dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Jacqueline Brooks Clinic Recap: Day 1, Moving Outside of My Comfort Zone

This ain't no old lady sport ~Jacqueline Brooks~ 
Sorry guys- this is going to be a long post.

I was up nice and early on Friday morning. I dressed and tried to be quiet going down the stairs (not easy in an old house). Outside the air was calm and quiet. When I came into the barn Carmen gave me a soft nicker. I fed her and the other two horses (riders in the clinic who were staying farther away. This way they wouldn't have to be up at the crack of dawn). After doing my morning chores I headed back into the house where Julia had some delicious coffee brewing and was cooking bacon.

I had asked to be later in the schedule to ride for Friday because I wanted to watch a few rides first. While I like to go first in many things I have learned that it's helpful to watch a clinician I am unfamiliar with for a bit first. That way I have a sense of what she's looking for and her teaching style. About an hour in I sent Cynthia a text: 'OMG, She's an AMAZING teacher'.

I am going to review a few of the concepts I learned before I go into my lesson.
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The standard disclaimer applies: What I am writing is what I understood Jacquie to be teaching. If you disagree or think what I say is wrong that falls back to me. I am doing my best to fully understand what she shared with us but you cannot hold her responsible for my understanding (or lack thereof).
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1. Jacquie spent a lot of time building the riders understanding of the 'bridge'. To build the bridge the horse needs to have his shoulders free and loose and then bring their back up. She started everyone on getting the shoulders relaxed and warmed up. Jacquie described the shoulders as being two pillars with the neck and chest in a sling. As the horse warms up, the shoulders become elastic and are able to move up and down. Horses will get stuck in the shoulder and stop their back. If their back is not moving then they can't really bring the legs under to carry themselves.

this man is leaning on the cart and all his weight is on his front arms. He is unbalanced and could easily fall
2. 'Push the shopping cart': I struggled with this a bit but my understanding was that this was an analogy to help the rider keep the horse from falling forward onto the shopping cart. We were to visualize that the horse was pushing the shopping cart but he/she was not allowed to drop his head into and lean on it:


this woman  has her weight on her legs and is balanced over her core
 Funnily enough I can't find images of horses pushing shopping carts so the above will have to do. Jacquie had various riders visualize pushing the cart with their horse's chest/neck/forehead depending on what she was trying to accomplish.  What I think this helped with is the idea of keeping the horse's shoulders up and moving and staying straight. Lifting the head and neck (and not worrying about contact or frame) moves the balance up and then the push from the hind legs won't push the horse onto the forehand.

3. Everything on the training scale comes after balance.  The more the horse is balanced the quieter  your aids can be. A heavy rein always means a loss of balance. Engage your own core and bring your elbows back to help the horse find his balance.

4. 'Tell her 'good girl". I heard that a lot over the weekend. As soon as the horse did what was asked (even a little bit) they were told they were good. Mistakes were fine, 'just bring them back and show them what you want'. 

Those were the key things I came away with in my notebook. I had turned Carmen outside for a bit when another rider came in and told me that she was getting agitated. I went out and as soon as she saw me she called and ran to the gate. I brought her in and spent some time grooming her and decided to braid her. As I was braiding her mane I could feel her relax.  When it was time for us I took her down to the outdoor ring to lunge her and warm her up. She was not a fan of the far end of the ring- there were bushes, grasses and trees. Carmen took one look and was nope.nope.nope.  I used the time to do ground work and get her focussed. I didn't mount until Shanea came down with her horse. I just walked her around the far end (away from the scary spot) and worked on relaxation. I didn't believe it was time to address the far end. 

I should mention that it was a warm day. When we came up to the indoor the far door was open. Carmen and I took one look at the far end with the waving grass and trees and said 'uh oh'. It turns out that I said that out loud. Julia asked if I wanted them closed and I said 'nope, we will deal with it'

I started at the end far away from the open door. There were some issues with the ear piece as well- trying to get them to sync with two ear pieces so we ended up riding without it. By then, with the door open, seeing all the auditors and Carmen being tight I kind of lost my brain. I was having a really hard time getting myself organized.

 I had given my whip to someone when I started because she was so forward. Carmen was so far behind my leg it felt like we were going backwards. I could not get her forward. Why I didn't ask for my whip back I have no idea. None. I was trying to push my shopping cart but it was like pushing one with the brakes on and one wonky wheel. 

I am going to share some videos of my bad riding. Nicole was very kind and used my phone to take some videos. There are more on my youtube channel (if you are now bored watching paint dry feel free to check them out). 



On the plus side- look at us go by the far door. So that's a win. Ignore the stiff backed rider on the stiff backed horse. 

At one point I was so out of it that Jacquie was telling me to use my right rein and I kept hearing 'left' and of course Carmen and I were getting more out of sync and I'm sure Jacquie was frustrated when I realized. I felt like an idiot. After that things got better. 

Jacquie suggested that Shanea and I use a neck strap. I have never ever used one. The idea was that by using the strap I can affect how Carmen engaged her shoulders and lift her head without using a ton of rein. It also really really helped with preventing her from dropping her shoulder and dekeing away from things. It was, in some ways, like neck reining. 

Better flow. 

I have to say that we ended in a good place: I was able to get her forward off the leg and we were both much happier.

After the ride my brain was a bit of a mess. My memory was that I was really really awful and Jacquie was not happy with me. When I watched the videos later I realized that she was clear and consistent and gave me lots of praise (when I earned it). I wasn't horrible but Carmen and I were certainly not at our best. Jacquie is an Olympian and I am a middle aged AA making a ton of mistakes and seemingly unable to listen. How she kept her patience I have no idea. (In full disclosure I was the person who would get an exam back at university with a 97 and look for my mistake. In some ways I am Hermione Granger).


 I was outside of my comfort zone that my brain was in a bit of whirl. Between the shopping cart (with the wonky wheel), trying to stay on task, having an audience (albeit a kind one) and riding with the neck strap I was struggling to get things into a framework. So I am happy for the videos to reflect back on. It allows me to see what following Jacquie's instructions really helps. I am sure I will use them frequently. I watched some more lessons- which helped.

It was wonderful to watch horses and riders transform. Every one of them finished off so much better then they started. Jacquie maintained the same energy level from beginning to end. The first and last rider has had her full and undivided attention. Even more telling was how happy the horses were at the end. Despite working hard the horses looked loose and pleased with themselves. So did the riders.

After the rides were done a bunch of people (along with Jacquie) left to go to a local restaurant for a cocktail. I declined. To be honest my introvert self was a bit overwhelmed. I also needed to do something.

When everyone was done I quietly tacked Carmen up and took her back to the ring. Now before you judge me on this- I was not being goal driven. I realized that I needed to take what I had learned and see if I could make sense of it when I could do it at my own pace. Later that night Jacquie overheard me talking about it and was curious as to why I rode Carmen again. I explained that I wanted to see if I could figure out the neck strap and cart on my own.
"why? that's what I'm here for'
'Yes, but I only have you tomorrow and then I'm going to have to see if I understand what I thought I understood. Riding tonight helped me so that tomorrow I can get the most out of the lesson. (Jacquie looks at me quizzically) It's how I learn."
With that she let it go.

It was the right call. I was able to quietly ride and focus on how things felt without the performance anxiety. I picked up the neck strap and put it down to play with how it worked. I used the mirrors to practise being straight. During the lesson Carmen was really throwing her haunches right (as she does when tense. I am sure I contribute to it as well). In that ride I was able to find my centre and we re-connected. After 20 minutes I hopped off and felt more satisfied.

That night we had a potluck. I sat around a large round table with other women talking horses. We laughed and shared and drank wine or beer. It was a perfect way to end the day.

I am sure that Jacquie is plotting to buy Carmen and take her away to the olympics. :D



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22 comments:

  1. Really useful instruction, and sounds like you definitely made some "lemonade" out of a situation that could have been lemons! Good for you for being committed enough to work on the concept a little later to make sure you could get he most possible out of this clinic experience!

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  2. My coach's coach rides with Jacquie and has us all using the neckstrap off and on too. I hope you felt less anxious on day 2, it looks like day 1 went well!

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    1. The neck strap was very interesting. I am going to incorporate it into my sessions

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  3. I think that was brilliant to work her alone and process all the information by yourself before the next day. Good call.

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    1. Thank you. I believe that I found it very very helpful.

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  4. Sounds like a great clinic and seems you both learned a lot. Good idea to take her back and practice alone.

    I have to say I’m not crazy about her quote though “this ain’t no old lady sport” because I happen to be an old lady and I am still riding. And I’m not stopping until I can’t ride anymore.

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    1. I don't think that she meant it as 'older ladies shouldn't be riding' (she just turned 50). More as it's a sport and is hard work.

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  5. First of all, I'm a visual learner, so any "pictures" I can use with my riding the better. Secondly, I think it's great that you knew you needed to ride again. Do what works for you!

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    1. It's all about knowing how you learn!

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  6. I think it was a great idea to do a little "homework" by yourself. I get a bit overwhelmed in clinic situations (lots of info and lots of eyes watching). I hope day two was a bit more fun for you!

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    1. I think that the homework was good too.

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  7. Good for you for doing what you needed to do for you and Carmen.

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    1. Thank you. I am glad that I did it.

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  8. What a cool lesson. I hope you'll talk more about the neck strap idea. I don't really understand how she was having you use it and I am intrigued.

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    1. I'm planning to talk more about it in the next post (likely tomorrow).

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  9. From one Hermione to another - I hear you and completely understand! Your need to go back and practice on your own also sounds like a great idea and I'm glad you knew to do that so you could cement things for yourself. It sounds like a great lesson with just enough challenge to help you really grow!

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    1. wait, do you think that maybe, just maybe, dressage attracts the Hermione's of the world? :)

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  10. i kinda love it when a clinician will really go whole hog into developing their own entire visual metaphor (ie: the shopping cart) for their philosophy of riding. it can make it a lot easier to remember the whats and the whys than just thinking 'inside leg this, outside rein that...' on the other hand tho.... i also totally understand with why you wanted to take time to unpack the whole visual metaphor again on your own to see how it handled without trainer input. i basically measure the effectiveness of a trainer or training program based on how easily i can translate it to riding on my own, so it's definitely worth taking the time to find out when you've still got another ride left to discuss further! can't wait to read about day two!

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    1. I needed to mull over the visual to figure it out. I can get a bit caught up in it and not sure if I understand it on a fundamental level.

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  11. I like the shopping cart analogy also the visual of heavy rein meaning loss of balance.

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    1. It makes sense- especially the heavy rein one.

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