If you had asked me before the clinic with Meg Kep how I wanted it to go, I probably would have said that I would have liked to ride the best I have ever ridden, or May to go the best she has ever gone. However now that the dust has settled, I am so happy that wasn’t the case.
There were two BN groups in the clinic from my barn. Luckily, I was in the second group, so I got to watch the first group go. I got to see how Meg warmed riders up on the flat: finding a quiet 20M circle in the ring and working on getting each horse individually with the goals on getting them more connected and supple. None of the instructions was incredibly different from our regular trainer, but Meg offered up some different techniques and worded theories differently. Also, let’s face it, we always try to ride our hardest in front of someone who has never seen us ride before.
I only got to watch the beginning of the jumping session, where they introduced some of the “scarier” elements (aka a row of tires and a liverpool jump). Our liverpool is especially crazy looking, but it makes normal liverpools even less of an issue. Meg discussed the importance of understanding why a horse is disobeying: do they not understand or are they being rude? She said that the vast majority of refusals at items like ditches and banks is due to the horse not understanding the question.
Meg then walked each rider through her process of introducing these scarier elements. First, walking the horse past the object on both sides so they have an opportunity to read the obstacle without any pressure. Then, she had each rider approach at a trot, keeping their weight to the back of their saddle, and hands holding onto their neck strap. She felt that we should give our horses the opportunity to use their heads and necks to property reach and obstacle so they get more confident with it in time.
This seemed to work well with each horse. The only stops seemed to occur when riders allowed their hands to come up and they tried to package the horse too much to the base of the fence. This was also a great reminder to put my breastplate on, which I usually don’t use at home. (there isn’t much risk of my saddle slipping on flat, show jumping ground). Now, this was a bit different than what I have learned previously, which was to keep a horse’s balance back on its hocks and its head up. This ensures that a horse isn’t jumping the scary object out of balance, and further scaring itself. Meg offered a different technique that seemed to work through, which I am always grateful to add to my toolbox.
Unfortunately, I had to miss the rest of the first section to get ready for my section. May got tacked up in her Sunday best, while I broke out the white sunshirt, tailored sportsmans, and my show boots. Let’s be serious though, all anyone noticed of May was her ridiculously fluffy tail.
We walked out and hopped on and May felt realllllyyyy good. She was connecting to the bridle and allowing me to keep the contact on the outside rein like we have been practicing. She was forward and balanced and I was pretty pleased with her. Meg worked individually with the two other participants in my clinic, working on bending and rhythm and frame. Then, she started explaining the first jumping exercise and setting up jumps.
Now, I am used to being a bit overlooked. May is not a traditional eventer… or jumper… or Dressage horse… or riding horse at all. So of course I immediately jumped to that conclusion. Instead, Meg turned as she was setting up the jump to tell me that May just looked really correct. Of course, I was beaming like an idiot because I have spent soooo much time on this horse’s flatwork, and it is always nice to have it noticed.
The first exercise was a pole on the ground to a small raised pole and then we were told to leg yield at the canter out to the rail and then trot. May, in true May form, rushed over the cavaletti, jumped way over the raised pole, and then threw her head around on the landing side. Meg recommended that I sit very keep on the landing side and keep my hands together, moving them both to the outside together, instead of just opening the outside rein. So what did I do? I jumped the mini-gymnastic again, sat down in my saddle, and kept my hands (mostly) together. May did perform a little, mini, almost leg yield. Definitely something I want to try working on.
Then, Meg put the jump up and had us circle to the vertical. She instructed me to sit deep to the base, but to give with my reins a few strides beforehand, even if May makes a bid at the fence. Ok, I thought, I used to own a very forward horse, so I could do that. And I did. We were able to come around and just kept hitting the jump in rhythm. Maybe May is more capable of finding her distances than I was giving her credit for.
Then, we moved on to adding the liverpool oxer and continuing down the line in 5. Meg wanted us to do the line in 5, then 4, then 6. May and I had to be straight and forward to get the five. The first time in the line, May took a hard look at the liverpool. It was in a new location and now filled with dirty water. I kept my leg on and my hands forward, as Meg instructed, and she jumped over it, but we had 5 and a half strides getting out of the line.
We fixed it on the next attempt. Then Meg asked if I thought we could get four. I shrugged and said we would try. I gave it my best galloping effort, but May only ever got 4.5 strides. It was just too much of an ask, especially since she continued to jump up and over the oxer instead of across it. Below is the first jump in my attempt at 4. She is trying to stretch, but just puts her feet down too quickly.
After a short break, she had us try it in 6. But told me not to pull. Just to sit super deep and rock May back on her hocks. No luck. She dragged me down in 5, so Meg had us halt in the line a couple of times. Then try again. We got 5.5 strides, and that was deemed close enough. May’s canter work is improving a lot, but it still isn’t that adjustable yet. Again, something to work on, even just with poles on the ground.
To continue to work on adjustability, Meg set up a 2 stride line with the skinnies through the diagonal. The first time through, May nailed it. After that, I just couldn’t find the distance. I think because I was prepping for the shorter distance, I was losing my rhythm to the first jump. May, of course, was super catty getting out of it, leaving all the rails up. Meg called her clever, which she is… to a fault.
Then of course, it was course time! The course wasn’t overly technical, but it required you to ride forward at the beginning and then have adjustability for the turn and combination at the end. Check out my awesome paint drawing of the course.
1. Blue triple bar
2. a) Roll top (this was a brand new jump and our first time jumping it)
2. b) 2 strides to a boring vertical
3. Liverpool oxer, now closer to Novice height.
4. Pink vertical, definitely Novice height
5. Tire Jump
6 a & b. Skinny combination in 2
So how did it go? Below is the video.
I had a bit of trouble getting into a rhythm for the first three jumps (story of our lives). I think May was a bit hot and tired by this point, and just wasn’t moving off my leg like she had been earlier in the day. The size of the Liverpool woke her up though, and she had great balance coming down the line. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t get herself up and over that line with how tired she was and hit both pretty hard. Then, she was determined not to knock the tire jump, and gave me a great effort over that one. The turn to the combination was tight, but she stayed in between my legs and hands and jumped well through it.
Overall, it was a nice round that was the perfect example of where we are right now. I don’t always make the best decisions and May still has some green moments left in her, but it is getting a lot prettier. Meg wanted me to stay concentrated on keeping my seat very deep in the saddle and to float my reins a bit. I.e. keep her balanced with my body without interfering with her head and neck. It was hard, but it produced some great jumping efforts! And she is right, May shouldn’t be looking for me to save her at the base of every fence. Incidentally, the clinic was exactly one year from my first show with May. I would say I see some improvement!
The last exercise was one of accuracy. We had to trot up to and jump over a single barrel. Meg told me to keep my hands forward, so I don’t interfere with her head and shoulders, but wide so that she can’t get too wiggly. I listened, and it worked! May looks super bored about the whole thing by this point.
Overall, I was left with a lot of great homework and a few more tools in my toolbox. Exactly what I look for in a clinic! Looking forward to getting back in the saddle and putting these things to use.