So a few days ago, I saw a notice on Facebook that there were a few possible openings in a Catherine Haddad-Staller clinic in VA. There were some exchanges back and forth with the super nice folks running the show and I got in for 1 ride late in the day on Tuesday. So Mom, Katie and I packed up bright and early and made the 5 hour drive to Hanover with Wyatt WF. We used MD 301 and took the slightly more scenic route down rather than dealing with the chaos/traffic that is around DC & Baltimore. The drive was rather pleasant and here are some snaps from the iPhone -
Wyatt got a nice shower when we got there and time to mellow into his new surroundings...
After I was sure he was settled and hydrated with a good drink of water, I got to join Mom & Katie and the rest of the auditors in the very nice seating areas at Tigchelaar Dressage. There were fans cooling us and lots of friendly faces while the riders worked with Catherine. For a bit of background, her teaching style reminded me a lot of working with my mother and the 'old' German masters that I have been lucky enough to study with over the years...very much the old school of instruction that pushes the rider and horse towards higher goals with lots of positive encouragement and emphasis on the basics of correct riding, lots of forward energy with a sympathetic contact and active use of the seat. A number of the riders were riding in Catherine's newly designed Stubben saddles that are knee-roll-less. Completely. Gone are the gigantic knee rolls that 'hold' the rider in a static position while they brace against the motion of the horse's body. What a relief!!! There was a representative from Stubben onsite to speak with the riders and trainers about the new saddles, the design and the concept behind them...which was just fantastic!
Then it was our time to go to work!
Now all that being said - the saddles and the riding style are not going to be for every rider. It takes a few minutes to adjust to being so close to the horse's body and to have so much influence on their way of going. Wyatt was fitted with a brand new saddle during my lesson...and he really, really improved by leaps and bounds the longer I schooled him in the saddle. For those of you who know him - he is a very big mover with a very active way of using his back. As I am coming back from an injury, my level of fitness is basically non-existant and I am having great difficulty getting my proprioception and fine muscle control back to 'normal'. My frustrations and struggles aside - it was a superb lesson. I enjoyed having all of our teaching and training methods reinforced by such an accomplished rider and trainer. Catherine is a very articulate instructor and it was a real thrill to hear comments like - "Soooper!" "Excellent" and "That's what we want!" repeatedly. She heartily approved of Wyatt's walk and trot and helped me to use my hips better in the canter - which then increased the amount of elasticity and amount of collection! He also got a lot of praise for his highly responsive, sensitive and attentive nature. She was also very kind and reassured me that some of his quirks are just 'a normal Weltmeyer - they are all like that!' :-D (Mind you - I adore the horse but have had concerns over the past few years that he is a bit special...and it turns out he is!)
So after cooling the big fellow out, it was time to drive home to PA! We arrived home just before 11 PM, which made for a long day but it was entirely worth the effort! The ankle that has been so bothersome will continue to cause havoc with my riding but there is light at the end of the tunnel - pain can be worked through and there is real incentive to 'sweat it out' and just keep working on the correct fundamentals with such nice horses! All the knee rolls are stripped off my saddles - which allows for more bend in my knee, which then allows my leg to stay at the girth (where it belongs), and that allows my seat to swing with the horse's back, which allows the horse to take the half halts from my body instead of needing the reins and stronger contact, which means better harmony and submission...ahhhhhh! A total lightbulb moment!!!
Thank you's go out to Lani & Patrick for allowing us to come to your lovely facility. Thank you to Catherine for all of the 'homework' for the next few weeks! Thank you to Mom for all the driving, the photographs and the lovely horses I get to ride each day! Thank you to Dad and the crew for holding down the fort while we were gone and getting another 1000 bales into the barns. Thank you to our new working student Katie "The Sponge" for coming to the clinic and absorbing so much!!!