It’s not like I have a ton of experience with clinics; I’ve ridden in at least three others that weren’t being taught by Christian Schacht, and I’ve also audited a couple, but Christian is hands down the best teacher for my style of learning. And not only is he good for me, but so are the auditors and riders who participate from the Ventura County Chapter of CDS. They are the kindest, most encouraging group of people you could ever want to meet. I got more hugs and atta girls in two days than I've received all year!
With Christian, he just softly murmurs in your ear, and suddenly you're transported to a new world. When the ride is over, you're left asking yourself how the heck you got there and back.
I rode twice each day; Speedy first, and Sydney later. I felt really well prepared for my ride on Speedy. We had worked tirelessly on leg yields and counter canter so I was confident that I wouldn't get a repeat lesson; I was ready for something new. When the lesson on Speedy started, Christian had me just ride around so that he could see where we were in our training.
When I came back over to get the ear piece, he commented that I was very improved over the last two times he had seen us. In fact, that was the general theme for the weekend. After each of the four lessons, he remarked over and over that he was so pleased by the progress I have shown in the last year.
Seriously, it was the best compliment I have ever received in my life. Christian's the real deal. He's not just some guy that has hung out a shingle. He has judged international competitions and olympic riders. He knows what he's doing. To hear him say that we have shown tremendous growth really made me feel good.
One of the new things he asked of us was to begin the counter canter on the long side. This really fried my brain. Since JL is not a dressage trainer, we haven't worked on counter canter as a way of improving the canter. With her, we work more on getting good departures while not dropping the contact. I've been working on the counter canter exercises myself, but I've been missing a few elements.
When I ask for the counter counter, I either do it with a single loop serpentine, or I cross the diagonal without a flying lead change and hope that Speedy can hold it as we change direction. So far, it's been working. Christian had a more effective exercise that really proves whether the horse and rider know their leads. I obviously didn't!
On the long side, tracking right, Christian asked for a left lead canter. I am sure the auditors saw the smoke and sparks pouring out of my ears as I desperately tried to walk and chew gum at the same time. Most of you can probably already do this exercise, but for someone who always picks up the canter on a circle, knowing where to put my hips and legs to cue for a left lead canter with a right turn approaching was H.A.R.D.
It took a few tries, but after really focusing hard, I was able to pick up the left lead canter with the rail to my left. The trick is to push your hip forward: left lead - left hip. Right lead - right hip. So to pick up the left lead canter with the rail to the left, push your left hip forward, left leg at the girth, right leg behind the girth, and add a slight left bend. Now cue for the canter. If you are truly in the correct position, your horse will pick up the correct lead.
There's an interesting corollary to this exercise. Again, most of you probably know this "trick," but since I work with a hunter/jumper trainer (their butts are usually out of the saddle), I was completely unaware. To get a downward transition, do the opposite thing: sit on the outside seat bone and weight the outside stirrup. This has the effect of blocking the outside leg and shortening that side of the back which makes cantering hard to do.
I will admit that this did create some confusion for me. How exactly does this work on the counter canter? Is the outside seat bone the one that is actually to the inside? I never did get to ask, but if you know, please share!
I imagine that one solution for him is very similar to what I discovered with Speedy: I need to allow him to move more forward. That is VERY hard to do while riding a rocket. Essentially, we worked on using my seat to control him rather than the reins. Christian had me plant my outside hand on the withers and use tons of inside leg to push Sydney out onto the (now stable) outside rein.
Christian's advice to me when riding Sydney is to let each footfall be a brand new opportunity. In other words, I need to forget that he was tense for the last stride and quit anticipating that he'll be tense for the next one. Easier to say than do.
Basically, I walked away from day one feeling as though I am becoming a decent rider. I still have a very long way to go, but having my progress pointed out repeatedly did a lot for my confidence.