Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Valkenborg Clinic

So I dragged myself out of bed this morning, when the weather was nasty cold, the snow had fallen yet again and the sun was just cresting. And felt like I was off to my first dressage show, rather just heading out to a strange barn to watch my first clinic.

The clinician was Grand Prix rider Armand Valkenborg ( who owns and runs Valkenhof Dressage with his wife. Team Valkenhof trains some of Canada's best young riders, and a morning (even an early morning) spent watching him was testament to his skill.

The first rider was...really talented. I could only stare and watch them move as Armand directed and praised and corrected. I was beyond impressed by the way he was fair in both his correction as well as his praise. If one is that way with their students, they are surely the same with their horse. And of course, it's probably the best way to get the most out of young riders. The clinic however, had riders of all ages and skill levels.

After the first rider (level 3?) finished, next on was a very talented girl (16?) who rode like heaven. Just the way she seemed to flow and mesh with her saddle and horse made me stare. And no surprise, she'd be heading to Armand's this summer to persue her own spot with Canada's young riders.

Armand made a quick comment about all horses from Europe having thrush and the lady who arranged the clinic explained to me that in Europe, they do something called "hot bedding". Which is where they put a thin layer of shavings down in the stall and do not clean it daily. Instead, they add a bit more fresh bedding each day, until at the end of the month, they moved the horses to the aisle-ways, and run a tractor through to scrape out all the old bedding. Then start again. Hence, thrush.

She assured me that this technique doesn't work well here because of the long winters, and it's a good thing because the levels of ammonia in some of those hot bedded barns is just awful.

The second rider was reprimanded a few times about not riding deep enough into her corners and I LOVED watching the clinician. In order to train her to get deep, he used her FATHER as a human pylon and forced her to ride into the corner around him...and if she didn't ride deep and use her outside rein and half-halts...she'd run him over. A few close calls, but she was a quick learner! I think her dad was pleased for a few reasons!

He also spoke about how we don't ride "on-the-wall" and often on a track too far off the wall. This causes our horse to not move truly straight. He worked and worked and worked her, until she had stunning deep corners, leading to a shoulder-in where her horse was NEARLY grazing the arena wall! And then swap over to travers, all beautifully!

Now, second last rider. Everyone seemed to be mounted on imported warmbloods by this point...the barn was packed full of them. One woman even had three or four and some of these crazy talented kids riding them. I sometimes wonder where these people find their riches?! Most adult ammies struggle to keep one horse in training, and these folks have a small arsenal of imported designer ponies (by pony, I mean 16+ was terrifying sitting on a bench IN THE RING as these giants whipped by!). Okay, I'll contain my envy!

Thankfully, while rider #3 was on yet another warmblood, this one was not your "classic" import. Rather, her sister's jumper, redesigned for the dressage ring when her sister headed off to university. Unlike the first two, this fellow was leggy and not as compact. They worked hard together, and I felt kinda bad for the girl who looked less then pleased by the end of her ride. Honestly, she did awesome, but I'm certain she's one of those girls that pushes herself VERY hard.

Last rider felt like she could've been me. Thoroughbred horse, middle age (11?) and they'd been together for two and a half years. She herself had only been doing dressage for that same amount of time and she was a typical adult amateur. Prior to that, she happily rode the trails and hacked out. She was currently showing training level. Yippee, someone to learn from!

I learned about straightness. She had a back problem and rode with one shoulder raised and in turn, her body twisted and her hips disaligned. Armand went into a great visual demonstration on how being uneven through the body effects your seat and your legs. He showed how if you tilt and hunch one side of you, you can't lift the foot on the scrunched side. Until you unscrunch it. Hmmmm...being even matters.

He spent awhile showing the girl where she needed to be to be straight, which she said felt so WRONG. But what was amazing, was what his correction to her position did to her HORSE. He was originally very audible in his breathing (she said it's normal) and his head was carried fairly high. Suddenly by straightening her out, her horse's breathing quieted (no joke!) and his head just dropped. I was FLOORED.

By this point it was lunch time and everyone headed off. I was pleased I'd attended and pretty excited to get out to the barn tomorrow to work with Moon on what we saw. Think about us, me and position. I have to say, I'm beyond interested in taking a clinic with him at some point. I wonder how many things I'm doing wrong that he could identify that would only help Moon??

In the end, I was beginning to reevaluate these "dressage riders" that people describe. The lady arranging the clinic was super friendly and the woman with all the warmbloods even rambled on for awhile about some great quarter horses she'd seen doing dressage (I hadn't even mentioned I had a QH at this point). I'm sure things change when you head to competition mode, but it's not like I'm competition to anyone there! I'm just someone who's truly interested in riding well, and the art of dressage.

Today, inspired me that our slogging around the arena is leading somewhere. Dressage is pretty darn cool, and we just need to keep ourselves challenged and working on new things. Back to the canter strides, right??

So everyone, go out and audit a good clinic. It often costs nothing and there's a wealth of knowledge to be gained!


  1. What a great experience! I hope to audit and maybe attend a driving clinic sometime this summer. And I would love to audit some kind of general riding clinic (do they have those? I have no idea). I am glad to hear that "those dressage people" were friendly. I have not heard very positive things about most "dressage people!"

    I look forward to hearing how you use all your new info on Moon.

    And any news on Vegas?????

  2. Sounds like a great and inspirational clinic! I would love to find a clinic like that to attend. The last "dressage clinic" I went to ended up being a beginner hunt seat riding lesson without a whole lot of dressage going on lol.