Sunday, October 9, 2016

Tarrin Warren Clinic 10/2/16

 I survived my first clinic since I've been back in the saddle! I haven't been in a clinic of any kind since 2010 when I rode a big grey horse in a jumping clinic... feels like ages ago, and I guess it really was. Obviously my promise to blog more this month hasn't been going all that well, but in my defense I've been prepping all week like a crazy person for my parents' visit to Texas. Not only did I have to jam all my clients in, but I had a lot of household project and cleaning to do as well before their arrival. Needless to say, nobody has worked since Sunday, although Dylan did well at the clinic and deserved a little rest, so it worked out just fine!

My mom getting mugged by wild animals

On Saturday (last weekend), I worked in the morning and then spent the afternoon clinic prepping. I have been driving for long enough now that it felt super weird to *only* be getting ready a horse, some clothes, and just one set of tack. No carriages, no extra sets of tack, only one outfit... it was weird, and easy! I scrubbed down the saddle and double bridle (but not my snaffle, because I planned to use just the double), put together an outfit, washed all my saddle pads and boots, and then brought Dylan up and scrubbed him down well.

I've been wanting to get more seriously into WE, now that I've dabbled in it a little bit and found that I enjoy it very much. The horse world as usual continues to surprise me with how small it really is - recently, the president of our carriage driving club emailed me to ask about the blue painted cart that I had. She knew I had been showing with the War Wagon four wheeler, and wanted to know if I would consider selling the blue cart to her friend who was just getting into driving. I said I would definitely consider selling the cart, as I didn't have any plans to use it anytime in the near future, and I had just bought back my horse sized Easy Entry cart as well as a small pony sized Easy Entry. There is only so much room for all these things! The president and her friend N came over, measured the cart, and agreed that N wanted it. I had kept the cart nice and added some chrome hardware, so I sold it for exactly as much as I had bought it for. While we were standing around chatting, N asked about Dylan, who was wandering around the pasture looking manly. When I mentioned my plans for him, she smiled. "You know, I put on the Tarrin Warren clinics here. You should come!" she told me.

Well... YEAH! Naturally I jumped at that! I signed up, and asked where she thought I should be - there were advanced sections, beginner sections, and private lessons. She decided to put me in the beginner section, since I had a lot of things to learn.

Karen Burch has ridden with Tarrin before, as have a few other people I know. I had heard the clinics are great, and was excited for it. My ride times were 7:30-9am and 1-2:30pm. Holy crap... 7:30am SUCKS for a ride time. Luckily, the clinic grounds were only about 1/2hr north me, so it wasn't the end of my life to wake up early and drag my sorry carcass outside to catch Dylan. We were promptly on at 7:30am and warming up.

Dylan was HOT. Spicy hot. Not anywhere near as hot as he was when we went to the free WE practice a few months back - then he was REALLY hot! - but he was sufficiently spicy that he was not paying a lot of attention to me and instead was being quite strong and bargy. We had a LOT of riding to do over the course of the day and I felt like we burned quite a lot of energy very early on to get him focused.

Before we got to work, we discussed each of the horses and our goals. There were three riders in my group - two beginner riders and myself. Tarrin promptly scared the crap out of me by saying, "oh yeah, you need to be in Intermediate, thinking about Advanced." Oh man... I don't REALLY think we are quite ready for that!!

The first exercise we did was the double slalom, which I think was not really the best thing to start Dylan out with. He was hot and strong, and not paying great attention to the exercise, which frustrated him a bit because his mind was still elsewhere and I was asking him right off the bat to do some pretty advanced stuff. I've seen people making huge teardrop circles around the double slalom poles, but Tarrin said this was not really correct. She told me to ride the exercise thinking more along the lines of canter pirouettes - to think about his tail being tied to the slalom poles in the turn. That way, I would not lose control of his haunches. I have a much harder time sitting when going to the right - I am right handed, and also have my injury on the left side, so I tend to get stuck sitting a little off to the right side. I float my right seatbone when I'm not paying attention to it, which makes it harder for him to bend to the right. When I'm learning new things I definitely have a harder time remembering to sit up and ride correctly. In Intermediate, you canter through the poles, performing either a simple change or a flying change in between the poles. I definitely want to stick with simple changes while I am learning.

The second exercise we did was the double barrels (or drums). Intermediate again does this at the canter - you enter the obstacle, make about an 8m circle around the first barrel to the right, then do a simple (or flying) change right in the middle of the two barrels, and canter another 8m circle to the left. Tarrin emphasised the importance of remembering to enter AND exit the obstacle fully - she sees people all the time messing up there, which can lead to elimination. Dylan by this time was paying better attention, and did well - the owner of the facility even came over at this point to take a video of him, because she liked him so much.

Dylan was starting to feel much more malleable by this time, although I was already feeling a little tired from working so physically hard to keep his exuberance under wraps. The third exercise we did was the bell corridor, which for the other two ladies was just a simple straight shot into a corridor, where you then halt and ring a bell, then back out again. I had to do something more complicated - walk (or canter) into the corridor, but instead of just straight in we had to do a L shaped corridor. At the end, we halted, rang a bell, then backed out in an L shape. That's HARD! Dylan has spent his whole life going backwards in a perfectly straight line, because in dressage you must go straight in your reinbacks. I too have this drilled into my head, so the idea that you can go backwards and also take additional turning aids is not easy. On top of that, you have to keep the correct bend while backing up - so if you cantered in on the right lead and turned to the right, then you have to back up still bend to the right. That is HARD. Dylan surprised me by being better about this than I expected, although he did back up and knock the pole behind him nearly every time. I think I get to leaning forward while I am backing up, which keeps him going backwards instead of stopping and listening to my turning aids. That said, he is incredibly smart and picks up repetitive patterns VERY fast, so I think he will eventually do this well. I also will need to take care not to ring the bell too often - horses learn to anticipate it, and start going backwards before you finish.

Next we went over the little jump. The other two riders were nervous about it, so I jumped it twice with Dylan to show them it wasn't any big deal. Dylan actually is a really good jumper - Tarrin said he has about the best form for a Spanish horse over fences that she's seen - and so far he literally doesn't care what you put in front of him, he's going to go over it. Since he has had minor leg injuries, I don't jump him except for on super rare occasions and then only over tiny little fences, in this case two hay bales laid over on their sides. I think they stand them upright for Intermediate, but that isn't that much higher.

The final morning exercise was the cloverleaf barrels, which is exactly what it sounds like - 3 barrels set up like a barrel racing pattern, only very close together and with either simple or flying changes in the middle. Again I chose to stick with simple changes, and worked on keeping control of his haunches, a theme which Tarrin touched upon all day. In WE, if you don't have the ability to effortlessly turn the horse back and forth on his haunches at all speeds, you run into trouble. We tried a few changes in the barrels, but Dylan had trouble swapping behind with that - I'm not quite strong enough to hold him together while focusing on the exercise at hand. In the future I think he'll be able to do it, but he is so huge and powerful in his changes that he is already halfway around the next barrel by the time he finishes a change.

Dylan was a really good boy during our break - he stayed tied to N's trailer instead of mine because I mistakenly parked next to a pasture that was full of mares, unbeknownst to me at the time. I parked him with a haybag and a water bucket, and while he did wiggle around a bit, he mostly ate, drank, and napped. I would not leave just any stallion tied to a trailer for a long period of time! The last time I took him to a WE practice, he stayed tied to the trailer without killing anyone, but we were close to several stallions and he was NOT having that. He seems to deal with geldings and mares fine, but stallions are just a different story. He can't stand them and gets all ragey whenever he sees or smells one. Thankfully he was the only stallion there that day, but this won't be the case in the future!

Once back on for our second session, I warmed up him for our dressage test, which we were planning to run through before we started working again on the obstacles. I was tired at this point, and I think he was probably a bit tired too (although he didn't show it). I didn't feel like we had a good run through our test - whenever I get tired, I lose control over my core, and this makes me lose control over him completely. When I can't hold him together with my core, I start to rely on my hands. When I rely on my hands, he takes that as an excuse to lean on them and get heavy on the forehand. Not only could I feel it, but I can see it in the pictures - I was too tight with my contact and it was constricting his neck.

You can see what I mean - I get tired, my shoulders start to slump, my seat gets a bit disengaged, I start to rely on my reins instead of using my core, and he starts to curl in and hang on me. I don't think it's terrible, but I know I am capable of riding better, and of course when I ride better he goes better. Mostly it boils down to rider fitness - I am not used to riding for several hours in a single day, so I was pooped by this point and we were only halfway done!

The intermediate test requires walk half pass, walk half pirouettes, trot leg yields, trot mediums, 15 meter circles at the canter, simple changes through the walk, and single flying changes. I have some video of me riding parts of the test but I have to edit them!

Tarrin picked up right away that I was losing him on his right side. She gave me an exercise - trot a 20 meter circle to the right and get the best trot possible, then drop the inside rein completely. Predictably, Dylan shot off to the left! She told me ideally a horse like this should be 100% capable of maintaining his bend just from my body even if you drop the reins - total self carriage. I experimented with this a bit while she was running through the Intro tests with the other two ladies, and found that it's completely easy for me to do this on the left side, but I struggle on the right. Thinking about my body mechanics again, I isolated the fact that I was once again floating my right seatbone and collapsing to the left - which makes it hard for the horse to mechanically bend. We stayed at the double barrels for a little while, walking back and forth and round and round, then did the same thing on the double slalom while I focused on making my body better. Dylan did improve quite a lot when I really jammed my right seatbone in. Probably it wasn't really jammed in therem all that forcibly - probably it just felt like it because I'm not used to focusing that hard on it - but either way he responded.

After the dressage tests were over, we moved on to the livestock pen. I LOVE doing the livestock pen! I had done it once before at the free WE practice, but not since then. It's a very small circle - between 8-10m eyeballed but I don't actually know the measurements. Intermediate canters this in both directions - you canter in, counter canter for a stride in the entrance, then continue to canter around the circle inside the pen. It is VERY close in there. Then you exit, perform a simple or flying lead change, half pirouette at the canter (or small volte, but I assume a half pirouette would score better), then canter back in on the other lead going the other way. We both walked and cantered it, and did well except for one trot stride on the second entrance when I just didn't hold him enough in the counter canter. But we will get better at that! I wish someone had gotten some video.

Next was the bridge! Like jumping, Dylan has no problems with bridges. He just goes. My main problem with the bridge was that cantering in, then going canter to walk and walking calmly over the bridge, then cantering away.... that was hard for a hothead, who wanted to jig across the entire bridge the first few times. He got significantly better as we practiced it, but like with the fact that we need to halt and stand immobile several times throughout the course, it needs practice. He is hot and likes to be moving all the time - standing still is very hard for him. All the other QHs there were sleeping and snoozing between their obstacles, and Dylan was out walking in circles and figure 8s around them, round and round until he finally got tired enough to stand. Even when he stands though, he is bobbing his head up and down, grabbing at his bit, swinging his nose around. Immobility is not his best thing.

Bridge. With sexy distracting pasture horse on the other side

We moved on to the garrocha, which was great fun. I've done a fair amount of practice at home picking it up out of the barrel and putting it back at all speeds, so this was not too hard for me. I cantered to the bridge, walked the bridge, cantered about 3 strides to the garrocha and picked it up... then promptly missed the barrel on the far side. As soon as I let go of my right rein - that dang right rein again - he drifted off to the left, and Tarrin got after me about it. Then I was so focused on that that I missed the barrel. We tried it again a second time, with much focus on keeping him straighter, and had a better result:

Action canter shot! With correct bend! I win!

Picking up garrocha

Totally missed that one.... I was tilting it upward to put it back into the barrel here, you carry the front of the pole much lower than this while you are underway. 

Here is where some things went awry. One of the other ladies in my group went to pick up the garrocha, and her horse FREAKED. She was more of a novice rider, and when the horse took off with her still clutching the pole, she started screaming bloody murder. Tarrin yelled at her to drop the pole, which she did... but it landed squarely in her lap instead of falling away from the horse. She kept screaming her head off and clutching the reins, and of course when she got to the far end of the arena, the horse turned and she flew off. She landed with a hard crunch and immediately started screaming again. We jumped off our horses as people ran to her aid. She was on the ground moaning and screaming for a LONG time.... eventually they got her to sit up and took her away. I never did hear if she was injured. I hope she's all right. Needless to say, Tarrin got on the horse and gave him a bit of schooling, as he had been acting like a bit of a jerk all morning anyway. She and the other lady did some desensitization with the pole, and the horse eventually calmed down a little.

The clinic continued on as we reached our last two obstacles to practice. The first was the water jug, which is just a low table with a full pitcher of water sitting on it. You canter up to it, canter to halt, then the horse stands immobile while you lean down, pick up the jug of water, hold it high over your head, then replace the jug and canter right off. This is MUCH harder than it sounds. The horses have a tendency to move away from the table, so when you halt, sometimes you end up much further away than you expected. Dylan by this time was being really good, so we did it with canter to halts and did pretty well. You can also canter, then walk and halt to pick it up. I asked Tarrin what she thought I should do, and she told me to have several different game plans in my head. If the horse is being strong or bargy, if you don't feel you have everything perfect, etc - you can take the easier route and maybe score a little lower but be safer. The more extravagant things can backfire on you, but if you pull them off, they'll be the better score, so it's ultimately up to the rider in the moment to decide.

The final obstacle was a corridor made with slalom poles that you had to canter into and then halt at the end. Overturned on the top of the poles was a red solo cup, and this had to be picked up. The horse then needed to back out of the corridor, halt again, and the cup was to be overturned and replaced to the top of the slalom pole at the end of the corridor. Then the horse had to continue backing out, turn on the haunches, and canter off. Tarrin made this exercise WAAAAY more difficult for me by not making me back up in a straight line. Rather, I cantered in, grabbed the cup, then had to back up AROUND the middle pole and then halt again, replacing the cup. The bend of course had to be the same going backwards as it was going forwards.

Crappy graphic but you get the idea

I didn't think we could do it... but we DID! We did it and didn't totally suck at it. It will need a lot of work but the fact that we could actually do it was a big confidence booster. We did it!

With that, the clinic ended. By that time we were all sunburned, tired, and satisfied. Tarrin was an excellent clinician and she kicked my butt without being in any way hard or discouraging. I definitely will be working with her again. Dylan got a limited bath and poulticed once we got home, and I also took an epsom salt back! I monitered his leg closely for any changes, since this was definitely the most work he has done since we came back from his injury, and it still looks really good. Since my parents were coming anyway, I didn't feel too badly giving him a few extra days off.

Next up is another mini clinic with Tarrin on the 21st, then a WE schooling show on the 22nd! This will be our first show together. Getting a little nervous for that...


  1. GREAT post! WE is so freaking cool!! I would really love to try it. I think Hampton would enjoy the "puzzle" aspect about it, as would I! I don't know of anyone who does this is KY tho. So for now I will live vicariously through you.

  2. In the double slalom, think hot dogs rather than ice cream cones, with the edge of the "hot dog" as close to the pole after the turn as possible. And you can grasp the solo cup in your teeth during the switch a cup, if you need both hands for the reinback. I love the pics of you and Dylan. Really wish you were closer so we could ride together. It's awesome that you get to work with Tarrin so much.

    I know you aren't in our region, but you should consider coming to the Horse Expo at the National Western Stock Show facility here in Denver for our first B-rated show next March. You could do the show and then stay for Ride With The Experts.

  3. This sounds so amazing!! I can't wait to read about your next clinic and first WE show! 😁

  4. This all seems difficult and complicated. Really cool, but also difficult and complicated.

  5. This all sounds extraordinarily difficult. How do people who don't have a Dylan do it? (Aside from the getting crunched option, which sounds horrible.)

    1. It's utilitarian dressage. It has all the same training. Any horse can be correctly trained to do dressage work and the same applies here!

    2. It's utilitarian dressage. It has all the same training. Any horse can be correctly trained to do dressage work and the same applies here!