Riding With Confidence Clinic Report

I'd like to start by saying that I think EVERYONE should try to ride with Dr. Jenny Susser at some point in their equestrian career. She is an incredible, gifted woman who has laser-accurate insight into the relationship between you and your horse, and an amazing knack for helping you work out your "issues" while making you feel like you can conquer the world. Just do it. You won't be disappointed. My only regret is that I couldn't afford to ride the second day as well, and that Mike wasn't able to bring a horse and ride, too!

Getting ready for this clinic, I really had no idea what to expect. I knew it was going to be sports psychology-based, and hoped that it would somehow help me overcome my anxiety about jumping and showing. I went into it with an open mind, ready to absorb and learn as much as I could. As long as I kept a good attitude, I was bound to take away something of value!

We arrived at On The Rise Equestrian Center and got Dino settled in his stall for the day before heading out to the arena for the morning's lecture. Dr. Jenny started the day by telling us all that it was going to be unlike any riding clinic we had ever experienced. She was going to get personal. This wasn't going to be about riding an exercise with a group of other riders, this was going to be about the relationship between us and our horses, and finding areas where we can work to improve ourselves as riders and human beings. I was intrigued, but still had no idea what was coming.

Thankfully, I got to watch several riders go before it was my turn, and I was amazed and elated at what I saw. Dr. Jenny has an uncanny ability to read people and horses, and it was absolutely incredible to watch her zero in on each pair's sticking points. No matter what the core issue was, whether it was marriage problems (!), communication gaps, or simply unnecessary tension and anxiety, Dr. Jenny gave each horse and rider team EXACTLY the exercises they needed to overcome their stumbling blocks and achieve confidence and relaxation. I watched every single pair have an "AH-HA!" moment during their session with Dr. Jenny. The riders started smiling and laughing, the horses transformed from nervous and confused to relaxed and happy, and everyone watching on the sidelines clapped and cheered when a breakthrough was reached. IT. WAS. AWESOME. And to put the whole thing over the top, Dr. Jenny gave each rider homework to do after the clinic, making sure to explain to the trainers who were there the purpose and goal of each individual assignment.

Dino and I were the first team to go after the lunch break, and I got the chance to chat with Dr. Jenny a little bit before our session. I told her a little about Dino's background and what the issues were that I hoped to resolve that day. She responded in her businesslike way, "Well, then we're going to do some confidence building. Go get your pony!"

Dino was, in short, a wild child. He was not very happy at all about having been in a stall all night, and then being trailered over an hour away from home and being put in yet another stall. When I led him out of the barn he went into sensory-overload, trying to take in the new environment, the cows across the street, the tent, the people, the ponies in the field, the jumps, and everything else simultaneously. Dr. Jenny had me give him a tour of the ring so he could check out all the jumps and settle a bit before I got on. Every rider was instructed to warm up as they normally did at home so Dr. Jenny could observe our riding and our communication with our horses, so that's what we did. I did have to start off in more of a working frame than normal since Dino was just all over the place and totally distracted. He needed to get right to work. Being a dressage rider and not super-familiar with the hunter/jumper world, Dr. Jenny had Aimee (the clinic's lovely organizer and head trainer at OTREC) come over to explain a little bit about how I was riding. I guess she was expecting more of a typical hunter rider judging by my tack and attire, but Dino is way more dressage pony than hunter! I explained to Dr. Jenny that I did jumpers, not hunters, and that our flatwork is all dressage. After the explanation, my pony's upright, collected frame made a little more sense to everyone!

After our warm-up, I got Dr. Jenny's evaluation of how Dino and I work together, and where our stumbling blocks are. She said I was a great rider (oh man how warm and fuzzy is THAT?!) and that Dino is a phenomenal dressage pony and she would like to steal him, and I could probably make $30,000 if I ever wanted to sell him. That being said, she noted that, "The mojo you guys have at the trot is waaaay better than what you have at the canter. And when you jump, you canter, right? So we're going to fix your canter."

During the rest of our session we worked on the canter depart and creating a quality canter from the very beginning, focusing on me keeping my right shoulder up and back going to the right, and allowing a soft, balanced, round transition in both directions. Once we had a good up transition, Dr. Jenny had me work on developing a better seat at the canter with a position that was still but following, moving with his back instead of hovering over it and moving against it. She also had Kathy, another rider in the clinic who also happened to be a dressage trainer, chime in with her input about our ride, which was great!

The first few tries were a little icky. Dino tends to throw up his head and hollow his back in the transition from trot to canter, and I've been okay with that for a long time because hey, at least he's cantering! But Dr. Jenny pushed us to create a QUALITY transition. We started off with our "fancy trot", a nice, round, collected trot. We got the mojo flowing there first. Only when the trot was perfect did we ask for the canter. She had me ask quietly, and only once, allowing Dino a few strides to balance his body and pick up the canter. If we got an ugly, hollow transition or he just sped up in the trot, she had me bring him back to the "fancy trot" and ask again, being patient enough to allow him to pick up the canter when his body was balanced. I also really had to think hard about not blocking him with my hands or seat! A few times I didn't go with him, and the resulting canter wasn't all that pretty. But when I really concentrated on staying balanced and letting my hands and seat go with my pony, oh my gosh, it was magical. The more good transitions we had, the more confident Dino got, and the more confident I got, and the whole thing snowballed into a huge confidence boost for both of us. It was fantastic!

Our session wrapped up with homework assignments from Dr. Jenny. She suggested I invest in a dressage saddle to be able to sit the canter better, since my jumping saddle is made for half seat, not a deep full seat. Dressage trainer Kathy even offered her spare saddle to me to ride in on the second day of the clinic, but I sadly had to decline since I could only ride for one day. Though it's not in the budget now, I might start looking around for an inexpensive used dressage saddle in the future. Especially having had such a glowing endorsement from 'real' dressage riders and trainers about my pony, doing a few dressage shows is starting to sound like a fun adventure! Our main assignment is to keep working on our canter. Dr. Jenny said that I'm not to jump until that canter is totally, 100% consistent and reliable. Once I can rely on my canter, jumping will come much easier. That is going to take some self-control and restraint, but I think we can do it! Lastly, I'm under orders to have Super-Horse-Husband Michael take video of me riding a few times a week, watch each video 5 or 6 times, and then delete it. Since it's not possible to get in a weekly lesson with Elissa, this is a GREAT tool to track our progress and get a visual of what I'm feeling in the saddle.

I think I'm going to keep having more insights as I process everything I learned yesterday over the next few days. This clinic was such an incredible experience all the way around. I made a whole bunch of new friends, got to cheer on other riders, learned a lot about myself and my pony, made a breakthrough, and had a ton of fun. I was so impressed with the positive environment at the clinic, and how EVERY rider, from an 11 year old walk/trot rider to a 3rd level dressage rider, made an improvement and learned something new. Another thing that made a huge impression on me was Aimee's phenomenal job of matching each of her students with the perfect horse. All of her school horses were fat and happy, and it was obvious to me that she runs a GREAT program. If you're in the south/central NJ area, you should look her up! And because I came to the clinic trainerless, Aimee even VIDEOTAPED MY SESSION FOR ME so I could review my homework assignment again, and watch Dino and I do some awesome canter work. What a rockstar.

This clinic was totally unlike anything I've ever experienced, and it's hard to put it into words. It was fun, exciting, uplifting, empowering, confidence-building, and relationship-strengthening. The things I learned are not only valuable when it comes to riding, but also in the rest of life. Everyone has their own struggles, in riding and in life, but everyone is able to improve in the areas where they are lacking. Confidence and Partnership are the building blocks of success. Creativity is necessary! Communication is ESSENTIAL. And riding should be FUN! I highly encourage you to save up some money and GO TRACK DOWN DR. JENNY SUSSER. I'm planning on riding with her again the next time she comes to OTREC, and will post dates and information on my blog when Aimee is able to organize another clinic. It will make such a positive impact on your life and your riding, TRUST ME!

Happy Trails


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