Amateur Hour

A Court Jester amongst Dressage Queens: Part 2

Houston, we have balance + frame! Dressage Queen coronation is in sight!

In Part 1, I talked about my reasons for switching from hunters to dressage in 2016. This time, I recall my deep-dive into the sport and my immersion into dressage instruction by taking a clinic with a Canadian Olympian.

Ask my friends, family, or coworkers—when I decided I’m going to do something, I dive in 120%. My transition into the world of dressage last year was definitely no exception.

When most people switch disciplines or try a new sport, they find a local coach. They visit a few competitions to see the classes, how they run, and what the show is like. They might enter a schooling show or two, to see how it feels, and to see how their horse reacts to a different kind of show environment.

I did those things, too. But I also took it a step further.

I participate in an expensive, Olympian-given clinic…that I helped to organize.

It started off innocently enough. Some very close friends of mine are big-wigs in our local division of CADORA (Canadian Dressage Owners and Riders Association). Last year, when I made the switch to dressage, I approached them about volunteering at their shows and maybe helping out with running things. I’ve got loads of experience running a local H/J circuit, in addition to marketing and communications in the equestrian industry, so they were more than eager to accept the help.

At the first board meeting I attended, I came up with an at-the-time crazy idea.

“Why don’t we set up a clinic with an Olympian for mid-season? How about Jacquie Brooks?”

Thankfully, I knew most of the people at the table and they knew that my sanity on the best of days is a little bit wishy-washy. We live in a relatively tiny area with an equally tiny equestrian economy. But after some convincing (and maybe a teeny bit of alcohol), we all agreed—we would set up a clinic.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Jacquie through a few other equestrian avenues and she’s not only an incredibly down-to-earth coach, trainer and rider, but a great representative for Canada on the world stage. I’ve always been a fan, and to be able to participate—let alone organize—a clinic with her was an honor I never thought I’d have.

We arranged for a facility, scheduled the clinic, and advertised for spaces.

Of course, I was hesitant. Was I really in a position to be shelling out good money for a clinic that I probably didn’t belong in? Would I be wasting Jacquie’s time by coming in at such a low, inexperienced level?

I was encouraged by a best friend, my newfound dressage coach, and a myriad of other folks who know me best. It’s only a waste of someone’s time if you allow it to be.

I’ve always prided myself on making the best attempt possible at being a good student and trying to learn, so I filled out the entry forms, paid my fees, and tried my darnedest to get my fleabitten grey horse clean in a drought for the Friday clinic.

My session was the last of the day, and I did this on purpose—not only to try and avoid getting smushed between better riders, but so that I could watch everyone and get a feel for Jacquie’s teaching style.

It turned out to be one of the hottest days in Ontario last summer, hovering around the upper 30s C (100s F) and absolutely humid. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life, or consumed as much water. But it was absolutely worth it.

It really doesn’t take long to warm up in 40°C temperature, as my face indicates (since these photos were taken I’ve gone to the gym…a lot)

I never dreamed that I’d have a lesson with an Olympian, let alone come away with so much. Jacquie focused a lot on my position, and adapting my forward hunter seat to dressage and my horse’s way of going.

We focused on keeping Willow on-task and on me, especially after she had a wicked sideways spook and I came off in the dirt (and subsequently was covered in it). After re-establishing some of my position, and finding where the centre of balance was in each movement, I was more than prepared to stay with the horse through the next series of silliness that she seemed to pull (little crow hops for balance).

By the end of the clinic I had Willow working in a better frame, and had a better understanding of how to get there—I had her off my legs and engaged in work, and had her responding to body weight more than before.

Houston, we have balance + frame! Dressage Queen coronation is in sight!

The process of switching from discipline to discipline is challenging but rewarding. I fell off in a clinic in front of a multiple Canadian Olympian and one of our country’s beloved equestrian heroes, and she was incredibly helpful and graceful about the whole thing.

I learned a lot, and I don’t think I wasted time. In fact, in the end, I think people learned a lot from watching me toddle around on my little Thoroughbred, figuring out a new way of balancing and working with the horse.

The clinic was not only a lesson in dressage. It was a lesson in learning.

Sometimes you want to give up when it’s hot or cold, the weather’s crappy, you’re exhausted, or your horse is cranky. That hot Friday in August showed me that I have to be willing to put in the work to get where I want to go, and that my dressage queen crown is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s there, I just have to push myself to succeed.

What was it Ms Frizzle used to say on Magic School Bus? Right… “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, and Get Messy!”

Took chances? ✔ Made mistakes? ✔ Got messy (see dirty right arm)? ✔ A clinic well had! Thanks Jacquie!

About the Author

Mallory Haigh is an under-30 adult amateur dressage rider living in the middle-of-nowhere Ontario, Canada on 50 acres with her two horses, a few boarders, chickens, dogs, and wildlife. Her hobbies include freelance writing about life on a small farm, web development, photography, and geekery.