Thanks to our Austin Eventer Lisa H. for her Rider Recap!
This past weekend I attended my first Deb Rosen Clinc. Well actually it was my first clinic. Ever. I made a point to NOT Google her for fear that I would be even more nervous than I already was for the weekend. And it’s a good thing I didn’t because wow was this weekend a lot to process (in a good way) even without Google.
A little back story: I got my horse, Ellis, about 4 months ago. He has been in dressage training all his life but in the past 6-9 months, his previous owner decided that he should get some jumping training. She sent him to Lisa Bauman, which is how I got him. He is a 10 year old Trakehner gelding with a bit of an ADD brain and a heart of gold. He had never stepped foot on a cross country course. For the past 4 months (when the weather was decent enough for the arenas to be open) we have been working on getting to know each other, his jumping, dressage, and personality quirks. We had tried multiple times to get him out on the cross country course before this weekend but it just didn’t work out for one reason or the other… I blame the weather! I on the other hand decided to jump into eventing when I moved to Austin and got involved with Austin Eventing. Before that I had done Jumpers and a bit of dressage but now I wanted to combine the two- Eventing was perfect. Before this weekend I had ridden on a cross country course a whopping total of 1 other time.
Anyways, we loaded him up to Meadow Creek Park Thursday night and I followed up Friday morning. When I got there I could tell he was nervous. He hadn’t eaten all his food and was wide eyed at the great outdoors. I took him out and walked him over the super scary bridge to the main field. He was very nervous and looky. He munched some grass but I didn’t want to go too far out because there was a dressage lesson going and I didn’t want him to spook and cause the horse in the lesson to spook. I took him back to the stall and let him relax for a little longer until it was our turn for dressage. He was good tacking up in the stall but it took us 5 try’s to mount (too much to look at). Once mounted, we made our way back over the super scary bridge to the super scary crumbled asphalt. I don’t know why but every time we passed this section in the road he spooked- all weekend. I guess crumbling asphalt has the potential to eat horses. Anyways, we got out to the field and he immediately got tense and started jigging. I tried doing smaller circles back and forth to try and get him to walk, but his nerves were making me nervous, which in turn was making him even more nervous. It was a vicious cycle. I don’t know really what I was/am nervous about, maybe that he’ll rear on me, or buck me off, or do something else to make me go flying…. None of which has he ever done. But that irrational fear is still there (At least it was on Friday). Lisa came over and helped me get myself (reminded me to breathe) and him under control enough to make it over to the dressage area. Apparently Breathing is an important aspect of this whole riding thing- once I took a deep breath he instantly relaxed. Deb came over and introduced herself and asked where we were and what my concerns were. At this point I just cried. I just wanted to make this weekend as positive as possible for Ellis. It wasn’t about me this weekend but I knew that I was already affecting his experience and it didn’t appear to be positive. A George Morris quote kept popping into my head “Every second you are either schooling or un-schooling your horse. There is no in-between”. I told her that if all we did was walk this whole weekend, that was perfectly fine with me. As long as he was happy and relaxed. She then told me what I think was probably the biggest key to this weekend: That horses trained in dressage don’t know that they still have a job when they get out into these big open spaces, and that when they do come out here, they feel free or even feral. It’s our job to show them that even here they still have a job to do. So we dressage’d in a field. We mentally took out the dressage arena and just focused on the field. First we walked in small circles, my outside leg was there to define the “dressage arena edge” and my inside leg was to help him leg yielding out until we met that “edge”. Then we asked him to get round. Very round. Get him to focus on me. Not the field, not the barn, just me and my legs. We started trotting and did the same thing. Lots of circles. Small circles, large circle, moving circles. By the end of the lesson we were out in the middle of the field, doing small circles around Deb. She would move and it was my job to #1 not run her over, and #2 keep Ellis focused. By the end of the first day, we were relaxed enough to be able to calmly walk back to the barn.
Day 2: Stadium
It took us only 2 try’s to get mounted. The bridge wasn’t quite so scary but that crumbled asphalt was still there… I decided that the dressage arena that we had worked in the day before was going to be our “safe place” for the weekend. This is where we would warm up. Doing the same things that we had learned in our dressage lesson, bending, circles, round… all that but this time we had the added “benefit” of a train to contend with. I made the decision even before getting on that day that if a train came by, I was going to dismount and walk him. I didn’t know how he was going to react and if he flipped out I wanted to already be on the ground. The first of five trains came by while we were warming up. He did freak out but I just kept walking. I didn’t even look at him really. I just kept moving. Once the train has passed, I got back on and got him back under control. When our stadium lesson started we started over tiny cross rails. Perfectly fine by me. He really loves jumping and as soon as he realized what we were doing he was game. He was happy, and for the most part relaxed. He jumped beautifully and I think I did well too. I tried to stay out of his mouth and let him choose the takeoff location. When the train came by the 2nd time I got off again and we walked. Time’s 3-5 I stayed on but we just worked on bending, circles, and listening. Each time he got better and better. By the end of the 2nd day I had a completely different horse. He was happy!! Therefore so was I! That night he ate ALL of his food and looked quite content in his stall- he was probably pooped too!
Day 3: Cross Country
By Day 3 I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. My back was killing me, my brain was fuzzy from everything I had learned in the last 2 days, and I was nervous about how cross country was going to go. I mounted without a problem, encountered the same scary asphalt, and warmed up in our “safe place”. Deb came over and we talked that this was his very first time on course… I don’t think I mentioned that it was only my second… She said that there wasn’t anything that we would be doing today that he couldn’t walk over. She had the other 2 ladies go over a small log and then she walked with me to the log and we walked over it. Or really it was more of a walk hop over. Then we trotted over it and he did great. At the next fence, we tried trotting up to it but we stopped. I wasn’t there for him, encouraging him to go, so he didn’t. The second try though, we did great. That was kind of the process for the jumps. By the 4thor 5th jump, he was asking if he should go over, and for the most part I was saying “yes you should” but I think I was posing it more as a question then a statement. My nerves were also getting in the way, I didn’t soften before the jump (probably due to a lack of breathing), had chicken wings over the jumps, got jumped out of the tack, and hit him in the mouth on the landing. I scold myself for all of those mistakes. Because I know that every time I did that, I may have done something to adversely affect his experience that day. I wish I had some video or pictures to see how good/bad it really was but due to the weather we had put the fancy camera away. But I’m pretty sure that Deb caught onto the fact that I was nervous and told me to say “Yes” as I would come toward the fence. I didn’t know if she wanted me to say it out loud or in my head, so I just said it out loud. It was as beneficial to Ellis as it was to me. Because instead of him asking “are we jumping this?” and me going “maybe”, I was physically saying “yes” and you could tell in the increased quality and confidence of both of us over the jump. The water complex was the one thing that he just didn’t quite understand, as we got close to it, even if we were cantering, he would go down to a walk, we would get up to it and he would stop. We moved back and forth and finally, very warily, we would enter the water. We will continue to work on this. As a great end to the lesson, Deb put together a small course and at the very end was a jump that we had never jumped before. We did great through most of the jumps, had a small issue with the water, and as we came to that fence I said out loud “Yes… Yes… Yes” with every canter stride and he jumped it beautifully. Without a question. We were there together, jumping cross country, and happy!
With all that happened this weekend, it took me a day to sit back and reflect. There are places where I know I need to improve, there are things that went less than stellar but in the end, I could not be more proud of my boy! He asked all the right questions, and thanks to some exceptional training, I was given the tools to answer him back. Of course there is much work to be done, but we have come so far in such a short time frame. I say its not about me, it’s about him, but I know that in order to help him I have to help myself. I have to learn to breath and how to work within his personality, to help him understand how awesome his life is going to be. I can tell he loved this weekend. He loves cross country and eventing. I am so happy I had the opportunity to learn as much as I have from Deb, and excited to see where we will go from here.