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Mac Cone clinic report (err... novel?)

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  • Mac Cone clinic report (err... novel?)

    Yesterday, Dad and I had the pleasure of taking our two hunters to a clinic with Mac Cone. The horse I rode is a lovely 7 year old Holsteiner/TB cross mare who is still a bit green for her age, but really coming along well. Dad rode his very nice 9 year old TB mare who is much more made, but lacking a bit on her changes and "negotiation skills" while on course. I primarily ride hunters and babies, but did do the 1m jumpers this summer on a hot TB mare I brought along from racetrack reject. Dad rode at a very high level when he was younger, in hunters, jumpers and eventing. He's past his 60th birthday now, and is really enjoying having a nice (but not dead) hunter after riding babies, greenies and problem horses for a good portion of his career.

    The clinic was a one-day 2-hour, session with groups of five horses divided based on the experience of horse and rider. My session was comprised of Dad and myself, a very nice 5 year old clyde cross ridden by a very good 16 year old eventer, a nice but green Oldenburg gelding ridden by a 20-ish year old H/J rider, and a really hot but beautifully schooled TB gelding ridden by an international level eventing pro (who later explained that this horse was going very quietly, but was sent to a sales barn and came back hot, worried and a bit "rockety" over fences.)

    A side note – although I had been warned that Mac can be a cranky teacher, Dad and I both found him to be cheerful, entertaining, engaging and as though he truly enjoyed watching horse and rider progress. He could be a bit terse if he thought a rider wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t trying, but as a whole, he was very, very pleasant and quite enjoyable to ride in front of. Also, I’m being brave and adding video to the post – please be kind.

    We started out by having Mac inspect our horses and tack. He adjusted stirrups to be even with the ankle bone. My stirrups went down a hole (My previous horse was a little 14.3 connie/tb who was about as wide as a fence rail. I rode with super short stirrups on him, and have come down a total of 3 or 4 holes since moving on to "big" horses. My tendency is to ride short still though.) Mac didn't change Dad's stirrups, but did mention he'd put them up a hole if anything. Dad, because of knee issues, tends to ride long with a leg that is a bit forward.

    Mac also stripped off martingales, took away crops and raised a few nosebands. He didn't remove spurs in our group, but had taken them away in prior sessions. His position on "extras" is that you should school a horse in a plain bridle (he's a big proponent of snaffles and pelhams), and only add extra tack if you've trained to your full capability and aren't bringing about change in your horse. He said he might then change a bit or add a running martingale to make life easier. The one exception to this was a chestnut horse that went in a later group, and was quite busy flinging its head about - Mac said he'd put a standing on that particular horse "and let it bang it's head on the martingale until it figured things out." I was a bit surprised that with all the tack he removed in each group that he didn't change flash or figure-8 nosebands, nor did he address them with any comments.

    We started out as a group, working nose-to-tail with a horse length between in one half of the arena. At the walk, Mac emphasized that he wanted to see short reins, even hands held closely together, and for those hands to be very quiet. He did not want to see any sort of wiggling or sawing with the hands, and preferred that you simply took a hold of the horse’s mouth, then waited for it to accept contact. Mac also wanted to see the riders straight in the saddle, shoulders back, and hands up above the mane.

    We then moved on to the trot, still nose-to-tail and in one half of the arena. The horses were expected to be quiet and obedient, maintaining their distance between the other horses and adjusting their stride length in order to do so. Dad slipped in behind me for the nose-to-tail work, as the mare I rode has a large personal bubble, and I felt much more comfortable keeping her off the horse in front of me rather than hoping that the horse behind me would keep its distance. Mac didn’t make a lot of changes to how anyone was riding at this point, and seemed pleased as we would go from posting to sitting trot, then back again, and work in a figure-8 pattern while staying all in the one half of the arena. This portion of the clinic moved quite quickly, and I don’t think we spent more than 10 minutes trotting.

    Mac moved us to the other end of the arena and had us canter one at a time on a circle up there. The objective of this exercise was to establish a good posting trot with a relaxed, quiet cadence, move to a sitting trot, then make a quiet transition to a good quality canter. We were to work on a circle that was neither “to the inside or outside of the ring.” Mac wanted us to “go down the middle of the path,” imagining there were “ditches to either side and we don’t want to fall in a ditch!” His point was to not allow the horses to use the wall as a crutch. (I think the only reason that we were allowed to ride on the wall at the trot is that we needed the space. After the trot work, we were forbidden from staying on the wall!). We cantered a circle, counting the number of strides it took our horses to make one revolution (for reference, Mac felt that 20 was an average number of strides to complete the circle) – if our horses went in fewer than 20 strides, it indicated we needed to emphasize collection, while if they were cantering it in more than 20, we needed to ride them a bit more forward. We would halt after cantering and counting, discuss the horse we had underneath us, then resume cantering through the posting then sitting trot, and try to either add or leave out strides as we were instructed. Mac emphasized establishing the trot you want before cantering. For example, he wanted to see a short trot to a short canter, rather than a short trot, long trot, long canter, then short canter.

    Dad’s mare fussed a little initially with the canter work, but then quickly settled and was very easily adjustable. Dad was glowing when Mac told him that it was “beautiful,” and that he was a “very subtle rider for a bigger man,” and used his ride as an example as to how the rest of us should try to go.

    My turn came with more constructive criticism. My position faults are that I really like to go soft with my upper body. I tend to lean forward, round my shoulders and soften too much. I think this is a habit I developed from riding a little horse (who I would curl up in a fetal position over the withers of), and hot horses (who I try to quiet by being overly soft myself.). Mac was all over this! He wanted me to sit up, put my shoulders back, raise my hands and hold (!!!) against the horse when she tried to pull me back to my compromising position. It’s tough to change an ingrained habit! I felt like I was leaning way back over the cantle with my hands under my nose, but the video is proof that I was still pretty soft in my position. I think I have a new mantra for the winter. Below are two clips of this portion of the clinic – working to establish a good quality trot before cantering, and work at the canter. Please let me know if I need to change privacy settings for the videos to show.
    Trot work
    Canter work

    Mac got on the 5-year old at this point, as he was had a very forward canter and his rider had a bit of trouble settling him into the quiet, soft canter than Mac was looking for. I was really neat to watch the change in the horse over a short ride – he fussed quite a bit and kicked out a few times, then settled and really looked professional.

    Once everyone had had a turn cantering, we moved on to jumping. We used only four fences, which were kept quite small. There was a crossrail to crossrail outside line set at an easy 6 strides, then two more fences, one on each diagonal, which rode in a soft line as 6 strides from the single to one fence of the outside line. I hope the description makes sense… We started out by cantering a circle to establish the canter, then heading over the outside line. Upon landing from that, we were to circle to reestablish our canter, if needed, then continue across the diagonal to the single to the first fence of the outside line (ridden the opposite direction from our initial trip down) in an easy 6 strides, circle again in the top of the ring, then jump the single on the opposite diagonal.

    The first horse to go was the professional’s. It was quiet cantering into the fences, then would sit on its hocks and rocket over. Mac initially asked the rider to give more release on the back side of the fences, but then realized her short release was due to the horse really wanting to motor on landing. Mac climbed on and worked the horse over fences at this point – he halted firmly on the backside and did many short approaches to the fences, encouraging the horse to wait, wait, wait. After about 10 minutes, the horse settled beautifully, Mac returned it to its rider, and had her jump a few more fences. The horse remained settled, and was allowed to return to line. Following this, Mac discussed using the fence to back the horse off, rather than over riding and “attacking” the jumps.

    The mare I rode was still a bit unsettled in the new arena, and I think had some trouble with how long we stood between working. As a result, she was strong to jump. I was asked to really make sure I had a short, quiet, settled canter before coming to the fence, and was encouraged to turn her nose to the outside to avoid her tipping to the inside and speeding up on me. Again, I was reminded to sit up, put my shoulders back and raise my hands – it was a common theme for me. We went down the outside line in a bit of a rush, so he had me wash, rinse, repeat several times with occasional halts in the line to ask the horse to listen. Once she settled, we continued on to the circle in the bottom end of the ring and the diagonal line. Mac asked that I do my lead changes through a simple change in sitting trot (although the mare does have good flying changes) as he didn’t want her revved up by a flying change any more than she already was.

    I had some trouble in the bottom end of the ring with my horse breaking to a trot when I asked for the soft, collected canter to the diagonal fence. I think she was a bit confused, as I haven’t done a lot of collection work at the canter, and perhaps thought I was asking her to trot in front of the fence. Mac encouraged me to keep my leg on to prevent the break, while still asking me to collect. I ended up working in a small circle over the diagonal fence – a short turn to the fence in collected canter and a half in a straight line on the back side, then returning to the collected canter quickly but smoothly and repeating. Once the horse was anticipating the halt, I was to continue in a collected canter on the circle without the halt. If I landed on the wrong lead, I was to correct it through a sitting trot, but the intent was that the short approach and short turn on the back side would encourage the horse to land on the correct left lead.

    Although it took us a while to get this exercise right, I was absolutely delighted with how my horse dealt with the exercise! Although it looked simplistic, it was far more complicated than anything I’ve asked of her here at home, where we’ve been doing quiet lines, gymnastics and hunter courses. She didn’t get rattled, and really did try to work with me to figure out just what I was asking her to do. Mac allowed us to stop and return to line once we had a few quiet, repeated circles with no break to the trot and no rushing on the backside on my part (I did get a bit excited when we landed on the wrong lead a few times, and sort of muddled through a rushed lead change which didn’t lend itself to a settled, quiet horse.) Here's a bit of the jumping. I’m afraid the camera battery didn’t last right to the end, so the most quiet, relaxed bit is missing.

    Dad’s mare was settled, but wanted to go long to the fences when it was her turn. Mac encouraged Dad to sit up and just quietly hold his mare’s mouth, allowing her to take contact and move up to the fences a little. Dad’s horse was super, and really responded to the ride Mac suggested. I think Dad went from cloud nine (after the canter work) to cloud ten by this point.

    Unfortunately, due to the amount of time Mac dedicated to each rider and the fact that he was willing to hop on horses if need be, we didn’t have time to do anything more after everyone took a turn through the four fences. Mac had indicated that he would have liked a few of us to be able to repeat the exercises again, but with another session scheduled after us, we just couldn’t fit more riding in.

    Mac was super approachable after the clinic – I had a few questions about the tack I was riding in, and how I could discern when the horses I ride are ready to be pushed and when I’m picking a fight, so to speak. (I ride primarily green horses, and often ride by myself. As a result I find it difficult at times to know when the horse is resisting because I’m appropriately pushing to the next level, and when it’s because I’m making a poor decision.) Mac very kindly said that because I am a soft, quiet rider, he couldn’t see me getting into a position in which I would be riding too aggressively. (Here’s a cute picture of me speaking with Mac after the clinic. Dad teased me that this is when he told me I should be a bit tougher with my horse, and I was looking at him with disbelief!) That reminds me, Mac also got after me at one point (gently) for being a compulsive pony patter – his words were, “save the petting for when she does something right!”

    All in all, it was a great experience – no one was over faced, we learned a lot, and we have tons of homework for the winter. I do wish we’d had smaller groups to have more time to ride, but even the auditing we did while watching Mac and the others in our group ride was absolutely invaluable. Sorry the post got so long, but I hope there’s some stuff in here that others might find useful or applicable to their own riding!
    Last edited by Small Change; Oct. 31, 2011, 07:28 PM.
  • Original Poster

    Oh wow... Apologies for length, and a cookie to anyone who makes it through to the end!


    • #3
      Thank you for the wonderful novelette. I had the pleasure of riding in a Mac Cone clinic quite a number of years ago and enjoyed it tremendously.

      \"If you are going through hell, keep going.\" ~Churchill~


      • #4
        Excellent summary SC. It was a fabulous clinic to audit. Already looking forward to the next time Mac is in this area.


        • #5
          Great summary and pics! But we can't see the videos Could you please change the privacy settings? Thank you


          • Original Poster

            Hopefully fixed! Could someone please try to see the videos again?


            • #7
              I love Mac..he is great!
              "You can't really debate with someone who has a prescient invisible friend"


              • #8
                Interesting read with just enough detail also lookimg forward to the video but suspect you need to change the privacy settings.

                Love the picture of your

                Both horses look grand - it's a shame about the camera battery.


                • Original Poster

                  Trying again. I've set the privacy setting to public, then copied the url in the address bar once the video is set to public. Am I missing something still?

                  alto - Thanks so much. We're pretty proud of them!

                  I'm really glad people are getting something from that marathon post. I was a little stunned when I hit "Post" and then scrolled back to see the length!
                  Last edited by Small Change; Oct. 31, 2011, 07:47 PM. Reason: Trying again with the videos...


                  • #10
                    That looks like you got your money's worth. I got tired just watching you school your horse on the last video.


                    • Original Poster

                      Yay! That must mean they're finally working! Thank you for posting mildot!


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Small Change View Post
                        Yay! That must mean they're finally working! Thank you for posting mildot!
                        Welcome. I think what I meant didn't come out right. It looks like you (and I imagine everyone else) worked really hard that day.

                        Sign of a good clinic, for sure.


                        • #13
                          Videos work!
                          All that is gold does not glitter;
                          Not all those who wander are lost.
                          ~J.R.R. Tolkien


                          • #14
                            I feel like I was there with you from reading your post and watching the videos. I like the jump exercises you were doing. I think I'll incorporate that into my schooling.

                            I love that your dad rides with you. That is so awesome!
                            “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
                            ¯ Oscar Wilde


                            • #15
                              I have to tell you that I just love the fact that you and your Dad ride together. What great times you two must have. It's great for our 60 yr old souls to still be up there doing what we love.
                              Your horses are wonderful and the clinic looked like a great time.


                              • Original Poster

                                Thanks so much everyone, and I really do adore riding with Dad. Here's a favourite picture a friend caught of us at a lesson. We're actually headed to Ireland in two weeks to fulfill an idea that has been about 14 years in the making - we're going to ride cross country out of an established facility, and then if they don't feel it will be suicide by horse, try hunting with the Blazers!

                                That aside, I really am glad people are wading through all that type! It was a great "difficult basics" clinic that definitely showed where horses and riders could use work over the winter. I'm excited to be heading into a season of being stuck in the arena with lots of homework to keep me motivated with the horses!


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Small Change View Post
                                  Thanks so much everyone, and I really do adore riding with Dad. Here's a favourite picture a friend caught of us at a lesson. We're actually headed to Ireland in two weeks to fulfill an idea that has been about 14 years in the making - we're going to ride cross country out of an established facility, and then if they don't feel it will be suicide by horse, try hunting with the Blazers!
                                  Very, very nice. I hope that my daughter and I can ride together 15 years from now.

                                  The Ireland trip sounds like the vacation of a lifetime.

                                  BTW, you score bonus style points for the brown boots and helmet.


                                  • #18
                                    Long reads are fine if packed with good info! Thanks for sharing.

                                    I have never ridden with Mac, but my job as a groom allows me to see him ride and coach at the warm up rings, and I have nothing but respect for that man and his riding/teaching,


                                    • #19
                                      Thanks for posting, that counting strides on the circle exercise will definitely be contained in my next few rides!
                                      Proud Member of the "Tidy Rabbit Tinfoil Hat Wearers" clique and the "I'm in my 30's and Hope to be a Good Rider Someday" clique


                                      • #20
                                        Thanks for the post and videos...I ride a green horse as well, with similar issues. Like Spud&Saf i'll be using the counting strides exercise as well.