Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Ok, this month's blog is really late, but I was busy at the beginning of the month with this great clinic! Enjoy.
On June 1st and 2nd 2019, the Fredericksburg Chapter of the Virginia Dressage Association (VADAF) hosted Dressage Naturally clinician Shawna Lewis. The clinic was fully attended with six riders each day. There were eleven auditors Saturday and five on Sunday. The clinic was a new experience in format for most of the dressage riders with attendance being for the full day. Participants worked on-line with ground skills in the morning and rode in two groups in the afternoon.
Each day, Shawna started with a brief introductory session and gave participants a chance to meet each other and talk about their horses. Shawna then explained the theories of Dressage Naturally and explained the goals for the day. Then everyone jumped up for a quick simulation of energy, relaxation, and balance.
The first topic of the day was relaxation. Shawna demonstrated the Moving Massage technique and then assisted each participation with using the technique. Emphasis was placed on teaching the horses a reflex to relax and how important relaxation is during training. Shawna was quick to point out that you can teach horses to do a lot of things with tension, but the quality of the movement suffers, as does the emotional well-being of the horse.
Once the horses were moving with relaxation, Shawna discussed balance and the Basic Alignment Exercise. For a horse to be truly connected and using his body properly it must be aligned on the direction of travel. Shawna demonstrated how to start a conversation about alignment with the horses and then helped each pair find a balanced posture through proper alignment. For those of us that like to micromanage, Shawna discussed the benefits of teaching the horse to carry itself and demonstrated how a bigger correction might be necessary to encourage the horse to carry it’s posture for more steps. Of course, there was always a return to relaxation after a correction.
For the horses that had trouble carrying enough energy, Shawna explained getting the horse to match your own energy with 100% effort and then immediately allowing them to have a relaxed transition downward and stand relaxed while getting a pat and/or a treat. This teaches the horses to be responsive and doesn’t make them regret their response by being expected to carry that energy for a long period of time. Teaching the horse in short segments is much more effective then nagging them for energy. Once the horse is responding well with 100% effort, participants could use the Numbers Game to start to maintain the energy. This concept was discussed more in the afternoon and used with a few horses under saddle.
After a break for lunch where participants got to mingle with Shawna and have more discussion, the horses were brought back out, ready to ride in two groups of three. Both groups had the same focus, expanding on the relaxation and balance techniques from the morning session. Shawna encouraged participants to experiment with their horses and make some big corrections, but then allow the horses to relax and return to the “active neutral” riding position. There was a noticeable shift in self-carriage for all the horses and some happier expressions from horses and riders!
There were a few participants who had trouble maintaining the energy they wanted, so Shawna helped them again with the Numbers Game. Each rider was told to pick their favorite trot (what felt the best to them) and give it a number. When they achieved that trot, riders were to relax their aids and ride in the “active neutral” position. If the horse’s energy faded, riders were instructed to immediately push the horse forward, at least two numbers above their favorite number. For example, if a rider said their favorite trot was a 6 and the horse dropped to a 5, the rider would immediately ride the horse up to an 8 or 9 energy level. Then, Shawna told them to return to neutral and allow the horse to relax back into his 6 trot. If the horse dropped below the 6, it was immediately back to the 8 or 9. This was repeated until the horse was carrying the 6 energy all by himself. All the horses responded quickly to this method and were again, happier!
Shawna was a pleasure to have as a clinician. Each participant took home some valuable tools to help improve their performance and build on the horse-human relationship. The auditors were inspired and some were seen taking copious notes. VADAF was excited to bring this type of learning opportunity to Region 1 of the USDF and we look forward to doing it again!