By Patty Wilber
Mike Bertin asked me to ride Sandy, a Paso Fino cross, in a Larry Whitesell gaited horse clinic that was held at Four Winds Equestrian Center this past weekend. He even footed the bill! Elisa Bohannon rode too, with Effie (who belongs to Elisa now) and Dancer (still Mike and Carolyn’s).
I rode rescue Tennessee Walking Horses in high school for a lady in my home town (I got to ride about 50 different horses, and train my first horse from the ground up there, so that was amazing), but all the horses were flat shod and every one of them was naturally gaited. That was a few (like 38) years ago, so I was really looking forward to this clinic to learn more about gaited horses (in the modern era).
Unfortunately, Larry had a medical emergency and was not able to come. We are wishing him the best.
Cody Harrison, more of a dressage and hunter-jumper guy, was the replacement. Cody did a really good job. He was clear in his explanations and very easy to follow, but the focus was not on gaited horses. Bummer.
I did not really like the format, we only left the walk for about one (I literally mean one) minute the whole three days, and we did a bunch of exercises I am familiar with…
Perhaps inexplicably, I, nevertheless, really enjoyed the clinic. I liked spending time with Mike and Elisa.
I enjoyed the other participants (my friend Siri was there, too!) and the Four Winds folks (I will be back to give my own lessons out there Oct. 29th).
I even learned some things that I have been applying. Sandy, who can be a bit tense, got markedly softer over the three days, and he caught the eye of a prospective buyer!
The format was this:
- Day 1 am: Three hours of ground work with the whole crew of 14 participants.
- Day 1 pm: One hour in a group lesson with five other people, including Mike and Elisa. It was nice to be in the same group with them.
- Day 2 and 3 am: One hour in a group lesson with our team of five.
- Day 2 and 3 pm: Another one hour lesson with our team of five.
To me, that was not enough learning time for the money. However, it did give me an opportunity to ride my own horses (Penny and Atti) in the slack time and also to eat too much, socialize, and watch some of the other group lessons.
Here are some things I learned:
- For a horse that is stiff in the poll and won’t lower his head when doing ground work, sticking your fingers in his mouth can cause him to unclench his jaw, relax the muscles in his face, which can relax the poll, and down comes the head.
- Head to the fence! We did a shoulder-fore exercise (check out his nice article) on the ground where the horse’s head is bent to the inside and the bend-side hind leg reaches up farther under the horse. In the clinic, we did the opposite of this by bending the horse’s head toward the fence. Then, we did a circle with nice bend, working on that hind leg reaching up under. Cody, the clinician, next told us, “Head to the fence”, so at least four out of five of the class took our horses perpendicular to the fence and stopped! What he really wanted us to do was the reverse shoulder-fore exercise with our horses heads bend toward the rail! We had good laugh!
- All that walking and soft bending really did help Sandy relax and lighten up. I am not known to be a trainer in a rush, but adding more of these slow and easy bending activities, with more purpose and softness, to my warm-ups seems like a good fit for me. So, I have used them all week on the two 2yr olds I have right now.
- It is fun to go to clinics with people and horses I know! (Well, I already knew that!) All five of the horses Mike trailered in have spent time here! Of course there are blogs. Awesome Effie, Sunny, Choctaw Pony, Taffy in the Pecos, Dancing in the Caja.