CDS Adult Amateur Clinic – by Carolyn Orndoff

Carolyn Orndoff attended the 2012 CDS Adult Amateur Clinic held at the Santa Rosa Equestrian Center September 22-23, and kindly submitted this wonderful summary of her experiences!  Thank you Carolyn!

Community, communication, challenge, and confidence are my four words that sum up the CDS East Bay Amateur Clinic held the weekend of September twenty-second at the Santa Rosa Equestrian Center. The SREC is owned and operated by the energetic and delightful Tracy Underwood. Ms. Underwood facilitated the event that showcased the instructional talents of the brilliant dressage rider, Rachel Saavedra. There were about seventeen participating riders and a good time was shared by all.

Community support for dressage takes a prolonged, concerted and focused effort as the sport itself emphasizes and rewards individual efforts. Ms. Underwood, via CDS, successfully brought together the main elements of the community: instructors, riders, and horses.  She mixed these with the primary socializing ingredients of good food, excellent shopping at the onsite tack shop, and friendly conversation.  The event began with her graciously opening her home for dinner, which was followed by a meet and greet social. Sitting around a circle, we exchanged information about ourselves. Participants came from as nearby as down the road, and as far away as the Mt. Shasta region. The keynote speaker was Rachel Saavedra, who spoke about herself and her approach to riding. At one point, the animated and enthusiastic Ms. Saavedra had us practicing an exercise adopted from her martial arts training. The importance of a strong core came across loud and clear!

Communication is the all pervasive theme of Rachel Saavedra’s approach to riding. The horse, rider and instructor are constantly, continuously exchanging information through words, body language and visual cues. The ability of Ms. Saavedra to observe a horse and rider, analyze their actions and then verbally communicate instructions to the rider as to how to communicate to the horse is simply amazing. She is able to break actions down to the most nuanced details. Always positive, encouraging questions, taking time to carefully explain, Ms. Saavedra is the epitome of the excellent instructor.

My experience in the ring was excellent! I had a half hour individual riding session on both days.  Several weeks before the clinic, Justine Frazier, my trainer, asked me to figure out what I would tell Ms. Saavedra, in about thirty seconds, about me, my horse and what I wanted to work on in the clinic. I told her I’d been riding Cordero about a year. He is a fourteen year old Iberian gelding, trained to second level, with no extensions or trotted ten meter circles due to a soft tissue problem in his front right pastern. I was riding him training/first level and wanted to improve my seat. I told her he was very reactive, wiggly and that I had never had a dull moment riding him. Then, I told her I wasn’t an audio learner and tended to take things literally.  I refrained from telling her I have the attention span of a gnat. I thought that as is, we were enough challenge.

The challenge was mine, and we succeeded nicely. After watching me ride, Ms. Saavedra identified four things to change about my seat. They were to tilt my pelvis up, tighten the lower stomach muscles, land towards the front of the saddle, and drop my knees down.  As I rode, she would periodically ask me to identify those four things and do them as I said them. This trick allowed me to refocus and make any corrections. Then, she had me do circles, keeping the bit parallel to the radius of the circle. At the very end, Ms. Saavedra drew diagrams in the sand to illustrate her point.

The next day, my second class began badly. Cordero and I did not connect at all. Embarrassingly, I couldn’t even produce a left lead canter! Performing successful transitions became the challenge. However, after several attempts to follow her instructions, I stopped riding and told her straight up that I just didn’t get it. I did this because the day before I had ridden around and around the ring, not entirely positive I was pushing down my knees correctly. When Ms. Saavedra demonstrated another exercise to help with that concept, I suddenly realized I hadn’t had a clue, and should have asked for clarification.

After a careful explanation of gait mechanics relative to the timing of cues, transitioning up and down from trot to canter and back again, became a delightful experience!  I was perfectly satisfied to stand for most of the lesson, listening, and apparently, so was Cordero. Then, when called upon to put in motion the information, we succeeded wonderfully!

Not all the lessons focused on the rider. Ms. Saavedra provided a wealth of information for riders to help their horses. For example, to wake up a slow horse the rider rode faster down the long side, slowing on the short, and then repeating the exercise. Another example was how to lengthen reins to help a horse stretch down and move into the bit. Whatever the challenge, Ms. Saavedra produced positive results.

My level of confidence of rose from first, successfully altering my technique, and secondly, the positive feedback proffered by Ms. Saavedra.  She is expert at the art of constructive criticism. Secondly, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I wasn’t the only one learning in the lesson.  There were quite a few questions from the audience soliciting further explanation, particularly with regards to the transition timing. The support, obvious interest, and friendliness of the participants helped reduce any self-consciousness.

I want to thank Tracy Underwood for hosting the event. Thank you to those who sifted through the paperwork and helped organize ride times. A big shout out to Rachel Saavedra for all her insight, knowledge, and energy.  Thank you to Erin Lohec for letting me take her horse, Cordero, to the clinic.  For driving, trailoring and handling Cordero, for endless patience, common sense, and encouragement, a special thank you to my trainer, Justine Frazier.


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