Saturday, April 24, 2021

Clinic Recap


Last weekend, I worked, but I managed to allow myself to be talked into riding with the clinician after work on Saturday. The clinician, Jennifer, is a dressage rider with a focus on biomechanics and the rider's seat.

I thought that what did I have to lose, so I signed up. I had the last spot of the day, so that I would have enough time, factoring in always possible work emergencies, and recruited my friend to come down and help get my horse ready. Part of my chronic illness is realizing that having a little bit of help pays off.

The clinic was running a few minutes behind schedule when I arrived, so I was able to watch a few minutes of a lesson, except it was somewhat windy and we were riding in the outdoor arena, so it was a bit difficult to hear.

My friend helped catch, groom, and tack up Chili while I sucked down some more electrolytes. After meeting with a cardiologist last month, he pointed out I need to greatly increase my electrolytes and wear compression socks (among some other things), to help mitigate my symptoms and to improve my quality of life. Now, if only I can remember to do this at horse shows when it is blazing hot and I go hours without eating or drinking properly.

Post-electrolytes, I felt much better. Chili seemed pretty relaxed and not in dragon mode, so I hopped on her in the indoor and walked and trotted a little bit.

Chili deciding to bow for grass
Jennifer watched us warm up for a few minutes and then we discussed where we were currently at in our training journey. I am quite self conscious in feeling that I negatively affect the ability of my horse with my physical limitations, so I discussed this aspect and how my left hip is very difficult to use compared to my right.

The first thing Jennifer had me do was decide to have Chili learn to live with my leg on. I have always heard the saying to have a hot horse live with your leg and Chili isn't hot in the zoomy sense, but rather the offended dragon sense. However, I think the goal with having the leg sort of snuggly was to not to offend her by having it on, then off, then on without a lot of prior warning.

It did take Chili a while to learn to live with this. It's different. She is wiggly and is by far, the most mobile horse I've ever ridden. Putting the parts together, especially while I am myself hypermobile, is not an easy job.

Learning to live with my leg

Jennifer's next suggestion was to try and ask me to ride her a little bit "deeper" and to focus on keeping all of our parts still. Keep my leg on and quiet, keep my hands quiet, and to just ask her to be a little bit lower, but not behind the vertical. What I found out was that my perspective of being "deep" was closer to correct and then encouraging her to stay there by being quiet made us both happy.

In the canter, she can be difficult sometimes about filling out and taking the right rein, so she encouraged me to go back to schooling her like a baby horse in that sense. Encourage her to take the entire bend with her body and it if she broke or tossed her head, to be sure I kept an equal level of contact by widening my hands. All basic things I have heard before, but I find I need to hear the explanation different times in different ways.

Chili has had a number of injuries, so it can be tricking to comb through what is a true evasion she has learned (and I permitted), or what evolved from pain related responses or a combination thereof. Jennifer encouraged me to think of it more as physical therapy for the horse and that at times, it may be a combination of all these different techniques to find what will work for her and what will be fair (also known as to keep me from picking at her while she is trying). As one instructor has told me, "Don't be a greedy bitch".

So while, in some aspects, it seemed like a basic lesson, it was nice to have an opinion from a well regarded clinician. She did emphasize to me multiple times that she believed I was a much better rider than I was giving myself credit for, that my leg lay in a good spot, and that Chili's issues were mostly her issues and that I was not creating them or making them worse.

She also emphasized to keep working Chili in hand and having her be soft and reach into contact when I picked up the reins and walked and to not permit her to pull or evade. It's hard. I probably have neglected the walk (and the halt) and her response for too long. The walk is extra wiggly for both of us, so while walking, I find I need to focus more on having a soft contact through the back of my elbows and to relax my hand. Sounds counterintuitive, but once again, I tend to hold too much tension in my hand, since my joints (and especially my elbows) are so unable.

But since starting physical therapy, I am appreciating the awareness of how to bring my elbows into a neutral posture and to be aware of how to engage different muscle groups to stabilize the joint itself. Hopefully this will continue to pay off in the saddle!

I do look forward to riding with Jennifer again in the future and demonstrating progress. She thought Chili was super talented and once we put the pieces together, she will rapidly move up the levels. I can certainly hope and keep chipping away at the goal.


  1. It sounds like a valuable clinic. I chuckled at the ‘ Chili isn't hot in the zoomy sense, but rather the offended dragon sense.’. I get that. I really do.

  2. Sounds super productive! I feel you on electrolytes. I'm adding them into my life now, and it's helping my post riding headaches a bit.


Please leave a comment if you like. I love hearing from readers and would like to know that I am not always talking to myself. ;)