All weekend at the clinic, I sat in the arena to get the most out of the clinic, and make myself as useful as possible setting jumps and taking photos for the clinic. I did my best to take notes when Ragan said something particularly interesting, and made mental notes whenever I was riding. On the second day, I actually picked up a catch ride on a lovely green horse for the last session, so I didn’t get to take as many notes as I wanted for the greenie session on day 2, but I was way more excited about the catch ride!
On lengthening and shortening at the canter:
- You should have an open, extended canter, not a gallop
- The collected canter should not be done with a heavier seat than you had in your medium canter, and you should instead use your core and legs to collect, rather than digging your seat bones in
Working on the flat:
- Find where the horse’s head needs to be (might vary for each horse) and then help the horse maintain that carriage, rather than changing every few steps.
- Excessive arching of the neck does not mean the horse is actually using their top line. Topline has to come from behind, and the horse needs to use it’s whole body to develop this. To me, this is obvious, and at the same time is a good reminder when you are on the horse since it’s easy to let them cheat.
- When warming up, make sure your horse is quietly responsive to your aids, not reactive.
- You should be using both legs when you turn: the inside leg pushes the horse into the corner, while the outside leg actually turns the horse.
- When something does quite work out (like the striding between the canter poles for us on both days) don’t correct so much as let the problem fix itself. Let the horse figure out what he did wrong, and then adjust themselves.
- When cantering poles on a curve, plan to be perpendicular to the first pole, and ride the exercise so that you are bending and turning over each pole rather than cheating and riding more of a straight line across
- When the horse jumps, it’s back feet land together where the front feet landed before take-off, but when you are cantering, the the hind feet land past the front feet. This is why getting to a pole on the ground can be tricky and you should take it into account and leave space for the back feet to land in front of the pole.
- Looking up over the jump does not mean you should just focus your eyes on a point in front of you. Instead you should be looking about 10 strides ahead to make a plan, or at least as far ahead as the next jump in a line.
- Follow through is crucial–how you plan to finish the jump, or movement, or what have you affects how you start. You cannot just plan the take-off. You need to have a plan for landing, the stride after, and so on. This also means that you aren’t just holding on once the horse jumps, but that you are riding the entire jump from beginning to end.
- When a horse decides not to play for whatever reason, you want to “make the horse sweet” not terrified or broken. There was a pony in the last session who decided that it didn’t want to leave the group or jump the jumps, and was propping (but not quite rearing) when the kid would poke or smack it. Instead of getting meaner, Ragan made the jump small enough to walk over, and the pony learned through repetition that it really was easier to keep moving forward and jump the jump than it was to have to walk over the jump over and over again. The idea here was that a horse who is sweet is happy to do the job, while a horse that is scared or forced will eventually reach a point where it just will not play, and will become unreliable and unsafe.
- If you are not making it down a line in the desired number of strides, you should open the stride, but not chase the horse down the line. Ask the horse to open his step and get out of the way, so that he can flow down the line and figure out the question. This also means that you should make sure you aren’t grabbing the horse’s mouth when you ask him to open, especially if you are working with a green horse.
Working on the flat, including poles and cavaletti:
- The collected, sitting trot should still be more forward than up and down, and should not lose all of the momentum you have in your normal and more open trot work
- When doing pole work, you should continue to ride leg to hand across each pole, and though you should lighten your seat, all of your other aids should stay “on.” This was part of the “separating the aids” theory that I was struggling a little with. I wanted to get soft over the pole, but then would drop him with my hand and take my leg off, so that we weren’t making it nicely to the next pole.
- Just because you don’t see a result, does not mean the horse hasn’t learned. This came up most in work on flying changes, where he was having riders go through the motions of asking for a change on the straight away, but wasn’t worried about whether the horse actually changed, so long as everything else was right, and the rider did a correct simple change before the turn. The idea was that even if the horse isn’t changing, they are learning through the repetition and will eventually connect the set up with the simple change and begin to offer the flying change, even if it doesn’t happen the first time you practice it.
- Keep in mind that at all times, you are giving your horse a lot of information: You should be using both hands and both legs, and each is saying something different. This means that it might take your horse some time to understand what exactly you are asking for, and you should try to be fair to the horse in this regard; sometimes if you are asking for something new, it might take a few tries for a horse to correctly understand what each aid is saying.
- Cantering without stirrups can really help you to reach and wrap around with your leg, and of course makes you tighter in the saddle as well.
- Don’t cluck at another horse and rider for several reasons:
- Even though they are asking their horse to jump, there may be something about their body language telling the horse not to because they are scared, or just not ready. If the horse does jump, the rider may get jumped off, or they might land in a heap, etc.
- More than likely, the cluck won’t do anything, other than make the horse tune out the sound so that it’s not a useful tool for the rider. If the horse is very aware of the cluck, you may be making it harder for the rider the next time that there are no rail birds to help cluck the horse over the jump.
- From more of a theory standpoint, he mentioned that clucking at someone else’s ride is actually a little silly. When it doesn’t work, you aren’t at all surprised and you assume that the horse isn’t really listening to you anyway, yet when they do jump, you are willing to take credit. Realistically, it can’t be both.
- If the horse is rushing the fence, don’t set your hands, but do be steady with your hand and seat, to tell the horse to wait.
- You can’t train a run out, but you can train a stop. If a horse is running past the fence, first insist that they don’t blow past, then work on getting the horse over the fence. Ideally, fixing the running past will then mean the horse has no option but to jump, though this may not be the case. Regardless, you can train the stop while the jump is still in the horse’s line of vision, but not once the jump is behind the horse. The most you can do is smack the horse after, which may only cause it to run by faster the next time. Most of the time, he had riders step backward if their horse stopped until there was room to pick up a trot and go over. He used this last time as well, and it works really well to show the horse the obstacle, and never let them feel like they got to leave or avoid it like circling can.
- Have a plan for your course. Not just for your track, but for the type of distance you’ll want to a jump based one what comes after, the type of canter you want for a certain part of the course (because more than likely, you don’t want the same canter everywhere), what kind of power you need in your canter and approach to clear the obstacle, etc. Again, this made sense, but was a good reminder to be proactive, not reactive on course. Of course something may not go according to plan, which requires you to react, but the more you can plan every step and jump, the better your course will be.
- If you horse is wiggly on an approach or down the line, fix it by going forward, rather than trying to catch the fish tail or correct the wiggliness. When you go forward, the horse will straighten itself.
I was again surprised that he didn’t do much as far as drastically changing a rider’s style, or commenting on their stirrup length, bit choice, etc. He was really great about working with what a horse and rider were right then, and helping them improve how they rode from a training stand point. Each exercise required riders to think and plan, and really ride their horse.