Over the weekend I was really lucky to be able to experience The Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta for the first time in my life. For those unfamiliar with The Mane Event, it is essentially a giant Horse Expo. It features many, many vendors in a booth-fair format, various clinics of all different disciplines, exciting entertainment, breed demo’s, a trainers challenge and so much more. Months ago, 3 great friends/clients and I decided to adventure some 7-hours south in pursuit of a fun-filled ladies weekend. We’re safely home, surely exhausted, and all of our heads are spinning with the wealth of information we received over the 3 days. Naturally, we gravitated towards the English Clinics which were put on by Jeff Campf (Hunters and Jumpers) and Diane Creech (Dressage). We also took in many presentations such as Overcoming Fear in the Saddle, Horse Biomechanics, Equine Bodywork, Schleese Saddlery, and got to attend a Q & A with Jeff as well. When we weren’t vigorously writing notes, we were browsing the 100+ vendors, and enjoying some retail therapy. Naturally, I didn’t come home empty handed and checked one thing off my ‘want’ list, and brought home another item as well. I’m planning a different Blog Post for those things, so for now I’ll stick to a brief overview of my notes from the weekend. For this post, I want to focus on the clinics, keeping in mind each lesson there was a topic set forth by the event organizers, and though the instructors had never met the riders, they rode in multiple lessons. While reading my notes, also keep in mind these are not word-for-word quotes, for the most part. Many of them are statements that were made by the instructors, and/or my own thoughts and revelations as a result of their statements.
Jeff Campf, Hunters & Jumpers
While it’s been many moons since I jumped competitively, I really enjoyed Jeff’s style and approach. As an instructor, I felt like I took a lot away from it in that regard, but as a rider and horsewoman in general, I thoroughly enjoyed his stories and analogies. He preached the importance of function, and demanded a lot of the riders. That being said, he was very quick to reward them when they listened. He challenged the riders to be actively seeking the right answer, and allowed them to make mistakes so he could could correct them, rather than controlling their every move. He yelled, but not always negatively, and only when necessary. He was entertaining for the crowd, and very interactive. Here is a point form of some notes I took:
- Shoulders always stay behind the hands
- Hands must be at a slight angle to reflect the slope of the shoulder, and hands should be at an average of 5 1/4" - 6" apart, depending on our bit width.
- Riders must stay solid in their position, even to an awkward distance. Negative change only makes things harder and you’re more likely to become a lawn-dart if you get out of position.
- Half-turns in reverse and shallow serpentine get horses sharp and on the aids in balance.
- Horses must be in front of the leg, without running through the hand. Horses who run out through the hand have no balance, and are not on the aids.
- Riders must constantly have soft, fluid joints.
- Function > performance
- Form Follows Function
- In sticky situations such as disobedience, any reaction – negative or positive – tells me I’m asking with enough pressure.
- Don’t let stiffness build through a course.
- Horses need to be adjustable NOW.
- The “DIRT” acronym will keep you out of it. D-istance, I-mpulsion, R-hythm, T-rack.
- Distance comes from correct Impulsion, Rhythm and Track.
During the Q & A with Jeff, many great questions came up, most of which revolved around his training philosophies. As someone interested in breeding, knowing he is a ‘dealer’ of sorts, I questioned if there is anything particular he looks for when evaluating youngstock. I mentioned Conformation as an example and he kind of ran with that, which didn’t entirely answer my question, but it was informative nonetheless. Jeff reiterated that any horse must be athletic and willing, but he looks heavily at the body angles. He mentioned he will buy a horse with a club foot without question if the rest of the leg, hip and shoulder angles are correct, the horse has a great brain and an appropriate character. Specifically, he likes short cannon bones and well angled hind legs with long forelimbs and even angles in the shoulders and hips. When questioned about rider fitness goals, he strongly noted he wants strong riders, not thin riders. When asked about overcoming fearful situations, as a typical man he gave the “well, just do it” answer, but was quick to follow with encouraging words to focus on what you CAN do. Instead of saying “I cant ride that long gallop down to the airy oxer” say “I can set my rhythm, track and wait for the fence to come to me.”.
Diane Creech, Dressage
While I was really sad to miss most of Diane’s lessons, I did get to take in one and I felt like I got so much out of just that 1 hour. While I will admit, I didn’t know who she was initially when I heard her name, but my memory was quickly jogged and it was a true honour to be in the same building as her. She had an incredibly soft and kind approach to the lesson, and while she was relatively firm in a feminine, encouraging way, she was a real treat to watch. The lesson I saw had 2 riders in it; one on a QH Cross schooling around 1st Level, and the other on a green young, powerful WB who was terrified of everything as it was his first time off the farm. Additionally, his rider seemed equally terrified and tense. She chose to ride him in a German Martingale and I won’t lie, I was a little distraught at the idea. To my surprise, Diane was quick to question it but could tell, I’m sure, the rider was using it as a safety net, and allowed her to keep it on. Here are the notes I took:
- Positive Anticipation is a good thing, never discourage an eager horse who’s seeking to please you and find the right answer, instead find a way to channel their energy. Don’t confuse positive anticipation with negative anticipation, you must be the one in control.
- Never start in collection, even if the horse is hot/spooky/nervous. Starting on a short rein will disengage the hindquarters for the entire ride, plus the horse wont enjoy it.
- When in doubt always go forward, no matter how scary it is.
- Stop thinking things are hard, it creates tension; always think positive.
- Give frequent breaks and allow them to stretch their body. A horse should be allowed to stretch at least once every 10-15 minutes, more often in difficult collected work.
- Horses are rectangles on legs, control all 4 corners.
- Transitions cannot be pulled, only pushed.
- ‘Down to” or “Back to” trot are negative thinking. We must always think of forward. Do not take the terms literal.
- If your horse is leaning on you or resisting one rein more than the other, always leg yield. When Leg Yielding, use both reins to encourage the horse to accept the inside rein while the rider leg drives the inside hind to the outside hand, creating proper connection.
- Always finish on something easy; never warm up, work hard, and stop. It doesn’t instill a feeling of accomplishment, especially on a subpar ride.
- Counter Canter is a highly unused tool, but for good reason. When done incorrectly, it can cause serious damage to horses both physically and in their training. Always ensure the canter aids are clear in order to maintain a clear counter canter and avoid lead swapping. If they cannot hold a counter canter, they’re either weak, or trained incorrectly to the canter aid, but again, we cannot punish positive anticipation. Determine why they’re wanting to swap, and most often it’s rider/training error.
- If we fix ourselves, we often fix our horse
Heidi McLaughlin, Fearful Riding
I didn’t stay for this entire clinic. I’ll be honest, I got *really* bored and a little annoyed when every 45 seconds there was comments about “read my book” or “come to my clinic” and it was a huge turn off. That being said, I still managed to fill half a page of notes and it inspired me to try something new with Kidd over the next week or 10 days, which I too will blog about at another time. For now, here are my notes:
- Break everything down, then build it back up.
- Establish a relationship with your horse on the ground, then transfer it to the saddle.
- Tight, rigid contact encourages concern.
- Rider/handlers/etc must represent safety. Horses rely on their herd for safety – you’re their herd leader and must represent the safety and comfort the herd provides.
- Be limber and follow the movement.
- Be comfortable in the spook so you no longer fear it.
- Ignore the people who tell you to “just do it” to get over your fears; it’s not that simple.
- You need courage. Being courageous is a choice, just like being happy is.
- Lack of control causes fear; establish a relationship, trust yourself and build your confidence. Then, choose to be courageous, every day.
- Be lead around without a bridle for 10-15 minutes, a minimum of 7 days. Ask your handler to lead your horse all around and not give you any notice on turns, stops, etc. When you’re comfortable, close your eyes. Find your focus, rhythm, relaxation and feel. This will create improved balance, which will give you confidence.
I think in events like this, and clinics in general, it's crucial to absorb as much information as you can; if something doesn't go along with your morals or you just simply get a bad vibe from the presenter, even if you take one thing away from it, you're further ahead than when you walked in the door, and I found taking notes was incredibly helpful as it allowed me to jot down my thoughts, quotes and other little tidbits of information to trigger memories or ideas. Our bag of tools can never be too full.
I hope some of this may help someone, and if nothing else I hope to refer back to these notes regularly. The weekend away was a fabulous breath of fresh air that I desperately needed, and I can’t wait to put my newfound knowledge to good use!
In a few weeks, I intend to do some Product Reviews on my new purchases, which included a Prolite Dressage Girth and an Impact Gel Half Pad.