Amateur Hour

Getting My Sea Legs Back: My 3-Day Clinic Diary

Laura and Fezzik sort out some ditches and glitches leading up to their GMHA clinic debut.

(Mary Lee Chen/Courtesy of the author.)

Work log, earth date August 13, 2016, Rider/Horse Mom Laura reporting:


When I last wrote, I had put a plan in place to “get my sea legs back” by increasing our event exposure and providing lots of repetition for Fezzik. My bold agenda: a ride with a visiting dressage clinician, three days at a clinic with eventer Sharon White, and finally, participating in the Green Mountain Horse Association (GMHA) 3-day clinics at the Festival of Eventing this month. I’m looking at this plan in two parts, working up to the GMHA clinic, and then riding in the clinic, itself. In this log entry, I will be reporting on the tactical aspects of working up to the clinic.

Our first dressage clinic went off without a hitch… except the part at the start where Fezzik was acting so oddly, I thought the saddle was pinching him or something. I actually got off and readjusted everything, but I think it was due to the fact that he decided he didn’t like his ride time occurring before turnout. In any case, we did some good work, and my instructor said that there was a lot of improvement from the last time he saw us.

(©Nature of Light Photography/Courtesy of the author.)
(©Nature of Light Photography/Courtesy of the author.)

On to the Sharon White 3-Day Clinic

Day 1 : Dressage. This went very well, all considering. Unfortunately, we were the last lesson on a hot day, and Sharon always takes it up a notch as she goes along. I was physically working very hard, as 17.2-hand half-drafts are a lot of horse to move around in the heat.

Day 2: Stadium Jumping. 8:30 a.m. is a much better time of day for me, being a morning person and hating the heat. Things started off really well until Fezzik stopped and crashed into a little oxer, an incident which actually scared me. I think I looked down and thought I was going to come off, or that he would hurt himself in the poles. Sharon was awesome—she just told me to breathe. I recovered and we went on; we even ended up doing a pretty hard combination with a sharp turn that you had to be on your toes for (so to speak).

Day 3: Cross-Country. In the midday heat once again, and all decked out in our ‘bullet proof vests’. Thankfully, a spectator was kind enough to act as valet and carry our water out, and even offered it to us during the lesson. Fezzik and I had never been out in the field with more than one other person for a lesson, which ended up being an important point. We had a total of four horses for this particular set, and we did really well during the first portion of the day. The farm has great jump selections for Elementary and Beginner Novice riders: mini coops, mini houses, fat logs, etc., and we had seen everything already. Sharon is all about training over water, ditches, and banks, since these are the elements that set cross-country apart. She is also all about the half bridge. So we did some trotting and cantering, and we used our half bridge and did some regular little jumps as well—all good.

Then the group began to make our way over to the ditch element. Remember I told you we were with three other horses? Well, everyone headed over to the ditch by trotting through the water and all the horses were ahead of us, though not by much. Fezzik was coming through the water and then he bucked—he thought the group was too far ahead, apparently—and I remember saying, “Okay, that’s making me uncomfortable.”

I got him to stop it (or maybe he just stopped when he thought he was close enough to everyone else) but then I kind of lost it. This behavior really scared me, as my horse doesn’t typically buck. I didn’t know until that moment how much he was herd bound when working out in the field. But when it came time to school the ditch, Sharon, in her wisdom, positioned the other horses to the side of the element parallel to us, and once I got it back together, we trotted the baby ditch in both directions. Then we went on to the bank, which was pretty easy (we had already done it and it’s a tiny bank), so our big goal ended up being to go straight and not veer towards the other horses to stop. In the end, this worked out fine, but by that point, I was spent, so I skipped the last little course.

The Verdict



So the good news is, I made it through the 3-Day clinic, which meant more positive exposure for Fezzik and I. But there were also some sticking points. Sharon White is also one of the trainers teaching at the GMHA Festival of Eventing Clinic, so I asked if she thought I was good to go there without “over facing” myself. Sharon said she thought it was a great idea for me to go.

There are three weeks between the Sharon White Clinic and GMHA, which means continuing to ride is a must, as is continuing to go out on the cross-country course . Unfortunately, one of our trainers was on vacation and the second trainer at my barn was already booked solid. Luckily, we have a boarder at the barn who is also a certified instructor. She normally does a lot of ground work and behavioral training, but she often helps me with my horse and what I really needed was just a qualified person to coach me through making him move around in the field and continue jumping the same, elementary jumps.

My friend was able to make time for me and took me out for short sessions on the cross-country course several times. Once I got to the point of making Fezzik move and went over a few jumps smoothly, that was it. My goal was just a ton of repetition—getting used to moving at an appropriate speed (and learning what that appropriate speed is) and getting Fezzik to be consistent at it.

I also had a chance to school cross-country off property just before GMHA, and I jumped at that. The farm we visited had a warm up ring set up with a few elementary jumps in it, so we got to go to a new place with a contained area to warm up in before going out into the larger, unenclosed area.

We started well, and then Fezzik stopped at a fence—a little bench—and guess what? It unnerved me a little, but it didn’t scare me, and I was able to get things back together quickly. My trainer made me go over it three or four times and while I really had to get after him to get the job done (for whatever reason), I’m happy to say I did it, and things ended on a positive note. For now, I continue to stick to the plan: exposure, repetition, and overcoming those few glitches that come up along the way. I’ve also started packing.

Stay tuned for more on my upcoming adventures away from home at the GMHA clinic. Which, as we all know, is about way more than riding.

About the Author

Laura Strassman works in technology marketing and lives in the Boston suburbs. She has a long and checkered history with horses but currently owns a wonderful TB X Percheron named Fezzik. He is 17.2 hands, so aptly fits his name if you know the reference. Laura enjoys taking photos and creating video both for work and in her free time. Her favorite subjects are food, and of course, horses.

Read more from Laura Strassman.

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