On Sunday my ride was the last one of the day, around 1:30, so again I got to kick back and watch all the other rides first. I had been planning on asking the barn manager about turn-out for Clay, so that he wouldn't be stuck in a stall all weekend, but it was bitter cold that day, and he looked perfectly content to stand drowsily and wait our turn, so I let him be. I shared my muffin with him for breakfast....He was not subtle about his dislike.
I had a nice long warm-up walk before my lesson, and was thankful for it. Clay felt forward and relaxed over his back in stretchy-walk, but once I started putting him together I could tell he was a little stiff and sore in places. He is not a tail-swisher typically, but there was a lot of sneezing and swishing when we started getting to work. Understandable.
Even so, my lesson was excellent, challenging, and really got to the heart of what Clay and I are struggling with right now. One of the challenges was that there was a mean echo in the arena from the mic/speaker system that Martin was using, which made it really hard to hear him clearly, unless you were down at the end where he was sitting. That, coupled with my slight dyslexia with right and left, and the epic "mom brain" I have going on (which has been scientifically proven, by the way. We process information 9x slower than the average human, I swear), made for a couple instances of complete confusion on my part. I didn't know what I was doing or where I was going, but Martin was extremely forgiving and patient as I got my bearings and worked through my mini brain-meltdown....
Amid the fumbling around, I did manage to learn something, and to have some real nice moments of straightness and thoroughness. There were a few upward transitions I really liked, where Clay didn't push into my inside leg but rather stayed upright and straight. I could actually feel his hind legs coming through, and pushing off, and it was a totally different feeling than we usually have in our transitions. Ah-ha! There it is. Hold onto that feeling!
By the end, thanks to Martin's excellent teaching skills and a certain forgiving pony, I felt clear about what the goal was in everything we were doing, and confident that I could go home and not only recreate it but build upon it. That is a great feeling to leave a clinic with, especially when it's the most expensive horse-related thing you've pretty much ever done. It was a risk, but there was big reward this time.
Speaking of gaining confidence.....Confidence is so fleeting, isn't it? I don't get to have lessons very often, so in between them I have to muddle along on my own for long periods of time, and when things are hard I tend to think, "It must be because I am doing it wrong." And then I do it the wrong/easy way, because that's what feels less labored, lighter (fake lightness, mind you), or there is less resistance from Clay. One of the things Martin said to me this weekend was that it's OK if you can only get two steps of perfection right now. Reward the effort. Be patient and dilligent. It's going to be hard for Clay at this point, and that's OK. And when it feels hard, it's because I am doing something RIGHT. Don't back away from that.
Another nugget I don't want to forget: Go forward to reward. Nice leg-yield without too much bend in the neck? Go forward! Refresh that trot through the short side, and then get back to your lateral work. Lateral work slows them down, so it’s really important to go forward again afterwards. Whatever gait you’re working in, go forward to reward and refresh after doing something hard. Walk breaks are for when you are changing the subject, or if you’ve taken your horse’s muscles to failure and they just can’t give you one more rep, so to speak–which happens, and that's OK. I am SURE that Gina has said this to me many times, but sometimes I have to hear things many times before they sink it. ;) And sometimes it takes someone else saying it just slightly differently for your brain to go, "Ahhhh I get it." I tell ya what, Clay felt so much more forward than he has felt in a while, even though he was working hard through a thick coat in a heated arena...That little engine just kept cranking without me needing to remind him.
So would I recommend Martin as a clinician? Well, if you can teach a sleep-deprived mom the difference between haunches in along the wall, head-to-wall-leg-yield, haunches-in-across-the-diagonal and ranvers, then by golly you can teach anyone anything. Honestly most of that stuff was new to me (we practice shoulder-fore/shoulder-in a lot, but had only just begun playing with haunches-in before this weekend, and always just along the wall) so I guess I can forgive myself some mistakes. I really appreciate the way Martin worked me through the hiccups and got us back on track without making me feel dumb. He is a very eloquent speaker, and he somehow makes you want to sit up and really ride, and at the same time puts you at ease. It's a great affect to have. Yes–as if my humble Second Level and Struggling option matters–I would recommend him.
I hope Spring Hill will have Martin back again in the future...it was certainly a positive experience in my book! Big thanks everyone there for being excellent hosts and organizing this. Huge thanks as well to Julie for getting our ponies there and back, in very cold weather and with snow coming down! And to Mike and my mom for keeping the toddler happy and out-numbered so that I could have this time to really immerse myself in horses. Ya'll are great. I love you.