I could ramble on almost endlessly about why it's great fun working with an equine publication. But to cut to the chase, let me just say that you know you have a cool job when attending a dressage clinic is considered a valid reason for missing work.
Maryland happens to be quite a hotbed of equestrian activity and opportunities to audit clinics, school cross country, or compete in recognized shows seem to spring up everywhere around here. The Potomac Valley Dressage Association hosted a two-day clinic with dressage great, Heather Mason in Upper Marlborough on July 5and 6 and I was lucky enough to have the chance to skip over to the Prince George Equestrian Center for those two days.
For those of you who are not familiar with Heather, she is a Grand Prix rider based out of her family's Flying Change Farm in Tewksbury, NJ. Her resume is lengthy and includes accomplishments such as obtaining her USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medals and earning her title as a USEF "S" Dressage Judge. Heather is a member of the USET and was an alternate for the 2011 Pan American Games. In short, the woman knows how to ride!
In the past, the only dressage clinics I have participated in or audited have been geared towards the lower levels, so watching upper level riders receive instruction was a new experience for me.
The most outstanding concept that I took home from the clinic wasn't a series of exercises or a new vocabulary- although Heather was great at providing us with both. While listening to Heather teach, I discovered a new way that I could learn to develop my senses as a rider.
I consider myself to be a fairly competent First Level rider and naturally, I was most mentally engaged when lower level riders were riding because it was all at my comprehension level. Heather recommended several exercises to help improve First Level movements, all of which I furiously scribbled down as she spoke, so that I could give them a whirl later.
But when it came to the upper level horses and riders, I put down my pen and stopped taking notes. Let's be real?I had absolutely no practical application for instructions on how to correctly execute a piaffe or a canter pirouette. I was lost in Heather's upper level language, purely because it was something I couldn't relate to.
At first, I felt somewhat guilty that I wasn't doing everything I could to write down her advice, even though I knew that I didn't have any real application for it.? But as the lessons progressed, I realized that even though I wasn't taking notes, that didn't mean that I wasn't absorbing what was in front of me.
I still can't tell you how to properly execute a piaffe or a canter pirouette, but what I can tell you is that I have an image permanently stamped into my brain of Julio Mendoza sitting beautifully on top of Ivan, an FEI-level Friesian stallion while receiving a lesson from Heather. I would almost sell my soul to just be able to sit on the back of a horse like he does. He has a calm and tranquil demeanor that is combined with a presence that radiates cool confidence and exquisite control.
When I went home after the clinic, that image was still at the forefront of my mind- and it has clearly stuck with me better than any of the exercises that were covered on that day. I feel like it has already translated into better riding, too. I have a clear mental image of what is correct, and attempting to emulate a picture comes much more naturally than taking instructions from a concrete list of exercises. Concentrating on an image rather than literal instructions helped me get more in touch with my intuitive riding senses, rather than my ability to interpret instructions.
So the next time you're surrounded by an impressive display of riding, I would encourage you to put down your pen and paper or your camera to just sit and absorb the pleasant picture that is in front of you. It might help your own riding more than you would expect.
Photo by Amy Peppercorn