Learning from others: Brooksby Dressage with Jennie Loriston-Clarke

I had the great opportunity to go to see Brooksby Dressage have a lesson with the fantastic Jennie Loriston - Clarke this week at Ingestre Stables. Not only was the setting stunning, the quality of the lesson was amazing too. For those of you who don't know, JLC is one of Britain's leading riders and trainers and has represented Great Britain in four Olympic games. She has also done in point to pointing and horse trials, has qualified for Burghley and is a FEI International Dressage Judge and FEI International 3 – Day Event judge.

One of the most main things that I learnt from this lesson was the importance of transitions (no big surprise there for me, I've heard it thousands of times but this time I think it stuck to me) and there was LOADS of emphasis on how much the upper body and knees play a big part in these transitions. For example, when asking from canter to trot you should try to hold your body weight back so that you wouldn't have to use your reins to get the horse to slow down, and by only using your seat/weight you should have a transition that has no resistance (pulling on the reins can lead to some form of resistance.) It was beautiful to see how effectively this worked and how much of a difference there was from such a simple thing. JLC also pointed out that 'holding your knees' alongside using your body weight helps to get the horse to slow down to trot. Of course you will have to use your reins sometimes especially when the horse is not listening to you, but this should be thought of as "resistance in your reins" and not pulling your reins, because this helps you to use smaller aids and makes the horse more sensitive to you. 
Please excuse the jump saddle, Fons has grown so much that his current dressage saddle doesn't fit him properly
My favourite exercise from this lesson was definitely the shoulder in along the centre line. This clearly shows which side they are weaker on, and is also a test to see how good the rider is riding straight centre lines. I think once you have this exercise sorted, you can never ride a bad centre line :D It's gone straight into my little book of great exercises for horses!

Both for Lili and I there were lots of lightbulb moments. It's interesting how even though you may have heard the same thing many times over many years, it takes a certain person to say it a certain way to make you really pick it up and make note of it. For me, there were several little gems that JLC said, such as that you need to be quick to soften and reward - the two should be connected. It sends a very positive message to your horse, and like she said "a happy horse is the most important thing." 

For those of you with spooky horses (myself included obviously) JLC mentioned several times that although you need to be quick to reward, you need to be equally quick to chastise. And by chastising, she meant make the horse go forwards. Always always a forwards reaction - never correct them backwards, ride it forwards. So when they spook, REACT, make them go forwards and then remember to release the hand. All of this she classed as riding positively. For me it's more like being bloody brave all the time, but I guess this is the next thing I've got to tackle, when Vallu spooks make it go forwards and stop trying to control it backwards. Might go against every single self-preservation instinct that I have, but worth it.

Stunning pony
Another helpful hint was that when the horse drops behind you or gets bored of what you are doing, give him something to think about rather than going large to open the stride. Clever horses need to be worked mentally too, so introducing new ideas to keep them interested and occupied. Fons, like Vallu is too clever for his own good, and needs something to switch his brain on all the time (and give them less time to concentrate on spooking). I've now changed our warm up style in its entirety to see if this tactic helps and for the last two rides there has been a difference. Instead of just bumbling along the outside track, both of us have to start thinking immediately. Constant changes of direction and different shapes (circles and squares) of varying sizes with a ton of transitions thrown in for good measure. I don't know how I've forgotten this tactic, as it was one of first things my brother told me to me to remember when riding Vallu when mum first bought him!

Just goes to prove that you don't need to have a lesson yourself to learn a lot, simply by being fortune enough to be at the lesson I feel like I've learnt so much again. 

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