Sorry for the delay in getting this posted... been a little busy the past couple of days. I'm happy to say though that my clinic with Mark over the weekend was fabulous. If you have the opportunity to ride with Mark, don't hesitate. He's a great teacher. Each of the riders in my group had different things to work on and the horses were all quite different, but by the end of the clinic we all had one thing in common, because Mark got each of us riding a lot better. Instead of giving you a play by play, I thought I'd just tell you the key things I learned. I believe many of these are applicable to all different riding disciplines, though in my case they were aimed toward improving our jumping.
1. You can choose your own destiny. This one was the best piece of advice he gave us, I think, and something I won't forget. Mark explained that we can walk into the ring and choose our own destiny by getting a good quality canter right from the start, thereby making sure that the first jump is going to be a good one. I am guilty all too often of riding to the first jump with hesitation and without nearly enough pace. I usually find the quality canter somewhere halfway through my first round, when it finally dawns on me why things aren't going well. But instead of picking up any old canter and just seeing what happens at the first jump, Mark taught me that if I get a good quality canter from the start, I'll have control over whether the first jump is a good one or not. (Not that I didn't know this already, but his phrase, "choose your own destiny," really drove the point home in a new way.)
2. A good canter starts with a good transition. Mark was very focused on the quality of our upward transition into the canter. He wanted us to get a good strong posting trot, then collect the trot, sit, and slide our hips forward into the canter transition. All I had to do was think about the transition in order to improve upon it. It really does set the right tone, and it's not something I pay enough attention to when I'm starting a round or even when I go to pick up my canter at home. I'm going to think a little more carefully about my transitions from now on. I work so hard on them on the flat, and then I get into the ring and it's the last thing on my mind. That doesn't make much sense, now does it?
3. Riding forward is an attitude. When Mark first said this to me I had no idea what he was talking about. But the first couple of lines we jumped, Tucker was a little lazy, or a little too collected (maybe backed off because he's used to his huge indoor ring?), and I had to get him woken up and going a little more forward. So Mark told me to ride forward, and said, "riding forward isn't anything specific you have to do differently, it's an attitude. If you ride forward, your horse will go forward." So I came back around to the line with a "forward" attitude, and wouldn't you know it totally worked. I didn't really feel like I did anything differently, but Tucker opened up his stride and the four stride line we were working on suddenly wasn't riding long at all.
4. The horse bulges through his outside shoulder because you've let his inside hind come in. I have worked on getting Tucker straighter through his outside shoulder, and I have worked on getting him to step under with his inside hind. But I hadn't yet connected to the two. It makes sense though, if the inside hind comes in off the horse's track, the outside shoulder then goes out off the horse's track. To straighten the horse's outside bulge, then, concentrate on getting him stepping under with his inside hind, and once he does, then bring your outside rein directly back to your outside hip, close your outside leg, and create a wall to keep his shoulders in line. I didn't quite perfect this during the clinic, but it got better, and I think if I work on it some more I can fix the straightness issues we have, or at least make some progress with them. (By the way, I think I trotted about once around the ring before Mark observed that I have straightness issues with my horse and put me on a circle to work on them for a few minutes.)
5. Let the horse's hind legs catch up. Mark said this to me and to some of the other riders when we needed to let our horses go forward before trying to collect them. It was a very useful way of thinking about what you want the horse to do. You don't really want the canter to be faster, or bigger, you just want more hind end engagement, so if you think about closing your leg and "letting his hind legs catch up" you naturally allow the canter to keep coming from behind and then you can balance with your seat or hand to put it together a little, though I found that usually once I thought about his hind legs "catching up" I suddenly felt like I had the right canter.
6. The distance doesn't give you stride, the canter gives you stride. Mark explained that "how you jump in" to a line has much less to do with what distance you get to the first fence, and much more to do with what canter you have coming into the line. I didn't really understand that until I practiced it and felt that I could get a shorter distance from a bigger forward canter and still have plenty of stride to get down the line, whereas if I didn't have a good quality canter coming in, I had to really work to get down the line. It makes perfect sense, of course, but I sort of had to feel it to believe it.
7. To send the horse forward, send your hips forward. Have you ever caught yourself leaning forward at your horse to get him to go forward? I do it, especially down the lines. This just gets you leaning over your hand and messes up your balance and it doesn't work, but of course that's never stopped me. But instead of thinking about "not leaning forward," Mark told me to send my hips forward. Alicia tells me this too, and it helps with getting Tucker's hind end to come along with us as well as keep him going forward.
8. Keep your joints relaxed. Mark said this to me when I was riding a little bit stiff to our first jumping exercise (which was a canter pole, four strides to a little vertical). It was a good way of thinking about staying relaxed by concentrating on my "joints" and what they were doing. Alicia says the same thing, but words it as "staying elastic." Both are good images to keep in your mind, especially when you feel the horse stiffening (which is usually a reaction to the rider stiffening, at least in my case).
9. Ride uphill to make the horse go uphill. This wasn't unlike "riding forward is an attitude" in that it was more of a feeling than an actual correction, though I did have to think about making my upper body a little taller and bringing my shoulders back, and lifting my hand. When I thought about this as "riding uphill" though, it really seemed to help give me an uphill canter. Just another way of thinking about sitting up or keeping your posture upright, but I thought this was a very helpful way of thinking about it.
10. Good riding is about making minor adjustments. This one is a major paraphrase, though I know Mark said something to this effect and we all definitely came away with the impression that minor adjustments were what Mark was teaching us. He didn't turn anyone's riding style upside down, didn't have anyone make some huge uncomfortable adjustment that they were going to be struggling with, and didn't ask any of us to change our horse's way of going too dramatically. Instead, he made small incremental adjustments for each of us as we went along, and at the end of our session had each of us riding a whole lot better as a result.
The other thing I learned, of course, is that my horse is just about perfect. We had things to work on, but Tucker got right down to business the minute I got on his back, which is nothing to sneeze at given that it was a freezing cold day and he was in an indoor he had never been in. Someone complimented me on him and said "he looks like he knows his job so well and he just does it," and I had to agree that he's a Yes Man. Never says no to anything. I do love that about him.
The only time he didn't quite perform perfectly was his exit from the four-horse trailer that we rode in. He's never been in one, so when I led him forward and asked him to walk down the side ramp face forward, he couldn't figure out what on earth I was asking him to do. He ended up leaping off the ramp rather ungracefully. When we arrived home, he jumped down again, but with a little more style. Poor Tucker. He tries so hard.