Off to Camp!

PJ and I went to camp yesterday.  Specifically, the Orange Country Dressage Association (OCDA) Adult Dressage Camp at Victoria Farms in Middletown, NY.  My friend, Jane, and her mare, Lilly, picked us up at 7am and we drove the 2.5 hours to the farm where we we greeted by a group of very friendly people.  We each got a private lesson in the morning and then another one in the afternoon.  There were four clinicians: Corey DeMala, Susan Stegmeyer, Jake Stapel, and Joyce Stever.

Jane and I had our first lesson at 11am.  She rode with Corey and I rode with Susan. PJ wasn’t crazy about the facility.  It was lovely but a little on the dark side.  He seemed okay until a horse outside the indoor arena spooked and took off.  Then he was a little tense going past the door – nothing horrible.  Susan decided that the first thing we should work on was bend on our stiff side (our left). Because in this direction he wanted to lean in and look out, I had to keep my inside leg on him and use a little more inside rein than when going the other direction.  The goal was a shoulder fore.  Going to the right, keeping him in a shoulder fore involved some counter bend.  Her lesson was that the horse is different in each direction and needs to be ridden differently, despite what all the books say.  Next we worked on canter departs – from the walk!  She asks for a canter depart using just inside leg and seat.  I figured I would give it a try.  First, though, she had me fix my position.  I was sitting too much on my cantle (something Barbara had mentioned at my last lesson).  Sitting closer to the pommel felt strange.  I had always been told I tip forward, so I think I compensated by sitting too far back in the saddle.  Once I was sitting up more on PJ’s center of gravity, I put my inside leg on him to push him into my outside rein.  When I felt that step, then I pushed with my pelvis to get the canter.  It took a couple of tries but it worked (better on the left lead than right).  She said that my instinct to go up in two-point before asking for the canter depart (see last post) was correct and that it compensated for my cantle-heavy position.  With my new, closer to the pommel position, I shouldn’t have to get off his back.  I don’t know what Jane worked on with Corey because I was too busy concentrating on my own work, but she seemed to have enjoyed it.

In between our lessons the OCDA provided a nice lunch and we got to meet some of our fellow camp-mates.  They were mainly OCDA members who were more local.  A few of them come down to our GMO for shows during the year, and Jane and I found out we rode against them at our last show (I think they beat us – but no hard feelings).  In the afternoon we both rode with Joyce.  Jane went first and I got to watch.

Jane’s mare gets rushy and most of the lesson was about how to push her just enough to get more trot without getting her tense.  This included going around in circles, straightaways, and changes of direction.  The bottom line of the lesson was that Jane needed to trust her mare a little more and they had to meet in the middle instead of Jane getting mad at her when she rushed but Lilly was a little confused about what was expected of her.

My lesson was nothing like I expected.  PJ came out horrible.  It was the first time he was ever disobedient.  He thew his head, wouldn’t turn, and ran away with me (as much as he does).  At first Joyce tried to have me work him through it but I panicked because I didn’t know what to do and ended up pulling on the inside rein to try to get him to turn, which just pissed him off more, and he escalated.  I knew his behavior was because he was exhausted and tight in his back.  Still, Joyce agreed that it was no excuse to be disobedient but we needed to change the lesson. She had me encourage him to stretch his neck down and out (stretchy trot).  To do this, I had to quiet my hands and concentrate on his hind end – the front end would come if I got the back end moving.  I needed to keep a light contact on the outside rein and almost none on the inside, no matter where he put his head, which wasn’t so easy when he was throwing it up or looking out every opening in the indoor.  Every time he slowed down, I had to push him forward.  Deep down I do trust him, so I was able to ignore his bad behavior (not easy for me) and get him to do what Joyce wanted me to.  And, PJ relaxed, loosened his back, and became the good pony I new and loved.  We quit with that.

All-and-all, we had a great time and learned a lot.  PJ deserves (and likely needs) a couple of days off, but I can’t wait to try what I learned.

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