The perfect storm approaches: a hurricane from the South. A pressure system from the North. Rain from the West. And Michael Barisone from New Jersey.
C’mon, a little hurricane humor.
In all seriousness, Michael is here for a quick clinic before the apocalyptic weather event. The “calm before the storm” thing seems to be true: We’re being treated to mild temperatures and reasonably clear skies. And while Monday may be another story, the horses all have been great all week leading up to the clinic.
I started off on Ella, who is feeling AWESOME, and we spent my entire ride doing the stuff that Grand Prix horses do every day. If you think that this is thrilling, chilling rounds of piaffe, passage and tempi changes, you are mistaken. This is trotting on a 20-meter circle, working on bigger trot, smaller trot, quicker trot, floatier trot, lower-neck-trot, higher-neck-trot and changing directions. It is incredibly uninteresting to watch, I’m sure, though my gracious auditors all said it was not. (They will be rewarded handsomely for their loyalty.) But it’s the stuff that Ella, and pretty much every other Grand Prix horse in the world, works on on a daily basis to be the adjustable, keen, coiled spring they need to be for their 6-minute test.
The main focus of my rides on Ella, both in my lessons and in my daily rides on my own, is to create the ability to make a small, energetic trot that is NOT passage, and to make a small, energetic canter for pirouettes on a straight line. Ella’s gift is that she is SO powerful, and it’s SO easy for her to make big, gorgeous, floaty work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lend itself to the way of going that a world-class Grand Prix horse needs, so onward we trod in opening those doors for Ella and me.
Fender was up next, and he’s been super all week. He, too, has adjustability as a theme in his daily life, and while he is ON IT in the canter, it still pretty much eludes him in the trot and walk. So we worked on bringing the trot back sans drama, and Michael reached the same conclusion I did: It’s not that he can’t, or doesn’t want to, it’s that he just straight-up doesn’t understand what I’m asking him. I was reminded of teaching Midge the piaffe. When Midge was 4, I said, “Hey, make a little half-step,” and he couldn’t even begin to grasp what I was asking. At 5, I asked again and got nowhere. And at 6, one day, I said, “C’mon, half steps,” and the piaffe was there. Boom. Done.
I can only hope the same will be true one day for Fender, and in the meantime, I work on his awesome canter, making serpentines with flying changes that went from being fine and clean but baby changes, wiggly and not consistent, to BIG, FORWARD, AWESOME changes simply through repetition, and all with no drama from Mr. Fender Bender. The way he takes pressure at the canter is so mature – he’s incredible!
Midgey was the last of my horses, and I must confess that over the last few weeks, Midge and I have deflated a little. I lost my mojo. Nothing’s wrong – actually, he feels great – and we’ve been doing our trot sets and doing some hacking, but that’s about it. What’s my motivation? And how do I let Midge have some down time in this one quiet part of the year so that he’s fresh and in fighting form for Florida without completely letting him go?
The answer, says Michael, is to (surprise!) work on making small adjustments, particularly in the things at which Midge and I aren’t great. For us, that’s the transition from trot to passage. Midge and I struck a little bargain over the summer that if things got rocky in that transition, if he overpowered himself, I was to take my leg off and wait, he’d come back to me, and off we’d go again. Once I’m in the passage we’re totally cool, but if I swing-and-a-miss into the transition, I can’t push him into it.
Now, I have to be able to push into everything, to not have anything off-limits. So for the first time, Midge and I had it out a bit in the transition. “Had it out” makes it sound like a fight, and it certainly is not. It’s not like Midge wants to be bad or malicious or anything. He just says, “No, that’s not going to work; you can’t tell me what to do,” and I say, “Actually, buddy, since I’m the higher mammal, I DO get to tell you what to do, and that is passage, so do it.” And after much cantering, piaffing, and generally tying his charming Dutch legs into knots, he sat right down and passaged.
It’s never worked before!! Huzzah!!
Mojo rekindled, and a mission for the next few weeks has been found. I’m going to learn how to make the first step of passage from trot PASSAGE, no negotiations, and the kind of passage where I can stick my leg on and have it all get better every time, over and over. Got it.
We had an excellent Mexican fiesta last night, during which Michael solved all the world’s problems for us, at medium volume but high intensity. He really is as big a character as you all saw on the “Colbert Report.” I ride everyone again today, and today I’ll share my lesson time on Midge with Allison and Tres, which is awesome, since they are ready to start working the Grand Prix stuff, and as much as I have lots of mileage teaching Grand Prix to horses, I’m light on teaching it to riders. And hopefully the weather will hold out long enough for at least one Force of Nature to make it safely out of town.