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November 20, 2011

Michael Clinic, Day 1

Ella came back from boot camp at Michael Barisone's a bigger and better horse. Photo by Sara Lieser.

It's education-palooza for me this month apparently. Lucky me! Michael dropped in for a clinic this weekend, and both Ella and Midge worked really well. 

Ella's been home for a week now, after two months at Michael's. She looks absolutely incredible—she's packed on a good 100 pounds of muscle and looks like a Prima Ballerina instead of a 10-year-old performing at the community center. And that's all well and good, except now I have to keep working her like this by myself. To top it off, now she's got Michael all in love with her, so if I screw it up, I have more than just myself to disappoint. No pressure or anything.

We had a good week. Some good days, some mediocre days. No disasters, because Ella doesn't do disasters, but just some days where I was missing the big picture. By the end of the week I felt really good, and by Saturday I'd remembered how to ride my horse, and Michael said, "Lauren, she looks great!" Hah! No disappointment this week!

And she really did look great. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Ella has more power than anything I've ever sat on, and it's oh-so-easy for her to overpower herself. So keeping her front end not only UP but also RIDEABLE is no mean feat. So we do a ton of boring work—20-meter circles in trot, playing with the power, turning it up and down, opening up the stride and closing it again.

We also did some half-pass at trot. Both Michael and Steffen, last week at Symposium, have talked about how the really steep half-pass at Grand Prix is less about power and more about flow, and I think that's finally starting to sink in. I feel like I have to ride the rhythm into both horses on that steep a line, keeping the half-pass almost small and boring feeling (though not to watch!), whereas on the less fierce 3rd-small tour lines you need to blast around. My arena is particularly good to practice the half-pass in, as it's much wider than the 20x60, so if you can make it to E or B in my arena, the Grand Prix feels like a cakewalk! I had to deal with the fact that I really, really love pulling on the right rein (first step to recovery: admitting you have a problem.), but by the end both half-passes were super.

We worked passage too, making it high and short. That's the crux of Ella's power situation—it's just too easy for her to power around in this huge, gorgeous, ground-covering passage, but it's the kind of passage that has no rideability; shrinking it down for a piaffe transition is truly impossible. She's had to learn to passage sort of up and down. She's still figuring it out, but it's getting better and better. YAY time at Michael's boot camp!

We finished on extended trot, which I've always known was a highlight for Ella and sort of taken for granted. So I float across the diagonal, nice and sproingy, and I'm about to post the trot and stretch down and pat my girl and feel smug when Michael calls out, "7!" And I'm thinking, hey! That was no 7. That was a 9! It was gorgeous and expressive and rideable! What more do you want?

"Go more!" he says. So I go more.

"More!" he says. So we go More.

"MORE!" he says. So we go MORE! And I look in the mirror.

HOLY CROW. "9!" Michael yells. That's my girl! I just adore her.

So: go more. Have faith it will all be OK. And hit the damn gym, because I've only got one of those trots in me per ride without my stomach muscles leaping out of my body, and there are three in the Grand Prix test. So that's the Ella plan.

Midge has been a tight little nutcase all week, though to his credit he hasn't done any of Young Midge's bad antics. Could these be behind us? Could Midge be growing up? Stop the presses! So he was, unsurprisingly, quite tight for our lesson, but that's the reality of him, and I've got to figure out how to keep him Grand Prix rideable even when he wants to be a squirrel.

We worked on the canter, and Michael's ongoing pursuit of a canter pirouette with no preparation. This scares the heck out of me. First, keeping Midge in a really long-necked but uphill canter that has any organization whatsoever is still hard for him. Then to do that, hit the brakes at the last second, keep the neck long AND steer all at the same time is really quite a feat. Michael's big on the no-preparation thing for Midge because, as Michael says, "He's got too much going on already." Other horses you have to really gather and rev up and get them to pick up their legs; that's Midge's way by nature, revved to 11 with legs a'flying. So I need to essentially need to ride a boring pirouette from little crappy canter. This seems like it should be so easy! Not for my Midge!

It's a process, and I'm comfortable with that. I need the same approach in the ones, and in Midge's wild state the pirouettes were possible but the ones were a bit of a stretch. I also let him get my blood pressure up—you've been doing the ones BEAUTIFULLY for weeks now! Come on, Midge, show them off already! I know better, and I let him do it anyway, so a slap on the wrist for me. I removed my head from my butt, and eventually we got some good ones.

He made really beautiful trot and then some just unreal passage. Epiphany of the day for this ride: don't move my legs in the passage. Sometimes he canters when I get into him and ask for more, and Michael noticed that I was using my spur and bringing my leg behind the girth to try and motivate him. Midge is so short coupled that if I don't keep my leg up at the girth I end up practically kicking him in the butt. Marry my legs to the girth and no spur? Beautiful work. Duh! This is why we take lessons—mostly profound help, followed by the occasional slap to the forehead.

The best part of the ride? After that ah-ha moment, Michael had me ride some transitions into the passage (since Midge has no problem moving up and down; he's one who needs to play the passage out, instead of back). I'd squeeze hard for four steps, making the passage MASSIVE and ground covering and then pull both legs totally away from his sides, and he'd just carry himself around. The coolest feeling. I love my Midge.

The rest of the day went great, including great rides for my wonderful student Virginia and my dear friend Renee, and getting to meet some fun new folks who've not ridden here before. Great fun. We had a wonderful dinner out where Michael told all sorts of great stories and wouldn't let us get a word in edgewise—par for the course—and we get to do it all again today!

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