Clinic Recap: Martin Kuhn – Day One

Clay and I attended a two-day clinic with Martin Kuhn this past weekend at the beautiful Spring Hill Farm in Duluth, MN. It was another super cold weekend here, so it felt extra luxurious to be inside a heated barn (although, poor Clay is sporting a Fjord-level winter coat right now.)

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I was a little nervous to attend a clinic in the dead of winter, both because trailering in winter makes my blood-pressure go through the roof and because Clay isn't in great shape due to the cold temps keeping me from riding regularly. But opportunities like this don't come around every day. I decided to go for it.

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Thankfully, my friend Julie who was also attending the clinic offered to bring Clay in her trailer with her horse. She hauls a lot and has a gooseneck, which is more stable on questionable roads than my bumper-pull. I was very grateful–not having to drive the trailer made my weekend overall a lot less stressful.

We got to Spring Hill on Friday evening, settled the ponies in, unloaded our stuff, and acquainted them with the indoor arena (which is huge, well-lit, mirrored on three walls, and has the most amazing, springy footing). Shockingly, Clay–who lives outside 24/7 at home–has pretty damn decent stall manners, considering. It helped to have Julie's horse Gus right next to him, too. 

On Saturday, my ride wasn't until the evening, so I was able to relax all day and watch everyone else ride first. Right away I knew I was a fan of Mr. Kuhn's teaching style. He is obviously massively intelligent, and lessoning with him is like riding through his mind. He talks non-stop, making corrections, telling you what to do and where to go next in between lecturing you on the whys and hows and the big-picture of it all. It's a lot to take in, but man do you ever get your money's worth out of that 45 mins! He didn't let anyone get away with anything, but I also found him to be kind about mistakes; A light-hearted stickler.

It was a long day of back-to-back lessons. I think he was getting a little punchy by the time my ride finally rolled around, and had me cracking up with some of the things he said (at one point he told me my 20m circle had a goiter. "Do it again, without the polyp in it this time.") Dressage hurts sometimes for lack of a sense of humor. It's a serious sport, full of serious people. And that's all right and good...except that it's hard to learn when you feel belittled or scared shitless. I never felt either of those things this weekend, and I really appreciate how Mr. Kuhn met each rider and horse where they were, no matter where that was, and worked to bring out the best in everyone. You get the feeling that he believes in you. Or at least, believes in Dressage as a system that–when done well, and not rushed or faked or cheated–will benefit each and every horse and rider who put their noses to it.

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In the case of Clay and me, meeting us where we are meant taking our lousy fitness level into account. I was a little worried about Clay working hard with a full winter coat in that heated arena, but Mr. Kuhn allowed for walk breaks and encouraged lots of rewarding. Clay pulled out a big effort for me, as usual, despite it all. 

We worked primarily on straightness, balance and an honest connection in the outside rein...which is what we have been working on for at least the past year. But instead of feeling discouraged that we still don't have this (hugely important) piece of the puzzle nailed down, it was reassuring to me that this is indeed where we are and what we should be focusing on.

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Mr. Kuhn reiterated what Gina has said many times to me–that this is the key to unlocking all  future levels, and once we have it, our progress will skyrocket. Until then...I need to be diligently plugging away at getting my pony consistently straight and honest in that fugging outside rein...and strong enough to maintain that correct, and more difficult, balance. I left Saturday's lesson with a sense of clarity and a couple new exercises to challenge us and keep life interesting while we plug away at this dressage thing.

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Boy was it ever a treat to ride in that awesome arena on that bouncy rubber footing. And the mirrors! I always knew mirrors were helpful, but I got to really experience their full benefit this weekend, because with all the focus on straightness it was so helpful to be able to look up and actually see whether we were or not. Plus, Clay and I are doing a lot of shoulder-in, haunches in, head-to-wall-leg-yield, etc. and the mirrors make a world of difference when you're fumbling around with new lateral work, trying to find your angles. 

Day Two recap coming right up!.....