If you ever get a chance to attend a clinic with Lauren Sprieser, do yourself a favor and sit near the clinician for maximum corny joke impact.
My new guy and myself had the privilege of riding with Lauren twice when she visited us at BG Equestrian in March and April and she didn’t disappoint. She’s incredibly motivating, good humored and downright ass kicking. No excuses allowed in this arena, kids.
Our March lesson was a mere eight rides into our partnership, four of which were on the end of a lunge line. But why not dive in and see what you’re made of, right? We were still working primarily on steering and hadn’t cantered yet. But what the hell, let’s clinic it up! She wisely told us to just go for it. “Don’t set it up, just do it. You’re thinking about it, just do it. Canter, now!”
The recurring theme with the riders the day before had been about overall desensitization. Several of us were riding our horses as if we had to ride every moment juuuust perfectly. Continually we heard things like, “wiggle around up there! Dance around! Shimmy! Slide your leg!” to encourage us to stop treating our mounts like we were members of the bomb squad – and before we turned them into actually timebomb ponies.
It was phenomenal to see the change in one pair in particular. They came out running a bit through the trot, but a few circles of wiggly shimmies and all of a sudden the tempo was steady and clear. It was like magic.
During both clinics, Venti and I got to work on three main concepts.
- Steering (specifically not with the inside rein)
Forward is easy enough to grasp. This big lug has a tendency to get behind the leg if you don’t get right to work. So start the motor early and let it run.
The steering was eye opening. I had, up until that point, thought our steering was what it was because we were in baby horse mode. Lauren kept telling me to let go of my inside rein, to stop holding my inside rein. It wasn’t until I looked at the photos afterward that I realized just how much I was depending on it for turning as a last ditch effort. Hellooooo that’s not gonna do it! I need to be much more deliberate with my outside rein and leg aids to get the point of ‘turn – NOW’ across before I use the inside rein as a Hail Mary to make my turn. Lauren had us practice deliberate 90 degree turns at the walk and trot. Turn, NOW. Not three steps from now.
With the concept of correct steering grasped, trust was a little more elusive. So early in our partnership, trusting this big baby horse didn’t come naturally. If I’m being honest, it still doesn’t. But Lauren pushed me to just go for it, trusting that both he and I were physically able to get through the exercises before we knew ourselves that we could. It reiterated how much you gain from having a motivating coach on the ground. Cheers for an excellent support team here in Vero (I’m looking at you Rachel and Claudia – and anyone who’s ever cheered us on in the ring!).
Our second clinic found me abso-freakin-lutely struggling on day one. Stick a fork in me status. I couldn’t keep my heels down, my leg DIED like an old Ford on the second canter and I didn’t have the stamina to get him to pick up the lead. I felt like a flopping fish gasping for breath. I felt like a five year old trying to get her fat pony to trot.
I cursed. I gritted my teeth. I lost my stirrup. I cursed more profanely. But she wouldn’t let me give up. To be fair, I don’t think she knew quite how much my legs had given up without my consent. That or she didn’t give a hoot that they were jello. But dang am I glad that she didn’t.
Because you know what? We survived. A little worn out, a little embarrassed. But a lot glad for an ass kicking. Glad for someone telling me (in kinder words) to suck it up and find the next gear.
The next day we had a bit more of an audience and mounted up with determination on our side. To my surprise, she knew we’d had a big ride the day prior and kept our session lighter. (The dressage gods can hear!)
We visited the ever-challenging turning at the canter again with what seemed like THE SMALLEST CIRCLE EVER until we could do it correctly from the outside leg and rein. Do you know how small 20 meters is when your horse ignores your outside leg and drops his inside shoulder? And is 17.3 and five years old? Oh em geeeee. That ish is harder than it looks. But by some miracle, we hardly lost our momentum and we did it! We turned!
She encouraged me to throw away my inside rein so I wouldn’t be tempted to use it in my desperation. Good call, Miss Sprieser. Even giving it forward so exaggeratedly, I still wanted to grab it until all of a sudden I applied the outside aids strongly enough that he responded. And boom! We had turning.
Our reward you ask? A personal escort from the kiddie pool to the big kids’ arena. Our March session ended with our very first ride in the standard dressage arena, sans baby horse safety net fencing. With only one or two glances from Venti to the bleachers, my little big horse confidently marched around the 20×60. And to my surprise, turned across the center line without the fence guiding us or my inside rein feeling like it had to pull him along.
I’d never been so proud of him or trusted him more. Little victories can be the most sweet.