Updated: Apr 2, 2019
I just returned home from 4 days of teaching a private clinic at Cindy Winfield Kavan's farm in Los Lunas, NM. Six riders braved the clinic where they would have to look deeply into themselves as riders and face themselves as the other part of the dressage partnership. The clinic was not about how the horse is going....but how they were going. On my flight to ABQ, I was unsure of the new format. How was this going to go....would riders be open to such scrutiny?
Cindy has been the president of the New Mexico Dressage Association for 3 years now. In her first year, she asked her members what kind of clinics they wanted to have the club sponsor. Apparently the overwhelming majority wanted a clinic that would help their seat and position. In the spring of 2014, I was invited to give a Pilates for Dressage® clinic for the club.
My weekend clinics are an overview of the work I have developed (and am still developing) since early 2000. I start with a powerpoint to explain the work and then spend 2 days teaching a PFD mat class and doing small group mounted position and correct biomechanics lessons. Even in this overview, riders are made aware of how much they need to address their posture and are given tools to do so. The first clinic was such a success I was invited back for the next two years.
In May of this year, I was getting ready for my flight home after another successful clinic and Cindy said she didn't want to wait for another year. We created a model for a 4 day private clinic and waited to see if it would fill. There was room for only 6 riders as the model was fairly intense. Each rider would have a private pilates session in Mariana Shedden's studio in ABQ and then in the afternoon, they would have a private mounted lesson.
The clinic filled and off I went. It was a boot camp to be sure, and for the riders to subject their selves to rider training was bold. In the studio, the rider was under the microscope. I could find all the small issues that were in fact, causing the larger issues when they rode. They worked. They got tired. They faced the reality that their bodies were causing them to be stuck. It was facing the hard facts: their hips were tight, their backs were tight, they had no concept of triceps for rein contact. They each were given exactly the right exercise on the right piece of pilates apparatus that zeroed in on the issue. In the mounted lessons they were drilled in what they needed to do. Their horses were their teachers. When they got it right, the horse told them. I was the mere facilitator of reminding them to use the right tool for the right job.
By day three, they all were exhausted. I expected at least one melt down even though these were all adults. Putting yourself in the hot seat in the studio and on the horse is not easy. While we all know it is "our fault" when we ride, we often don't do anything to fix ourselves. We still want to blame the horse. We all want to "get after" the horse when the horse isn't responding the way we want it to. This was not allowed. Whips and spurs were not allowed. It exposed the truth. Riders had to control their fears, their demands, their expectations. They had to see how much they had to ride with and independent seat leg and hands. Some had their hands taken away. Not allowed to use the reins to steer. Some had to shorten their reins and use their body to collect. Some saw how they had to rebuild trust with their horse because inadvertently, their body was literally screaming at the horse with every step and their horse had tuned them out. Everyone had intense rides where they were the center of the lesson and the horse was the result. Rather than working to get the horse right, they had to work to get themselves right. There were no meltdowns on day 3, but riders were physically and mentally spent.
I wondered how day 4 would go. Was it too much? Did I go too far? Was it possible to demand such change of the rider mentally and physically in 4 days? The morning pilates lessons were light and to the point. Now to wrap up with the riding. It sank in. The riders had risen to the challenge. They dared to change. The results were astounding.
By facing yourself, your body, your habits, your responsibility to the partnership in dressage, you can find amazing results. You become the adult, you become the leader, you speak clearer and your horse will tell you so.