April 22/23, 2016
I was pleasantly surprised when the first horse and rider pair began their lesson with Heather, and the first thing she said was, “Tell me about your horse.” After listening to the rider describe her horse, Heather proceeded to ensure proper tack fit for the pair. She had me hooked on her style that very moment, as I have never seen a clinician put so much effort into the basics.
After watching Heather’s adaptability, from working with contact evasions in a Training Level horse to schooling Prix St. George movements in a horse that had only competed through Third Level, I was eager to see what she could do with me and my three year old Appaloosa filly. Heather’s immediate observation of my previously western pleasure trained filly was that she was not carrying herself correctly. We began with walk-trot-walk transitions to encourage my filly to carry more weight in her hindquarters. Another pleasant surprise was when Heather encouraged rhythm and relaxation in the trot, as I have a habit of asking for too much trot. “Look for a fluffy trot for a few strides, because a big trot for many laps will cause your filly to fall on the forehand,” was a theme in the beginning of our transitions. Better yet, the best explanation of a downward transition came from Heather as, “Imagine landing a plane.” How perfect! Our lesson was all “uphill” from there (pun intended)!
Next was canter work, and I was excited for it as I told Heather I believed it was my filly’s strength. The transition work in the beginning of our lesson set us up for effective half halts, which helped tremendously with cantering. Heather explained to me that in the canter, the outside hind leg is like a spring, and it is my job to load it through halt halts. I realized all this time I had been half halting at the incorrect moment when she gave me a visual reference: half halt, specifically with the outside rein, when the horse’s mane comes up. I had way too much fun with the canter after I learned that! Our cool down consisted of lateral work in the walk. We began with leg yields and worked our way to shoulder-in.
The next morning, Heather had us warm up with transitions within the trot, incorporating the half halts we had refined the evening before. We began with working to medium trot transitions to make sure the hindquarter engagement and half halts were in place before moving on to working trot to lengthenings. We proceeded to leg yielding from the quarterline to the rail and tested my filly by going straight down the quarterline a few times. I was excited when Heather asked us to leg yield to the quarterline into shoulder-in. What a sense of accomplishment I had knowing my little filly could do this tough work! We ended the lesson playing around with walk to canter transitions, again incorporating the half halts we worked so hard to develop.
I could not have be happier with my first time riding in a clinic, as I had only audited before. Heather’s friendly and interactive approach built my filly’s confidence in me as well as my own confidence in my riding capabilities. Her enthusiasm for the sport and the horses that help us reach our goals as riders is clear, and I am excited to ride with her again next time.