Clinic Report: Saddle Seat with Christy Parker

A post-show clinic by the judge, Christy Parker of Pine Haven Stables & Riding Academy, Brunswick, Georgia.

Day One: Private
Since this was immediately after the show wherein I performed so exceedingly well [Show Report], the lesson was on getting the left lead canter. Since this was a lesson not a show, of course we got it.

Overall, the guest instructor’s method had more dressage stirred into the mix: bending, leg yield, changes of direction. She gave more corrections and varied from the standard pattern. My regular instructor is more old school. Say I, with my vast experience in differing styles of saddle seat training.

Too much advice can feel helpful in the moment but ultimately leave the rider lost. I had a dressage instructor who taught through headphones. I executed all kinds of marvelous maneuvers as he oversaw our every footfall. Once he left, my mind was a blank.

In China, Tai Chi is taught without comment. Students follow the model of the instructor until they stumble on learn the pattern for themselves. This ingrains the lesson but can be frustrating in process.

I suspect a balance is the answer. It usually is.

The clinician thought my position was technically correct but looked uncomfortable. Again, it was a lesson. I ride lovely in lessons. It is only at shows that I start flinging my upper body about as if I’m trying to shave two seconds off the inside turn in a jump-off. She had me lower my hands into what was a more natural position for me. Later, I asked my instructor which I should use, the raised hands I had been working on previously or this new method. The answer: both. Well, THAT was helpful.

Perhaps my regular instructor has me exaggerate the saddle seat position in a vain effort to keep my sloppy hunter/jumper habits from creeping in. Sloppy habits that I picked while riding h/j, not that h/j habits are inherently sloppy. Just to be clear.

The clinician talked about flair. Once a rider has the basics, she needs to work out a particular way of holding her hands or of moving her body that gives the ride individuality. I had never heard equitation discussed in terms of expressing individual style.

Speaking of style, a knowing smile often works better than an ear-to-ear grin. As they say in football, when you get to the endzone, act like you’ve been there before.

Of course, this was before I found out I still had issues with gross motor control. Nuance will have to wait.

Day Two: Group
We all rode super-reliable camp horses used for beginners. These were the horses who would not object if the rider began exhibiting weird and erratic behavior such as sitting the trot, putting the knees on the withers, reaching forward to touch the ears … Are you nodding your head yet? Yeah, me too. We did all of those exercises that we all know, but really only do when we are warming-up at a Pony Club rally.

Watching the group before mine, I noticed that the kids braced themselves on the neck/held on to the mane during the trot two-point without stirrups. Naturally, when it came my turn, I knotted my reins and stuck my hands out to the side like I was playing airplane. Tough, yes, but the desire to show off is a fine motivator. I can’t gloat too much. We started on a very unlevel playing field.

The exercises made sense in the aggregate. For me, they may not have been the best choice. I could feel my hands drifting down towards the withers and my weight shifting toward the center of the saddle. When I stop consciously holding the line, 2 years of saddle seat goes poof and 30+ years of forward seat reemerges.

Today is my first lesson since the show/clinic. We’ll see how bad the damage was.

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