I audited the USDF Platinum Performance Jr/YG Clinic yesterday. I had high expectations for the level or riding and quality of the horses, but this blew my mind. These were fantastic riders! The horses were the best I’ve seen in MI in a long time (granted, I don’t get out much). But… Wow. I wish I rode as well as those young riders rode.
The clinician, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, focused on the basics for every rider/horse. I watched 6 rides, and the overall theme was developing more bend through the body. That seemed to be a consistent problem with each horse/rider pair.
I thought it was ironic (and timely), because the last year Ava was competing that was my focus, and with Joy that’s been my main focus <– since I got it wrong on Ava until the last 6 months of training. So to see how developing more bend increased the quality of the gaits in these horses was really eye-opening to me. It was also really educational to see the nuances of really good bend versus decent bend. It was very apparent in the half-pass, because you could see the horse struggle to bend around the riders leg . I could also see it in varying degree’s in the shoulder-in and haunches-in, but at first what I first thought was “enough bend” became “not good bend” as soon as Charlotte had the rider supple the horse up enough for “Good Bend”. Which ultimately made a HUGE difference in the quality and bend of the half-pass. You could see the overall quality of the gaits and the movements increase significantly. It was really neat to see.
I also picked up a good exercise for the very start of introducing the idea of counter-canter to a young/green horse. Mainly, it’s used to get the horse to think about re-balancing itself in the canter when crossing the diagonal. You don’t actually counter-canter at all at this point, but it makes the horse assume that a diagonal means “re-balance”. Which was an area I had significant issues with Ava when I first introduced counter-canter, because Ava would get so nervous about making it around the corner in counter-canter that she’d rush the diagonal and lose her balance. Anyway, the whole point was to canter (say left lead) on the correct lead around the short side and then start across the diagonal. At the first quarter line, do a 15m circle and once you were back at the quarter line (where you started) go back to the wall on your right.
I’m excited about this because this is something I can start with Joy long before I even need to think about introducing the counter-canter. And this exercise is adaptable. You could ease into the shallow canter serpentine once the horse is easily doing this exercise, or you could up the difficulty level of this exercise by placing the circle at X instead of the quarter line, or you could add in transitions or leg yields to solve different problems, or pretty much mix and match whatever is needed prior to ever asking for a single step of counter-canter. And by the time you do ask for counter-canter the rider will have the ability to regulate the horse’s tempo/speed, and the horse will have the balance needed to be successful at it.
Another thing that Charlotte had the riders work on is lengthening the frame prior to asking for the lengthen, or medium, with the horse. She stressed you wouldn’t do this in competition, but for training purposes it puts the horse in the correct frame prior to the lengthen/medium. Of course not a single rider had an issue with achieving this (because they’re freaking talented), so I don’t think I can replicate this on my own at home. I’ll have to see if my trainer can help me with this next year. Hopefully we’ll be ready for lengthening’s by next spring.
Overall, it was a neat clinic. Charlotte talked a bit about her background, and the horses that she’s trained. She’s a very likable person, down to earth with a good sense of humor. She’s one I would definitely ride with if the opportunity ever came up.
Oh, one last thought. The last rider I watched had this cute grey horse. It wasn’t a horse you’d normally go “Wow” over, but this girl rode him so beautifully, and so tactfully, that it was poetry in motion. It was really neat to see.