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We Are Flying Solo

July 2, 2013

Learning With An Irish Smile

Quick vid capture from today's jumping warmup
Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Every clinic is different.  Infused with the personality and riding style of the technician, distilled over years of experience and mistakes and triumphs, and hopefully capped with the flourish of their unique teaching style.  Eric Smiley is no different.

It's difficult to accurately convey the details of this one though.  With a quiet humility and a ready smile, he says he's "not one of the big boys," but with accomplishments from 1982's Irish Field Event Rider of the Year to 2012's Belgian Olympic Team Coach, one could certainly insist that there is more than one definition of big.

A gifted instructor, he makes a quick connection with all of us, asking each rider (1) what they like most about their horse and (2) what is one thing they would like to fix THAT DAY.  "People coming to clinics always have a long list of negative things about their horses, but I want to get you to think of what you enjoy about them."  And this is only the first of many questions and insights that strip away all of the fuss and details and noise surrounding How To Ride Your Horse and reach down to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish and polish the gems of wisdom passed down through generations of horsemen.

I'm a visual, logical, process-oriented person; I like to understand why I am doing something and what end I am trying to achieve.  This is probably why I enjoy listening to all of Eric's lessons.  There is no "use outside rein, now more leg, now your left buttcheek, now inhale three times..."  Instead, he challenges us to really think about and engage into each ride, using questions aimed at simplifying and streamlining how you approach riding and training.  These are concepts which you then fill in with details and through this, deepen your understanding.  For example...

What is forward?  The horse should be taking you.  Not you chasing him or tapping him or nudging him.
What is impulsion?  Energy that you can then do something with.  I thought of it this way:  trying to ride without impulsion is like trying to wash a car with an empty bucket.
What does 'through' mean?  There are NO blockages in the flow of energy from your leg to hind leg to hock to stifle to hip to back to neck to poll to jaw to hand.  So, are there?  Examine each of these areas.
How many ways is it possible to jump a fence?  Four -- twice in each direction, one turning left and one turning right.  Know them all for every fence you see.
How do we turn our horse after a fence?  Using the outside aids.  Then the eyes and the inside hand show him where to go.

DON'T RIDE CORNERS!  Yes, that's right.  Why?  Because they are hard.  Try that one at your next lesson, ha!  But in all seriousness, because almost no one rides them correctly.  They lose impulsion and rhythm in the corner, so when schooling your jumps, keep your lines on a curve and your energy flowing forward, stay out of the corners and you won't get stuck in them.  I heard this one alllllll day today, stadium day.

But I already know these things, you protest.  Perhaps, but have you really, really thought about them, the biomechanics and the definitions and the reasons, and applied that directly to practice?

Encore has been, in short, a gem.  On dressage day, I identified my one project as consistency -- in contact, in rhythm, in outline.  I'll be damned if he wasn't solid as anything.  Today, throughout the entire jump school, he remained attentive, balanced, steady as a metronome, and jumped as round and lovely as you could ever want.

Giant breakthroughs?  For us, no (although several other riders have made amazing strides with their mounts, particularly the very green horses).  Well, I was told my lower leg was completely wrong and got my stirrups jacked up two holes, details...  However, the sessions have nonetheless been extremely valuable to me by offering not only a vastly simplified way to think about what and how I want to ask my horse, but perhaps even more noteworthy, how to think about what is NOT working.  You can't fix a problem if you don't understand the cause!

What do you do when your horse is hanging on the bit?  Push his hind leg farther beneath him with your leg.  Why?  Because if he is hanging, there is too much weight on his front legs.  Placing his hind leg farther beneath his body shifts his balance back a bit, weighting his rear through the hocks and lightening his front end.  He is, quite simply, a teeter totter.  Understand this dynamic and you have the power to manipulate it into any variation of balance you desire.

Tomorrow is the best part, naturally, as we head over to Waredaca, just down the road, to school cross country both to ours and our horses' delight.  We've been lucky so far and not really been rained on, as well as having the benefit of Sunset Hill's massive indoor arena.  If the weather will hold until 3 pm, everyone will be home free!

Naturally, a wonderful part of it all, and one of the reasons I love this sport, is the people.  Meeting (and perhaps re-meeting, hey, I have a terrible memory) fellow Adult Riders, spending time with the awesomeness that is friend Beth, soaking up my doggy fix, margaritas by the pool and the best sangria you've ever tasted (hey, these things are important) and basking in the exchange of knowledge and skill between teacher and rider and horse; all of these pieces just make me hungry for more.


  1. Sounds like a great clinic. Always wonderful when you are able to get a lot of out of what the clinician is teaching.

  2. How FUN! I'm sure you'll have a great time tomorrow, and learn tons.
    :-D <---that's a smiley for Smiley *snork* Yeah, I'm just that cheesey.

  3. I got to ride with him in a clinic last year and he was so insightful. After riding for 22 years, he totally changed the way I thought about connection.

  4. Well now you're going to have to post the entire video! You look fabulous in the picture -- glad the clinic is going great!

  5. Sounds fantastic, I cannot wait to hear how you get on XC.

  6. He sounds great! Thanks for sharing his insight.

  7. So many videos to upload! And Kate, definitely -- it seems like subtle adjustments but the more you think about it, the more you realize how much clearer he makes things.