Monday, January 29, 2018

Derek Huget Clinic: Day 1

At her new digs - don't let the blue skies fool you... it was
bitterly cold.
Preparation for the weekend clinic began a week prior - mostly because Annie would remain at Barn C afterwards and begin her training with Trainer K. I started off by gathering and piling things together - first aid stuff, list of extra grains to be picked up, zip-lock bags, saddle pads, riding gear, etc.

Things were put into tupperware bins and labelled/tagged should they grow legs and walk, although I doubted it due to the fact all of mine and Annie's things would remain in the horse trailer at Barn C. Still, part of me was concerned about potential leaks/water accumulation so I tried to keep things contained in bins for the most part.

Saturday morning dawned and I was awake long before my alarm - taking lessons with someone I have never ridden under and on a horse that hasn't been ridden in three months probably wasn't the best for my stress levels, but I managed to make it work to my advantage by getting long before my lesson so I had time to try and relax before slipping into the saddle.

The horse trailer was buried under old, frozen snow and took the better part of 30min to dig out and clear the roof the best I could. From there, I hauled over to the gas station and put air in the tires of the truck and trailer - thankfully it appeared as though the trailer tires (except one) held their air from the last four months and didn't need much tweaking.

Staring out into the abysmal winter.
Thankfully before I drove out to the barn, I realized I had forgotten my board money at home, so turned around, picked it up and jetted out to the horses. The plan was to load hay, load Spud and drop him off at N's place, head back and grab Annie and haul out to Barn C.

Once there, I wrestled with the dutch doors of the trailer, as they were frozen shut. I ended up prying them open with a screwdriver and proceeded to stuff as much hay as I could into the one side of the straight haul (I managed to fit 15 bales, which really surprised me) and loaded all my tack and Annie's belongings (blankets) into the truck. I couldn't open any of the tack room doors, as they were frozen shut and the latches wouldn't let go, even with prying them with a screwdriver. (I hate winter). Once done (and sweating buckets) I loaded Spud in the open side. Annie was upset, but didn't pull anything stupid, which was nice to see. The haul over to N's was a mere two minute drive and I stayed there for a few minutes to make sure he'd be OK with her two horses (Flash and AJ) before hopping back into the truck and heading back to pick up Annie.

Last minute items were packed into the trailer and Annie was slightly hesitant to load, but took no more than a cluck and "In" before she stepped in and quietly waited for me to do the butt bar up. The ride there wasn't anything special - a few areas I had to slow down due to snow patches, but otherwise I was glad the impeding weather storm (scheduled to hit on Sunday) had wavered and gave me enough time to get to the barn. There was a lot of wind tho, which tried it's best to move the truck and trailer across the road, but driving slow and steady I made it to the barn in plenty of time.

Spud, at his new digs. A milisecond after
this photo, he attempted to bite Flash (who is the
herd leader) in the face. Not a good way to make a
first impression, dude!
A quick chat with Trainer K in the barn lounge and I unloaded Annie and put her in her "vacation" home - a spacious paddock with a newly built run in shed and automatic waterer. A young rider's paint gelding shared the side fenceline and the back fence runs along the pasture boarded horse's area - a few of them came to scope out Annie which caused a few squeals and head shakes.

I left Annie to get acquainted with her surroundings after showing her the waterer (which I did several more times because I'm neurotic) and throwing her some hay before going and mixing up her grain bags. Show Buddy D showed up shortly after with her mare, Riott, and stalled her in the adjoining paddock beside Annie.

Finally, it was time to get ready and I pulled Annie out. The wind was pretty fierce and my fingers froze undoing the buckles on her blanket. She was pretty impatient while being tied to the trailer and attempted to dance around to look/stare at the horses in the pasture and people coming/going. I reminded her to stand and after a few reprimands, she managed to stand and contain herself. She did try to swing her butt a few times to stare out, but was much less hurried/anxious and eventually stood with a hind leg cocked. Of course, when I moved away to put my boots and helmet on, the wiggles returned!

Cherry picked video still - what a good lady!
 While the lesson before us was finishing, which ironically enough, was Trainer K on her warmblood gelding, I took my time walking Annie around the arena before climbing aboard. She had a small wiggle at the mounting block, so I sent her backwards and asked again - she stood this time and I got on.

She felt at ease - never spooking or faltering at all the activity and sounds of the wind whipping at the barn's roof. We went through our paces and as I asked her to trot, I instantly felt the difference in her step. She felt so much more floatier and... rhythmic than before. Unfortunately, I also made the painful realization that holy shit this mare needs LEG. And legs I do not have - not right now anyways.

Being out of shape, I knew this lesson was going to be tough for the both of us, but continued my warm up and for the most part, she felt pretty good. I took the opportunity to school the canter to get any kind of sillies sussed out before Derek came back from his lunch break and for Trainer K to view/supervise should we need it.

SUCH a good girl.
 In true Annie fashion, she gave me a head fling and tail wring before popping into the canter and after half a lap, tried to hop into the canter several times/ throwing her haunches sideways and tossing her head. Trainer K gave me instruction as I rode thru it and once we reached a good point, I walked and gave Trainer K the nitty gritty on "This is what she does/ this is her M.O. for cantering" as well as the history we had last year re: swelling in the loins/bad Dressage saddle/resistance to my leg. I was pretty happy Trainer K was in the ring at the time, so she could see exactly where we were coming from and how we both respond.

I continued to warm up and cantered to the left, with a bit more success. As we were finishing, Derek came out and I introduced myself, my horse, our history, as well as talked about my warm up (he was viewing from the lounge window). He was an incredibly soft-spoken and kind man, who assured me I certainly have not ruined the horse and asked me to start off rising trot to the left.

He wasted no time explaining a tactic he wanted to use for the canter response and then started to initiate it. Essentially, he had me use my legs to ask Annie to step out - each time she stepped out and became more forward, I patted her with my inside hand and continued to ask for more until she naturally stepped into the canter. Once in the canter, he instructed me to just sit quiet and wait for her to come back on her own. The idea being to avoid a fight by using the 'canter cue' and just rewarding her for moving forward off my leg - the thought process he was on was that this was a leg pressure response vs a real "canter problem".

As we came down the long side Annie popped into canter and my saddle started to slip to the right. We started to turn and the saddle continued to slip - so much so that I ended up popping off when Annie gave me a "WTF ARE YOU DOING" and dropped her shoulder. I tumbled into the dirt and Annie was off to the races with my saddle beneath her belly.

^ Going... going... annnnd there goes Cathryn.


I hopped up, my chest robbed of air, and attempted to catch my rogue horse beast, who was now, very very scared. Several friends who came to watch jumped into the arena and after six or so laps, we were able to corner her near the letter C and as I held her, a friend unbuckled the saddle and removed it. Part of me wanted to cry, but part of me almost wanted to laugh. I mean, how is that for a start to the year?

Thankfully, Annie only suffered a very minor abrasion to her hind right that stopped bleeding by the time we had resaddled her. I'm thinking that Annie must've sucked up quite a bit with all the activity (because I have NEVER had to tighten my girth THAT much before) and once the lesson was underway...

Derek was super nice and as we re-sacked Annie out (because holy shit, the saddle just tried to kill her), he assured me it happens to the best of us. Annie, was a complete star and didn't pull any punches and as I threw her on the lunge (just to make sure the banging stirrups wouldn't cause panic) she went around like nothing had even happened.

I remounted with Derek holding the reins (I'm sure he was more nervous than I was haha), and we went back to our regularly scheduled lesson.

I'm happy to report that after the fall, we had a really really good lesson.

Mare was happy to get back to work and we had some SPECTACULAR trot work. For a horse that has only been undersaddle for a year (with an ammy as her primary rider/trainer) and out of work for four months, she tried so damn hard.

She was quite behind the leg and required a lot of support from me, but I almost didn't even care. Mare is unfit and still showed up to work and gave me some really nice moments. Derek was kind to point out my love affair with the inside rein, so we made a conscious effort to get reacquainted with the outside rein again, which proved to bring much success in lowering her poll and getting her connected with both of my reins.

A few times, I could feel real connection in both reins and it made me giddy - only to have me lose it a few steps later, haha. But the glimpses of our future were there, which was super cool for me, esp since we've been out of work for a long time. To have these successes so early in the year makes me so excited for the year to come!!

^ You can see as I ask for "more" there is some resistance there.
Not much, but it's there.

I gleaned a lot from Day 1, and to summarize some of the points:

  • Outside rein lowers the poll. Lowering her poll will help build up her back and make her stronger for the canter.
  • The canter is hard for her because she is weak. Don't worry about the leads right now, you just want to establish a forward response.
  • She is quite a forgiving mare, isn't she? (re: saddle malfunction).
  • The trot work she is giving you is LOVELY.
  • When she leaves the track or is wiggly down centerline, use your outside rein to keep her straight. If she's wiggling, it's because you have lost that outside rein support.
  • Sometimes you need to argue things out, but sometimes it's better to break things down into an easier question and build up from there.
  • You want her moving forward off your aids - when you ask her to move out, she needs to respond.
  • Be like a jockey for the canters. Just be along for the ride and let her go along.

^ Note the loose outside rein. This is both mine and Annie's
weaker side. You can see where she leaves the track because
I didn't have enough outside rein support.

The tactic he used for our canter transitions gave me a much less fussy horse and gave her a better understanding of my leg. He noted that our trot work lacked energy at some points, but was quick to forgive due to both horse and rider lack of fitness.

We didn't do a lot of crazy figures or hard questions - mostly just re-establishing the tempo, response from my aids, my position, bend, and chipping away at that canter. The fact we had so many good moments tho, so many moments that were lightyears ahead of where we were last year made me really happy.

^ Working on moving forward off the leg and going into canter.
You can see how weak she is on the correct lead.

The fall kinda knocked the wind out of my sails, mostly because omg how embarrasing, lol, but... I was proud of Annie - she went into this clinic and showed up. There are lots of things to work on, but that's exactly why we were there.


  1. If it makes you feel any better, I got bucked off 5 minutes into my first clinic ever. I understand the mortification, gaha. But it sounds like you we're able to be super prpdicprod after, which is awesome!

  2. bummer about the spill, tho i'm glad it wasn't any worse! one of my worst wrecks was from a slipping saddle, it's scary stuff! seems like even with that, tho, the clinician had a lot of tools for helping reward Annie's efforts and find ways to help her better understand the stuff that's harder for her.

  3. You guys are looking great! She looks super steady and quiet in that trot work.

  4. I'm glad you're both okay after the fall! BUT you know what? You got back on and worked hard -- you didn't let a mistake totally ruin your ride, which is not only difficult but so, so important. You go girl!

  5. That trot work looks amazing!

  6. I think it speaks highly of both of you and your relationship with each other that you were able to bounce back so well from a malfunction like that!

  7. Saddle slipping aside, it sounds like a great lesson! I really like how positive Derek is in how wants you to ride. Lots of rewarding and breaking things down, but still effective in expecting to get a correct answer from your horse.
    And wow, what a good girl Annie was after all that time off! My horse Jamp would have been bouncing and spinning the entire time I'm sure!

  8. Everyone has mishaps but you both got back on track. There was some really nice work together. Congratulations you’re in for a great year and so is Annie!

    Love Spuds blanket, he looks so cute in it.

  9. having a wide ass horse omg my saddle slipping is the worse. I am so glad you had a good lesson and I am so glad you are having her in training for a month while hopefully the worse of the winter passes you by! Great idea and I am sure she will learn lots!

    Funny story, not me but a kid that was riding Remus in the local hunter shows did the same thing. Saddle was slipping in a class and i was trying to tell the kid to lean the other way (nope she just kept slipping and bam off she went LOL) she was fine, popped back up and REMUS stopped dead to look at her like wtf kid?? I still giggle. I hate slipping saddles. One day i am going to crazy glue it on :)

    Annie looks great in all the media!! YAY!

  10. new-ish reader just popping in to say that Annie is SO CUTE. Even your guys' outa-shape trot looks cute, so I can't wait to see what other adjectives we can use once you both take this and get some consistent work going! :)

  11. All in all, it sounds like a really great experience for you both. I love that a part of could see the humor in the fall and saddle mishap - it's awesome you were able to relax enough to find levity in the moment. I doubt a lot of us could! Annie looks so great in all the media - she's a gem.