Unexpected Lessons from a Clinic

Unexpected Lessons from a Clinic

By Meredith Hunter

When I was awarded the SEDA scholarship, my plan was to ride with Charlie Hutton. Of course the Corona virus had different ideas. Despite my disappointment, it was a blessing in disguise. By not riding with Charlie, I had the opportunity to ride with Kristi Wysocki when she came to Oak Hill Ranch in May.

Meredith and KristiWe all have expectations and hopes when we attend a clinic, especially with a clinician you have never ridden with before. Going into this clinic, I had hoped that Kristi would help me and Parker work towards the movements required in Third Level – half pass, turn on the haunches, and lead changes. However the lessons I learned were completely unexpected but in the end, they were so much more valuable.

Day one began as most clinics do – with the basics. We discussed the training scale and worked on tempo and suppleness. The common theme for the day was that Parker has to have activity to move his topline and he has to move his topline to keep the rhythm. A good bit of the lesson was spent working on my seat and how it affects his walk, which has a tendency to be lateral. In an effort to keep his walk clean, I was riding like a tin man with stiff, straight elbows and no movement in my hips. Once I began to swing my hips (“like John Wayne”) and had a following hand, his rhythm became cleaner. At the end of the lesson, Kristi’s final comment was that I needed to be a little bit more willing to believe I am riding well. 

The next morning when I stepped into the stirrups for my second lesson, I was riding on the high from the night before. I was sure that today was the day we were going to tackle all those new, fun movements and show her that I am a good rider who is ready to move up the levels. But, for whatever reason, Parker had different plans. Horses sure do have a way of keeping us humble. I can’t even pinpoint exactly what didn’t go according to my expectations that morning. I just know I felt like we were struggling to do even the simplest things and I was fully questioning my abilities.  It was here that I learned the most from Kristi.

As things were falling apart (at least in my mind), Kristi told me to stop being so defensive. She explained she wasn’t telling me I was doing things wrong, rather she was telling me that she wants me to do them better. She exclaimed, “This is an Olympic sport – it’s supposed to be hard!” She taught me that you shouldn’t beat yourself up when you can’t change what you are doing in one day. It is ok to make mistakes! By doing nothing to try to make things better, you are essentially making a mistake. Instead, if you try not to let it worry you and try not to avoid the mistakes, you will in fact make progress faster. You can’t have it both ways – you can’t want it to be better but at the same time say you can’t do it. So instead of saying, “I can’t sit his big trot”, the mantra needs to be “I need to get better at sitting his big trot”. 

It certainly was not Kristi’s intention, but each time she would tell me not to be so hard on myself, I would beat myself up just a little bit more. I’m not ashamed to admit I spent some time at the far end of the arena so that she couldn’t see my tears. Luckily I had both of our rides on video so I could go back and hear what Kristi was trying to teach me with a clearer mind. Even just watching that second ride brought about feelings of incompetence. I had to process those lessons for quite a while, admittedly many weeks, before I began to open up to the ideas she was trying to get me to understand. I think most of you will agree with the fact that being an equestrian (especially a dressage rider) and being a perfectionist goes hand in hand. Thus the idea of making mistakes, being less than perfect, and accepting that those mistakes actually make us better is a hard pill to swallow. Slowly since that clinic, I have started to accept my mistakes and I have even begun to laugh at myself when things don’t go as planned. I’m not sure Parker is as appreciative of these lessons, though, as this translates into him having to work harder and more correctly.

So while I wish I could have shared with you a wealth of knowledge and insight on how to ride Third level, I hope the real lessons I learned will resonate. I am grateful to SEDA for giving me the opportunity to ride with Kristi. I have grown so much more as a rider as a result of this clinic and look forward to riding with Kristi again in the fall. I encourage all members to apply for the next scholarship so that they may also continue their education and grow as a rider.

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