July 21st – July 22nd
Alamo Dressage Association hosted Allison Brock for a summer symposium and a weekend full of inspiration for everyone involved. I know you’re following my Instagram, so I’m sure you know who Allison Brock is…
For those that don’t, Allison, alongside fellow USA teammates, clinched a team bronze medal at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Summer Olympic Games. In my opinion, this was a huge turning point for United States Dressage and it seems as if it put us on the map as a force to be reckoned with across the international stage.
Naturally, when I saw this clinic was coming to our area, I put my application in the mail a day before closing deadline. Call me an overachiever and I’ll accept it.
I’m not going to lie – I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to weekend clinics. I’ve ridden with various clinicians and found that a majority of them like to make things look “pretty” for the audience without touching too deeply on weak points. I was a bit concerned that Allison would teach along those same guidelines, however, I was pleasantly mistaken.
This clinic was hands down the very best clinic I’ve ever attended or had the privilege to ride for. Allison has the most detail-oriented eye, and I’m not exaggerating when I say she picked up on both Leah’s and my inconsistencies within 3 minutes of watching us warm-up. We got right down to business; Allison takes no prisoners and won’t stop coaching until she gets the results she wants to see. She brought a whole new gear to my training with Leah; emphasizing on the fact that it was time we took our partnership to the next level.
I’ve formulated my thoughts about both of my rides and figured I would divide them into two sections, focusing on the key points of each day.
Outfit Deets & Links!
Leah's saddle pad is by Equestrian Stockholm.
My shirt is from Target... The best store on earth.
Let’s get started with Saturday…
Reactions. Are. Everything. I’ll say it again for the people in the back: for every action you take while in the saddle, there MUST be a reaction! This is something I still struggle with as sometimes I find myself still getting nervous when it comes to "cowgirl-ing up" while in the saddle. When I put my inner calf, or sometimes spur, into Leah’s side, she must go. Like, GO. We spent this entire ride getting a reaction and firing up Leah’s engine at the collected trot – hello biggest shortcoming we have. Allison had me press my inside leg into Leah’s side at the walk, and if she didn’t move, the pressure would increase until she finally got the memo. We did this exercise both ways, reaching the point where Leah felt my leg coming. Once Leah would react, I’d release the pressure. Allison harped on the fact that her personal horses need to understand the importance of a driving aid. Constant nagging of the calf or spur is unfair for any horse, and frankly, you just create a nuisance.
Once this concept was firmly understood, we moved into the collected trot and holy moly, I didn’t know Leah could move like she was! Honestly, it felt like legs were flying everywhere, but I couldn’t stop enjoying the floating activity Leah was producing. Allison harped on elastic hands within the collected trot, moving with the horse’s neck as opposed to too still. I found that because I was so still with my hands, I was actually holding Leah in place rather than allowing her to work on her own. Relaxation in the forearms is a good thing, too.
The biggest tool I took away from Saturday was the visual example Allison gave me when riding shoulder-in’s. She explained that when she goes to perform a shoulder-in, she “thinks volte circle, but then I change my mind and go straight instead.” Your hands remain in that “volte/shoulder in” position, but your inside leg releases of pressure. Pretty challenging to ride when you’re never thought about it that way, but quite effective!
As we moved into Sunday, Allison and I both decided to focus strictly on the canter work (after testing the fire in the trot, of course.) The underlining rule applied – when I ask, Leah must react. As most of you know, the canter pirouettes can also be hit and miss when it comes to competition. Sometimes, they’re a 6, sometimes it goes horribly wrong and I score a 4, and sometimes (like at the Haras show a few weeks ago,) they go perfectly right and I’m pulling an 8. Pirouettes can be a real highlight for Leah, so it was pertinent that I requested to target them at some point during the weekend.
Here are the main ideas I took away from Sunday’s training session…
Transitions within the gait really help Leah’s hind legs stay agile. Allison pushed us to be clear and concise when going from collected canter to extended canter, for just a few strides. This set the foundation for the main idea behind riding a correct canter pirouette.
I was focusing too much on using my inside leg to keep Leah going while my outside leg seemed to go virtually unnoticed by my locomotive of a mare. First, we rode a square around Allison, performing a quarter pirouette on each corner. Allison reminded me to stay relaxed with my inside leg and be firm with my outside calf, helping Leah to respect the driving aid. Squares are a GREAT exercise for schooling the pirouettes without putting too much pressure on the hocks, just for the record... We then brought the square into a working pirouette, which slowly evolved into a true pirouette. I can attest that my body was definitely lagging when it came to this exercise as I was having trouble staying quick with outside driving leg. A few tries (and a few fails later), we were pirouetting around Allison. My inside leg hung in a nonchalant way, and my outside calf applied subtle pressure to encourage the pirouette remain active. This exercise produced the feel of how Leah's pirouettes should be executed within the show arena walls, and not just while training at home. You really have to ride every single stride.
Before I conclude this post, I’ll leave with one of the biggest, and most essential, tips Allison reiterated throughout the weekend: riding the half-halt. So many people don’t understand the meaning of the half-halt and the purpose behind self-carriage. As Allison said, “what is keyword in ‘self-carriage? Self.” What I took away from her explanation was that the half-halt is a one to two stride process in the format of leg, hand, and release. I’ve been riding dressage for over 10 years, but didn’t learn the half-halt until quite a few years in, thanks to my trainer Eva. I’m still working to get my precise timing down – it’s not something that is easily mastered. Holding only restricts, and can lead to bigger issues, or at least that’s my general consensus. This was my favorite tidbit I took away from the clinic, honestly. It’s the most basic of things that can make the biggest difference. It was refreshing to hear the half-halt properly broken down for the auditors and riders who attended. Her main goal was to make my ride "easier" all together. I use that term lightly because let's be real, nothing about dressage is easy, but you all catch my drift. I've opened up on my Instagram on how physical of a ride Leah can be sometimes, but Allison really tapped into that can of worms and helped us achieve a sense of overall lightness.
I’m hoping Allison will return to our area soon… If you ever have the chance to train with her, you won’t be sorry should you decide yes!