At last, we get to Vermont.
Our host has met us at a gas station and we'll follow him through the back roads
of Vermont to their ranch. We have two days off before we start this clinic, so
we'll be able to do laundry and rest a little bit. More importantly, our ponies
will get a nice rest, as well. It's around 11:30pm when we pull in to Far East
Arabian Ranch in Brownsville, Vermont. Another thing we are looking forward to
is one of our hosts is Mark's distant cousin, a Rashid, and we are excited to
meet him and his family.
At this time we are really
tired! The ranch looks good although it's very dark. We get Mark hooked up and
my bag up to my room, the horses tended to. The bed looks good! GOOD NIGHT!
It's morning and oh my gosh
-- I look out the window and it's like a picture postcard. I've never been to
Vermont, but it's just like I imagined it to be. Maple trees everywhere, trees
everywhere and green, green grass with big pastures. The farmhouse where we're
staying is unbelievably gorgeous! Everywhere you look is like a postcard. I
think the farmhouse was from the late 1800's. Giant sunflowers, a little field
of them, and Fox Glove, the gardens around the house were still in bloom which
added to the picture postcard effect and their incredibly gorgeous Golden
The clinic was very
satisfying, full of hungry people to work on their horsemanship. For the most
part these were all experienced riders. Some of our riders came from as far as
Canada to work with us. A demo wasn't scheduled for this clinic, however, Mark
and I found ourselves doing a little something the evening before. Again, I
think it's so important that we take the time out for people to understand where
we're coming from and introduce ourselves and our riders to the tools, thoughts
and philosophies that we're working with and working towards; Feel, Timing,
Blending, Balance, Breath, and the postural awareness to see it through.
Engaging our abdominals for support, working to let go of the other braces in
our body. Letting go of old muscle memory so we can build new memory, get back
to the place where we feel good again. As we keep saying, this is not easy, but
the more we do the easier it gets. So after our evening together we're ready to
go to work.
This was a special clinic.
For starters, it was our first time here and the welcome was overwhelming.
Everyone was hungry for change. That's what struck me about this clinic.
Everyone was open to try new ways. There were very few, "Yeah, buts-", if any.
We had two large round pens
to work in lieu of an arena. One round pen was by the first barn and was quite
big. Another round pen was up on the hill, and a little smaller and there was
knee high grass there. So Mark would mostly work in the larger round pen and I
would take the one up on the hill. Everyone was really interested in the
bio-mechanics of their horse and the bio-mechanics of their body. Everyone
wanted to do ground work on themselves and take that to their horse, the woman
riders as well as the men. This was very gratifying for both Mark and myself.
One of the horses and rider that stands out to me was a young Morgan mare. She
was started by her owner, a woman who raises Morgan's. She was very thoughtful
and conscious of what she brought to her horse. She was asking for softness
and understanding that comes from us (the rider). She was diligent about her
body work, the understanding that the stiffness in her cervical spine went from
her shoulders, right down her arms, her hands, and right into her reins.
It takes so much, not just
to recognize where our braces are, realizing the effect they have on our horse
and work on making the changes or awareness that is needed. We must leave our
ego someplace else, again the more we get out of our way the more we see
dramatic changes in the way our horses respond to directing energy rather than
trying to control it. As this gal continued to work on softening herself,
softness came through her horse. As softness came through her horse so did
understanding of what the rider was asking. It's always so exciting to see
these changes, to see horse and rider accomplish these things together. To see
the rider be satisfied with small changes, they're so big to the horse and
ultimately they're big changes in us but they start with recognizing the 'try',
the 'try', in ourselves and in our horse.
A lot of the riders in this
clinic are long-distance riders, cross-country riders. I noticed a lot of short
stirrups. Short stirrups have a tendency, in my opinion, to promote bracing in
the feet, ankles, knees, ultimately the hip because we push in the stirrup.
This gives a false sense of security, a false sense of support, a false sense of
balance. Balance comes from our center. Our feet should feel in our stirrups
the way that we feel when we stand on earth. There is no pushing when we stand
on earth, there should be no pushing in our stirrups.
One of our riders was
convinced she needed short stirrups for her riding success. She used a mounting
block to mount and her horse seemed to travel a little inverted. She was
working with me up in the grassy round pen. Before I knew it, there were quite
a few auditors who had worked their way up to the round pen to watch us work. I
was riding "the Girl". We started off with just this gal going around in a
walk. I was just trying to get a feel of how she was riding. There seemed to
be no give-and-take in her ride. The rider offered what she had and just stayed
with that, body in motion stays in motion, horse in motion, stays in motion,
thoughts in motion stay in motion.
It seemed to me we needed to
let the stirrups down or take her feet out of the stirrups just so she could
move with her horse. There was so much push from her feet. After we rode
awhile, I asked her if it was Ok if I lengthened her stirrups. She said, sure.
I got off 'the Girl' and walked over to her to lengthen the stirrup. As I was
lengthening the stirrup, out of my peripheral vision, I could see that 'the
Girl' thought this might be an opportune time for a nibble of grass. After all,
she is standing knee-high in it. I looked back to her and slapped the side of
my chaps and immediately she gave her grass eating a second thought and stood
quietly until I got back to her.
One of the auditors asked me
how did I do that? How did I get her to stop in mid-movement for grass? I told
him, I asked her not to and reminded her that we were working. But he said,
how? It was the intent behind my action. But you didn't do anything but slap
your leg, he said. I know it seemed like that to him, but 'the Girl' knew
exactly what I was saying to her. The intent behind the slap on my leg told
her, my timing told her.
We got our rider's stirrup
lengthened and off she went. Now, we could start working with the 3 and 9. The
impulsion from our horse’s hindquarters into our hindquarters. She could start
to have influence on her horse's movement. For one, she could now feel the
movement and her horse could feel her soften, and in turn he wanted to soften.
I don't think any horse feels good traveling with braces. Our rider started to
develop more feel in her center, in turn more feel for her horse’s center. Our
rider started to breathe more, her horse started to breathe more. With these
things starting to work for us, work with Mark really falls into place. One
thing we noticed right off the bat, she didn't need her mounting block anymore.
Isn't that wild? With awareness and abdominal support she got taller.
As our horse and rider
started to work with Mark and started to direct the energy the horse was
offering, understanding started to come through the rein and the horse started
to travel in a less inverted manner. It seems like as soon as the horse starts
to feel this they want to feel more. It feels better to the horse to travel in
a less cramped manner when we can get the feet moving freely we can direct that
freely. Let's face it, it feels better in the human to travel in a less cramped
manner. We start to breathe and movement comes with ease in both human and
Another rider that made
dramatic changes is one of our gentleman riders. He came with two horses and he
was anxious to get things done with both horses. His first horse had a lot of
'forward' on him -- a lot of 'go'. Our rider stayed with the horse but he, too,
was very bracey in his lower back, running down to his legs and the balls of his
feet and it was almost like his horse was trying to run-out from beneath him.
Mark started working with him, directing the energy of his horse, when his horse
started to get into an accelerated gait before he was asked, Mark would ask our
rider to direct the energy into a circle. The horse has to slow down and think
about where his feet are. When he starts to slow down we'll go straight again.
If he starts to accelerate we'll repeat that circle process. Pretty soon the
horse starts to realize that what we're asking. We're asking him to think, to
slow down and place his feet with purpose and thought. Now we have something to
work with, now we have energy that can be directed because we have thought and
Again, after Mark was
through, he suggested our rider should come and work with me, which he did
willingly. We worked on bringing awareness to where his braces were and then
did some body work to try to release those braces. Breathing is the key, breath
is the life that begets movement, softness, feel, timing, blending, balance and
abdominal awareness. Each ride there was more awareness, more thought coming
through our rider, more thought going to our horse.
When our rider brought in his
second horse, he was anxious to get things going. To bring what he had learned
on his first horse to this horse, now. However, he didn't know much about this
horse. I don't think he had ever ridden him before, or if he had, it wasn't a
successful ride. Because of him not knowing much about the horse, Mark asked
him to just work with the horse a little on the ground. We could see that the
horse liked keeping his owner on one side of him, that the horse felt more
comfortable positioning himself this way. This behaviour warranted caution on
our part. We, as humans, don't want to assume anything. Just because the horse
was sold to him as a riding horse and "should" be Ok we don't know that. The
horse had sent up some red flags. Mark felt that it was best to proceed with
this horse as if he had never been ridden before. Not to pressure the horse,
but to take our time. We would start with ground driving. If things went well,
we would move on.
We were making a plan, we
were presenting ourselves to the horse with purpose. I give a lot of credit to
our rider. He stepped back, he wanted to do what was best for his horse, even
though he was disappointed because he wanted to get on and get going. Our rider
put his anxiousness aside. He redirected his own energy and did what was best
for his horse. Of course, as we all know, what's best for the horse, is usually
what's best for us and I think that was true in this case. Our rider came over
to me and he said that he was using this opportunity to let these new ways seep
into him as well as his horses. Good for you, I say! I know how hard it is to
curb our enthusiasm.
This clinic and the
experiences from this clinic was one of the highlights of the year for me and
Mark said for him, too. We had a day off and went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
and then we crossed the bridge to Maine. We went to Strawberry Banks. It's a
restored area of Portsmouth, from the 1700's.
We want to thank our hosts,
Dixie and Bean, Stan and Mai for the extraordinary dinners making us feel like
long-lost family members. The care that you gave us and our four-legged
beauties was much appreciated. Thank you for allowing us to play our guitars
and Stan for letting me borrow the camera. We want to thank your four-legged
beauties, floppy-eared and upright ear-ed. We want to thank all the riders and
their horses for making this one of our most successful clinics and times on the
road this year. Until next time -- breathe and be soft. Don't forget your 3
We leave Vermont with gallons
of maple syrup, new friends, and good feelings. The tips of the maple leaves
are starting to turn red, Mark is in good spirits, Smokey and 'the Girl' always
making us look good, myself feeling satisfied and full of life and what it has