Getting My Money's Worth: Lainey Ashker Clinic Recap

This clinic did not go the way I expected it to in so many ways.

The original plan was to leave on Saturday afternoon, in plenty of time for my 5pm lesson. But as my travel buddies and I monitored the forecast in the days leading up to the clinic, things were not looking good. We made the call on Friday evening not to haul down for Saturday's session. There was up to 5" of snow being predicted for our area, combined with cold rain and wind. Neither of us was willing to take the chance of driving in those conditions, not to mention the fact that riding in that mess would be pretty miserable. So, this is how Dino spent his Saturday instead:

I was pretty grouchy about that for several reasons, as you can imagine. I was missing out on a day of instruction, losing my money, and not hauling down on Saturday meant that I had to get up at 4am to make it to my 9am lesson on Sunday morning. And it didn't even snow that much. UGH.

So instead, Dino and I made the trek down to NJ in the dark early morning, and I was hoping that the chilly, breezy weather would light him up a little bit and get him moving forward.

I was actually really pleased with how Dino warmed up - he was forward and responsive, and cantered off right when I asked the first time. I starting feeling a bit better about being in the Novice group - with an enthusiastic pony like this, things could go really well!

Lainey had us start with a small grid - trot in, over a ground pole, 9 ft to a vertical, one stride with a pole in the middle, and then out over another vertical with a landing pole 9 ft away.

Dino was a total ROCKSTAR.

He was even breaking UP into canter on the way to the grid, and jumped through it like a total champ. Lainey reminded me to keep my body a bit more upright, but after just two passes through the grid she declared our performance "Perfect" and "Beautiful" and had us take a walk break while the other riders completed the exercise. The jumps went up a few holes, and we went through again. Once more, we totally nailed it. I was feeling super confident about the whole thing!

Intimidated by #LAE
After everyone had mastered the warm-up grid, we started with our first course. Everything was set at about BN height or a bit lower, and I was pretty confident that we could tackle it without any major problems. It started with the grid, then a right turn down the long side of the arena and around the short side to a line beginning with a small vertical with placing and landing poles on each side, five strides to an oxer, two strides to another oxer with cross poles to keep the horses jumping up over the center. Then we were to ride around to the other long side, over a triple bar, then two strides to a vertical and five bending strides to an oxer with cross poles. We then made a left turn into the rail, and up over a one-stride diagonal line of skinnies, then five bending strides to jump the first oxer with cross poles the other way. 

Got that?

Our first time through was, for the most part, fine, but a little sloppy. I could have used a bit more forward throughout the course to smooth things out, and the bending line from the vertical to the oxer wasn't pretty, and neither was the resulting turn to the skinny one-stride. So, Lainey had us do it again, and I was SUPER happy with how it rode the second time! Everything flowed a lot better, and we nailed the tight rollback turn to the skinny line. I was also pretty pumped that I had just jumped my first triple bar! 

After everyone had gone through the course and ironed out any issues, Lainey had the ground crew put the jumps up.

3 holes. 

It was at this point that my brain started freaking out. Everything looked HUGE. The triple bar was TERRIFYING. The skinnies had turned into skinny chevrons - a type of jump neither Dino nor I had ever seen before. This course was also a bit longer: grid, left turn, outside oxer-oxer-vertical with placing poles line, skinny chevrons bending to oxer, outside 2-stride triple bar to vertical, bending to oxer, vertical with placing poles bending to another oxer, oxer-oxer-vertical line again, diagonal oxer going the opposite way, turning RIGHT into the rail to finish. 

Dino had reached his limit of sitting around and then going back to work, and he gave me some sass when I asked him to get going. We fumbled through the grid and the first line, and Lainey told us to start over because the whole thing was just gross. I didn't have enough pace at all, and while Dino's scope was getting us over everything, it wasn't pretty or balanced. 

So, we started again, and the second round was going a bit better. We had a bit of a fumble through the vertical with placing poles, but we totally nailed the turn to the skinny chevron one-stride and bending line to the oxer after them. As we came around to the (giant, enormous, super-scary) triple bar, I started panicking a little bit about finding a good distance to it. Dino jumped it just fine, but in my surprise that we had actually made it over, I stopped riding to the vertical 2 strides away and Dino slid to a stop. I found myself flying over his head, into the jump, and sitting in a puddle of mud holding my pony's entire bridle while he sauntered over to a person standing in the center of the ring, yawning like couldn't have been more relaxed about the situation. 

I hauled my wet, muddy self back in the saddle and came at the line again. Lainey wanted me to GALLOP at it, and was rather upset with Dino's snotty attitude towards my forward aids. As usual, I was really reluctant to spank him a good one behind my leg. I didn't want him to have a full-on foot-planting meltodwn, or buck me off, and sort of just half-heartedly tapped him on the shoulder with my stick. Lainey wasn't having it, and at one point actually threw a crop at us in exasperation. 

Guys, she's intense. 

Bad Pony.
But even after a few more attempts I couldn't quite get Dino truly in front of the leg and respecting my aids, and I ended up flying over his head a second time, this time smack dab into the middle of the triple bar, and got dragged a few feet by the stirrup. Thankfully Dino has a great grasp of "whoa" and stopped quickly so I could unentangle myself. 

At this point, Lainey asked another rider in my group (who happens to be a friend of a friend and a professional trainer who specializes in starting young horses) to hop on Dino to work him through it. 

At first, it was hard to watch. I wasn't able to get my own pony over the line, and now someone else had to do it for me. There was a lot of bucking, and balking, and Dino getting spanked. He was clearly very upset and anxious. But while the other rider didn't take any crap from Dino, she was incredibly fair to him and gave him an absolutely AMAZING ride, rewarding him every single time he did the right thing. She schooled him through the line we had so much trouble with, and then rode him through the entire course twice. 

As I was watching her ride, I was talking with Lainey about Dino's history and why I am loathe to really "go there" with him when it comes to going forward. She responded with "You can go there with him now. Look." And I looked, and I watched the other rider really put the pressure on and DEMAND a forward response, and I saw Dino react first by getting upset, but then by going forward. He did not plant his feet. He did not buck in place. He didn't mentally shut down and refuse to participate. He went FORWARD and eventually relaxed under her leadership. It was really incredible to watch, and gives me a lot to think about when it comes to what I can ask for and how much pressure I can put on Dino to be reactive to my aids. 

After Dino had jumped through the course a couple times, I got back on to conquer the line that had landed me in the mud twice that day. Lainey wanted me to start by galloping madly around the arena - and interestingly, when I first asked Dino to go forward he resisted, even after his intense training ride that emphasized forward. He was testing me to see if I would demand the same thing that the other rider did. 

So, I got tougher and I told him he was GOING, and he WENT! We FLEW around the ring, and while Dino initially hesitated at the triple bar, each time we approached it got better and better. On our last approach we had a really great gallop going, and Lainey told me to post the canter the rest of the way to the first fence. 

Mind. Blowing. 

The canter I got when I started posting was so rhythmic, and balanced, and just all-around lovely. Both fences came up absolutely perfectly and the line rode absolutely perfectly. It felt incredible. Lainey told me that I should seek out a canter that is forward enough to post to - with enough energy and speed that I can just use that posting to balance and maintain the rhythm. We, obviously, ended on that note, but I did get the chance to talk the lesson over with Lainey afterwards. 

Her overall impressions and comments for us were as follows: 

-Dino is VERY scopey and talented. She mentioned quite a few times that he is scopier than most big horses, and that getting over the jumps - even when they're big - is not a problem for him. She really liked him, and called him a "Scopey little shit". (he is also, definitely, a shit.)
-She also dialed right in on the fact that we had both come from hunterland before taking up eventing. Our mutual distaste for and inability to cope with an imperfect distance totally gave us away. Lainey wants to see me give Dino the responsibility and confidence to get us from one side to the other, no matter what the distance looks like. It's more than ok to 'miss' and to teach him to deal with the 'miss'. 
-I need to be more demanding of Dino to respond instantly, every time, when I say go. Jumping with a dressage whip instead of a short bat is a good idea. 
-We are too much like an old married couple who just reluctantly put up with each others' faults and bad habits. I need to stop accepting Dino's 'tude - like I saw during his training ride, he's totally capable of being a responsive, respectful guy. 
-Lainey also told me that I'm riding him too well for him to be blowing me off like he does. We've got a bit of a respect problem, and it's something I'm going to have to sit with and digest to figure out the best way to move forward in this area. 

This is what my Sunday night looks like. 
While it was a tough day, I learned so many valuable lessons at the clinic, and did so many things I've never done before. From posting the canter, jumping a triple bar, and jumping skinny chevrons, I did a lot of things that I've just plain never tried! I also got to see my pony perform under extreme pressure and the guidance of another rider, and my eyes were opened to the ways that he's healed enough psychologically to be able to deal with those kind of strict demands - and succeed. I have a lot to mull over and digest in the next few days, not without the help of wine and ibuprofen. 

Even though I had to miss out on Day 1 of the clinic, I think a free training ride more than made up for it! I may have gotten dumped twice, but I got back on and survived the Novice group, and learned that Dino has the scope, power, and mental fortitude to go as far as I'm willing to take him. 

And that's pretty darn cool. 


  1. I would say I'm sorry you had a rough time, but it sounds like it really turned into an amazing time! Getting dumped is no fun though, keep popping those Advil! I'm excited to see what you and Dino do with this new knowledge, respect is huge and while it isn't something you can demand initially, I think that you have earned enough of his trust and built enough of a relationship that you can truly be quite firm with your requests. Time for you to find your inner ponytude!

    1. Sooo much Advil! Thank you so much for the encouragement, I think this clinic experience did a lot to really show where we are in our relationship and show me that Dino and I can handle the pressure - because Lainey heaps on the pressure for sure! Upwards and onwards... :)

  2. Sounds like an amazing clinic! I always hope that clinics will push me out of my comfort zone since I feel like that's why we pay the extra money to have a lesson or two with someone like Lainey.

  3. I think applying the pressure and following through with are both really tough, especially when a horse or pony gets your number. Getting through to the other side is worthwhile but sometimes your relationship with your horse gets in the way (I am guilty of this myself) -- I'm so glad you got to witness Dino's breakthrough (though, I'm sure it was tough to watch at first). Sounds like a really tough but worthwhile clinic! I'm so glad she had positive things to say about you both! You guys are such an inspiration!

  4. Sorry it was a bit of a rough go, but congrats on all the amazing accomplishments!

  5. You're a tough cookie. I guarantee you that if I came off twice at the same jump I wouldn't be able to get back on and eventually get over it. Great job! Also good lessons to take away, despite the sore bum.

  6. Wow -- what an intense clinic! All in all, it sounds like while it was tough, you learned a lot and this will really set you up for the next step up in your riding and training. I'm super happy you went and did so much!!

  7. I call those days "character building". They SUCK SO MUCH in the moment and every time the advil wears off, but you dug deep and found out what both of you are made of.

    And what you found is something to be proud of. It may not always be pretty, but it is gritty and strong and resilient and ready to go on a whole new level you didn't know you could get to.

    So have some wine. Take all the drugs.

    And be proud, because damn girlfriend. You earned it.

  8. Even though the clinic didn't go as planned, it sounds like it was beneficial!

  9. A lot of those points Lainey made about Dino definitely resonate with me for Bobby. Kind of a bummer you had to go through the bad to get to the good, but hopefully what you're able to take away from it all makes up for it. And hopefully the scopey little shit will get his butt over a full cross country course without rudely giving you the finger this year. ;)

  10. Hahaha I love that last photo - but great clinic! I always have a hard time watching people ride my horses but I do love coming to the realization that my horses have grown through some of their older issues.

  11. Oh man, what a jam packed ride full of ups and downs! Hopefully more ups though, and I am glad that you had a lot to take away from it and aren't too discouraged. Dino, you little cute stink.

  12. So we've already talked about this plenty offline and you know I'm so happy you got a lot of value even tho it didn't come in the form you were hoping for. An interesting bit about posting the canter tho! And actually I saw a rider on a pony that struggled with forward post her entire stadium round yesterday except for the last few strides to the fence. It definitely seemed to help establish their rhythm!

  13. Things we learned:
    1. Dino is a little shit. A bad-ass little shit, all the same.
    2. Alli is freaking amazing. I always feel like a boiled bag of poop when someone else has to school my horse, but you took that feeling, put it in the back of your mind, and went "hm, things to learn here." That takes so much guts, and I am so proud of you!
    3. Allie needs to braid Dino's bridle into his forelock. ;)


  14. So sorry you fell off that is the pits regardless. But you and he learned so much, Ah I can't wait to see what you two accomplish this year!

  15. I didn't realize LA was that intense! Good for you for getting back on both times and galloping that pony around.

  16. Sometimes in riding, there are lessons we only learn the hard way. I'm so impressed with how graceful you seem to have been about the whole experience so that you can learn from it, rather than just leaving with a hurt ego (and bum)!

  17. Frustrating Dino wasn't wanting to participate through that line! But a free training ride and you got back on your feet!


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