Monday, July 9, 2018

Sven Smienk Clinic: Day 1

Following the Anthony clinic, the Boy came home and things got a bit busy, so I didn't really get to ride Annie except for once before our second set of lessons the following weekend. Aside from ponying my nephew for the first time, Annie and I did end up going for a short hack to stretch our legs and worked a bit on forwardness before calling it quits.

Doesn't she look so enthused?
I had signed up for two days of a three day clinic with a dressage instructor from the lower mainland - he continually comes up to the area, but typically at a farm that is even farther away than Barn C. I never really was able to take lessons with this particular trainer due to the clinic always being full and the location - hauling back and forth would be a huge pain in the ass, especially tacking on another 30 minutes.

When the opportunity arose to ride with him at Barn C, I hesitantly opted to try it out. I'm always nervous to try new trainers, especially being that clinics can be quite costly and sometimes, they just aren't your cup of tea.

A few friends who audited one of his last clinics at Barn C earlier in the year urged me to try him out, so I decided to take them up on their assessments and decided not to audit him myself before going.

I signed up for both Friday and Saturday, just like I had for the Anthony clinic. Annie was great to haul, as per usual, and settled in quietly at Barn C and munched her hay while I got her tacked up and ready. It was raining on Friday, so I tacked up and then led her into the barn aisles to wait for our turn in the ring. She stood with moderate interest, and looked pretty damn cute doing it.

About to do real gud dressage in jump tack.
As the lesson before us dwindled down, Sven asked us to come in the ring and I led Annie over to the mounting block where she stood like a seasoned pro. Sven was very welcoming and kind, he put my mind at ease as we spoke about mine and Annie's training, difficulties, and triumphs. I went over in great detail our history and touched on the glaring hole in our training we seemed to be currently battling. I explained we had a lack of forwardness and that it had been an issue since I practically got the horse, but as time went on it seemed to get better, then worse, then better again. I made mention that the last two months our forward button really fizzled out and it was time now to address the issue and put it behind us for good (or mostly for good, haha).

Sven asked me a few other questions, like her breed and where I got her from. He then asked us to please go around the ring at all three gaits and show him how we currently ride - he explained it would give him a better understanding as to what kind of lesson plan he would use for me and see where we needed help the most. I tentatively marched Annie off and a smidge of dread filled me - I get hyper aware when people (especially trainers) watch me ride and almost forget how to ride and fumble around.

This is our "before" trot. Going nowhere fast...
and a very dumpy transition. Don't be fooled,
I am literally pushing her every single fucking stride.
I got my head back in the game a bit tho, and made no qualms about showing him just how poor our forward button was. I finished off cantering on the right lead and slowed, asking if he needed to see any more. He said no and called me to the middle where we talked about how the lack of forward was indeed an issue for us and that he'd like to address it and that it was going to mean going back to the very basics.

I did have to laugh a bit, because when I had first approached him at the middle of the ring, he folded his arms across his chest and kind of smirked and said, "Well, if you want to keep riding like that, you may as well get a stick horse because you are literally doing both jobs." He was a pretty cheeky clinician, and I enjoyed the little quips because they did remind me of Anthony.

We started out at the walk and Sven encouraged me to leave my legs off of her at all times and ONLY use them when I needed her to do something. At first, it was very difficult to literally leave my legs dangling and it caused Annie to falter her steps a few times (because somebody wasn't nagging her along). It reminded me of my rides with Anthony the weekend before, wherein he urged me to ride her bolder - it all was kind of falling into place here. Sven directed me, in this instance, to use a squeeze of the leg to push her forwards. If she didn't respond, my leg cue would be a touch of the heel and finally, a kick to the ribs. We would give her the opportunity to respond, but needed a response otherwise the stimulus would increase.

As a whole, this lesson was pretty much reminiscent of my 4-H days trying to trot an ornery 20 year old Quarter Horse mare around the ring. Legs flapping and flying everywhere and man oh man, was I EMBARRASSED.

And Annie? Annie was PISSED. I mentioned to Sven, "She feels very, very pissed." and he kind of laughed and said, "Well ya, she just came out of semi-retirement."

So, the tail was just a'going on the Bannie machine. She was NOT happy, not one bit. But, I do promise things settled by Day 2 and she was much more at peace with our new arrangement. I suppose I had to be prepared she'd have all the feelings.

The helicopter tail returns bc Bannie is PISSED.
However, you can also see the moment where around the
corner she sort of fizzled out and we went for a little lengthened
canter bc slowing down is a no no, Bannie.
Sven found that Annie had my number and would trot strongly after being booted but as soon as the leg came off, would falter and slow almost immediately. It was an interesting ride, because I so badly just wanted to go back to how we rode before because although it was a struggle bus of forwardness, we at least looked nice? But, I knew it wouldn't do us much good. This was the lesson we needed to have, even if I didn't want to have it.

Part of me was annoyed I didn't fix it sooner, because our lessons consisted of the very basics all weekend and I was paying for such a simple and easy fix. But... obviously I needed the lesson because I've gone three months without going ahead and doing it when Anthony first mentioned it in his April clinic. So... shame on me?

The lesson felt immensely messy, but it was a necessary messy. And I know for a fact I wouldn't have had the patience to kick along for 45 fucking minutes and get to a good place before ending.

The whole lesson was focused on forwards - not
bend, not contact, just forward.
There were a few times wherein I booted Annie forward for not listening to my leg and she gave no response. Whenever this happened, Sven instructed us to gallop. So, yanno, we galloped like out of control motorcycles for a good portion of the lesson too. #sogoodatdressage

By the end of the lesson, things were starting to piece together nicely and I could feel that Annie's wheels were starting to turn a bit. I still had to kick every several strides but I was starting to make things black and white instead of riding off into grey territory.

Overall, I enjoyed my lesson with Sven and he was a sympathetic and understanding teacher - I had mentioned a few times I was embarrassed and he simply shrugged and stated that once we had forward, the rest would fall back into place and be even easier for us. I knew he was right, but it was a hard pill to swallow.


  1. Don't be embarrassed! I think you should give yourself more credit for realizing what the problem was and working to fix it. I bet once you get the forward button back, a lot of other things will fall into place and be easier, just list this clinician said ;-)

    1. Thanks Tracy!! It’s hard when sometimes you don’t have the lesson you envisioned but it’s given me a lot of info and in a way, I’ll be be eager to not make the same mistake again.

  2. Wow though she looks so good going forward! I am like you and forget how to ride with a new clinician. I think that there is a real theme on the 'zero tolerance' going on in the blogosphere right now!

    1. Now we just gotta KEEP going forwards - literally haha

  3. I love his cheek! And I nodded rapidly to the point about becoming hyper aware when you KNOW someone is watching you. I do that, too, and it's always SO HARD when they have you do what he asked at the beginning. Like, I know it's necessary and oh-so-helpful, I do! But omg, my nerves and anxiety hate it!

    Sounds like Annie is starting to get the hang of this thing we call forward ;-) Great job pushing on - it definitely doesn't sound easy!

    1. I hate it when people watch haha!! I’m slowly getting better but at shows I def forget how to ride properly lol.

      Thank you!

  4. Sometimes you need those messy, basic, embarrassing lessons! Nothing like a good mental kick in the pants to turn you into the necessary mean mom. ;)

  5. Sounds like just what you needed! Don't be embarrassed! Usually when we start having a problem at the higher levels, it all stems from some silly basic little thing we've let slide. So you're addressing that now to get to where you're going.

    1. That is true. Hopefully this is just a little blip in the road!