Substitute Horse, Lifelong Lessons

Substitute Horse, Lifelong Lessons

By Lydia Chiasson
Fall 2021 SEDA Scholarship Recipient

I’ve been a member of SEDA (Southern Dressage and Eventing Association) for 7 years now, and have thought about applying for the biannual scholarship, but never actually submitted an application for it, until this past fall.  I had previously been intimidated by the application process (which was actually very easy once I worked on it) and my ability to actually make it to a clinic.  To my surprise, I was awarded the 2021 Fall scholarship.  When I found out that I was awarded it, I immediately had dreams of which clinics that I would use the money towards.  Unfortunately, in true Adult Amateur fashion, life got in the way.

Initially I was going to try to go to the Laura Ashley Killian clinic that was the Sunday/Monday after the SEDA schooling dressage championship show (which is always fun – if you haven’t qualified yet, there are a few more shows to gain those qualifying scores!), but then found out my husband was going to have to go offshore on the Sunday of the show, so I needed to get back home to my kids.  Jodie Kelly had a clinic in May at the beautiful Mills Farm, but I had a large work project going live that week that I was supporting. Then there was the Kristi Wysocki clinic in late May, but it was during the week and I needed to work.  There was also the Lendon Gray clinic in June, but I was scheduled to be out of town two weeks prior to the clinic, so I regretfully passed on that clinic also.  I tried to get to Jodie Kelly’s to train for a week in June, but also had obligations that made me have to pass on the opportunity.  

It got to the point that I was starting to get discouraged that I would be able to find an opportunity (when I had free time) to use the scholarship money!  Finally, SEDA announced that Laura Ashley Killian would be coming back for another clinic at the end of July and I looked at my calendar and I had no other obligations scheduled!  I immediately emailed the organizer to save me a spot and mailed my entry in. I’ve been working hard at home to improve my third level scores in hopes to get my USDF bronze medal, so I was so excited for this opportunity right before the start of the fall season.  

Leading up to the clinic, everything was great.  I had fantastic rides on my horse, Otter, the weekend before.  Then, on the Wednesday before the clinic, I had stopped by the barn and noticed he was acting a little down and wasn’t interested in his food.  I tried all of our normal tricks when he’s a little out of sorts, and nothing worked for long.  On Friday morning (when I was supposed to be heading to the clinic), I called the vet out to look at him (and of course, immediately after the vet got there, he started perking up).  At that point though, I didn’t want to put him through the stress of trailering/riding, and was starting to despair that I was going to miss out on another clinic opportunity.  Fortunately, my friend Natasha offered for me to take her young horse, Parker, to the clinic.  I reached out to the clinic organizer, and they were able to move my ride on Friday to the end of the day, so once we got Otter situated, we loaded up Parker in my trailer and headed to the clinic.  

Even though I had to change my expectations of what I would be working on in the clinic, it was amazing.  Laura is a wonderful teacher and has an ability to break down movements step-by-step in a way that makes it easy to follow along with.  This was only Parker’s second outing and the first day of the clinic he was pretty distracted by everything going on.  We focused a lot at the beginning on getting him to stay focused on me instead of flinging his head around trying to look (and call to) at everyone and everything. Once he started settling down, we worked on his canter transitions. We have just been working on getting him back in shape at home, and his canter transitions have been a little slow to progress.  After a few attempts, in where I was having to ask multiple times, Laura explained that it was ok for him (with where he is at in his fitness and training) to take a couple of quicker trot steps to help engage his hind end into a canter, but what I should not have to do, is to ask multiple times for the transition.  We ended up picking up a dressage whip, and then next time I asked for the canter, and he didn’t respond, I tapped him with it.  That immediately got a response, and he was much more prompt with the transitions after it.  We decided to call it a day on that.

On the second day of the clinic, Parker was immediately more relaxed and focused, although he did have his moments where he tried to test me on if I was going to require him to stay focused.  He also remembered that he needed to have a prompt response to the canter transitions (so much so, that occasionally when asking for a walk-trot transition, he thought about giving a canter).  Laura asked me what else I wanted to work on, and I asked if we could do some centerlines – as I know that is something that I can improve on.  She noticed one thing almost immediately, in that when I’m making my turn to come down the centerline, even though I’m trying to make a half 10m circle,it actually ends up being closer to 11 or 12m, which meant I overshot the centerline.  She had me think about making each turn an 8 or 9m half circle, which put me dead on centerline.   We did get to start working on some baby leg yields though, and while he was really good in moving off my leg in one direction, he was a little reluctant in the other direction.  To work on the responsiveness of moving away from the leg, Laura had us walk in a box shape, making each corner a turn on the forehand.  Then she had us do it in a trot, which was really quite difficult.  

Trailering home after the clinic, I was a bit sad that I didn’t sign up for a spot on the 3rd day of the clinic.  I enjoyed the lessons so much and felt that a lot of what we worked on could apply to my future rides on both Otter and Parker.  The biggest takeaways that I have from the clinic is that the horse should be focused on you, regardless of what is going on, the horse should be promptly responsive to your aids, and awareness of how you think you are moving versus how you are actually moving.

Thank you so much to SEDA for this opportunity!  It was such a great experience and I’m definitely going to try to get to more clinics in the future!

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