Thursday, 28 January 2016

Sandra Donnelly Clinic - Day 1

We hosted our annual Sandra Donnelly clinic this past weekend. Apparently I'm a sucker for punishment because I signed up to ride both horses (and really who needs money?)

On Saturday I rode Dee first. Since the clinic didn't fill up there were only two of us in my lesson. It was me and Dee and barn-mates Isabel and Martini. They've been showing Training for the past couple of years and are schooling 3'6".

Dee and I had only jumped twice since the Jessica Phoenix clinic in November. Nothing like joining the big guns to up the ante.

As always, Day 1 started with flatwork and flatwork exercises. Sandra hasn't seen Dee and I since July at Herron Park and was very impressed by our improvement on the flat. All that Dressage focus is paying off!

We started with a simple 20 m circle in the center of the arena. We focused on the quality of the gaits. Sandra had me use counter-flexion to encourage Dee to stretch her neck and relax. Keeping a consistent rhythm was also a main topic, reminding me not to just coast along and let Dee pick the pace, but to insist that she keep with me.

We then moved onto the poles exercise. There were two tiny cross rails just over 90' apart. We had to canter down the line(treating the cross rails as canter poles) and count how many strides. Then we had to come from the other direction and get the same number of strides.

Turns our Dee has a bigger step going to the right. It required a much more aggressive half halt to get the 10 stride to the right. After we came through and had to add a stride. To the left it was easy to get the 11. To the right I ended up over correcting and getting a 12. So I got to do it until the 11 was easy.

Next we had to get one less than original. I was apprehensive about it, but turns out once I just softened and opened the step, the 9 was just there. I felt like the 8 was even doable. Considering Dee has really only had two speeds, turtle and zoom, this felt like a huge breakthrough.

We then moved on to jumping the diagonals (blue to brown to blue). Sandra almost always has us schooling angles. The first time through we did both lines in a 4 to a 4. I had to work at pushing Dee out around the corner and not letting her drop her shoulder and motorcycle around the corner. The 4's proved to be easy so we then did a 5 to a 4 on each line. Opening up the stride was not a challenge but it did result in some funky distances while we figured out exactly how much to open it.

Once that was smooth we moved onto doing a 4 to a 5. This is where I really struggled. The closest I ended up getting was a 4 to a 4 1/2. Sandra let us leave it there because I was able to compress her more than she initially believed I'd be able to (Dressage bootcamp for the win).

We finished up with going from the diagonal lines to turning up the center. (Let me tell you, that turn was super hard if Dee was not stood up straight). The last few times through the center the first jump was 2'9" and moved up to the oxer being 3'3".

I barely had an anxiety about the height of the jumps. I think I was too busy trying to put all the pieces together to focus on how terrifying the last oxer was.

Ritchie was in the last group of the day. Our group of 3 included a barrel racer who jumps a few times a year because it's fun and a barn-mate who has been jumping on a regular basis with her mare this winter (but had a wreck in the summer that shook her confidence).

The lesson started the same way. 20m circle with a focus on alignment and gait quality. Sandra had me really focus on Ritchie's uphillness. Apparently he cheats, he gives me a big moving pretty trot that is still on the forehand. He just has so much movement in his back (especially compared to Dee) that he can fake being light in the front by flinging his legs out. She had me focus on bringing the shoulder in and out in order to lift his withers. To successfully lift his withers I needed to lengthen the base of his neck. I once again used counter flexion to help with this.

When we moved onto the canter poles/cross rails Ritchie decided he didn't want to play. He stopped. Since everything was set small enough he could walk over it, I just kept closing all the other doors. Forward was the only option. He deer leaped over it. We came around and he stopped again.

Rinse and repeat. The jerk refused a ton. Now I know he's green over fences but  nothing was bigger than 12" and he's done a ton of cross rails in the lat month. Finally Sandra told me that Ritchie was bullying me. She said he knows the answer and was just testing me to see how determined I was. She told me I needed to be tougher, not meaner, just more black and white.
I don't care that it's blurry. Look at the cute, interested pony!
Two reins in one hand and a good solid crack with the whip in front of the fence resulted in Ritchie leaping over the little vertical we were at. And he didn't refuse another fence all weekend. That one piece of advice made the whole clinic worthwhile.

We proceeded to school the angle lines and then jumped his very first oxer. We never did get into a good rhythm and he spent most of the lesson deer leaping, but we did end on a very successful note.


  1. Hi there! New follower, and love the name of your blog! What a great exercise! Ps I want to steal Ritchie

  2. Love that advice for Ritchie! I might have to channel it for myself!

  3. Oh Ritchie...such a turkey. I'm glad that you were able to work it out. :)

  4. Sounds like a really great clinic, and totally worth it!

  5. oooh i love these exercises and want to steeeeal them haha (except i have nowhere to set them up, wah). glad you saw so much payoff from your dressage work with Dee too!

  6. What a great clinic! Glad Mr. Ritchie got on board :)