Amateurs Like Us: I'm Freefalling Right Into The George Morris Clinic

Apr 6, 2017 - 8:27 AM

There are so many things going well right now I’m worried about jinxing myself. Capone has now had six solid weeks of treadmill work in and boy, can I tell the difference.

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Capone working on the treadmill.

Not only is his topline really developing but talk about jump! I had a lesson a couple of weeks ago with an unassuming exercise which was actually really complicated. Capone did wonderful, of course, but me—not so much. The exercise required us to trot into a cross rail and canter two strides to a large 3’6” oxer. Trotting the line forced us to put the power in the hindquarters while also forcing me to get comfortable with the slow effortless hunter canter and gap.

Capone’s easygoing hunter canter is always a point of contention because I unconsciously associate pace and rhythm with impulsion. Theoretically, I know that we have the impulsion there to make the fence. But when we are cantering up to a large fence at a slower rhythm than I am comfortable with I tend to freeze.

That’s why this exercise was so good for me. It naturally set the pace and gap, allowing me to simply focus on myself. And boy was I awful.

Capone’s treadmill workout has totally transformed his jump. It’s springy, lofty, smooth, yet with a bit more kick in the back than we’ve had before. For the life of me I couldn’t find the feel. You know the feel—that sinking, tightening, release kind of feel that makes your head inflate and your confidence soar and your attitude turn a bit cocky. I’m not a light enough rider (I’m talking weight) that being behind or ahead of the jump doesn’t come with some truly cringe-worthy landings. I’ll spare you the pictures.

When I say Capone is amateur-friendly what I really mean is saint-like. I can bounce on his back, flop around, miss a distance, hang off the side and do any number of truly horrendous things while trying to find my groove and it doesn’t faze him. He will go through the line the exact same. Every time. He won’t quicken his pace, buck, get aggravated.

He will faithfully and with full confidence take the distance. Every. Single. Time. Even if I’ve missed it the past 8 million times. Sometimes I think he has way more trust and confidence in me than I do myself.

And in some ways he is a much better teacher than he is a student. It’s why during group lessons if one of the kids is having trouble and perpetuating the problem with their own horse, I’ll hop off real quick and let them try the exercise on Capone. He is literally unfazeable. I have my own theories about why (see the asphyxiation note in my bio below) but he’ll wait for you to get it. Which I eventually did before ending the lesson on a high note.

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He does have quite the sense of humor. This is his “I’m asphyxiating myself” face.

Since that lesson it has been smooth sailing on the road to prep for the George H. Morris clinic. I have increased my stamina without stirrups. And it’s not the flop around like a sack of potatoes posting without stirrups. It’s the working into the bridle with a soft seat and independent hand from independent seat/leg kind of no-stirrup work.

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No stirrups!

It’s canter to trot transitions no-stirrup work (those are still floppy). It’s I’m not going to be able to walk tomorrow no-stirrup work. But it has really built up my seat and stamina. Being a larger rider means I have to have a lighter seat—always. I usually struggle staying light in my seat when applying leg without sitting.

But since I’ve been on this no-stirrup mission I’m finding it much easier to adjust Capone and press up for a distance in my half seat without having to sit. Which is a win… cause the losing weight part of my journey hasn’t been so awesome.

We’ve also recently switched Capone’s bit to a pelham and wow! The difference in packaging a bit change has made is mind-blowing. The harnessed power I can now feel in our gait is indescribable. It’s the kind of feel I imagine high level Grand Prix horses have; light and round with impulsion and spice. We had the best lesson we’ve ever had yesterday. Our coursework was literally flawless. ::cue inflated head and cocky attitude:: That was until we brought out the liverpool.

I actually requested this special torture device because I have been stalking GHM clinics like a starving lion honing in on the world’s last zebra. And I am anticipating seeing a liverpool at our clinic in May. Last year I had Krissan (my trainer) tackle the liverpool with Capone first for a variety of reasons.

The main one being that I knew Capone would lose his mind over it (it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s always in epic proportions) and I wanted someone who could remain seated and stay light in the hand to introduce it so he wouldn’t remain too scarred. It has now been a season since we schooled over it and this time I wanted to tackle it. Mainly because whatever qualms he has about it now will be the same at a new location with George. It actually wasn’t too terrible, minus almost running over/landing on my trainer.

So all in all things are going swell. Even—dare I say it—better than swell. I’m just going to keep riding this inflated head-confident-cocky-alter-ego high for as long as I can. The only other option is to give into my doubts, something I am sorely tempted to do.

Just yesterday I was grooming before my lesson and got a sudden bout of nausea as I thought of the clinic. A traitorous thought crept into my mind whispering “You can always audit instead.” But I’ve come too far and I have too many of you following along on this adventure to give up.

I imagine this is what skydiving must feel like right before you are pushed out of the airplane. Terrified, excited, and completely out of control as you freefall. I just hope all this prep work will make my parachute strong enough to carry me through a three-day clinic with GHM in May.

Tiffany Elmer, 30 and from Texas, balances her work as a teacher with riding her homebred horse, Capone. She’s been riding since she was 11—through high school, college, dating, marriage and her career—and has competed in the hunters, equitation, jumpers and a bit of eventing. Capone is her “forever” horse. “I bred for a paint eventer mare, and got a lovely chestnut hunter gelding!” she said. “We currently are working on cleaning up our 3’6” hunter rounds with an end goal of international derbies.

“Capone’s favorite hobbies include asphyxiation—he likes to roll his tongue, put his head in the air, and suck on it. I always have to leave a sign up at shows or people will call me thinking he’s choking (weird, right?). And he also likes to torment the elderly gentleman in the gelding pasture,” Elmer said.

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