Thursday, April 7, 2016

The happiest place on earth and defining moments

I know this is usually what Disney World is called and it make sense. It makes even the most serious adult turn into a big happy kid.

It's not unlike what horses do for people when things go right. Right now, I am in the happiest place on earth and I wish I could bottle it up and keep it forever. You know, so when things don't go well I can pull it out as a bit of encouragement.

This photo cracked me up...Tillie's eyes are closed!

Clearly I am still riding the wave from the clinic this past weekend. It totally surpassed all my expectations. While I went into it knowing we would come out with more knowledge, I feel like even more happened while we were there. It was a defining moment for Tillie and I.

Even more media!! 
If anyone ever has the chance to ride with Dom, I would strongly encourage anyone to leap at the opportunity. I loved how technical he got, discussing theory but really broke it down in a way that was easily digestible and accessible for anyone, no matter what level, to understand. He is a gifted teacher and not only achieved this, but does it with a certain lighthearted sense of humor that instantly put me at ease.

I easily get nervous or tense up when it comes to jumping given Tillie's  past. When things get challenging  is usually when the blow ups would happen so she has sort of trained me to anticipate them. I am forever grateful to P for our routine saturday jump lessons because she has gotten us to the other side of that hump and now there are almost never any antics which means a much more relaxed me and that means a more relaxed Tillie...So it is all cyclical and related.

Freeze frame in mid air as Dom would say....thinking about how to land and approach the next fence

I was curious to see how this clinic would impact this nice agreement Tillie and I have come to and if this setting, or new challenging things would bring out the sass again. I really do believe though that Dom had such a great approach to each new exercise and exuded confidence that I felt confident. I also loved seeing how he approached every rider differently. Dom tailored the exercise subtly for the needs of each person and it was cool to see him pick up on that to give every single person a successful ride.

When the pair would come through and struggle and would say its ok, lets try again but keep this in it was always encouraging and his delivery seemed to allow the rider to take ownership and actually ride it out. It was really cool to see the lightbulb moments happening left and right.

Going into the triple combo
Specifically for me and Tillie, towards the end of the first day something just clicked. Dom said a few similar things all of my previous and current instructors have been saying since the dawn of time to me, but I guess with it being someone new it was the right boost I needed to actually get it to sink in.

The following three are the major takeaways:

  1. Chin up on the approach to fences
  2. Tall shoulders to allow her front end to jump
  3. Forward, 12 foot stride canter

Little bit tight to this one, but she got it done!
Right away the "chin up" reminder instantly fixed and allowed me to achieve #2. The key to #1 and #2 though is #3; knowing and riding your horse in the 12ft canter stride. Finding the right rhythm in the 12ft stride will allow the jump to come to you and happen. All this fussing and adjusting for distances and watching your fence (which leads to looking down for me) leads bad habits and by riding the correct stride and using the turn the get the distance just allows things to just be in the sweet spot.

The 3rd, 12 foot stride canter one has been a bit of a struggle for me as a rider because it always felt too fast to me. The 12ft canter stride in the past has led to the bracing then the sass so I have gotten comfortable living in a smaller stride. Tillie and I consistently at home will do the add on lines and get one additional stride because of this.

But halfway through day one rounding a turn, Dom encouraged, I sat up felt my seat and leg on Tillie and it just felt Good. I could actually ask for more stride and it wasnt quick or downhill. It didnt feel too fast, in fact it just felt right.

Tillie of course responded by jumping so uphill and powerful that Dom just started raving how much she could really jump! (Totally loving this btw)

Going into the triple but with the jumps much higher!

It was a huge defining moment. You could almost see the light bulbs going off for both Tillie and myself there were so many going off. The entire rest of the clinic into the next day, that 12ft canter stride felt like cake. It was all about finding that ride and when we did, the jumps just were easy and I honestly have never felt Tillie jump that well that consistently.

Id like to say it was because the jumps were bigger (which I am sure that helped!) but I really attribute this to Dom's initial exercises and discussion about the right canter.

Day two I started off a little backed off again, but pretty quickly settled right into a nice rhythm with Tillie. This has also been a struggle for us in the past...getting on the same page and finding the any rhythm together earlier in the ride. Day 2 Dom talked a lot more about how each fence is related to one another in stadium so the precise ride and quick, on your feet, decisions were paramount. Sure a clean round is the goal, but just leaving rails up isnt the only thing that makes a round successful.

More riders struggled on day 2, probably in part to having tired horses but because riding courses means any mistake follows you to the next fence usually. But the struggles were all learning experiences and Dom supported each rider through it and eventually ended every single one with a successful attempt.

My most favorite shot of the day. Look at those knees! 
It was really cool to see repeat riders from day 1, including myself, really internalize what was learned from day 1 and apply it to the second day. For me, Tillie and I found our stride really quickly and it finally wasnt 5-10 fences to take being on the same page.

All in all the clinic made me realize sometimes hearing similar things from someone new allows a change to actually happen. Many of what I listed has been and always will be something I need to work on...but Dom being new for us plus his relaxed, playful and encouraging teaching style really let us blossom. I am a bit anxious and nervous to see if this momentum continues and translates into what we do at home!


  1. This is why I love clinics. Most of the time I don't get told something I haven't heard before, but they tend to make things click. Maybe it is the different phrasing or slightly different exercises. Whatever it is, it works for me.

    I am so glad this clinic was a success. You needed that boost, plus who doesn't love hearing a big name rave about their horse. ;)

    1. It was really nice :) I was actually a little nervous to go ride again for fear of being let down, but I gave myself a pep talk and said stop being silly and if it is so what?! Lol

      But yea the different person or voice, even if its phrased the same way as every other instructor, just seems to click sometimes!

  2. 12ft canter feels soooo fast. I will definitely look out for one of his clinics in my area even though I am a H/J rider :)

  3. I love clinics like that, even if it's just reiterating what my trainer always says, there's something about hearing it in different words. And having a clinician like your horse is huge, I totally seek out people who validate my decision to buy my weird hippo horse.

  4. I'm with you on number 3, 12ft canter feels way too quick, but once I'm in that rhythm it feels awesome. You guys look fab- so glad I found your blog, I'm really excited to follow you guys progress this season!

  5. So exciting - you guys are really hitting your groove!!