Last fall, I rode in a very insightful clinic with dressage trainer and “L” judge Aaron Wilson of Nationwide Equestrian. The clinic was extremely helpful, and I’ve been using the advice I received from him all winter long in my dressage rides.
Green Country Dressage hired Aaron to judge a schooling show on Saturday and teach a clinic on Sunday; I waffled on signing up for the clinic. Feather Creek Farm was offering open cross country schooling on Sunday, and I hadn’t been able to get a group together to school during the week. Plus, I couldn’t find someone to do a semi-private lesson with me. Even though the club was offering a steep discount for members, I didn’t really want to spend extra money on a private lesson.
I finally bit the bullet and agreed to do a lesson, and I’m so glad I did! Even better, scheduling worked out in a way that I was able to ride in a lesson with my friend/barn owner who was riding another friend’s adorable Haflinger gelding.
Aaron remembered Moe and me from the last clinic; we’re apparently memorable because Moe’s old and I’m an eventer. He asked me about what we’d been working on since the last clinic, what’s improved, and what I wanted to work on today. I immediately told him I wanted to work canter transitions- our upward transition is usually prompt, but always above the bit and rushed, and our downward transition is a discombobulated splat.
He put us on a 20 meter circle at a trot and noted that Moe seemed much more balanced and much steadier in the bridle than the last time he’d seen us. We did a couple of upward and downward transitions, then stopped to talk about what was and wasn’t working.
Aaron’s advice for better upward transitions:
- Give a little half-halt before asking- just a tiny play of the reins
- Think about getting Moe almost behind the vertical right before the transition
- Slide the entire outside lower leg back behind the girth and squeeze to ask- exaggerate the movement right now so Moe gets the message, then you can refine as his response improves
This advice was really helpful and resulted in better transitions; instead of bolting into the canter and taking a few strides to settle, it felt like Moe stepped up into the canter and took one or two strides to settle into the contact. It’s amazing what a good transition can do for the quality of the canter.
Working on the downward transition was hard. Aaron had us go from canter to trot to walk with the goal of minimizing the trot steps between canter and walk. It was a struggle- we took nearly half a circle to go from trot to walk. Once we got the transition in 4-5 trot strides, Aaron told us to take a walk break, then practice again while he worked with my friend.
I let Moe relax on a loose rein for a few minutes while I drank some water, then we resumed our work. We practiced the canter-trot-walk transition four times, and each time I felt like it improved. It wasn’t perfect (or even very good, probably), but it was better. By time Aaron came back to my end of the ring to observe, Moe and I were achieving a walk within 4 strides every time. He then had us practice transitioning from canter to trot to the slowest trot I could manage. This exercise was much easier than going all the way to the walk, and I felt like Moe understood it better.
By the end of our ride, both Moe and I were covered in sweat and feeling tired! It was definitely a worthwhile clinic, and I’m glad I signed up to ride after all. Moe was very good throughout our lesson. He tried hard and had some really lovely work. I’m eager to see how our dressage test goes this weekend!