My friend, Betsy, brought this clinic to my attention. We were a little afraid to sign up, as we were only training level riders and this was the Linda Zang, but we submitted our entries before we lost our nerve.
The clinic was hosted by Marilyn Payne at Applewood Farm on June 12-13, 2012. Although the weather was frightful, we hoped our rides would not be as we loaded our horses and got on the road. Marilyn welcomed us with coffee and a warm smile. Even thought our times were not until the afternoon, we got there just before the first ride, so that we could learn from the other participants.
The first thing we noticed was that Linda could assess a horse and rider’s issues in about 5 minutes of walking, trotting, and cantering around. A common theme of hers was not to get angry at the horse for making a mistake. One horse kept doing a flying change before being asked but because he had difficultly doing the changes, Linda told his rider to accept the change when it was clean even if it wasn’t requested. Another commonality was how Linda wanted the whip used. To get the horse to lift his shoulder, Linda had riders tap the horse’s shoulder instead of behind the leg. For some horses it was the outside shoulder if they bulged, and for others it was the inside if they fell into the turns.
It was finally Betsy’s turn and I watched with earnest because I see her ride on a regular basis. Linda was pleased with where she was and made suggestions to “move up to the next level.” Betsy had to go from riding with wide hands, which served to teach the horse contact, to a steady outside rein next to the withers and an inside rein that was only used to assist in turns and to relax the poll. Just this simple fix transformed Betsy’s horse from solid training level to a beautiful first-level ride.
Then it was my turn. PJ, my normally lazy beasty, seemed to have a fire under his butt. Linda ignored his antics and had me focus on my position, which she rightly noticed was the root of all of my horse’s issues. She had me do an exercise where I put my weight into the right stirrup while keeping my right hand steady and low, near the withers, and then switching to put my weight in my left stirrup and setting my left hand. We went back and forth like this around a 20-meter circle a few times and then something amazing happened. Not only did PJ start paying attention, but my position got straighter. Next she had us canter, which is always a problem for me. To make sure I didn’t bang him in the mouth, she had me hold onto my bucking strap with my outside rein both during the transition and as we went around the ring. This served to create a steady outside rein. When he still wanted to go through the outside rein, she had me tap him on the shoulder with my outside whip (I ride with two whips because normally he’s a slug). I could feel how forward and free he went. It felt incredible.
Betsy and I left with too many directives floating through our heads to make much sense of it all. We both couldn’t wait to practice all that we learned and could only hope that we would get ours horses going at home half as good as we did at the clinic.