I went to a clinic a week ago with Catalina.
Janet Foy was the clinician a well-known FEI judge. I had never met Janet nor had I ever saw her teach so I was not sure what to expect. To be honest I was a bit skeptical that my horse was ready for a judge to teach me.
Not all judges ride and teach and while they may be good judges, that doesn’t mean they can teach. I was pleasantly surprised at how good of a teacher Janet was and how sympathetic she was with my green mare. Catalina is by UB 40 and it helped that Janet knew her father. Before we started the first day I gave Janet the history of the mare and what she knew and didn’t know. As a professional I’m able to give a brief but helpful summary to clinicians and I think this is very helpful for them.
Often in a clinic the clinician is seeing riders and horses for the first time, it’s very hard when you only have 2 days to learn something new. While no trainer wants to hear about the last 10 years of your life or your horse; letting the clinician know your strengths and weaknesses helps them know what to expect and where to start.
Catalina was a bit nervous as she has not traveled much in her life but she was such a good girl and gave me 100% of herself.
We worked on suppleness and getting Catalina to give a bit more in her poll. This is a tight and sensitive area for many horses but especially Catalina. We worked many circles in trot. In canter Janet wanted me to ride more straight lines. Janet explained getting the horse to give in the poll is often easier with the neck a bit lower than your show frame.
Janet worked with me on not always keeping the horse in a “show” frame but asking for more bending and more stretching of the neck than what we would want in the show ring.
I explained one of my weaker scoring areas in the show ring has always been my shoulder-in. While I’ve had plenty of 7 and 8’s I felt I was capable of scoring higher in the shoulder-in, but the complaint I get from judges is often not enough bending. Keeping the horse on 3 tracks and getting some bend is very difficult.
Janet explained that I needed to soften my outside rein more. In general throughout the whole clinic she wanted my outside rein softer to allow for more inside bending. I’m not alone when I say I’m often afraid to lose my outside straightness and connection so I hold it. The horse can’t bend if you can’t ease up on the outside aids including the leg not just the rein.
Rather than take my outside rein Janet had me use my inside aids to put the horse more onto the outside rein and then make the outside rein soft and then let go again. She said I was one of the few riders she has seen that she had to say do more with the hand rather than less. Now take this with a grain of salt. We all must have quiet hands, however at home in training Janet wanted me to be braver about stretching Catalina’s neck and being quicker to make her supple and let go. (not hold her so much)
Where the improvement showed the most in my reaction being quicker to supple her was in the canter. I had told Janet that Catalina has spent the first 6 years of life mainly trotting as her canter was so weak and hard for her. I had to train her to do everything in trot. We later found out she had positional collapsing of her throat meaning only in canter and only in a frame in the canter she was not able to get enough air.
She had successful throat surgery last year and is now developing a beautiful canter. Because I never forced her or used draw reins during her first 6 years of training Catalina never got scared to canter and is now learning to trust she can stay in a frame at the canter and get plenty of air.
Since Catalina did not go to Florida this past winter she lost some strength so now the canter needs to get stronger as she builds up her back and hind quarter muscles again.
The second day of the clinic we worked more on haunches-in to shoulder-in. This exercise was meant to help put the horses body on the right lines. Taking the shoulders in after a small angled haunches-in put the haunches on the line of travel and prevented them from falling out, that allowed me to ask for more inside bend.
Once we mastered the shoulder-in work, we worked on half-pass at walk and trot. This was the hardest for me. Although Catalina has always done easy half-pass Janet again wanted more body bending in the half pass and was hard on me about my preparation for half-pass. Janet explained riders often make the mistake I was making which is that we just drift or slip into half-pass without preparing for the bending required in half-pass. She also gave me a tip that in dressage the judges don’t want to see the rider opening their outside rein. (something I’m known for doing) and it has hurt my score slightly when I’ve done it although no one explained how not to do that. The reason I open my outside rein is because the horse isn’t staying out to the outside rein enough. Janet had me use my inside leg more to keep the horse on my outside rein. Keep in mind this is advanced work as when you use the inside leg to outside rein the horse in that moment still has to stretch up to the outside rein and not drift out. The way I do this is when using my inside aids, I try to keep energy coming out of my outside toe (toward the mouth of the horse, and keep my outside knee soft so my outside leg is still there supporting the horse but in such a soft way the horse still feels they can bend and stretch the outside of their body. (never block with your outside leg)
So back to our last exercise which was half-pass work. Janet had me do shoulder-in to half-pass and then shoulder-in and half-pass down the long side. She only wanted a few steps of half-pass at a time but with a lot of body bending. Readers should note again this is advanced work as the rider must understand going from shoulder-in to half-pass requires the horse to cross their front legs in different directions so give your horse a step or two to make that switch. Because Catalina goes sideways so easy Janet had me using a lot of inside leg and keeping her onto my outside rein. She wanted me to replace my inside rein with my inside leg which created more body bending around my inside leg. This was new for Catalina and she had to work hard to stretch and body bend that much. This is why we only did a few steps at a time. Once Catalina gets use to body bending more I will add more steps but in training its quality over quantity so less is more when beginning something new to you or your horse.
Another very helpful tip was on my position in half-pass to the left. Janet had me turn my body more onto the line of travel. So in half-pass left my right shoulder needed to come forward more and my left shoulder back and down. This was super helpful and the way she explained it made it easy. We all need our positions checked on a regular basis.
My mom just arrived home from coaching in Wellington for the winter and right away made some corrections to my position. She wanted my seat wider and my chest more open with my lower back soft (not arched) sounds easy but it isn’t. Position is very important and must be worked on daily.
I would recommend Janet Foy as a clinician and I would ride with her again.
enjoy bits and pieces of my lesson with Janet Foy