Dr. Jenny R. Susser's notes on the "Riding With Confidence" Clinic @ On The Rise Equestrian Center, LLC ~ 6/8+9/2013
I never understand people who talk about New Jersey like it's ugly. It's one of the prettiest landscapes we have in the urban areas surrounding New York City. As I was driving to the farm, I was surrounded by huge fields of green grass or crops, lined with majestic old trees creating boundaries with elegance and purity. To me, those kind of landscapes make it easy to smile and I can always feel myself breathe a little deeper and slower in that environment. The farm was tucked in between worlds, with a dairy farm across the busy street and what seemed like miles of grass behind it. I wanted to jump on a horse and just go! I shook myself to consciousness and walked in the converted barn to meet the group. Everything was neat and orderly, the horses were all healthy and happy, and there were so many cats, we had the “crazy cat lady” conversation until she convinced me of their important mousing role!
This was a Hunter barn and I am a Dressage person. Most of my clinics have been Dressage riders with a few Hunter riders mixed in here and there. The design of my clinic is different from how they do things in the “Hunter world” which I think prevented some folks from giving this a try. In Dressage, we have one horse, one rider, and the trainer (or me :)). In a Hunter clinic, there are 8-10 riders and horses and one trainer with a bit of controlled mayhem (probably only to us Dressage folks!). I appreciated Aimee Poris' grand effort in organizing this clinic, not really knowing the uphill battle it was to pull off. Aimee came to a clinic I did at a Dressage barn not too far away, brought 2 students, and threw herself completely into the process. Her students improved and connected with themselves and their horses in a new way. She was so inspired by this, she took on having a clinic at her farm, On The Rise Equestrian.
I like challenge and I love to have to think…and this weekend made me think! It was surprising to me that there is a difference in the relationship between horse and rider in the Hunter vs. Dressage worlds. Not that one is better than the other, but the distinction to me was kind of cool. Dressage riders fuss constantly over their horses: sugar here, fly spray there, bath everyday, hoof paint, matching wraps and saddle pad, bubble wrap in the stall over night. As a self-admitted horse fusser myself, there is a kind of addiction that comes with the attention–both in horse and person. This kind of pedestal was not evident to my eye at this barn. There was no fussing, no strong-smelling products on the horses when they came in the ring, and boots on the legs for protection not for the curb appeal. The horse's jobs are different, obviously, but I never really thought about how that might impact MY job. Dressage riders are constantly fixated on the horse, how their aides are impacting them, and how they look and feel. Hunter riders are more focused on the line, the strides, the correctness of the job being done by the horse because otherwise, someone can get hurt. This shift in focus on the horse caused a shift in focus for me on the ground.
People are people and we all have the same basic wiring. We all fret over our value and abilities. We all wonder if we are good enough. We all dream secretly of bigger things than we ever dare to admit. We all fear failure, well really, the vulnerable sting of failure that lasts far beyond the event. We all talk negatively to ourselves…that is until someone like me lets them know that there is another way. So, while the shell was a little different, the insides were the same; humans looking for a connection with their horse or their value, and a way to have other people see this, recognize this, be inspired by this, and acknowledge this.
I don't often get children as participants, but I love it when I do. This weekend was special because I had 3 young girls ride with me. The first day, a timid young girl afraid to canter climbed upon a hearty, more-than-trustworthy school horse and hesitantly told me her worries. Keep them, I told her, because they will keep you safe. When they move from worries to curiosity, take the next step but not until then. “Can I jump now?” she asked as she trotted over the same little fence over and over and over until the horse said, “I've had enough.”
Day two brought 9 and 11 year old sisters and their ball of energy mother. Diametrically opposed personalities, I was elated by the energy of them both. Sara, the older sister, went first. “I'm an older sister, too,” I admitted. “What do you want to get out of today?” I asked. “Well, I have communication issues with my horse, Benny. I'm really hoping you can help me with that.” As she began her warm up, I told her to do the walk and trot and then we'd chat. “OK but do I get to canter and jump? Cuz I really want to canter and jump.” So brave, so confident, and I couldn't help but smile. We worked on steering her horse with her “bum” because he was a little wiggly. She connected right to him and him to her and instead of him veering down the line, he went straight and jumped so big, her smile was almost uncontainable! Her younger sister started around and I couldn't help but notice her perfect position. Her mother told me she hated jumping but loves her horse and trotting or cantering around. Hmmmmm. “Can I convert you to a Dressage rider?” I asked. “Yes!” she screamed, “but what's Dressage?” Knowing her love of singing and dancing, we showed her Debbie McDonald's Freesstyle (ah, technology), and I thought her heart might leap out of her chest. We played “Thriller” and she trotted and cantered around the ring like a banshee. “Get out your checkbook mom! I need a Dressage saddle!” We all laughed until we had tears in our eyes…not sure if they were from laughing or from how wonderful that moment, and the whole weekend, was.