When I first heard Silva Martin was teaching a clinic here, I got shivers just thinking about it. That reaction was warranted, because after actually WATCHING Silva teach a clinic here, my head is swimming so fast with all of the amazing knowledge I gained that I don’t even know where to start. This is similar to the reaction I had to meeting her, where I quite literally stumbled over my “nice to meet you”’s and probably had the biggest goofy smile imaginable on my face. She is taller than me (must be closer to 6’) and all legs, with the most beautiful face you can imagine. All muscle, covered by perfectly fitting Pikeur breeches and gleaming dress boots. I am fairly sure I actually squealed upon noticing that we were, indeed, wearing the exact same baseball cap….a token from the 2010 WEG, although she got hers from going to coach/cheer on her husband, Boyd, whereas I got mine as a kind gift from C’s mother. Nevertheless…same hat. That’s about all we have in common, however. I truly have never seen someone with such an incredible attention to detail, ability to coach AND ride to the point of getting inside rider and horse’s heads and totally understand each’s weaknesses and strengths in a matter of minutes. After sitting on anyone’s mount at the clinic, she could tell you a novel about each horse and then proceed to teach the pair as though she’d been coaching them for years. I’m fairly certain that each pair left VERY pleased with their session and eager to get to work. She was also extremely complimentary of each horse and appreciated each mount for their individual attributes.
C rode Monkee and Guppy in the clinic today and will be riding them for Silva again tomorrow. Silva loved both horses and really felt that they would both be big stars. Rather than droning on and on about each horse’s session I thought I’d just bullet point some of the major points I observed throughout both lessons. These are things that really stood out to me and that I am going to always employ in my own riding.
1. When preparing for a flying change, you want to ride to get the change BEHIND. The front legs will follow naturally. When you watch horses doing changes, the vast majority of them who don’t have a clean change will swap in the front but not behind. Silva stressed the importance of having that hind leg engaged and ready to change in response to your aids so that the front end just follows suit. No big adjustments necessary, no uncomfortable cross-cantering. She stressed this on a 20-meter circle in the counter-canter. With the horse able to bend left or right without swapping his lead, she would have them completely straight in their bodies and then ask for the change from behind…and the changes were beautiful and spot on.
2. Several of these event horses have the tendency to not truly go forward in the trot because they’re “lit up” so easily the day before cross-country. Riders may be hesitant to truly ask for the trot they want for fear of the horse getting too quick, or hot, or losing the quality altogether. Silva honed in on that right away and really worked with the 3 horses I audited to ensure they went properly forward right from the beginning. There was no time to ask questions or to raise a stink. They were asked with no nonsense legs to go forward into her hand, and they went, and their trot work improved IMMENSELY.
3. When you make a decision to ask the horse for something, make sure you are firm and unwavering in your decision. This really applied to me and my riding, and even other aspects of my horsemanship (even simple things like leading). Often, when I ask for something and I’m not quite sure, and the horse doesn’t give me the right response, I second-guess myself and decide the horse must be right, that I must be asking for something wrong or too difficult. Silva was saying that if you choose to ask for something, you have to TRUST that you’re right and follow through. It’s okay if the horse doesn’t understand the first time you ask, or even a few times after that, but you need to be firm and ask the same way each time. For example, today I was roping Flaggles, and he was refusing to go forward and stretch into the Pessoa. Usually I decide that means I either adjusted the Pessoa incorrectly or I’m asking him to move forward incorrectly. Or, he’s hurting and can’t physically move forward. Today, I was firm in asking for forward (after giving myself a Silva pep talk) and asked repeatedly with a stronger aid for several minutes. Finally he gave up ignoring me and went forward nicely and had several minutes of stretchy trot. It was a good lesson to practice, because my aids can be so wishy washy, especially on horses like Monkee who know more than I do.
4. When you have a spook, the last thing you want to do is disrupt your forward momentum and take a hold of their face. This is one of those “I know but I can’t make my body listen” type deals. Most of the time, when a horse spooks, your first instinct is to find their mouth so you can be back in control. Silva said no, keep your hands still and soft and put your calves on so your horse moves through the spook and right back into your hands without you losing your forward. It makes sense, and is obviously harder to put into practice than to understand, but it really works. Guppy is a notoriously spooky boy in the dressage arena, but when he would spook she would ride him forward without even moving her hands, and he settled right back into work and felt much more confident about the whole situation.
5. If I can ever ride a horse as Silva rides a horse, I will be set.
I can’t wait for tomorrow’s early morning session! These lame Blackberry videos will have to tide you over until I can get the real videos uploaded.
Some of these moments are "work in progress" moments from when Silva was first riding Monkee. There is some good footage of medium trot and I will have better if the camera would like to show me how to upload from it!