Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tiago Ernesto Clinic 7/8-7/9

Last weekend I headed back down to the Navasota/Brenham area to ride in an invitation-only clinic with Tiago Ernesto, the head trainer at Haras Dos Cavaleiros. If you're at all involved with Iberian horses or working equitation, you know Haras. The clinc itself was at Watts Way Arena, the last place I showed Dylan. The owners of Watts Way have fast become my friends and I was excited to have a chance to ride with someone as talented as Tiago. 

In July in Texas, it's HOT. This year has been especially weird because while temperatures have been slightly lower than usual - staying in the mid to upper 90s - the humidity has been outrageously high. I don't mind it being hot, but the humidity kills me. Remember this because it will come into play later.

Several of the people that were supposed to come to the clinic couldn't, as the original date has been scheduled for June and then later changed. (I originally couldn't go, but when they changed the dates I jumped on it!) There was also a lady who was supposed to bring a couple horses but then had the fuel pump in her truck go out, so all in all there were only about 5 or 6 riders a day. I was slated to ride late afternoon on Saturday, and then morning on Sunday, so that I could trailer in on Sat and then right back out again on Sunday without getting home to late. It's about a 4 hour trailer ride for me one way, if there is no traffic. 

It's hot. Yes that's sweat and dirt on Dylan's back!

I headed out by about 8:30am, only to run into I-35 being shut down not too far into my journey. Some other small bobbles and I arrived at about 1pm or so, with plenty of time to deposit Dylan in his stall, eat some pizza, and have a peach daiquiri. It was unbearably hot and humid in the arena - even though it's covered and the swamp coolers were running full steam, there was no wind at all that day, and therefore no breeze to stir the stifling hot air. The evening before, I had gotten a little heatsick while trying to clean out my trailer tackroom, and while I sat there in the arena sweating and watching the other riders, I started to feel like I was wilting. I drank and drank and drank all the water and Gatorade that I could force myself to down, knowing that my 4pm ride time was coming up. My friend J helped me tack up Dylan, and feeling like I had done all I could do to hydrate myself, I climbed on for my lesson.

What surprised me about Tiago is that he's a young guy. He can't be older than I am, if he's even that old at all. But he's an incredible rider and trainer. He watched Dylan and I warm up, whereupon I just trotted around posting for a bit and doing some stretchy canter to limber him up. For all that I'm excited that I can post again, I still don't seem to be able to do it all that well, and when Tiago came in the ring he told me right away that he thought I had an easier time in the canter than trot. He's not wrong, but I told him it's completely different when I sit versus when I trot, and I showed him that. He had that look on his face of "ah, yes, she's not lying." I told him one of the main problem I have is with changes - either they're fantastic or they're terrible, and there's not a lot of play inbetween. On the short diagonal, Dylan was starting to get flat and rushy into his changes, and I was too hot and tired to be able to keep that under control. So, we played with surprise changes in places he didn't expect them - down the quarterline, in the corners, random places around the arena, which really did help him. When he knows they're coming, he can get quite forward, and it's hard enough to keep him under control when I'm feeling great much less when I'm not.

We also played a bit with passage/piaffe, and whether Dylan knows how to do it. K said he has a bit of both started, and I've certainly sat on him when he was offering piaffe not on purpose, but this was the first time anyone has taken a stick and asked him from the ground to give it a try since I've had him. I'm not sure what Tiago was asking or how, but Dylan was not sure about it and didn't get a step of real piaffe. He did, however, offer something akin to passage and we went with that. I would trot along on the circle, then ask him to come up a bit more in front and almost feel like I'm sucking his back up higher through my thighs. It's a little bit hard to describe, but it came. As I understand it, having almost no experience whatever with it, every horse and rider has an individual way of doing piaffe or passage - installed a little differently, ridden a little differently. All lower level horses might be able to canter from the same cue, but not all upper level horses will learn passage from the same cue. Or something like that. Maybe? I don't know enough about it yet to say, but I hope to learn.

We also worked on bending him at the canter on a 20m circle - bending him to the left, bending him to the right, with no change of lead and no falling in or out. THAT was my undoing. I was already exhausted by this point but determined to carry on, and I don't really remember too much beyond this point because my head got all kinds of fuzzy. I just remember  when we finished, we had some good work, but Dylan was clear about the fact that he was stick-a-fork-in-it-done. He kept breaking to trot over and over, like he just couldn't hold it, and I probably looked like I was going to die myself. We both went to cool out, and both of us were panting exhausted. Dylan looked just as hot and miserable as I was - I stripped him of his tack straight away, and went right to the wash stall to start strip cooling him. Poor guy.... he skidded around in the wash stall three times like he was skating on ice, partly because the washstall was slippery and partly because I think he was just that tired. I felt like I was fully cooked to death, and I hosed myself off too. 

Back at the guest house, after thoroughly cooling Dylan down (although to be honest I don't remember much of what was going on, I think J moved my tack for me but I'm not sure), I flopped down onto the bed in the AC and closed my eyes for a few minutes. I slugged down as much Gatorade and water as I could handle, and eventually the room stopped spinning. A cool shower and some Ibuprofin (and more water) later, and I was feeling a bit more like myself. I checked on Dylan again, and he too was cool and eating and drinking. I felt good enough by that time to go out to Brenham with J and Tiago for some dinner and some ice cream. When we got back to the guest house, the other ladies staying there were all piling into their souped up ATV to go for a drunken midnight offroad adventure, which I of course decided to come along on. We were speeding through the night watching an approaching thunderstorm light the sky up with lightning, and I thought to myself, "I'm going to remember this night."

And apparently everyone in Brenham was also there that night

The next day I woke up fairly early, feeling much more like myself and glad to be riding early. My ride time was scheduled for 10am, which is much more reasonable. It seemed to be less humid too, which also helped. I asked J if we could set up some single slalom and double barrels in the ring, since I've had some trouble with both, and she agreed. Our warmup was a bit quieter than the day before, and Tiago again put us to work with some lead change work and some trot work, alternative between a fairly slow collected trot and some bouncier passage-ier trot.

I think instructors sometimes don't know what to do with us, because I generally come into a lesson going, "I'm having trouble with this thing." The instructor says okay, go do that thing and show me. So we go and do the thing, and it always goes fine, so the instructor then goes, "well... okay, but it's fine?" They also always tell me to go do a thing, and I go and do it, and it goes fine. Not to say that I'm any kind of great rider, but Dylan is a great horse who just does whatever you tell him to do. If I sit up and ride him well, it goes fine. If I ride like a sack of potatoes, it goes poorly of course, but if I can manage not to be too much of a weeble it's fine. Louisa always talks about how it's cool to teach us because she can tell us anything and we can just go out and do it for the most part, but that makes it hard for a new person to come in and teach. There just sort of aren't big huge problems. Or well, my big huge problems are hard to replicate because they usually only show up in competition. Tiago sent me off to work on the single slalom, only not the entire thing. We worked on doing the first pole, and then the last pole. And then adding in a pole, or just doing a single pole. He had me think about just pushing the horse over and changing leads versus doing big loops between the poles, as there isn't really enough room. He told me he thinks the single slalom is the toughest thing to do, and I agreed with him. But what he stressed to me made so much sense, and I just hadn't thought of it that way before - maybe you have to do it a certain way in competition, but in training there are no rules. If you want to do just one with a change, or two with a change, or a couple with changes here and there, you can! You don't have to do it one single way when you're training. You can do whatever you need to do in order to train the horse to change quietly and cleanly where he needs to. We applied the same thing to the double barrels - we made the circles as big as I needed to make them, and put the changes in where I needed to put them in to make them clean. Then we made the circles smaller, and the changes were still clean - so that fixed the issue and there wasn't anything to work on. He felt very strong to me and I didn't feel like I had good control and lightness with my canterwork, but Tiago said it looked just fine, so at least there was that. He's been a little strong in the canterwork in the snaffle, so I may put him back in the double on and off to help regain a little more lightness.

I also put J on him after our lesson was over - she trotted and cantered around on him and had a blast! He was a good boy for her, and she was all smiles. I sat on one of her Nokota horses the day before too, but just walked him, as he was just as sweaty and hot as Dylan was.

Yes, she wasn't minding her melon, but I was so that's what matters. 

It was a fun weekend, but slightly expensive. Worth it to get some good ideas through about training certain difficult obstacles. Changes are hard with Dylan as you need to sit perfectly in order to get them cleanly, and I only sit perfectly about 10% of the time. It's hard!

The heat was the biggest bummer of the weekend. I actually was so heatsick on Friday night that I locked my keys in my truck for the first time in my entire life, and didn't realize it until morning when I couldn't find them. I had to pay some guy a hundred smacks to come out on a Sunday morning and break into my truck for me. That sucked.

Dylan laughing at me

We were supposed to be at Haras this weekend for their Summer Festival show, which is a B-rated WE show. It was going to be really really hot, but J was going to be there, and she encouraged me to come. Unfortunately, due to the heat, the show was cancelled at the last minute. It was a real bummer, but I guess it's not too bad of a thing. It's SO hot, and it's only going to get hotter as we get into the thick of summer.


  1. What a fantastic experience! Tiago is AMAZING. And I wanted reading about toying with cues for passage (not that I'll probably ever have to worry about that lol). Super interesting!

  2. *enjoyed not wanted. I can't type pre-coffee haha.

  3. I'm not a fan of working too hard in the heat, I prefer to event in the spring and fall for exactly that reason. Sounds like a fun but exhausting weekend.