From Endurance to Dressage
And Yet Another Christian Schacht Clinic
What a great clinic. That’s all I really feel like I need to say.
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!
I really don't know where to start. Christian's clinics are so … involved, that it's very difficult as a rider to keep a little mental notebook. When I ride with my regular trainer, I will occasionally stop and debrief for a few moments. Why are we doing this; how does this connect with that; what do I do after; if this doesn't work, what should I try later? And so on.
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.
I don't remember a lot from the first lesson, but I know we did a lot of suppling exercises. I need a lot more inside bend and a lot more inside leg to really push that inside hind deeper and deeper. I also need to really ride Speedy forward. I have a tendency to slow him down to regain balance, but Christian showed me that I can get it better through increased impulsion. Any time I tried to let Speedy "rest," Christian was quick to zing us with his trademark, "come with the inside leg, come with the inside leg!"
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!
My ride on Sydney involved a lot less theory and dressage, and a lot more of just be patient. He entered the arena and the tension just overtook us both. Everything went much better than at the clinic we did in October (I didn't cry), but it wasn't as much as I hoped to do. Sydney spent most of the 40 minutes circling out of my control. Or, that's what it felt like. Christian's commentary in my ear made it sound as though Sydney was supple and moving freely, but it sure didn't feel like it.
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.
When I finished my lesson on Speedy, I reveled (yes, yes I did) in Christian's praise and just felt a general sense of satisfaction. The lesson had happened in slow motion. I didn't feel overly pushed; instead, I felt gently pulled and stretched in a way that felt like warming up before working out. It's a good thing I had that warm up lesson because Sunday's lesson really pushed me hard, but in a deeply satisfying way (more on that in a day or so). My first ride on Sydney left me feeling somewhat empowered, but it was the praise that came from the auditors and my fellow riders that really encouraged me.
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.
You got it! I love the breakdown of the canter aids, that's something that was an eye opener for me when learning the counter canter. It seems so elemental, until you have to put it into practice!
12/16/2013 10:49:46 pm
Sounds like a great clinic, can't wait to hear the "rest of the story"!
I'm glad the clinic gave you a boost of confidence, because you are a lovely rider and you are improving! Interesting to read about the counter canter exercise he had you do. I've only done it that way for the most part since they ask for it in equitation flat classes in hunterland.
12/17/2013 12:44:27 am
Picking up counter canter on the long side is not easy! That's why it is a Second Level movement. :) Way to go girl!
When dealing with counter-anything, I imagine that the rail is on our other side. Then the flip-flopped inside/outside aids makes sense.
12/17/2013 10:28:51 am
I am so happy to have met you, Sarah. You have been such a supportive friend, and you are so kind in your comments. I had a great time with Christian and can't wait for the next one. There's a tentative date already (February 23 or so). I would so enjoy watching you and Hemie do some dressage and jumping work with him!
12/17/2013 02:47:30 am
What high praise! I'm thrilled for you.
12/17/2013 03:34:49 am
WOW! What a great description of the canter aids! Sounds like you had a wonderful experience! I LOVE this post! Can't wait until I can go to a clinic!!!!
Wow, sounds like a wonderful clinic! Thank you for your descriptions on the canter aids- I still get very confused on this and when/why my seatbones are supposed to move exactly where... It's a work in progress :) Sounds like you guys are getting it!
"You are a good student," is the very best compliment to receive from a teacher. Good work!
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About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: