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CA Bennett Clinic - Day 1 Review | November 15, 2019

When I left off in my cliffhanger-of-a-last post, I introduced my new trainer/coach and used the term "merciless yet memorable" to describe the weekend spent under her thumb.  It took me several days to piece this post together, because for the first time in a long time (maybe ever) I came away from a clinic LESSON with my head absolutely spinning.  Suddenly, everything I thought I knew was wrong, or 'not good enough', and it was astounding, demoralizing and exciting all at the same time.  I felt like I imagine I felt all those years ago getting in the car after my very first formal riding lesson; the fear, confusion and over-active mind was met by absolute inspiration, motivation and most importantly - questions and desire to improve.  

I have no Media from Day 1, so enjoy some randoms

As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn't necessarily looking for a Dressage-Specific trainer, and as such very few of my lessons were not exactly, well.. dressage-specific!  I was lucky enough to have my butt absolutely whooped three times over the course of the weekend with Carol Ann, and she also rode Sierra once for a portion of one of my lessons.  The theme for the weekend seemed to be "Do Less" and "Go Forward .... no like, MOAR FORWARDDDDDD" and on several occasions I thought I might die.  Ironically, my last lessons (day 1, day 2) back in October with a different clinician were very similar, so it goes to show how crucial ground support is because I feel like i'm not doing 'that much' and I feel 'plenty forward'.... but boy, was I wrong.

Day 1 was overwhelming as the flood gates opened and information overcame my life.  This was likely the most 'dressage-specific' lesson I had throughout the weekend, but I feel like maybe that's the case because there were no obstacles included while Day 2 & 3 featured some pole work.  On the first day, Carol Ann (likely hereby referred to as "CA" because #lazy) grilled me to a crisp over my hands - more specifically my desire to pull back and ride too 'safely'.  It's no secret that like most, my instinct in a spook/scoot/etc is to pull back and slow down if I feel my horse express some worry over something because slow = safe, right? I was told that this was wrong.. who knew?!  

*Cue a lunge whip to the ego (which happened about 598 more times throughout the weekend)*

Correction - he's a QH x Draft

 I seem to have a [very rational, IMO] fear of a horse taking off and broncing me into next week, but CA explained how counter intuitive it is to ride with that notion ruling me around the ring.  The analogy of 'staying inside the box' was used a lot throughout the weekend, and the amount of times I had to step (or be SHOVED) outside of that box was absolutely horrifying for me.  Many of the aspects that we covered on Day 1 seemed very opposite to what my instinct tells me to do, and it was a mind f#ck and a half to put it plainly.  She also made a point of mentioning "ok so say she spooks or takes off, you're already choking her with your reins and she manages to do it anyway so what difference does it make if it takes you 2 more seconds to shorten your reins up to correct her?".... that really sunk in and I realized she might be onto something with all her crazy talk.  In addition, I was getting after her for her moderately naughty behavior (don't get me wrong, there is a line where you will be punished) and she grew to expect a negative response that was counterproductive to our progress ... who knew?!

On Day 1, CA immediately picked up on Sierra's crookedness and bulging shoulders, especially on the right rein but it does occur on both sides.  She continually emphasized how behind the leg she is, and how much I over-ride when there is even a potential for something to go askew.  We discussed at length how dangerous (for growth) it is for me to worry so much about how things might 'look' to someone glancing into the arena on a schooling ride, but comforted me by saying she has the same types of anxiety.  Unfortunately for me, to counteract it her theories are similar to that of just ripping off a band-aid so if you guessed that she made me ride with almost no contact while Sierra giraffed around the arena, and made me ride with zero contact in transitions while chanting "this has nothing to do with her, this is for you" you are very right. Mind F#ck. Oy Vey.

Slowly getting some muscle back (bottom is most recent)

Sierra was particularly spooky and 'busy-brained' on Day 1 and the heaters banging and the snow sliding off the 25+ft roof peak and slamming down onto the frozen ground didn't help matters.  Naturally, I avoided riding right down to the scary end and rode on a far shorter rein with more contact because #What If She Takes Off And I Die and within 15 minutes I was being shoved out of my comfortable little box by CA.  Every time Sierra spooked or scooted CA made me throw my hands up to her ears and close my leg.  It was SO mentally challenging for me but the moment in time that really resonated with me was during her arguably biggest spook of the day.  We were trotting down a long side towards the scary end and the snow slid off the roof and she scooted - I threw my hands forward, closed my leg and Sierra broke into a very forward Canter but I rode it with a relaxed seat and then transitioned down to trot and we carried on like nothing happened. It was invigorating and incredibly empowering to ride through several spooks and come out unscathed.  It was in these tedius moments that CA recognized my inability to do a downward transition without pulling because #riding is hard... so while I rode this feral giraffe around the ring with almost no contact, we worked up and down through transitions and worked on doing so off my seat (IE no contact at all on the reins) and maintaining impulsion throughout them.  Eventually she wasn't getting any response to her spooks and silly antics and even began to relax - #wut?.. I also learned that unlike Kidd, Sierra tends to spook in a straight line which is very easy to ride vs the duck N' bolt that Kidd was infamous for.

In addition, Sierra was easier to maintain at a more forward pace because she didn't feel like I was going to 'take everything away' every moment.  Suddenly transitions felt much easier and she felt much happier in her work. It was truly remarkable how something so simple that I thought I was accomplishing, was SO off the mark.  Don't get me wrong; it probably didn't look good and it was so very basic but CA was right - it was more for me and my own mental blocks than anything to do with Sierra.  We talked at length about the importance of this basic fundamental and it's requirement before we can progress to the 'fun stuff' and she feels that we have exposed the roots on the problems that have plagued us this past year.

She gave me a some very powerful tidbits that while they seem like common sense or basic b!tch riding jargon, the way she discussed them really stuck in my brain.  They consisted of:

  • When you want to pull, push instead - even if you have to give dramatically to un-stick your own mind
  • You ride her too under-powered and safe
  • You ride her like she's a green baby and you don't want to upset her - be firm but tactful; she is a mare after all and this is a partnership
  • Trust her more
  • Go forward, always
  • Stop pulling back/sideways - Hands forward & fingers closed
  • Give the inside, always
  • If she gets stuck, counter bend not over bend
  • Do what you don't want to do (IE ride at the scary end, you big chicken)
  • Be firm and direct but quick to provide a reward and incentive
We also spent quite a lot of time talking. Friday wasn't a 'regular scheduled clinic day' but she was coming up early and we had time to spare so I snuck in a lesson.  I'm sure it was partially due to being our first time meeting in person, but she asked a lot of questions not only to learn about us but to keep me engaged throughout the lesson.  I loved that the questions weren't the typical "did you feel that?"... Instead, the question were more along the lines of: "describe to me exactly what you're feeling right now" and "what are two benefits that you might gain from doing x,y,z?".  Honestly, I would say Day 1 wasn't that physically exhaustive but I was so mentally drained and my head was absolutely spinning.

CA jumps giant sticks and it's very scary
Overall, I dismounted with an incredible yet confusing first impression.  I suddenly felt like a smol babe who had no idea what I was doing and I LIKED it, but on the flip side, I felt like "holy sh!t, I have a lot to learn and a lot of ground to cover if I want to get anywhere with my riding goals".  Suddenly everything I thought was correct was wrong to an extent, but the realist in me had me remembering that just because she said it, doesn't mean it's true.  After all, I didn't know this woman and I shouldn't take everything she said for gospel but the more I sat back and thought about it while watching old videos (because I didn't have anyone there on Friday to take any media, sorry people) I realized just how right she was.  I knew it was going to be a doozy of a weekend, and we were just getting started.


  1. Wow - this coach sounds awesome...even with pushing you waaay out of your comfort zone. I've worked with someone similar. You sort of feel like you can't ride/have been even been on a horse before at first, then it all starts coming together! I hope your other rides kept improving!

    1. Thanks for reading! It was definitely an emotional weekend!


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