Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tarrin Warren Clinic Day One: Dressage

Tarrin Warren is a Working Equitation L Judge and WE trainer. She has shown at Pin Oaks Charity Horse Show and at the HARAS Cup. This last weekend, High Country Working Equitation brought her to Circle Star Arena for an all day clinic. There were nine riders on Saturday and ten riders on Sunday.

My morning started at 5 am. The clinic started at 8 and I didn't want to be late, even though CS told me I would be riding in the second group. I wanted to listen to what Tarrin told the other riders while they were riding with her and I wasn't sure if it was going to be a group lesson or one on one. J got up with me and we headed to the barn, where she proceeded to hook up the trailer, help me load all of the things, then kissed me and sent me on my way. She had committed to do a volunteer project with T on Saturday, which originally was scheduled for April, and when I committed to the clinic neither of us remembered that the make up day was on that Saturday. It was my first time driving Big Sully while pulling the horse trailer.


Now, don't get me wrong. I am a very independent person and I have hauled trailers before. However, it is different when you know your heart is riding in the back and it would be devastating to have something awful happen to your horse because of a mistake you made. I feel the same way when I have T in the car. Or J. I don't want to make a mistake and cost me those that I hold most dear. And June has not been the best month, if you've been paying attention. But, I "Gina Up"ped myself and drove us to Circle Star Arena. Safely. And people must have been able to tell that I was nervous, because they all slowed down and let me merge without being asshats about it. First time for everything.

I ended up getting there first. And made the mistake of parking my trailer against the edge of the dressage court facing the field (which meant that I had to wait until most of the other trailers had left before I could pull my rig out.) Rookie mistake. Ashke seemed comfortable when we got there and he spent several hours standing at the trailer by himself without any problems. I was very proud.Because the plan was to start at eight, but there was me and some of the trainers from HCWE (who had ridden in a Train the Trainer the day before) they asked me to saddle up and ride first.

We started first on the dressage tests, working one on one with Tarrin to go through each movement of the test. I got to go first. Next time I will respectfully ask to go later, since Ashke and I were not warmed up or ready. But instead, I rode the test.

There were a lot of pointers for me:
  • Keep hands higher and reins shorter
In other words, don't be afraid to maintain contact with Ashke. What I am doing now is bumping him, instead of maintaining a steady, light touch between his mouth and my hands. I know this is in direct response to two things: my childhood fear of "wrecking a horse" with a shank bit, and my absolute dislike of how I was riding Ashke when I was taking dressage lessons at TMR the winter of 2013. I was told to plant my hand and not let him pull the reins out of my grip, then to force him forward with my legs so he was required to move in a frame. I can see, however, how much slack there is in the reins and how my contact is on and off. Additionally, I am riding with my reins too low. I should keep my hands higher and closer together (in fact Tarrin had another rider bridging her reins, to keep her hands moving together). Our ultimate goal is to ride with the reins in one hand and we need to be working toward that goal, not having to reteach our horse when we get to that level. The final part of that was that by raising my hands, the bit asks Ashke to flex at the poll, because he is in a shank bit.
  • Use outside rein against neck and open inside rein. Do Not Pull
 Using the outside rein against the neck is doing a turn neck rein. By opening the inside rein, which is in effect just moving the rein away from the neck in the direction you are turning. it opens up a path for the horse to follow. The Do Not Pull part comes when opening the inside rein. There should be slack in the rein, not tension, so the horse sees an opening and isn't being forced into it. I shouldn't be trying to pull him into the turn, but offering the opening while asking him to move away from my outside leg into the turn.
  • Deep breath and relax my seat to stop
This is something Ashke and I practice all the time in the arena at home. My first halt at the beginning of the test was me snatching at his mouth, because he wasn't listening. All of that happened because we weren't warmed up and on the same page. And I was anxious and nervous riding a WE Novice test in front of a L judge. I did my horse a disservice on Saturday.
  • Barely touch the quarterline and then swoop back to the rail. 
One of the movements is directly after a 15m circle at the canter, then the rider is supposed to loop to the quarterline and back to the rail. This is supposed to happen between F and M on the left lead, and K and H on the right. In a 40m dressage court. It happens way fast and I was going too far into the arena, past the quarterline, which made it really difficult to get back to the rail. You are to hold the left lead through the bend to the quarterline and then hold it back to the rail. It is a tough movement to ride correctly.
  • Widen (but don't drop) hands, and bump with fingers and increase pressure with legs when asking for the stretchy trot.
I've always struggled with the stretchy trot. The movement is on the diagonal across the arena, and I do think it is easier on the straight away instead of a circle. But it is a difficulty. It is something I need to incorporate into my nights when we ride in the arena, instead of only expecting it when we are riding a test.
  • Use gentle leg pressure like a hug at all times. No bumping.
I really like this idea, mostly because it fits with how I ride all the time any way. It's a left over from riding bareback all the time as a kid. Tarrin said I should keep gentle pressure while we are moving, so he knows that the legs mean movement, whether forward or back. I hated the whole "don't touch them with your lower leg unless you are doing something" kind of riding. It went right along with the hold the mouth really tightly and then push them forward with your heels thing I was trying to do in 2013. I think Ashke likes it when he can feel my legs against him.
  • Cue him first from legs and seat, since he is throwing up his head and bracing because I am taking him by surprise.
This was probably the most important thing I was told this weekend. I could not figure out why he was throwing his head up and bracing, but as soon as she said that to me, I knew in my gut that was a huge part of the problem. Ashke is super sensitive and my grabbing at his mouth or suddenly jabbing him with a heel startles/scares him the same way yelling at T scares him (I don't do that very often.) Our first halt was me grabbing at him and him reacting the way he always does by throwing his head up - he's not avoiding the bit - he's telling me he was surprised.
  • Working on relaxation
I'm pretty sure she was talking about me. If I don't relax, he's not going to relax.
  • Lift with my hands and rock my seat forward when asking him to back.
I have been making things much harder for him in the backing department because I have been blocking him from moving backwards. By rocking forward in the saddle, not a 2 point so much as a lifting of my seat bones, he was able to back easier and quicker. One of the things the judge wants to see is the horse picking up his feet when moving backwards. No shuffling. We will continue to work on it.
  • The movement on the test is Halt, reinback 3-5 steps, then proceed at walk. 
There should be no halt at the end of that reinback. We back up, then move forward at a walk immediately.
  • Drop my hands to rest on his withers when we halt.
This is freaking genius. By training your horse to halt and relax through the simple act of dropping your hand onto his withers, you can set him up for an incredible halt. Plus, he will learn to stand quietly while you are working the obstacles with the other hand. And to add to the relaxation, you can add a tiny bit of finger scratch to that oh-so itchy spot at the top of his withers to tell him he's being a good boy. It's these kind of simple tricks that make a huge difference when you show.
  • Cue the canter with the outside leg
When I first started training Ashke to canter I was using my outside leg. N and C both directed me to use my inside leg. I kind of did but I also continued to use my outside leg at times. Now I need to go back and retrain Ashke to move off my outside leg. It's important, since we do so much that is tight turns, to have the tools to keep his haunches in line. Or bent, actually. But to keep his haunches where I want them.

I learned a lot in that hour long session with Tarrin. I heard a lot of people say they learned a lot from her while we were watching other people ride. Some of it was similar: use legs, keep your hands in the right place, sit back. But a lot of it was tailored to the specific horse and rider. What I learned that morning was worth the clinic fee and we still hadn't gotten to the afternoon yet.


  1. I feel the same way Karen.. It was an awesome clinic and you and Aske really improved.. GREAT JOB!!!

    1. Thanks Chris! As always, it was great fun to watch you ride and participate in an event hosted by High Country Working Equitation.

  2. These posts are very interesting. I didn't even know WE was a thing before I started to follow you and now I am starting to get the itch to give it a try someday.

    1. Saiph wants to too! She is the one who posted something on her blog that I read and started to investigate on my own. She loves WE and maybe the two of you could get something going in your neck of the woods. It was huge in Florida where she used to live.