Frisco and I made a mad dash to Heber City Thursday and Friday to have a couple of rides with our favorite clinician, Alfredo Hernandez. I learn so much, whether during my own sessions, or while watching other rides. I have been working diligently on my in hand work with Frisco, and when Alfredo asked to see it, I was expecting lots of praise for my good work. It was not to be. His standards are exacting. He did tell me to take it as a compliment that he pushes me so much for excellence, and that eased the sting of realizing we still had much to improve upon. Frisco and I have definitely made improvements, but, I was failing to notice two very critical things. The first one involved Frisco's use of the hind leg. Every time I asked Frisco to halt after a turn on the forehand, he would fail to bring his inside hind leg underneath. He did it both directions. I was so happy that he was moving in the right direction, that I failed to notice that he did not finish underneath himself. That is critical to his future as a dressage horse. The hind leg can never trail. Fix it in hand, Alfredo insists, and it will never be a problem under saddle. He had me tap the hind leg until Frisco was square and underneath behind. At first, he did not understand, but it didn't take long for him to figure out he had to stay underneath. The corrections had the pleasant bonus of making him much quicker behind as well. I could smell the piaffe ;)
There was another problem, which I had noticed, but wasn't sure what do to correct nor did I understand the implications of it. Whenever I would ask Frisco to turn on the forehand, and then halt at the wall, Frisco would bulge through the outside shoulder and take over, essentially running to the wall. He is a clever boy and knows that there is a release of mental pressure, and sometimes a peppermint, when he gets to that wall. Who could blame him? Bonus points are in order for intelligence. But I didn't own the exercise. And with any horse, but especially with a horse as confident as Frisco, that's a serious concern. It is a submission issue. Alfredo did not want me to be so obsessed with getting to the wall. After a couple of attempts, I quickly realized it was more Frisco who was obsessed with getting to the wall, than I. I stopped and told Alfredo...this is the problem I am having in the leg yields. His response: "I am not surprised!". Fix it in hand and it will not be a problem under saddle. In order to fix it, Alfredo wanted me to continue with the turn on the forehand until I owned each step to the wall. If Frisco took over, I was to immediately require him to continue turning. This greatly frustrated Frisco. He likes to be taught his tricks like a good Labrador retriever and then get his cookie and his release. Having to continue to remain on the aids and give me ownership of the exercise was Frisco's challenge for the clinic, and it surfaced in nearly everything we did, whether in hand or under saddle. There were fireworks. Alfredo is a genius at getting to the root issue, finding the one thing that is interfering with all the work, and making it the priority.
A new layer to the turns on the forehand were added for us this time. Alfredo wanted them to be twenty meters. Frisco and I seem to prefer to do that on the volte. He said that is fine if I want to train a bullfighting horse, but a dressage horse has to cover ground. He really wanted me to allow Frisco to cover ground in these turns on the forehand, no less than twenty meters for us. That meant I had to take much longer strides, as did my horse.
Alfredo addressed the piaffe with Frisco both days, having me at his head. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see that Frisco did not try very much to go past me even as he got excited or confused. A few times he did, but, he accepted my corrections and remained on the spot whenever I asked him to. I was also very pleased to see Frisco get much quicker behind. There was not a discernably correct piaffe this time, but the hind legs did what they were supposed to, and the front legs will come. Frisco played around with ideas, offering more of a Spanish walk effort in front, which I only corrected if he got too close to me. But he sat(boy can he sit!), and he quickened behind. Just think, if Frisco understands what to do with his body now, how easy is his life going to be ten years from now? He'll have been experimenting with the piaffe for years. It will not be a mystery to him. I'm so fortunate to have this opportunity to prepare my horse for the future, even as I improve our work for today.
We went on to some work under saddle, after working with in hand for quite a long time, both days. My horse isn't super motivated to work and go forward, but after having to do so much in hand work that focuses very much on the lateral work, he was THRILLED to go forward. Whoever said that lateral work kills impulsion hasn't had the pleasure of learning Alfredo's in hand techniques. I had plenty of energy that simply needed to be channelled and moulded. That was a very enlightening and empowering realization for me. But Alfredo did not let Frisco off the hook. Back to the turns on the forehand covering 20 meter circles. Oh boy. Did I mention the fireworks??? To the right track, no sweat. But to the left, his strong side, to ask a very dominant horse to yield his power to me...that was a different story altogether. Alfredo said that the creator of the shoulder in was an absolute genius. With the inside hind leg correctly underneath the center of mass and thus fully under the influence of and at the will of the rider, the horse cannot rear, he cannot buck, he cannot come above the bridle...he is yours. Frisco is no shrinking violet and I will have to earn my stripes. I was near tears on day one. We never really got it through. On day two, after many escapades, temper tantrums and explosions, by gosh, he yielded me his left hind and maintained the forward reach to my outside rein. A few steps. A few times. Three times Alfredo made me check again, to be sure, and we passed the test. Whew. We did it. I was very sore Saturday, but, I did it. I HAD to do it. He said to expect compliance for a couple more rides, but to also expect a final challenge on this issue. It is asking a lot to ask such a stable, balanced, and strong minded horse to yield all his power to me. This is a horse that levades as play. He is very stable, and very powerful. I do appreciate the gravity of what he is giving me. But if I am not worthy of receiving that power, and handling it with respect and appreciation, then I am not worthy of this amazingly talented creature. I owned the ride at last. Stripes earned.
There were other gleanings from the clinic, watching others and also tidbits from my rides:
~The inside rein is for decoration. I use too much inside rein, ask for too much inside positioning on a circle. His neck needs to be very straight. I know this, and work hard on it-just ask my students, I am yammering at them all the time for this-but nonetheless, he needed to be even straighter in the positioning.
~In the one tempi's, don't school two tempi's as preparation to working the one tempi's. The one tempi's are their own movement altogether. He had one rider put the reins in one hand. The horse must be absolutely straight, there is no time for changing the bend. By putting the reins in one hand, it takes away the ability of the rider to interfere at all in front, and allows her to focus on getting a quicker reaction behind, riding the horse straight into the bridle.
~In the pirouettes, many riders focus so much on the response to the outside leg that they forget to manage the inside bend. You may have to move the whip to the inside hand from time to time to make sure the inside shoulder does not drop, and cause a loss of bend.
~Even a master can demonstrate humility. One rider really struggles to keep her big guy connected in the transitions. Alfredo rode him this time. After a couple of canter transitions, he stopped and said "WOW you do a good job with this horse!". You could not wipe the grin off that rider's face for hours...to have her struggles acknowledged in such a way was very kind of Alfredo.
I cannot wait until the next clinic...I will be counting down the days to six weeks from now. Many thanks to Stephanie Brown-Beamer for organizing these clinics, and to Alfredo, who is in great demand, and has now been tapped by the Spanish Riding School as a guest instructor. We so appreciate that he comes to Utah for us.