Watching the Catherine Haddad Staller Clinic

I went to watch the Catherine Haddad Staller clinic this morning. I had desperately wanted to ride in it, but in hind-sight I’m very glad they didn’t pick me. It sounded as if the riders had all ridden with Catherine at least twice in the past, so at this point they were simply fine tuning their riding.  In that situation it’s sometimes hard to be the newcomer who is picked apart with that first ride under a new clinician.

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Anyway, I was surprised by how funny  Ms. Haddad-Staller was.  It was usually a subtle humor, but enough to send a ripple of laughter through the crowd. However, at one point one of the barn dogs made it into the center of the arena and was excitedly staring at Catherine. Mid-instruction Catherine bent down and said, “What is it boy? Did little Timmy fall in the well?”  Then immediately carried on with the instruction.

Catherine has a very clear way of explaining concepts and is a fantastic instructor. She is definitely a good clinician to audit if you ever get a chance.

I watched one rider who was struggling with changes in some combination of strides (Either 3’s or 4’s). They worked a bit on single changes, a few 3’s, but the horse looked hollow/braced. After a bit, Catherine got on and  schooled the horse for a bit. It was quite the lovely picture when Catherine was finished. Very round, over the back, and flowing. Such a transformation. It was neat to watch.  Catherine had explained that the main issue had been the horse was allowed to move his head/neck too much randomly and it was not only throwing the horse off balance some, but also allowing the horse to escape using itself correctly. So as soon as the head/neck became a fixed point, and the horse was ridden from behind, everything fell into place. The before picture was a flabby, short-strided, lateral mover with some meh gaits. The end result was a round power house with huge, ground covering gaits.

One of the big things Catherine was stating was to ride the hind legs. That the riders job was to ride the back end. She was saying that being able to feel what’s behind the saddle was what separated the men from the boys.  She repeated it several times, “Ride what you can’t see” (meaning everything behind the saddle).20141003_094431

The other thing she said was “ride them expressively forward. The horse should be allowed to express themselves through movement. Teach them from the start that this is where they can move freely forward with joy”. I liked that idea a lot.

And last, riders were having issues with going from rising trot to sitting trot. The horse would be beautifully forward and round, but the second they started to sit the trot the back would hollow and the head would come up. Catherine was saying that you have to sit on him with a “going” seat. The horse shouldn’t change frame or speed when you sit the trot. You should have absolutely no change.

This is just a short clip of one rider at the clinic. This is just to give an idea of the quality of horse/rider and the instruction. All of the horses were amazing movers.

I was a little disappointed in that my body sabotaged me by making my back hurt immensely soon after arriving at the clinic. It got so bad that I left after only 3 hours. I had tried standing for a while, but whether I sat or stood it hurt terribly. So I quietly snuck out the back and went home before the lunch break.

Oh, interesting conversation with a fellow auditor though. Apparently she rode with Catherine last year, and Catherine had suggested she ride without stirrups to improve her seat.  My fellow auditor was saying that she’d been told it would take one full year to improve her seat with no stirrups. She said the first month was terrible and she wanted to quit. By the second month it was better. She said it’s been one year now and she rides like she’s glued on the horse.  I was impressed. I’ve made it three days with no stirrups before and given up. A full month?!  And here was this regular, normal looking (she didn’t appear to look crazy), woman who’s been riding stirrup-less for a full year now. She’s my new hero. The sheer will power and perseverance that must’ve taken is mind-boggling.

** I’m tempted to try it… my seat could really use a lot of work. Anyone want to try it with me?

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