Further Up and Further In: RWC Clinic Report

The long-awaited clinic wrap-up post!

We're back from another phenomenal experience at the Riding With Confidence clinic given by Dr. Jenny Susser. As always, we learned a ton, had a lot of fun, laughed a LOT, and came home with lots to work on! Even though we could only manage to ride in one day of the clinic this time around, it was incredibly empowering and we took away so much good stuff.

The weather was absolutely perfect. Sunny, 70's, and a light breeze blew over the farm all day. My friend Aimee, who hosted the clinic, had recently moved to a new barn, and the facility was beautiful and suited our purposes nicely. Dino was set up in a roomy stall with fresh shavings, water, lots of hay, and an awesome fan that blew on him all day long. He was one happy camper, even having to be inside! My mighty steed also started the day in a great mood, and was instantly comfortable at the new barn. It says a lot about the great energy of the people there!

Ready to learn!
Once everyone was all unloaded, settled in, and had grabbed some breakfast snacks, Dr. Jenny got started with her morning lecture.

The clinic was focused heavily on goals this time around, and learning how to mold our practice sessions so that they would actively point us towards success in competition. And before we can be successful, we need to have a goal to shoot for. Dr. Jenny had us all write down an important goal that we were currently working towards, and then tweak our goals to fit her S.M.A.R.T.S. requirements:

Realistic but Challenging

My goal was to complete our first HT on July 6th, and it definitely meets all of the requirements! It's specific, for sure. That's self-explanitory. It's measurable - I'll know when I complete it after I come in after XC still mounted on my pony. It's action-oriented - I have to DO things in order to achieve this goal. It's realistic, yet challenging. Completing a HT is something we're definitely capable of, but it challenges me to step out of my personal comfort zone. It's time sensitive. This goal has a specific date by which it needs to be completed. And I have the support of all parties involved, including my pony. It's good for Dino, and my equestrian mentors approve of my goal.

Dr. Jenny also encouraged us to physically write down - with a pen and paper - our goals and the steps needed to achieve them. Writing, not typing, actually helps your brain build memory. So get out a notebook and write stuff down! Even if you never look at your notes again, the physical act of writing helps make connections in your brain.

Another great tidbit about goals was this: "Goals don't have to be ground-breaking, but they have to be inspiring." If your goal moves you to take action and work hard, it's a good one, no matter how small.

After the lecture, I was feeling pumped and ready to keep learning! Dino and I weren't scheduled to ride until after lunch, so I had the opportunity to watch several other pairs work with Dr. Jenny first.

Andrea and Jose ROCKED it!
Horse and rider teams ranged from junior riders just getting started in the hunter show ring to adult amateurs looking to further their skills or learn to deal with anxiety and fear. Everyone was looking for input on how to better communicate with their horses and ways to make showing more fun and more successful.

One concept that made an appearance during almost every ride was rider responsibility.

Our horses don't (usually) voluntarily jump courses or do dressage tests when hanging out in the field. We ask them to become our partners and carry us on their backs, so the second we clip a lead line to their halters or put a saddle on their backs, we're responsible for what happens to that animal. Part of that responsibility is figuring out what our horses need from us to be successful at what we ask them to do, and giving that to them. One thing that made a huge impression on me was after the few times that horses refused fences or ran out, the riders were NOT instructed to hit their horses. At so, so many barns, a trainer would react to that as a disobedience on the part of the horse, and tell the rider to hit them with a stick. Instead, Dr. Jenny had them stop and analyze what had caused the stop or runout. 100% of the time, it was a rider mistake - either lack of focus or failure to communicate. After the rider became aware of what they did wrong, they corrected it, and the horses all jumped without issue.

Jenny and Aimee

In a world where "beat him if he stops" is the norm, it's so refreshing to see a better way being taught.

The rider's use of their own energy was also a huge topic throughout the day. Whether the horses needed more 'oomph' or needed to calm down, those changes started with the rider raising or lowering their own energy levels. I got to see a huge change in one rider's spicy little pony mare, who started off their session zooming around the ring like a rocket. Her rider was quite a talented kid, but was struggling with slowing the mare down without pulling on the reins and making her even more anxious. Dr. Jenny asked her to think about dialing down her energy - making her body and mind calm - and breathing deeply while slowing her whole body down. The little mare felt the change almost instantly, and slowed her step and became much quieter and less tense. It was a very cool transformation! We also saw the opposite occur in an adult amateur rider and her lovely gelding. The rider was very tense and anxious - she had recently had a very bad fall and sustained several injuries - and while saintly, her horse felt her tension and moved with a very restrained, shuffling gait. When the rider relaxed her energy and let her body become more following, her horse's step opened up and his back started to swing. He moved ten times better - just because the rider changed her energy! Another young rider was told to sing while cantering around her jump course. The singing helped her breathe regularly and relax her, and her pony jumped much better after his rider softened and breathed. Great transformations were happening for each and every pair!

After a delicious picnic lunch, Dino and I got ready for our session. I hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to work on until the day before, when I realized that I was still pulling my pony to a chip when I was unsure of the distance to a fence. While it isn't the worst thing in the world, it's something I'd like to work on improving, since it stems from a lack of confidence in my pony and my own decisions, which is not something I want following me around if I decide to stick with this whole eventing thing!

I was pretty much glowing from the second we stepped in the ring; Dr. Jenny greeted us with, "Wow, Dino looks great!" Now that's something I love to hear! She had us start off with our normal at-home warmup, and Dino was feeling pretty much the same as he does on a daily basis, which was great for the clinic. I got him going with some stretchy walk/trot/canter work, making big loopy circles and encouraging him to stretch over his topline. We also got fantastic compliments on our new and improved free walk, which I was thrilled to hear since we've been working hard on it since the winter! Dr. Jenny was really, really pleased with the improvement she saw in us since the last clinic. Hearing that from someone I deeply respect was so encouraging. I know I've been working hard since October and really trying to put into practice everything we've learned, but to hear that we've succeeded beyond Dr. Jenny's expectations really put me over the moon. She said that Dino and I have improved more with just a handful of lessons per year than many people who get a lesson almost every day. My heart swelled.

After we were warmed up and ready to roll, I explained to Dr. Jenny my goal of completing a HT, and the issues I want to fix over fences. Aimee very kindly set me a 2'6" course with a nice friendly crossrail to warm up over, and off we went. After we rode a few fences, Dr. Jenny noticed that I was WAY over-riding my pony. He was jumping fine, but I was working too hard! She told me that at this point in our partnership, I don't need to use such loud aids anymore, and we need to start finessing our performance. While I definitely needed those strong aids in the beginning of our partnership, we've grown to the point that I don't need to yell at Dino all the time anymore.

Warm-up crossrail
The next time around, she had me lower my hands, quiet my body, and think "nice, soft, quiet." I still supported my pony, but stopped pushing so hard with my seat and body. Of course, he started getting perfect distances and jumping incredibly once I stopped over-riding. I find it SO difficult not to nag Dino, but letting him be and just supporting him while he does his job helped him out so much. It's something that is going to take a lot of mental strength to work on - in every corner and after every fence Dr. Jenny had to remind me to stay soft, quiet, and just do less with my body. The results were worth it, though! Dino, being his typical chestnut pony self, also decided that we were done after every walk break. I had to use the magic go button quite strongly to get him to go again. We got the creative suggestion to reward him with peanuts when he trots off after a break, and I'm curious to see how he responds to that at home! He is one of the most food-motivated creatures ever, so I think it will have a positive effect.

The result of "nice, soft, quiet": perfect distance and gorgeous bascule!
We ended our session by jumping a little course, which ended with a 5-stride vertical to oxer line on the diagonal. I kept jumping in very quiet, and so I saw 6 strides even though Dino was correct and did it in 5. I got left behind twice, and landed patting my pony and telling him what a good boy he was for saving my butt! The last time around I was determined to stay soft and do the 5, and it was awesome. Dino was an absolute star and I am so, so proud of how he went in our lesson! We even got to take a nice shady trail ride around the property when we were done, which he loved!

My rockstar.
Dr. Jenny helped us get to a great starting point for the next step in our partnership, ready to go further up and further in and take things to the next level. I have the right direction and the right tools now to start finessing my riding and take Dino and I from pretty good to outstanding. Given how far we've come in the past year, I can't wait to see where the next year takes us!

The day ended with a short talk on positive thinking and keeping a good attitude. We have tens of thousands of thoughts that go through our heads every day, but the amazing thing about that is that we can choose which thoughts to empower. We have the choice to ignore the negative and lift up the positive, which is pretty incredible! Giving our energy and time only to the good, the positive, and then wholesome is good for us - mind, body, and soul. Ways we can do that is to start every day by writing down things we are grateful for, being aware of when we start to take a turn towards the negative and doing things to shut down that process, and for some serious encouragement, starting a "Negative Thought Jar" into which you must put a dollar each time you say something negative. Even better if you donate the money in the jar to charity when it's full!

Conquering the oxer!
I'm sure little nuggets of wisdom will come to me over the next days and weeks as I reflect on everything we learned at the clinic. The encouraging atmosphere of the group and Dr. Jenny's way of making everyone feel safe and valued keeps me coming back to this clinic time after time. I grow as a rider, and I grow as a human being, after every single session. It's truly one of the most unique and most beneficial things I've ever participated in, and I really encourage any of you who are even slightly interested to check out a Riding With Confidence clinic if Dr. Jenny is going to be headed your way! Whether you are working with fear or anxiety or just want to communicate better with your horse or boost your performance in the show ring, you can benefit from working with her. If you just want to learn some good life skills, you can benefit! Non-horsey moms and dads that attended with their kids got a lot out of the clinic too. You can check out her clinic schedule on her website: http://www.jennyrsusser.com/events/ or contact her to schedule a clinic at your farm. This woman is seriously gifted, and seriously loves to help people. I feel so blessed for the opportunity to work with her, and by the friendships I've gained through the clinics.

But now, the work begins! Further up, and further in!


  1. This is a fantastic report! Thank you! Also, that oxer photo is badass!

  2. Sounds like a great clinic. The pictures are awesome too :-)

    1. Thank you! I've worked with Dr. Jenny several times before and she is AWESOME.. there's a reason Olympic riders work with her! :)


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