An e-news popped into my mailbox from Katherine Robertson, Adult Clinics Program coordinator for the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF). The USDF Region 7 Adult Clinic would be held November 1-2, 2008, at El Sueno Equestrian Center, less than an hour away in Somis, Calif. And Jane Savoie would be the clinician. Jane wears more hats than Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew Cubbins, and she wears them rakishly well--dressage competitor, coach, instructor, clinician, motivational speaker, closet humorist and best-selling author. I planned to be the first auditor in line at the clinic.
I Go For It
Then I noticed that the announcement included a call for demo riders. More curious than confident, I clicked on the link and printed out the "Rider Application and Information" form and the "Guidelines for Rider Selection." I read that USDF wanted adult amateurs as well as professional riders, and various breeds, including traditional and nontraditional dressage horses. Hey, CHECK! (If an Arabian/Quarter Horse pinto pony ridden by a vintage-plus amateur wasn't at the far end of that bell-shaped curve, I'd eat my hat.) They DID NOT want "the perfect horse" and DID want training issues that might reasonably be encountered by the average auditor. OH, MY GOODNESS, BIG CHECK! Our issue was so common it should have been pinned on the post office wall: We needed a more consistent, conversational connection, and I wanted to achieve it through training.
On August 28, I submitted my application and for the next three weeks philosophically steeled myself for rejection, as in, "What were you THINKING?" But on September 22, there came another email from Katherine Robertson. The selection committee had had a very hard time making its decision, but of the 25 applicants, I was one of eight selected.
The Friday before the clinic, my friend and fellow dressage rider Maria Norris arrived at El Sueno with a be-spitted and polished Tucker in tow. We unloaded, and after getting organized, I mounted up and rode him into the outdoor arena, where another clinic attendee and several barn residents were schooling. (The covered arena that was to be the site of the clinic was closed for setup.) Tucker couldn't have been more relaxed and happy amidst the hustle and bustle. As we worked around and among the other horses, I could just hear him saying, "Hi! How are ya? I'm so glad to be here. Watch my canter depart. Did you know that your haunches were trailing on that half-pass?" We might have training issues, but in this, Tucker seemed to bear out the statement: "Wherever Tucker goes, that's where Tucker is."
Saturday's Lesson: Food For Thought
It rained overnight, and under threatening skies, more than 100 chilly dressage fans gathered in the covered arena. Jane explained that she was NOT there to help us work on one thing and perfect it. "Otherwise, when you go home, you've mastered one thing." Instead, she would take the "smorgasbord" approach, introducing several skills and exercises sequentially. "You may not be able to do one step perfectly, but as long as you mentally understand it, we go on to the next step." Result: Riders and auditors would go home with as many training tools as possible. Jane also advised us riders to relax and not worry about being perfect. "I want you to make mistakes, because we can all use them to learn. Remember, I'm not going to fix a habit of two or three years in 10 minutes, and I am not here to replace your system. But if you're having problems, you can incorporate what I have to teach. At the very least, you'll have food for thought."
While I watched and took notes on the first lesson of the day, Maria got Tucker out and took him for a leg-stretching hand-walk. Whether because of the chill in the air, the slanting rain, a sleepless night or a slightly amped atmosphere, "He's a bit more 'up' than he was yesterday," she said. We groomed and tacked up, then she stood him up next to a mounting block and I swung a leg over. And Tucker threw his head in the air and bolted! I stopped him within a few strides, but whatever had set him off (we could only theorize that it was a man in a cowboy hat who walked behind us at that moment), he was thoroughly rattled.