Our third and final clinic of the season followed about 2 weeks after my coach (lovingly referred to as "JK") was in the area and came by and rode Sierra for the first time. I'm a firm believer in the fact that it's often easier to coach someone through struggles after you've felt them yourself, but in the past the opportunity didn't really present itself for her to swing a leg over. This time, she happened to be in the area (she's from here and her immediate family still lives here) so she came over one evening and finally risked her life aboard the rocket ship known as Sierra.
If I've learned anything, it's for some strange reason I'm special to Sierra. I didn't realize this until a few years ago when I lent her out to a friend and Sierra bucked her off twice in one lesson. It blew my mind because she had hardly never even placed a foot out of line with me, but she pulled similar stuff with other people, so I'm always a little nervous when someone else gets on her. I trust JK incessantly, and know a little spice hardly phases her, but given how my last 18 months or so went with a previous coach/trainer, I was certainly a little guarded.. but alas, I asked and she was willing.
To say the ride was uneventful wouldn't entirely be true, and at one point Sierra basically took off with JK for a few laps in the right lead canter (her awful way), but JK was cool as a cucumber and let her do her thing, which was the right way to handle the situation. At the very end, it started to come together and she got off with a fairly good understanding of the things I have been struggling with. They mostly include the fact that I have zero right leg to left rein connection, and I .... can't touch her in the canter, let alone sit on her, especially on the right rein. When I do, she jams up her back, her legs transform into pogo sticks, and then she usually tries to buck - if she doesn't do that, she then continually breaks to trot.
A few days after JK left, my parents finally came to visit so I didn't ride while they were here. I don't get to see them often enough as they live 1200+ KM away, so I wanted to soak up every minute I could. Plus, by the time the evenings winded down I was so darn exhausted I didn't want to. Given that Sierra is pregnant, I am still taking things fairly light with her regardless, so it doesn't bother me much - I basically have almost no expectations of her at this point, and the things we are working on are generally very basic and don't require an extreme amount of athleticism from her.
The clinic itself was originally just August 28 & 29, but JK was coming up early and she brought her horse as she's coaching a clinic the following week, plus riding in a 3-day event the following weekend in a town an hour away from us. It worked out that she was available for lessons on Friday as well and given that this was our last clinic of the year, I wanted to squeeze all I could out of it.
I didn't get any media from my Friday lesson but it was a private that yielded some absolutely massive light bulbs for both Sierra and I. We spent the majority of the lesson in the walk, doing a variety of exercises that really established that leg to hand connection we've been struggling to find on the right rein. JK also broke down some biomechanics and we really tore my position apart to better improve my feel and functionality as a rider. I've mentioned it before in this blog, but due to an old injury my right hip flexor is very tight; I shove that hip forward to compensate and I don't have symmetrical suppleness in my hips. I then turn my toe slightly inward, pushing my knee and thigh into the saddle, and counteract that by pushing down into my left stirrup, causing my saddle to slip and my right hip goes up, and right shoulder down, collapsing my inside rib cage and losing my outside wall completely. It's all really minimal and probably barely visible to those who aren't aware of it, but to Sierra it's insurmountable.
We had a few moments where Sierra figured this was utter BS and she much preferred to careen around the arena out of control on the right rein, but eventually we both settled and found a teensy bit of a groove in the walk. I joked that I would never be able to recreate it, but we pushed our luck and moved into the trot to see how badly we could botch it but much to my surprise, we had some incredible moments and we had some of the best right rein trot I've had in a very long time - the left seemed vastly improved as well, and I actually had moments where I could power her up and build some suspension which felt excellent. We didn't Canter, but decided to build on where we left off the following day.
On Day 2, the regular clinic began and a friend and I were scheduled to do Semi Privates for the duration of the clinic. We did a lot of work with trot poles, and one exercise I have come to love which was walking and/or trotting over poles, followed by a leg yield. I really like this exercise, because it makes me work to ride straight. Sierra thinks she is the absolute most brilliant noodle in all the land, so when she knows we're leg yielding, she starts diving all over the place to try and appease me and we spend more time establishing straightness than leg yielding. Plus, I don't love leg yielding and Sierra is actually super responsive to it when I ask her properly - which I can't seem to do consistently because riding iz hard.
Once we worked through that a few times we moved onto some pole courses establishing it all through regular changes of direction and really working to keep establishing the inside leg to outside rein connection as we begin to get her more even in both reins. Overall, she felt significantly more even in the contact and we broached the canter. I felt it important to only focus on relaxation and ride it in a light seat. Much to my surprise, Sierra was absolutely amazing and for the first time in what felt like ages, I was able to sit down on her in the Canter and connect her without her jamming up in the loin and jack-hammering me with her hind end. She relaxed her top line and reached forward into the contact and it felt earth shattering in all the right ways. I literally cantered an entire circle with my reins flopping in the wind as I patted and hugged her neck. Things weren't quite as connected on the right rein, but it was still a vast improvement and the changes were remarkable and I was so incredibly excited.
Traditionally, our clinics tend to start strong and end in frustration. We normally just do 2 days, but given that this was our last clinic of the season I wanted to take all the advantage of the situation I could. I questioned myself on the matter - given that Sierra is pregnant and we really haven't been riding a whole ton, I didn't want to over face her. I'm lucky that JK is fantastic, and we truthfully have so much that we can work on in the walk. It also helps the clinic is held at my house, so it's not like we're factoring in the stress of hauling off property. Regardless, Sierra wasn't terribly impressed with my request and I had to basically drag her out of the barn because she was too busy shnoozin' in the barn to go to work.
When I got on, she felt super sluggish and behind the aids. All the aids. Every single one. Her responses felt a little delayed, and she just genuinely felt very "bleh" but once we started trotting she perked up a little and felt fairly good - JK commented on this looking like some of the best trot she's seen out of her, and she was relaxed over her topline, but encouraged me to step on the gas a little and add a little more power to her gait.
As my yard got a little busier with people hauling in for their lessons I began to lose Sierra's attention. She started to get a little cranky with me, and would much rather have gawked off into the distance. I began to get frustrated and my go-to is always to get handsy. JK quickly nipped me in the ass for that, and when I found a moment to take a break on we chatted about the goings-on. I wasn't frustrated with Sierra, I was frustrated with myself and how I was struggling to help her. My fitness is lacking and so when Sierra's connected, then giraffing, then wibbling, then wobbling, then connected, then distracted again, It's really challenging to try and support her through it and follow her as needed without adding to the tension. Like most, I know getting handsy isn't the answer, but I still tend to revert back to that when I get flustered so I think I'll forever be working on catching myself before it reaches that point of an endless battle of floundering.
Once we got the wheels back on the bus again, we moved into the Canter. We went to the right first (bad way), and it took a little bit of time but eventually we had a few strides where I could sit on her and keep it all together before things slowly began to fall apart again but regardless I was pretty happy with the situation. We took a break before going to the left (good way), and while I did once again spend a lap or two in a half seat establishing a forward, relaxed and supple topline but it almost felt a little bit habitual rather than out of requirement. She felt great, and as we cantered around we talked about the transition and JK felt it would serve us best if rather than trying to maintain the connection and keep her packaged up, for now I just work on maintaining the relaxation through the transition. The second time into the left lead her transition felt great, but I wanted to do it one more time as the lesson was nearing an end and I really wanted to engrain that feeling into my brain. I'm glad I chose to repeat it, because the third transition into the left lead was even better; she transitioned with such power while remaining relaxed she actually left me behind a little, and didn't pop up off the contact at all!
This clinic was such a fantastic ending to the season. I came away feeling so recharged and motivated so i'm a little bummed that the end of the season is looming in the background. I came away with a lot of notes and home work to keep us busy until winter has me retreating to my warm home. I think my biggest take-away is to keep working to keep pulling my outside shoulder back and down and only suppling with inside rein because I have a habit of only suppling my right rein, no matter which direction i'm going. The victories from this weekend may be small to most, but to me they felt absolutely incredible!