I would like to preface this [short] post by apologizing to my future-self and all the readers, as my beloved Cathryn had headed home earlier that morning and I didn't get much in the way of media to share from Day 2 and as I sit here typing this while supervising a College Final, surrounded by anxious students I can't help but feel the same - but also different - as I reflect on the clinic this past weekend.
Sunday started off on the wrong foot. The night prior we had our Year End Awards Banquet and admittedly, I have zero recollection of turning off my alarm at 7:00 AM and awoke shortly after 8. I live 20 minutes from town, and my lesson was scheduled to begin at 9:00. I sent a jumbled message in our clubs group chat stating I would have to scratch from it because I didn't have time to catch, tack, etc but I was enroute. Much to my surprise, I arrived to seeing Sierra tied sleepily to the rail, being brushed and all my tack awaiting our lesson. I quickly administered her AFX and began to ready myself and before I knew it, I was walking around the ring. Sierra felt much the same as the day prior; anxious, excessively alert and begging to scoot off at even the thought of adding leg. As the clinician and I joked back and forth about my sleeping in, I tried to ease my mind as I felt my own anxieties creeping out of the darkness; particularly as I noted the canter poles at the 'scary end' of the arena.
As the lesson began, we started out with canter poles which were set at the 'near' end and spaced far enough apart on a circle that riders could play with their horses adjust-ability. We began in trot, and Sierra immediately began with a melt down acting as though the poles were jumping up out of the dirt to eat her and there was absolutely no way she could possibly maintain some semblance of a rhythm or relaxation as I asked her to literally step over one. How dare I? Call it my sleepy misjudgement, but I had enough and decided to correct Sierra rather abruptly for this. I concluded there is absolutely zero reason why she can't go over a trot pole without changing rhythm - drop your back and become inverted if you must, but you do not need to stall out and awkwardly step over it like a total noodle-head. The clinician tried to school me through it and stated I was allowing her to drag her shoulders all over and ignore me, but I felt as though I was accomplishing what I was asking, so truth be told - I kind of ignored her apart from once raising my voice and explaining what was happening and why I was doing what I was doing. She seemed to accept my response, although I did feel a ping of guilt for raising my voice out of frustration, and explained to others that this is likely a case of "rider knows best" because I was on her and feeling things she couldn't see. Luckily, my reprimand did it's job and Sierra then settled (a little) and proceeded through the exercise as planned, rarely losing rhythm and even offered a few steps which exhibited some really great thrust and swing. Following a short break to catch our breath, we were put back through the poles first at a trot, then into a Canter. The goal was to fit 4 in between the poles, and this exercise in particular really shone a light on the fact that Sierra's adjustability and freedom in the Canter is seriously lacking because it was HARD to even make 5. In my head, I was begging for 6 or 7, but the clinician remained adamant that we get to 4. I felt like we were careening around the corner with very little control, and eventually albeit partially due to drifting closer to the inside, we were able to get 4 strides between the poles as requested. Feeling a sense of pride and success, it was cut fairly short by the clinician calling me a cheater for going to the inside of the poles vs. fixing it correctly, but for sake of not holding up the others in the group, she would let it slide. I guess in a way it was cheating, but alternatively, rather than just feeling like "I can't do this", I ended the exercise feeling like I can, and knowing where I need to work.
We then moved into some other pole exercises before moving to the single spaced canter poles at the 'scary end'. I will say that I partially feel like I 'deserved' this deck to be stacked against me, because I did say at the beginning I wanted to work on Canter Poles, and I do recognize that accepting that the "scary end" is a thing and thus not addressing it is a large personal flaw in my training. I love to go around and get the feeling of butterflies and rainbows and in order to do that, one best not rock the boat - right?
Unfortunately for me, this exercise really showed how underpowered I was allowing Sierra to canter. Ironically a week prior, a friend and I were chatting and she mentioned how incredible Sierra's canter looked. My response was it is lovely, but I know it's not 'enough' in any sense of the word, because she physically could not collect any more. I need to unlock all the boxes in the Canter, and this exercise really made that obvious to me. As we did the 4 canter poles which we were supposed to hit every stride, Sierra had to really push and gain ground in order to clear them. It was obvious to me then, that there just wasn't enough 'anything' in the Canter. Even when we hit the first pole perfectly, by the end she was struggling to throw herself over them, while other horses (even smaller ones) had no trouble at all. Much like the other Canter poles, the clinician had me go more forward to the poles and once again, that careening ride of death was evident. I felt like we were RIPPING as we approached the poles, and finally when we were both in a full body sweat, were we able to sort of accomplish the task of leaving the poles with the same energy we arrived with.
Ironically afterward, watching the one little clip of video my friend was able to catch, did I realize - what felt like a flat out gallop was basically just a slightly strong working Canter. It was painfully evident that while my work in the trot has generally paid off, we now need to spend time in the Canter. I think part of it may be coming off a large pony and moving onto a fairly big moving, longer type of horse and as a result, everything just feels much 'bigger'. I also need to encorperate more pole work because she seems to think this is just THE MOST EXCITING THING IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD and I feel like it needs to become a little 'dummed down'.
Overall, I was satisfied with the clinic. I got what I went there to accomplish and that was tools on how to work through Sierra's sticky moments, and new ways to challenge her so that we aren't just going 'round and 'round all the time. We spent some time licking our wounds, but for my two rides since Day 2 Sierra has been absolutely lovely, and I look forward to putting these tools to use in the future.