This is Kate. I refer to her as my sunshine girl. I call her that because she’s simply a pleasure to ride. She’s fun, easy, willing, clever, and enjoyable to work with. She’s my steady eddy that I can ride for fun and then use as a lesson horse. I say she’s my easiest horse in the barn. Stephanie says she’s not so easy, and in another’s hands she’d be much more difficult. Maybe the difficulties Stephanie sees are things that I am completely unaware of, maybe Stephanie sees things on a different level than I do, but the truth is I love to ride Kate. She is my favorite horse to ride at the end of the day. I don’t have to don a coat of mental armor to prepare myself. I don’t have to worry about spooking, running, bucking, rearing, or any of those tricks. Her best evasion is to use 10,961 lateral ways to evade the direction you want to go.
At the November clinic with Stephanie Durand I rode Kate all four days. I’m glad I chose to ride her because she is super sensitive and Stephanie took her sensitivity to the next level. She taught me how to do action reaction in much finer detail. She taught me how to put Kate on the aids and get a very clear bend through lateral flexion, which is a tool I will need if she gets excited at clinics and shows. She showed me how to finesse her into really great contact and use that to get a fantastic forward stretching neck extension. And she taught me to really key into Kate’s rhythm.
During Kate’s in-hand work it was apparent that when I picked up contact to ask for bend that she would change her rhythm and slow down. Stephanie taught us to re-school the desire to go forward in-hand by breaking it down into little mini-steps. First go forward, straight, then halt and flex. Straighten, forward, halt, flex. We repeated this several times and then added in a hint of flexion while going forward. It was very clear that as soon as I asked for the flexion, Kate would lose her balance and slow. The antidote – after straighten, forward, bend, I would release her into neck extension on the volte and we were not to change the rhythm. Then higher position again, straighten, forward, flex, and release into neck extension on the volte – all without changing rhythm. Before the clinic I was asking for flexion and looking for lightness and bend. Stephanie’s the type of clinician that can oh so subtly change your focus to realize that yes, you have lightness and bend, but do you have the whole package? Now where’s the rhythm?
The results of riding with Stephanie were fantastic. Kate now readily accepts the bend and is much easier to round. I do all of this by upward actions with my hands. When I first started working with Kate I looked like a zombie doing action reaction with high hands. Kate is so sensitive now I can do action reaction with just my fingers and you can hardly see me lift. According to the school, low hands are the result of good training. I’m seeing again and again that after I go through a training period with higher hands that my horses become sensitive enough to respond from just my fingers.
Stephanie said, “It’s time to take action reaction to the next level” while I was riding Kate. I quietly used my fingers – and just my fingers - to keep Kate on the bit and to encourage her to stretch into neck extension. Kate took the reins, stretched forward, and reached into a beautiful neck extension. I added a little more activity to the trot and the result was one of those moments that make you smile and believe that good dressage training is beautiful.