I unloaded Joey off of the trailer ripe with anticipation. Altamonte Show Stables appeared to be straight out of a painting, nestled in the hills of the beautiful Missouri landscape. Attending this clinic with two close friends hosted by the legendary Brody Robertson was exactly what I needed to get back on track after a disappointing show the weekend before.
As I tacked up Joey he soaked up his surroundings. To my pleasure, he was not the slightest bit concerned by the repetitive gun shots in the distance that echoed off of the hillsides. I took a deep breath, used a nearby cross country fence as my mounting block, and made my way up the hill to the carefully manicured outdoor arena lined with many of Brody’s signature jumps.
A Fresh Start
Brody hopped into the arena and started to work right away by evaluating our stirrup length, having us drop our irons and loosen our reins to the buckle to encourage our horses to stretch out. Joey took this as his opportunity to show off his power walk/trot/jig that he tends to flaunt for the first 10 minutes every time we arrive somewhere new. Brody had me continue on as loose as possible, focusing on Joey relaxing in his new environment and having me stretch at the hip to allow my leg to get as long as possible.
We worked at the walk for a good 15 minutes as Brody explained the importance of stirrup length and leg position. After we all dropped our irons another hole, we began to work on walk/trot/halt transitions- all the while Brody used very entertaining but easy to understand stories that really solidified the importance of your position starting at the flat.
“Nothing changes,” he said as he dropped a fence to a small cross rail. “From the flat to over fences your position should be the same. Your heel should be down, your knee loose, and your body will be able to balance as needed.” One of his best examples of this was a balloon clown he had as a kid which was weighted down at the feet by sand. No matter how many times he would hit the clown, it would always bounce back up straight. He compared our heels to the sand and said that with the proper leg position, we should be able to use our bodies to keep balanced no matter the circumstances.
“Where did THAT horse go?”
As we added the canter into our transition work, Joey really felt soft and supple in my hands- that is until it was time to go from a canter to a halt! Brakes have not always been Joey’s strong point. We can stop….it just takes us a little longer. With some help from Brody’s dad, Bill, who trotted up to me in the arena to give me some pointers on acquiring a stop, even if it wasn’t ‘pretty,’ Joey and I began to see some success. We had reached the point of give and take on both parts and I was pleased with the horse I had.
When it came time to trot a crossrail and halt at the rail between two jump cups Brody had tossed on the ground, the old screech and stop Joey returned but I didn’t give up faith. Even when we mauled the left jump cup on our first attempt at a straight and steady stop. On our third go-around, I talked to Joey in a gentle voice the whole time at Brody’s recommendation (although he did tell me I didn’t have to have a full conversation with him –oops!) and the next thing I knew we were on the other side of the crossrail staring at that beautiful countryside without a fuss.
“Where did THAT horse go?” Brody exclaimed, “That horse that was pulling and tugging and bracing against you. Where did he go? Because that was a completely different horse!”
And he was right, from that point on I had a new Joey. We cantered a little course, stopped a second to focus on not contorting my body to get the lead which resulted in us cutting our corner, and continued on at a peaceful pace.
Today’s the Day
I knew our day was drawing to an end, but Brody wanted us all to land on an exciting note. “Have any of your horses jumped a liverpool before?” he asked as he bumped the once meter high fence down to a more Meagan appropriate height. I gulped as my friends Aly and Bre both said yes. Brody didn’t seem bothered by mine and Joey’s lack of experience and has us be the first pair to go.
It was the prime opportunity for me to be nervous about factoring in something new to our course, but I actually felt really confident. My horse felt fantastic beneath me, I was a bit tired but was high off of the progress we had made and felt like I could go on forever. Today was my day. As we nailed the bending line that would lead us to the outside line with the final fence being the liverpool, I wasn’t even thinking about the water jump ahead. I had a smile a mile wide on my face and just felt exhilarated by our growth that day.
In true Joey fashion, he didn’t even look at the liverpool. He sailed over that last fence with ease and even had a nice little transition to the walk after. I couldn’t have been more proud. The entire morning was one big confidence boost. From starting on the flat and developing the horse I wanted over fences later in the day, to adjusting my position and jump position to allow for softer hands and seat, I felt the results of all of our small adjustments as we made our way around that last course. It was the best feeling in the world to dig down deep and work hard and later see the results of your efforts.
The Best Day with the Best of Friends
As I untacked Joey at the trailer I couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face. One icky show couldn’t keep me down. I had the horse of a lifetime on my side and all the time I was spending traveling back and forth to the barn and all of the side jobs I had picked up to afford this passion were most definitely paying off.
Plus, I got to enjoy a beautiful humidity-free day with two close friends on horseback- how can you NOT have a good time with that combination?
There was not one moment during that clinic that I was confused or felt out of place. Brody was an excellent instructor who helped summarize every lesson in a way that you could take home and continue to develop on. I’ll be back to ride with Brody in August, and until then, I plan on using all of his tips and tricks in my daily riding so that we return a more polished pair.