Sunday, November 2, 2014

Harry Whitney clinic

I went to a Harry Whitney clinic a month ago and haven't posted about it! There's so much to tell, but I'll try to keep it short and condensed. We had the benefit of a round pen so I took advantage of it and got some help with liberty work with Mac. The first couple days, Mac was really . . . how to say it . . . not coming from a place of relaxation. And it seems like Harry is all about getting the horse with you and getting the horse to work from a place of relaxation, so this was a great opportunity.

Harry helped me a lot with positioning my body, when to stand still and not drive Mac forward, when to step, where to step, how much to step, and it was amazing how it worked! I've always thought of Mac as a sensitive horse. I've seen the way he reacts to people who have a lot of "energy" or "presence" and he tends to be wary of those people or reactive to them. I didn't realize that sometimes I have more presence than I think I do! Where I thought I was dialed-down, I could still bring it down even more and have my communication be more subtle. It was great!

Mac was a great traveler, he made friends with his neighbors, and he came out to work without having any issues with being barn sour (to his credit, that really isn't his thing anyway).

When we went to work under saddle (in my old saddle, pre-new saddle), I told Harry I wanted to focus on working from a place of relaxation. So we did our ground/liberty work first, then when we were in synch (and it took less and less time each day), I'd get on. We worked on lots of changes of direction and transitions - Harry says to not get stuck in a rut of doing the same thing over and over for too long - keep it mixed up. Of course I know that in my head, but sometimes I get so in the moment that I want to try to perfect what I'm working on and then I go on with it for too long. It was a good reminder.

Harry's clinic was good from the standpoint of getting a real intimate experience. Each person has their own 1-hour lesson and then everybody else audits everybody else's lesson, so there's always something to learn and watch and really get into one horse/rider combination and understand what they are working on. I learn just as much from watching other people as I do from my own lessons.

There was someone there kind enough to take some pictures, so here are a couple. This was liberty work:

I wanted to ride in the hackamore to get some one-on-one tips from Harry. Here are a couple photos from that:

New saddle for Mac

I hesitated posting anything about it while I was trying it because I waffled back and forth between liking it, but Mac got a new saddle!

I got Mac a Heather Moffett Vogue dressage saddle. I've tried a few other treeless saddles over the years and have always found them very comfortable for trail riding, but have had a hard time with them for actual dressage work. My complaint is that they are generally too bouncy and I've always thought it had something to do with the big pads you have to use because of the lack of structured tree as part of the saddle.

Here's what the saddle looks like:

The first day I tried it I did notice the bounce factor, although it wasn't as bad as in the other saddles I've tried. The seat is nice and comfortable, my leg hangs in a good position, and Mac seemed to like it because he was very forward. It made me realize how resistant he was to doing work in the other saddle. With this saddle, I really didn't need any leg to get a forward response, and same with a half-halt or downward transition - he was just very, well, responsive! But, still, there was the bounce. The rep was supposed to send me the smart panel pad to go with it but left it out of the box so I was using the standard panels that come with it - the smart panel pad is filled with little cork balls so it helps with the bounce factor and is good at helping with weight distribution. The standard panels are some kind of latex rubber.

Even though the bounce factor made my equitation horrible, I wanted to do a back-to-back trial of that saddle compared with my regular saddle, so I had Colin video me (don't know why it wasn't focusing well, but you get the general picture):

I showed it to a couple people, didn't tell them which saddle was which, and got some good feedback on which saddle they thought Mac liked and went better in (and they all were in agreement).

Next ride I went for a trail ride. The seat is very comfortable for trail riding, but I found myself being pitched forward onto the pommel. The seat is memory foam so it sort of molds to you once it warms up and I thought that since we were going up and down hills in the forest, that was the problem. Next ride in the arena, though, I noticed the same problem. I contacted the fitter who suggested using thin shims in the panels, and I happened to have some so I tried it and that helped a lot. Not only did it help prevent me from sliding forward to the pommel, it helped the balance on Mac's back and also took away a bit of the bounce factor.

I trail rode with the shims again and didn't have the problem again so that was solved. Still was waiting for the smart panel, though.

I finally got the smart panel and used it twice. In order to use the smart panel, I took out the rubber panels. Instead of two different "panels" that go in the panel-holding-places, for lack of a better term, the smart panel is basically just a half pad. It wouldn't really work with the wool pad I was using so I had to go back to a cotton square pad. I used the attachments on the panel pad to affix it to the rings on the saddle, put the square pad on, put the pad/saddle on, and off we went. Ok, that really does make a difference. The bounce factor was gone, and Mac seemed very happy. Halt-canter transitions were easy. Trot-canter transitions were forward and smooth and lacking ear-pinning or tail-swishing. He feels lighter to me. My position felt much better - more secure, less bouncy, just like in a regular treed saddle.

So I bought it. The quality of workmanship is really lovely - it almost seems too nice to trail ride in!

I decided to sell my Crestridge western saddle because I just didn't like the way it fit Mac, and now my other dressage saddle is for sale, also.