Monday, April 14, 2014

Chris Hickey and Judy Grayson Clinic Recaps

I promise I will get to the Jimmy Wofford recap soon, but I took written notes on that and not on the ones I rode in, so I want to write about these while they're still fresh. First I'll fill you in on the Chris Hickey clinic at D's barn. (No, not the dressage guy! The jumper trainer Chris Hickey!). I'm lucky to ride with Chris regularly in Florida. We're close friends and he's an excellent mentor in all things horsey.

On Saturday, he taught three group lessons and a private lesson. The first group were two somewhat difficult horses ridden by two of D's regular riders. One, an appendix mare, reminded me of Lex in that she was nervous and tense but gorgeous, and when she relaxed she looked like she was worth a million bucks. The other was a big gelding who leans on the bridle and lugs his rider around. He has tons of jumping ability, but requires a unique set of technical skills and strength to ride. The girl riding him, J, did a good job but might lack the strength (and I'd absolutely lack the strength). The mare, ridden by H, was kind of hard to evaluate. She liked to get quick and H had a hard time chilling her out. I missed some of this group because I had to go tack up the horse I was riding, but in both cases, Chris focused on helping the riders find a rhythm (this, of course, being the key to everything in jumping). The horse needs to be balanced between the jumps or can't possibly jump in a balanced way. Chris usually advocates that people look five strides ahead, but he said that H's horse needed her rider to look 10 steps ahead to make sure nothing was abrupt and that no sudden corrections would need to be made with the reins. I like that kind of ride, actually. It's intellectual.

I was in the second group. I rode a super cute horse named Sawyer. The other girl in my group, M, was riding a mare named Artis. M does barrel racing and team roping and hasn't jumped in more than ten years. She struggled a lot and got frustrated, but stuck it out through some difficulty from Artis, who either wanted to not go at all or buck. Chris helped her find a happy medium. She had a lot to overcome from her western riding background, like keeping her fingers open and trying to kind of neck-rein.

Sawyer is a really cool horse--a 10 year old OTTB who's been through a lot of abuse and starvation in his life before D got him. He's a very good citizen and it's hard to imagine anyone treating him badly. He totally tugs at my heartstrings! Anyway, he's a much different ride from Lex, in that he requires quite a bit more leg. But as D continually points out to me, Lex is training me not to use my leg, so I need to strengthen it. Chris had us work on that magical rhythm and on asking for the correct lead over the fences. We got it sometimes and sometimes we didn't. It was mostly my fault for not asking correctly, and sometimes Sawyer didn't give me the response I wanted. That's all okay. It's a learning experience. I loved riding him and getting to jump, even though the jumps were tiny. Here's a video!

The third lesson was a private session. D wanted Chris's help with a tough but very talented horse, another (gorgeous) OTTB gelding named Trace. The poor horse was afraid of everything, and D and Chris agree that really, what he's afraid of is himself. He's too talented for his own good, and he gets scared whenever he has to make a move, like into canter transitions or over a jump. Chris said, "He's really only afraid of two things: things that move, and things that stay still." No matter how high the jumps, and most of them were only 18"-2', he'd jump the moon. The girl riding him (J again) did an outstanding job with him. Chris did put the jumps up a little and man, is this horse talented. He wants to be good, but he's got quirks on top of quirks that are hiding other quirks. He had a tough time with jumps the first time he'd approach them, and nearly every time, he stopped, whether the jumps had flowers or not. Even a simple crossrail was hard for him. But once he did get over, he'd go over it each time, better and better. This clearly presents a showing challenge, because a horse in the jumper ring is not permitted to refuse each jump and then clear it (although in some cases, horses can school the jumps before they show in the jumpers, but that's a) kinda gross, I think and b) not possible at the upper levels and this horse could absolutely get to the upper levels). Chris told D that Trace should jump ten jumps a day, five days a week, and get the other two days off. Those jumps can be tiny, because the problem with the jumps is not the height, it's the fact that they exist. Poor baby. I loved this horse and I can see why D loves him, too. For one thing, he's got more talent than I've maybe ever seen in a horse at his stage. When he's relaxed, he leaves the ground like it's a trampoline. When he's tense, he leaves like an arrow shot from a bow. Amazing. In spite of how difficult he is to ride, he is very easy and sweet on the ground. He's a good soul. I hope D can find him a home with a talented and patient rider who loves him.

Finally, Chris taught a group of three green babies. J, H, and another girl named L (who is actually the half owner of Trace but who is overmounted and as such doesn't ride him) each rode a green chestnut. J rode my favorite of the three, a 3 year old warmblood mare who shows a lot of quality and talent. This was her first time jumping, and she was fantastic. J did an amazing job with her. H rode a 5 year old recently off-track TB mare (I know, the TB mare was not my favorite--a first). H had a tough time with her, because she'd get quick and H would hang. We all know what that's like, I'm sure. She did a good job with the jumping, though, and she'll get the hang of it eventually. L, the least experienced of the three riders, rode a truly lovely little Dutch gelding named Bellini. He's a cutie pie who wants to be a good boy, and will make someone a very, very nice hunter. Who knows what kind of scope he has, but he will be great at whatever level he's comfortable in. I wanted to put him in my pocket and bring him home with me. With these babies, Chris kept it simple and didn't fry their brains. He started with 9' trot rails and then added a little jump at the end. The horses all hopped over it nicely, even though some jumps were awkward. That's to be expected with babies! He even had them trot into (and sometimes canter out of, depending on how the horse landed) a three-stride line with flower boxes. Sometimes the horses got confused and stopped, but they all figured it out. It was a lot of fun to watch and the horses and riders were all clearly having a blast.

Next up: Judy Grayson on Sunday. I don't know her or much about her, but she was a very nice person and knows what she's talking about. I rode Sawyer again (hearts) and another girl, K, rode Artis. I'm glad this wasn't a big deal clinic I'd spent forever preparing for and hauled my horse out there for, because K was kind of driving me insane. She didn't want to do anything, she whined about being overheated, she made someone go find her a bottle of water (it's not THAT hot out, y'all), she got irritated if I went first, which I did because Judy asked me to go first the first time and then it just makes sense to stay in that order. AND she said if she jumped anything higher than a cross-rail, she'd "freak out." I just told Judy that I would do whatever she wanted and that I have no problem going back to basics and working on the fundamentals. Which is true, but it's more fun when the person you're in a lesson with doesn't have a shitty attitude and a non-stop whine streak.

I don't usually vent like this about people on the blog, but this girl just really hit every pet peeve I have. I didn't mind riding with M yesterday because at least she was trying hard and cared about learning. K didn't care about learning, and she spent more time making excuses for herself than getting anything accomplished. I just... why do people ride when they want to complain the whole time and make excuses for themselves? Is it fun for them? I still had a fun ride on Sawyer, and Judy gave me a couple of good tips (she wanted me to think about putting more weight on my big toe than my other toes and letting my ankles break in, and when Sawyer got strong she told me to let him pull me into the saddle. Smart! And effective!). And, I mean, if the thing I'm working on with the horse is pace between fences, it doesn't matter how big the fences are.  I didn't want to ask Judy to change things around for me, but I think that D and I both knew that I wasn't getting a whole lot out of this. Oh well. I got to ride Sawyer again, and that is a good thing.

Brief Lex update: She seems sound and fine and is going well. I've been giving her UlcerGard and that does seem to have decreased her girthiness. She was great today, cantered on both leads (though it took a couple tries to get the right lead). On the left lead canter, she'd even respond to lateral aids to go into the corner instead of cutting it off and motorcycling around the ring. Love her!


  1. What a frustrating lesson partner. :-( I'm sure the instructor appreciated your ability to roll with it, because that's not fun for anybody.

    1. I've taught lessons like this, too (and sometimes the undergrads present the same challenge). It's hard because I come to the lesson with a lot of enthusiasm to teach and a lot of love for the horses. I want the riders to match that enthusiasm and love. When they don't, I struggle. This girl not only did not want to ride, she clearly hated Artis. I just HATE that. We all like some horses more than others, but when you're broadcasting hate for the horse you're sitting on, are you really going to get the best performance? Make the freaking best of it on a beautiful day with a good instructor, damn.

  2. I"m SO sad I missed all of this :-( But D does have some super cute horses!!

  3. How frustrating for the second day, but sounds like a lot was learned by both horses and riders (when open to instruction)