The clinic started, as they always do, with an evening demo - auditors are welcome to participate. Mark's demos never involve horses - they are exercises for the people designed to illustrate some of the principles we'll be working on in the clinic with our horses. I can't describe them in detail - you really need to be there to experience it. Suffice it to say that we used wooden dowels with one or more partners for a number of the exercises, including one on the difference between "make" and "help", and also several exercises involving feel, balance, timing, blending and breathing. Every year, Mark comes up with some new exercises and I always learn new things. It's a great way as well to get to know the other clinic participants and auditors.
The weather was horrible on day one. The first rider in the morning got to ride outside - it was cold but bearable - and Pie and I mounted up outside but we quickly had to retreat to the indoor since it started to rain. It rained on and off all day, and there was a big storm in the afternoon - more on that in the next post. The temperature never got out of the low 40s, and with the arena doors open and the wind blowing, it was very cold - I was wearing all my warmest winter clothes and wasn't warm for a moment until my hot - very hot - shower in the evening.
The useable space in the indoor is very small - 60'x80' (at most) I'd guess. Worked fine, though, and sure beat being outside.
Pie and I had a very productive session. There was one moment that involving staying on. The clinic host came into the arena with a broom and attempted to brush away some cobwebs. The moment she raised the broom, Pie did a gigantic sideways and forward spook - I stayed with him and she gave up her attempt to tame the cobwebs. We went about our business and Pie was fine - I like that he settles right down.
I told Mark that my transitions, upwards and downwards, were often not what I wanted - they were often abrupt and jerky. Pie and I did a lot of work on our halt/walk/halt and then on walk/trot/walk transitions. Mark immediately identified two things that were making our transitions rough.
The first is a big one, I know for me and I expect for a lot of other people too. It's about consistency and directness. First, I have to know exactly what I want and Mark made me specify it in each case. For halt to walk, I wanted to use, on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pressure and 10 being the most pressure you could ever use, no more than a .25 of leg pressure with an immediate step off into a big striding walk - not a single slow step. Mark asked me if that was what I was getting and I said no. Another very important point - if we want to change how our horse is responding, we have to change how we're presenting things to the horse - we have to change before the horse can change. Mark said I wasn't getting what I wanted because I wasn't being consistent with Pie about exactly what I wanted, and direct about asking for it. Pie was doing pretty much any old thing in the transition, because he didn't understand that I wanted anything else - my inconsistency created this.
We worked for a long time - maybe a half hour - just on our halt/walk transition. As Mark correctly says, if it's not working the way you want at the lower gaits it's certainly not going to get better when you go faster, and if you can fix these basic things that often fixes things elsewhere at the same time. Mark told me to ask Pie for the walk with a .25 and if he didn't immediately - and I mean in less than a fraction of a second - move off into a striding walk, tap my leg or the saddle within that fraction of a second with my dressage whip - no need to touch the horse. This was to say to Pie ".25 means go, and go now." Mark caught me doing lots of things other than that - upping the pressure (this means the .25 became a .50 became a 1) and getting a sluggish, death march walk far from instantaneously, using a .25, not getting the response and being late with the whip tap. It's hard to establish new habits, and I had to really pay attention to what I was doing - I had to consistently present to Pie what I wanted and consistently and directly - but not abruptly - ask him to do it.
Things improved greatly - no more death march walking - and we worked some on walk/trot/walk transitions and halting. Here's another very good piece of learning. A lot of times things don't work as well as they should because you may be asking your horse to do something with your aids but you aren't doing it yourself first - if you ask the horse to trot but you don't trot inside you first, there's no internal feel for the horse to connect with. If you ask the horse to do things using aids and the horse does them, that's the horse doing them on the outside of the horse, and the horse may not really be engaged in what you are doing. If you ask the horse to do things by doing them on the inside of you first, and then if needed use an aid (and often you may not really have to do much of anything or perhaps nothing at all), the horse will join you in doing the activity from the inside, not just the outside - together - and there will be a feel between you. Pie and I worked on this as well, and made more very nice progress - all our upwards and downwards transitions were much better.
At the end of our work, Mark had me start adjusting Pie's head position upwards - Pie has always tended to dive down when he softens - some people watching asked if he'd ever been a western pleasure horse or a QH hunter under saddle. Carrying his head this low makes it hard for him to use himself properly from behind, and it shows up particularly in backing. He had to work harder to back since he was on the forehand as a result. He was doing this simply because that's how I'd been letting him go. To raise his head, Mark had me raise one hand slightly to tip his head - this brings the C1/C2 rotational joint in the spine into action - horses lose their horizon view when they tip their heads and want to bring their eyes back into line and the result is they tend to align with the upper eye - hence raised head. I wasn't raising his head by lifting it - I was changing his head orientation and he raised his head on his own. This also worked very well.
I told Pie what a fine horse he was and put him away.