Paul Matthews Clinic Review: Day 2

On to day 2!

I arrived at the barn on Sunday very excited to apply what we learned on the first day. I showed up a little early so I would have time to be a human lunge line (meaning hopping on and trotting in circles 4ever) just in case PonyBeast was feeling particularly beastly again.

Thankfully, the Beast had mellowed out from a combination of hard work the previous day and shivering through the night outside. (Don’t yell at me, she had plenty of blanket on, I’m exaggerating about the shivering).

We continued our work on the flat focusing on straightness and balance, and this time Addy and I were actually able to focus on those things instead of getting into a detailed discussion of just how fast is “too fast” and why I don’t ever let her do fun things because I’m the worst mom ever.

We started out by cutting straight across the ring, being careful to square each corner and half-halt through the middle to maintain the balance. Then we started some other patterns- one of my favorite exercises was one that forced us to rethink our use of the corners in the ring and got the horses really tuned into where we were going next:

Yeah, I know. Super professional looking.

I found this exercise immensely helpful and plan to use it often. We had to be very conscious of our outside rein around the turns to help balanced, stay very straight down the quarter lines, keep a subtle bend around the circles, and I found it to be a refreshing departure from the usual circles and turns around the ring. There were so many elements in play to make this flow smoothly and Beastly rocked it!

Moving on to canter work, we continued the trend of mixing up our patterns so the horse couldn’t anticipate and would stay tuned in and thinking about what their rider wanted. Part of this was working on relaxing through lead changes. To do this we didn’t actually do any lead changes, we used the following shape:

Moar Paint figures!

InĀ  this example you would start on the left lead, then go across the diagonal as if you were going to change direction. Then about 3 strides away from the wall you would turn left and continue on the left lead. The key here was maintaining absolute straightness across the diagonal and balancing around the turn using the outside rein. This got some of the automatic-swappers thinking hard and listening instead of anticipating the change. Luckily for me, Addy is indifferent to changes and just saw this as a lumpy circle.

Jumping time! We warmed up the same way as yesterday- trot pole set out in front of a small vertical, then halt in a straight line afterwards. I am pleased to report that our halts were much more civilized this time around.

Then we applied everything we had worked on so far to a mini course:


We were to pick up a trot, then canter a circle until we were happy with the quality of the canter, then come up the gray oxer, down the outside vertical, up the yellow planks, and down the outside oxer (which I forgot to make an oxer in the diagram, so sue me). He watched us do this first and then tailored the exercise for each of us.

Since Addy was being so awesome chill and a total rockstar, our exercise was simply to halt in a straight line after each fence. Then I would do a canter circle and approach the next fence. One of the other girls would halt after each fence, then circle towards the wall before resuming the course in order to stop her horse from anticipating and getting hotter throughout the course. Another one didn’t halt at all, and worked on building up more of a gallop between fences.

We ended by doing all four jumps as a mini-course once more to see how the exercises helped. And honestly? It felt fantastic. Addy was soft and elastic in the bridle, let me balance and collect her deep into the corners, didn’t rush at the jumps, waited to the base, and came right back to me whenever I asked.

She still tried to lean in through the turns and speed up to the jumps- she is, after all, the DragonMare- but the big difference was that she listened when I corrected her. I wasn’t struggling to get through to her- she was tuned in and waiting for my cues. I couldn’t have been happier with her!

Overall thoughts on the clinic: the focus was much more on how to train the horse properly than it was on equitation. The only remarks he made on our position were related to how it affected the horse’s way of going. This may have been different in other sections, but for us the focus was clearly on the horse and how to get the best ride possible out of the horse you were on. I absolutely loved that! As you may have read in my past posts (over and over and over and over….), that’s really what I’m trying to learn at this point: how to encourage the best ride possible from Addy. I’ve already seen a huge response from Pretty Girl from these exercises and have plans to include them regularly into our work moving forward so we can continue to develop. The combination of training tips and mental training tips from the sports psychology seminar was the perfect mix for me.

Overall rating: 5 stars. Learned a TON and was worth every penny.

Paul Matthews Clinic Review: Day 1

We survived our first clinic!

So originally we were supposed to have Kip Rosenthal come and teach us how to horse, but she unfortunately came down sick and was unable to come. Thankfully my trainer is super wicked awesome and was determined to create some learning opportunities for us, so we were able to get Paul Matthews to come teach us how to horse!

My group was the smallest- four amateur adults who all do the 3′ hunters/jumpers. This ended up being FANTASTIC, as we were all able to get really tailored instruction for our particular needs.

Saturday was the first day, and the short version is that Addy was an absolute Beast. It was cold, she had excess energy, and I really should’ve lunged her around before hopping on.

Not that she was bad! Pretty Girl never does anything REALLY bad. Princess Pony just wanted to go fastfastfast all the time. So our tailored attention was mostly on getting her attention back on me instead of zooming around like a bus with the brake lines cut.

One of the most useful tips Paul gave me was to constantly half-halt and release. I know this isn’t a new concept and I’ve mentioned it before, but somehow the way he showed me and explained it made sense: my job was to half-halt her back into a nice steady rhythm, and then immediately release her mouth. As soon as she started speeding up, repeat. And repeat. And repeat forever until she develops the self-carriage to maintain her own rhythm without leaning on the bit.

Once we established a way to correct her rhythm, we focused on straightness and using our corners. He had us ride across the diagonal towards a certain point on the wall, halt, then leg yield over to the track and continue to square the corner.

Corners have always been a trouble spot for Addy and I since she likes to lean to the inside and rush, so this exercise definitely helped us develop a feel for how to balance and use our space more effectively. I also really appreciated that Paul tailored this exercise to each horse depending on what they needed to improve on- Addy and I didn’t leg yield since we were more focused on getting a prompt and straight halt. This wasn’t a one-size-fits-all clinic; Paul was very conscious to meet each individual’s training needs.

Before finishing up, we put our skills to the test over a tiny jump exercise as such:


Trot down over the outside vertical (with trot pole set out), then canter up the diagonal oxer and either halt or continue through the corner.

Clearly this is a very simple exercise, but it definitely forced us to use what we learned during the flat session. We had to come into the trot fence balanced and collected instead of rushing so that we could square our corner afterwards. We had to maintain straightness on the track to the oxer so that we could wait for a distance and then land using the corner again.

Paul had me incorporate halts into my exercise so Addy would stop rushing and anticipating. So I would halt in a straight line after the outside vertical, and then turn left towards the wall. He had us doing this (turning towards the wall) pretty frequently to stop the horses from thinking they can just continue on around the track non-stop. After turning left towards the wall we walked a tiny circle twice, then straightened out, trotted, cantered a circle, THEN continued on to the oxer.

Paul didn’t want us doing walk-canter transitions because Addy is already a very forward-thinking horse and he wanted more deliberate transitions. Addy has a tendency to kinda explode up into the canter and he wanted me to show her that upwards transitions should be calm.

So the short version of our day 1 session: Addy was a zoomzoom beast, but I was glad she did that because we learned SO MUCH about how to correct that and start asking more of her. By the end she had settled into working and we were definitely improving our use of the ring and our rhythm at all gaits.

One of the really great things about this clinic was that we had a sports psychology seminar that evening with Dr. Ann Reilly- author of A Sport Psychology Wordbook for Riders. I don’t know about you, but I find that the mental aspect of riding tends to be my biggest hurdle. Am I physically capable of riding a horse over a 3’3″ oxer? Absolutely. Do I sometimes psych myself out and convince myself that I can’t do it? All the freakin’ time.

So I was definitely looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint! We started off by talking about all the different ways riders tend to psych themselves out and shift to negative thinking, and she reassured us that everyone feels this way- from novice beginners all the way up to the Olympic level. Then we talked about some ways to counteract this negative thinking and shift ourselves back into a positive frame of mind. Some of the big takeaways here were:

  • Don’t ignore mental preparation on show day. You’ve put in the training and you’ve prepared your horse, so you should also devote time to preparing yourself.
  • Nutrition is important! Low blood sugar and dehydration cause a physical response that heightens your nerves and adrenaline. Even if you don’t like riding on a full stomach, forcing down a PowerBar and some water can make a world of difference.
  • Focus on the positives. Watch videos of yourself riding a course well. If you have a sub-par round, watch it with your trainer so that you can identify the technical corrections you need to make, but don’t dwell on those. Dwell on the successes.
  • Keep your perspective. If you flubbed a jump badly, thats OK. So you flubbed a jump. That has zero bearing on how you’ll do as you continue forward.
  • Eliminate “should have” from your vocabulary. Saying “I should have done this differently” has no value. The past is the past.
  • Deep breathing (in through your nose and out through your mouth) while counting backwards from 50 on every exhale can be very relaxing and centering. Do this when you start to feel frazzled.
  • Use positive statements instead of “don’t” statements. Instead of saying “I don’t want to add in that line,” say “I will make the strides in that line.”
  • Write down what you want to happen over and over. The act of putting pen to paper and physically seeing your goals helps train your mind to see them as attainable.
  • Make friends with your ring. If you’re at a show, go walk around the perimeter of the ring, study the jumps, and visualize riding your course until you feel like you’ve already ridden it a thousand times.

We ended the session with a guided visualization of a show day. She took us through everything from arriving at the showgrounds to completing two courses and everything in between. This is definitely a technique I’ll be using to prepare for shows.

I appreciated that she was able to specifically address problems unique to riders because she’s a rider herself! Using the techniques we discussed certainly helped me on day 2 of the clinic.

Stay tuned to hear more about Day 2! (Spoiler alert: It. Was. Awesome.)

PS- if you follow me on Instagram or we’re friends on Facebook you already know this, but I BOUGHT A SADDLE!!! It’s a buffalo leather Antares Contact, 17.5″ with 5A flaps (yes that’s the longest flap they make). Believe it or not, it was the first and only saddle I tried. The saddle fitter basically looked me up and down and pulled out the exact saddle we needed #voodoomagic. It fits Addy like a glove- I don’t even need to use a half pad and she was moving happily with zero soreness- and my giraffe legs fit in it. I’ve never ridden in a saddle that fits my legs. It’s magical. Apparently when my leg has somewhere to go, it goes in the right spot! I’m actually convinced this saddle has cured a bunch of my bad habits. And man oh man is it grippy. I’m in love with it. It’s used, so the leather is super buttery soft and broken in, and the color is just gorgeous. I feel super secure in it! This weekend was a trial by fire (two hours of riding each on Saturday and Sunday) and it remained comfortable the entire time. The only thing left to do with it is replace the brass nameplate to reflect its new owner! Thinking I may get one of those little metal monograms instead of a brass plate- thoughts?

Ermagerd I’m Alive!!

Hi everyone!! I miss you all tons.

Long story short: I’ve been dealing with some health problems over the last few weeks, but am doing MUCH better. So get pumped to see hellomylivia showing up on your feeds because I’m back, baby.

And what better way to return than to give you a classic lesson review? Rhetorical question. There is no better way.

So when we left you we just had an amazingly awesome adventure cross country schooling, and I was gushing about how much better things have been going now that we adjusted her feed.

I also tried riding tackless. Hilarity ensued.

The good times continue to roll.

We’ve been doing lots of no-stirrup work because my trainer is a masochist believes strongly in No-Stirrup November, and canter work has been focused on softening. Once she realizes that we’re going to canter (and presumably jump), Addy gets very excited and doesn’t tolerate my leg very well- not that she misbehaves or anything. She just moves sideways. And jigs. And puts her head in the air like a giraffe. And does her absolute darndest to avoid all my aids so she can just freakin’ run already.

To correct this, we’ve been doing a couple things:

  1. Walk work is hard work. Walk work is not just waiting until we can go faster. Over bending, changing the bend, leg yields, shoulder-fore, anything to break up that forward momentum and encourage Addy to soften to my aids. It’s interesting- she’s so responsive when she’s keyed up and gives me beautiful lateral work if I can convince her to remain walking.
  2. Short ends of the ring are an opportunity to create more bend and soften her jaw. Locking at the end of the rein is not where we want her.
  3. If I’m not getting a response by asking nicely, start asking not so nicely. Otherwise I’m just dulling her to my aids.

This is definitely a work in progress but I can definitely see the progress happening! I could absolutely let her lope around on a loose rein and she would be very content to take me, but that’s not what the goal. Our goal is adjustability. Taking it back to basics and asking her to respect my aids even when it means she has to work her muscles harder.

Now that she has a princess crown on her butt she thinks she runs the show.

Then time to jump! After warming up over a crossrail a couple times (which went well despite Beastly trying to drag me to them), we started putting together different exercises.



We began by doing the broken line C-D. This was a steady 5 strides when we trotted in, and I really had to bow our track wide to fit that in.

Next was going up the green box and rolling back over the brick wall A-B. Once I remembered to steer with my legs and not just my hands the turn to the brick went well.

Then course time! It was A-B-C-D-E-F-G: up the green box, rollback over the brick, up the broken line in four, back down the outside vertical, and up the diagonal line in three.

Fun fact: I sang Row Row Row Your Boat, Happy Birthday, and Oh Canada while on course. “Why were you singing?” you ask. “Olivia, you sound like a goose fart on a foggy night, your own father said so,” you exclaim.

The only thing better than singing on horseback? Drinking wine on horseback. Outside. With a friend.

Dear Reader, I agree. My singing voice is atrocious and I pity anyone in the vicinity when I start grooving. BUT. My main enemy on course is tension. Tense rider = tense horse = DragonMare going 203948398 mph. Relaxed rider = relaxed horse = hit every distance because we’re actually communicating.

So yeah. I sang to force myself to breathe.

And whatdya know, it worked! I was able to plan out my ride and follow through with that plan because I wasn’t starving myself of oxygen. Go figure.

Overall I was really happy with this lesson! I feel like we’re getting to work on more of the subtleties of riding instead of having to wrestle around a course.

A few exciting updates: this Friday a saddle rep is coming out the the barn to measure me/talk to me/whatever saddle reps do, and she’s going to help me find a saddle! I’ve been riding in a borrowed saddle for a year now and it’s very comfortable, but the woman who owns it is 5’2″. I’m just shy of 5’10”. And most of that is leg. You do the math. I’m really really excited to look at saddles and find one that I don’t have to fight against to get the right position!

And then this weekend is clinic time! Unfortunately Kip Rosenthal is sick and can’t make it to VA, but we’ve got Paul Matthews teaching our sessions and Dr. Ann Reilly giving the talk on sports psychology (if that name looks familiar, it’s because she literally wrote a book about sports psychology for equestrians). I’m in the 3′ section with some fantastic horse-rider pairs and I’m so excited to learn!

I also managed to take a shower, slap some paint on my face, and convince manfriend to take ridiculous pictures with me at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. In case you were wondering about non-horse shenanigans.

In the works blog-wise: a stocking-stuffer guide for the horse-crazy peeps in your life, a clinic recap, and show updates (spoiler alert: it involves spending a week in Ocala).