learned, but we often got into stories or tangents, all of which I learned a ton from, but aren’t so easy to arrange into a blog post. Before we knew it, 4:00 passed and technically the clinic was over for the day but of course we were still chattering away. One thing that did seem to apply to most of the group (except me, having the gargantuan youngster who is still likely to grow more) was to stop holding the horse back and stop wasting yours and their energy fighting them, and that adding speed isn’t as daunting as we all take it to be.
Of course, in the evening everyone was eager to take to the trails and practice everything we learned. Linda and I held back, choosing not be get caught up in a large group. As I mucked Bentley’s paddock, he went over to his fence where I had hung his halter, picked it up in his teeth and brought it to me as if to say “stop wasting time woman, take me out!” What a puppy dog. Perhaps for the first time ever, he stood still in his paddock while I gave him a speedy groom and tack up.
We started out with Linda, Tracey and Emma. Once we got to single track trail, Emma and I wanted to trot and Linda and Tracy chose to stay behind and walk. The horses were agreeable and we practiced leading and following and not running up each others butts. No snarking from Bentley at Abi today. We only stayed out for an hour but had a blast.
We stayed up late on Saturday around the campfire sharing stories and gaining more useful tidbits, too many to recount.
Sunday I switched into my Derby saddle and running shoes with halfchaps. I was immediately nervous about hitting the trail in the saddle, worried that the saddle would bother Bentley. He was a little ripper that morning – wanting to run and giving hops and sillies all down the trail, which had me believing my worries about the saddle. Both Linda and Bob thought he was just being fresh though, I think I was just a little over-panicked because of the change in tack (though I had put my 5kg pack on for the first time, so he may be complaining about me getting fat all of a sudden). It’s a fine line – I need to get used to it myself, but I don’t want to risk hurting my horse in doing so. I look back and agree that Bob and Linda were totally right, but I had the problem in my mind which resulted in the ride not being as great for me as it could have been, and of course a lot of loud exclamations down the trail. We practiced lots of changing who led, and several times stopped, let Linda disappear, then zoom up and pass her. Getting the horses used to staying behind, passing being passed etc. At the end, Bob told us to let them go down the rail trail. Thankfully Bentley had got the hops out of his system and we had a good gallop, but I didn’t fully let him go because I wasn’t quite trusting him not to buck and was also practicing what I had learned with Carol the day before: letting him go and bringing him back with my eyes (oh and having not adjusted the stirrups on this saddle, they were way too long! so that certainly could have hurt my confidence too). My hands were very sore from holding him, I had forgotten to wear my gloves. That horse can move! It was our first gallop away from home. Let’s hope now that he doesn’t decide that all trails now have to be done at lightning speed.
The afternoon we had another lesson with Carol. Immediately I had her check my tack and we decided on a suitable stirrup length. We practiced more of the subtle signals in riding, circling around our “light houses” (aka other horses) on loose rein with our eyes at the ground, head, and outside, and watching where it took our horses. Then practicing putting weight in each stirrup. All sorts of small adjustments. Throughout the whole lesson, we never used leg more than as a post for bending or to stop falling in at the shoulder.
We did canter transitions with no kicking or squeezing, just stopping the outside shoulder with the leg, and looking back to the stifle. Of course, Bentley doesn’t ever need to be asked twice to canter so we never had trouble getting into the gait, but our leads were correct 100% of the time (which is not usually the case for us). Of course, after canter, he jigged and jogged and exploded like a goofball wanting to run around and play. Eventually we were able to focus with the rest of the group and didn’t miss too much.
Overall, the main message I got from the lessons is its better to do what feels like almost nothing at all!
His smile says it all.