Dee Walker Clinic

I had the pleasure of riding in a clinic with EC Hunter/Equitation Judge, Rider, and Coach Dee Salter-Walker of Forest Hill Training Centre.


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The grey mare and I had a wonderfully educational clinic with Dee Walker last weekend. We received much praise and many tips from the clinician, and overall the weekend was just the inspiration we needed to kick start our winter training.

Things to take from this clinic:

  • 2-point exercises are just as important as no-stirrup work
  • the “pause” technique between fences on course
  • the “blink” and “look down” tricks for the long approach
  • balancing yourself over jumps, and “going with the horse”
  • the pulley-rein
  • one-handed warm ups
  • don’t “walk” the first jumps

2-Point

The one thing that Walker especially wanted me to take from her clinic was how important the 2-point position was for my green hunters. Broken down, the 2-point position refers to the two points of contact of my body to the saddle, those being each of my legs. The rider’s body weight should be evenly balanced into both heels, and your hip angle open so that the upper body can securely balance itself without your seat making contact with the saddle. She suggested I live in 2-point for the next little while and learn how to ride, move up, and wait using my core, but do it all without the help of my seat.

The “Pause” Technique:

One thing that could determine the winner between two very similar courses is the round that “finishes” the course and shows off their horse the best; be that an opening and closing circle, going into your corners, or executing a smooth rollback track that was the best option for your horse. Overall, the course should have flow and appear effortless. The less you appear to be doing up there the better. Walker had us take note of when our horses were on a soft, relaxed canter, and pointed out how often that happened on our closing circle when we thought we were done. From that realization, she had us try her “Pause” technique. This technique was simple: pretend that you’re done, relax and let go of the tension to let the canter get long and low, then quietly bring them back before the next jump. The results were wonderful, and they put Gracie and I on a whole new learning curve.

The Long Approach:

That first single on the quarter line, or the long run to the single diagonal oxer are the nemesis of many amateur riders. Walker’s tips for the long runs are to NOT look for the distance as you come around the corner. She says you should first get straight to the jump out of the corner and either try blinking or looking down for a moment on your approach. Looking for a distance too soon and changing your mind twenty times is what messes with your eye to these jumps. This is something everyone should try.

Balancing over the Jump:

Walker talked a lot about the automatic release, and letting your hunter jump to the best of their abilities. Hanging onto their mouth, jumping ahead, being left behind and leaning to one side can all produce negative effects on your horse’s jump. Some things she had us do were going into 2-point position through grids and trotting in to jumps in 2-point with take-off and landing poles. She talked about the straight line from your elbow to the horse’s mouth for the automatic release, and how lots of 2-point work on the flat will help me balance over the jumps better. She pointed out equitation flaws of jumping ahead of your horse and “folding in half” over the jumps, but addressed that our main issue was falling back slightly in the air.

The Pulley-Rein

Having done a clinic with Walker before on a chunky chestnut who was heavy on his front end, I was already familiar with her pulley-rein technique. This was only touched on briefly in my clinic group this time, but was brought up in more detail in the group before mine. This other group had one rider in particular who was getting upset with her confused, greener mare, and the rider was continuously sea-sawing on her horse’s mouth thinking this would get the horse to stop dragging her. Walker did not like this one bit, and before she lost her patience with this rider she tried introducing the pulley-rein to help the rider gain some control without going around hauling on her horse’s mouth. The Pulley Rein goes as follows: you slide your inside hand up your rein to get rid of the slack and also put that hand on your horse’s mane. At the same time with your outside hand you are going to leave the slack in this rein and pull this hand straight up to your outside shoulder. The point of doing this is to gain control from a bolting or dragging horse and make an emergency stop. Your horse should stop straight and parallel to the wall, and as soon as you have gained control it is supposed to be over, and you relax your body and hands. Unfortunately this girl did not do with this what Walker had hoped, and her next comment to the girl was “you can’t ride angry”.. and that statement is most right.

Riding One-Handed:

Another useful exercise Walker got us to try was riding one handed. For this we gathered up our reins tightly and even on both sides, crossed the inside rein over the outside rein, and held the reins in our outside hand, closed palm facing the ground. We walk, trot and cantered, did circles, serpentines, and small figure eights in this exercise.  When doing the figure eights at the walk and trot we got the horse to engage the hind end and take take slow but powerful steps as we did a roll back and guided them back to the wall with one hand and our legs. When we took both reins back afterwards our horses felt more relaxed and moved off our legs well. Riding with the reins in one hand eliminated our ability to pull or hang on their mouths, and therefor got us to truly get them engaged and ready to work.

Don’t Walk the Jumps:

A major fault Walker sees in Hunter courses are the horses not getting on the forward 12-foot canter right from the start that will also get them down the lines later in the course. Don’t “walk” the first jump in your course she said, get on the canter. She often sees horses behind the rider’s leg, or too slow to the first single jumps, and thus the horse is not jumping to the best of their abilities or are missing the distance. This is why she says an opening canter circle is a good idea presentation wise, and for use in getting your horse on to that same forward canter right off the bat and through the entire course.

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A Royal Visit

Country goes to the City –


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Gracie and her group with Darcy Hayes

What an exciting weekend in the city for the little grey mare!

Gracie and I recently had the pleasure of being selected to be demonstration riders for the Darcy Hayes Clinic last weekend at The Royal Winter Fair. While it was an amazing experience to ride in front of Darcy Hayes, the real purpose of the clinic was to present a short demonstration of the hunter discipline in the Presidents Choice Animal Theater to promote the evening shows at the Fair. Gracie and I had a wonderful, stress-free Fair experience, and now we are geared up for the clinic with Darcy Hayes that our barn will be hosting next month.

in her cozy stall

Having been a thoroughbred on the track, we had hoped that having those
experiences with crowds would give Gracie a bit of an advantage for her first time at The Royal. We still went into this not knowing what to expect from her in the ring, but yet again were pleasantly IMG_0122surprised. Gracie didn’t bat an eye the
entire weekend and appeared to be a
seasoned pro – not the green first time Royaler that she was.

IMG_0127My goal for this winter with Gracie was to get her off property as much as possible,
and to throw her into all kinds of new situations. The week at Trillium Championships this year aged Gracie beyond the green year she had started the season with, and every new situation thereafter would only add on to her experience level. From this weekend with took home a few memoirs along with our memories, and I cannot thank my coach and of course my horse enough for this experience.

Season Recap: Show 8

With only a few shows left of the season, Gracie and I picked up the pieces and blew them all away at Millside.


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After what had felt like months since the ponies got to show in their division again, we were in store for a beautiful summers day at the show at Millside.

The set up for this show was on the cramped side, but it was run very well by a barn from our old Trillium Zone, and with a different show schedule for us to try out. The show ran over Friday and Saturday only, and Gracie and Riley only went on Saturday (Gracie didn’t go Friday to do the Developmental Hunters). The hack division started the day off bright and early for Gracie in the jumper ring. The layout of the rings put the jumper ring on the end beside the main entrance, to the other side was the warm up ring, and beside that the hunter ring. The hack division being right away in the morning meant it was constantly being interrupted by noisy trailers and trucks bouncing down the driveway under the trees. While Gracie was much more okay about this than some of the other horses, she still reacted a few times to the noises causing us to stay out of the high calls. When it came time for the pleasure hack she had gotten used to the distractions enough to float pleasantly around the arena and getting noticed again for a third place ribbon from the judge.

Soon after the hack division, Riley arrived to the show and I started warming him up to go first in his division. He took some getting used to in the warmup ring and horses jumping courses on either sides, but he pulled through much quicker than expected. Riley really impressed me with the little things this show. There were many instances where I though “oh great, here we go”, but after calmly nagging at him to move forward and “just keep swimming” he proved to me he can handle being a show horse. Everything went great in the ring for our rounds. He was brave to the fences and jumping well (for him), and the only thing that was holding us back were the lead changes. So then I tried to get after him. These attempted were quickly shot down when he began anticipating the lead changes, we lost impulsion, and then I lost Riley. I have to give him credit for trying, but the slowing down and bucking for a lead change was getting us nowhere, so I quickly changed pace and simpled the changes and worked to get the forward pace back. We finished on a good note and he deserved all the pats and carrots he got for his efforts that day.

When it came to Gracie’s turn to go in, there was much commotion at the in-gate. I did mention about the close quarters at this particular horse show.. and somehow everyone managed to cram in ready to go for ribbons at the in-gate while I struggled to keep a fed up Gracie walking and dodging obstacles and still stay in ear shot of coach to learn our next course. I’ll admit I was a bit of a stress-case at this point and Gracie knew it. The one thing I did well at this show, while I was a total stress case outside of the ring, I put it all behind me each time I went into the ring and didn’t let it affect my riding in any way that day. Gracie had some stunning rounds and got some good ribbons with the extra company than normal in the Modified Adults division. Here is one of our best rounds of the season.

Both of the ponies hacked great and got 6th and 7th with the company.

Season Recap: Show 7

It rained, and it rained, and it rained, and then everyone went home.


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Wedgewood and Coach

And so we came to our next show cancellation of 2015 with Hurricane Railside. The weekend started fine with a little hack division here, some Hunter Development there, and oh, Riley had come along for the ride on Saturday for a little schooling.

As we neared the end of day 1, I was getting Gracie warmed up again for the OnCourse Medix Hunter Derby. For some reason I was really struggling with her in the warm up ring that afternoon. Let me tell you something about me and warm up rings. Never have I ever had a traumatizing, life altering experience in a warm up ring at a horse show; in fact, it’s impossible for me to since I would rather circle 20 times before going to a jump if anyone is within 20 miles of the arena or the jump itself. Jokes aside, I hate warm up rings and always will. I wouldn’t go as far to say I have nervous break downs when I have to navigate over jumps in a crowded arena, but my nerves majorly affect my confidence and then all of a sudden I have let myself get into my head. My head is the worst place I can be before I go into the ring, and my coach knows that. My coach is experienced in dealing with and breaking through all kinds of show related nerves, and I’m sure she has classified my type as it’s own, and what she can do to help me with it. Sometimes it’s not a quick fix, and I can never thank her enough for her patience and everything she has done for me this year. This show in particular, it hit me hard. Gracie was wonderful that morning in the same ring for Jen, but for whatever reason I had convinced myself that we were going to go in there for our Derby trip and crash around the course. Gracie was probably a little up due to that fact of the threatening clouds circling in above us for later’s events. So Coach simply removed my beloved spurs and sent me into the Derby assuring me my horse knows how to lift her legs up and is smart enough to get us out of trouble, whilst ignoring my reasons why this was going to go very very badly. And in I went.

Watching this video now, and knowing all of my emotions that day, all I can think is how ungrateful I can be sometimes. Here is an already sensitive horse who has a nervous ball of nerves on her back, and yet before every jump you can see her ears perk and her body say “lets go!”. Anyone can see that she clearly loves her job. We had some iffy jumps in this course, but it was our first derby class where we got all of our leads, and we still came out with a reasonable score of 74 after all of that drama.

The other person I would like to give mention is “The Railside Mom”. This woman is part of the OnCourse Medix team present at every show, and is also the very proud mother of a young girl who rides many horses at the shows. This being our barn’s first season on this new zone, it didn’t take me long to recognize this woman as the zone cheerleader. I am convinced that whilst working she seeks out any nervous or seemingly upset rider, and dedicates herself to being there on the sidelines to force feed them words of encouragement and compliments. She obviously sniffed me out in the warm up ring, because she was there on our walk to the ring, at the ingate, and was the one SCREAMING at the end of our course in the video. As soon as I heard her and saw her face that was truly excited for me, a rider from a different barn that was competing against her own daughter, I couldn’t help but burst into a smile.

The skies were basically black when I ended my trip, and before I could get Gracie back to the stalls, it was pouring. They managed to finish the first round of the derby, but the hack class for the Adult Amateurs, the Trillium Hunters, and the 2nd round call backs for the derby were all cancelled as people rushed their horses onto the trailers and took shelter from the storm. Back in the barn, the wind and rain was so bad that we soon lost power, and everyone available had brooms and shovels and were desperately trying to keep the rain from flash flooding the barn. For what seemed like hours, the storm raged on until it finally died down enough for them to go check on the rings. Upon seeing the rings an instant decision was made for the rest of the show weekend; tomorrow was cancelled without a make up day. The rings were competently under water, in some areas they swore you could go swimming, and to top it off most of the jumps were destroyed. When it was safe, we loaded up the horses and headed home, meaning Gracie and Riley would miss another modified adult show this season.

How to Solve Everything in One Ride or Less

You can’t. You cannot acheive all of your riding goals and the perfect partnership between horse and rider all at once. Baby steps.


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This is something I have come to terms with recently in my riding. My regular show season is over for the year, and that means back tracking, strengthening basic skills and taking the next steps. I tend to like to try and micro manage my life and the weekly events in my schedule down to the last detail. This is a blessing and a curse when it comes to riding. While it is great to always go into the arena with a game plan, there are too many factors that I have to consider as I start my rides. The first one being I am on a living, breathing animal with a mind of it’s own. Not everything can go according to plan every time. Plans need to change and adapt with the horse I have that day. I have to tell myself it is okay not to be perfect. Just think about your riding goals last month, or last week. Sometimes you will move backwards, but it is usually because you have excelled in another area and now you need to incorporate both of the skills together again. Always think of it that way and you will realize you are only moving forward.

I have been working on a lot of collection and lateral movements lately in my flat rides. While this has worked out fine for Gracie, I have needed to now start concentrating again on being soft and keeping my leg on. As my coach put it; it is just as important to work on the forward gaits as it is the collected gaits. This simple tweek in my riding resulted in a lovely lesson so far this week. When I stayed soft and kept my leg on it enabled her to carry herself through the course, and she relaxed down and forward all through her neck and back. The lateral work we had been doing paired with the softness and staying back with my upper body is how I could send her down the lines and get her back again for the next tight turn or rollback.

Riley is a bit behind from Gracie this week, and I have had to break things down even more for him in our rides. I fell into the trap of too much collection work with him, and as we know, when he doesn’t want to do something he will begin to shut down. Another few tweeks and we had an excellent second lesson this week. The second lesson I concentrating on keeping my leg on through the turns as I asked him to be straight and even started turning a  bit sooner to keep him from bulging out in the turn.

Another thing my coach has said numerous times is this is supposed to be fun. Yes we are supposed to be having fun when we are riding, but we also need to let our horses have fun too. If we ask too much too soon, or over school one exercise then riding becomes a dreaded activity in their every day lives. We owe our horses more than that.

Season Recap: Show 6

Some shows you have more to blog about than others. This wasn’t one of them. The ponies were good. The End.


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Wedgewood

Nothing very exciting happened at show number 6. There weren’t any break through moments, or lessons to be learned. Both Gracie and Riley had a consistent show here at Warwick, and picked things up from where they’d left off the past weekend at the London Hunt Club.

We had just gotten over a week of rain there in London, and although they had done a great job at grooming the rings for the show, they still had to close off a portion of the Modified ring. Not only did this mean for tighter corners in an already smaller ring, but they had used things like antique BABY CARRIAGES and DUCKIES to close off the arena. While I spent the morning whining to myself about the end of the world as we know it, I was dumb-founded when both of the ponies waltzed right past the danger zone with little to no drama. Huh. Sorry, false alarm everyone.

So, in some big ways the babies had somehow grown up a bit on me, and they kindly kept their cools in the scary corner so all I had to worry about was straightness to the next jump, minus the drama. Gracie got some low calls over fences while Riley was still out of the ribbons. This show forward I decided to hack Gracie myself, and one of our Adult Amateur riders took over Riley in the hack for me for the remainder of the season. The ponies each got good prizes in the hack, Riley coming out with a 3rd in a bigger division than usual.

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Outlander

10 Steps: to prepare for No Stirrup November

The much anticipated No Stirrup November is only a month away. In order to best prepare myself and my horses and avoid a counter productive month of bouncing around on a tense backed horse, I have broken down my October flat rides into 10 steps to best transition them into November.


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Politically Correct

  1. Start on a loose rein, walking long and low around the arena. Use this time to make your final adjustments on the girth.
  2. Pick up a trot still on a loose rein. Everything about your body needs to relax and soften during this step while you get them moving forward off your leg. Concentrate on your posting, and try to separate that movement from the rest of your leg, keeping it slow and steady. While you are keeping your posting quiet, think about squeezing the horse forward with your lower leg every time you sit in the post. Finally, check your upper body and remember to breath and relax your arms and let your elbows be in motion with the horse, and that there is no tension in your back as you sit up tall, still remembering to breath. This step is most important, especially getting into the colder weather when you and your horse need that warm up time to get rid of any tension brought on from bunching up in the cold.
  3. Drop the stirrups and start on some sitting lateral work. The best place to start is on the long sides. Coming out of the corner get your horse straight first, and try doing some small circles down the long sides, haunches in, shoulder ins, and half passes away from and back to the wall. Take this step slow in the beginning and remember to be patient, especially with a green horse like mine. Do not expect too much from them at first. If you get a few steps of haunches in, praise them, get them straight, and ask again. This way neither you or the horse will get frustrated and give up, or poorly execute the movements. Two steps of a perfect half pass is something to celebrate, and then you can move on from there. If you really want to torture yourself, throw in some laps of posting with no stirrups.
  4. Pick up your stirrups and now try some or all of that same exercise with stirrups. Think about keeping your leg long, even with your feet back in the stirrups.
  5. Transition between sitting collected gaits and getting off the horse’s back or taking a lighter seat for forward or extended gaits, keeping the contact.
  6. Try some sitting lateral work down the center line away from the walls of the arena.
  7. Do some long and low trot and canter work, focusing on letting the horse carry themselves and let their step move out more.
  8. Wind down with a pleasure trot on the buckle. Your horse should want to reach their heads out and almost put their nose to the ground. Use this time to think about everything you did in your warm up trot.
  9. Let them walk and cool out.
  10. Dismount and try some neck stretches with treats, you can also do these in the cross ties or before you have mounted, and try some leg stretches when you first do up their girth.
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Wedgewood