Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Show Jumping Clinic with Phillip Dutton

First off, let's give a big round of applause to Charlie haha. After a summer of busted clinic plans with one random ding after another, finally Charlie was healthy and happy right on cue to attend a clinic with Phillip Dutton at the lovely Trevi Manor Farm. Way to go, big guy lol...

#sorrynotsorry for the photo spam today. Austen braved extreme elements to capture these (and so so so SO many more) lovely photos - it would be a crime not to honor her service and post a crap load of  them <3 pc Austen Gage
The clinic hosts and PD himself also deserve some recognition, as do all the other riders and esp the auditors - including Austen and former barn mate Rachael. Seriously, y'all are troopers! The weather was the closest it could literally be to an actual cold wet towel. The dampening effect was.... persistent and pervasive. Nobody was safe dry.

pictured: damp and getting damper. pc Austen Gage
Nationally, we're hearing all about the insane rainfall in Florida and other southern states. But it's been pretty darn wet here in Maryland too, and the ground is completely saturated. This Sunday was no exception: Chilly 40*F temps with a relentless drizzle that left everyone, including the horses, feeling raw and chilled to the bone.

So. Not ideal, right? But we're eventers and we're tough, I guess, so we carried on with the clinic anyway. It helped that at least the footing at Trevi Manor was very good and held up nicely against the onslaught.

three of us, trying to soak up PD's words along with all the rain haha. pc Austen Gage
Our Training group was the largest of the day, with 5 riders. In terms of experience and years in the field, Charlie was undoubtedly the greenest of the group on paper.

handsome charlie <3 sodden emma. pc Austen Gage
The group included one horse with extensive T mileage prior to being sidelined by injury for a year; one who went P before injury; another who has been going N for ~3 years and was finally pushing for T; and a fourth who moved up to T this past summer. Plus Charlie, who has done.... uh, 4 Ns, completing 3 of them (those numbers go up +1 if you include the Twilight tho!).

getting started!! i was honestly just happy to be here haha. pc Austen Gage
Realistically, tho, I'm pleased to say Charlie held his own in the group and didn't stick out as "green." The group seemed more or less matched, which was nice considering there were so many of us. Plus all the jumps stayed very small anyway (tbh, most were not adjusted after the BN group before us...) so it hardly seemed to matter.

The flat work was probably the only real distinction between the T group and others I watched (tho I fully admit I didn't watch the warm ups of any other groups, so I could be wrong here).

champion walker. pc Austen Gage
PD put us through a rigorous session. You can sorta see in the course diagram (not to scale but close enough) that the ring was not very big. The course had an open rectangle at one end of the ring, and PD had the 5 of us stick to that small rectangle for warm up, explicitly coaching us to make square turns in every corner. It was a lot of horses in a small space, but it was ok.

trit-trotting around. PD: "shorten your reins!" pc Austen Gage
PD said it was important to prepare the horses in our training, that it's not enough for them to be "brave" or to just sorta "survive" a level. But that, instead, it was our jobs to teach them everything they would need to know so nothing came as a surprise. He also emphasized that our schooling should not rely on our hands to make changes in the horse's shape.

cantering without stirrups, god save us all. pc Austen Gage
I can't remember the exact order of everything bc it was very rapid-fire, but once in trot we started immediately with those square turns in every corner. Then started integrating shoulder fore, then straight, then shoulders out in counter bend, then straight. Then turning down the center line and leg yielding out, all of us in a row. Then up the center line to change directions (wherein I got dinged for riding more rounded turns instead of square turns, tho in my defense I was just trying to get more space between me and the horse in front haha).

Then repeat the same shoulder in - straight - shoulder out - straight - leg yield process. Then some lengthening and collecting of the trot - bigger steps down the long side, collecting in the corners. This was obviously challenging in the crowded space but doable. Then sitting trot (atrocious haha!) and two point, without losing connection, and then canter from two point.

kinda exhausted before we even got started haha! charlie lookin good tho <3 pc Austen Gage
In canter, we also did the leg yield exercises, and the lengthening and collecting. And then dropped our stirrups, continued on in canter, then transitioned to trot and then two point in trot and more sitting trot (still without stirrups), before finally coming back to walk.

Honestly I am sure I'm messing up the order in there, and there were more changes of direction, and rapid transitions between different movements and rider positions. I do remember there were different times we cantered, including a few walk-canter transitions. It felt a little bit more of a test of rider and horse skill sets rather than an actual "this is how you should warm up your horse" type approach haha. Intense!

full set of exercises, all oxers are square and everything is ridden in both directions
Charlie was a good boy, tho, and stayed with me. It was a little more rapid-fire than I typically ride him, but he adjusted well enough and handled it fine. For his part, PD's running commentary aside from telling us where to go, was along the lines of "heels down," "shorter reins," "that was a bad turn," and "transition has to happen faster, he has to listen."

this little blue and white grid of offset fences started off innocently enough. pc Austen Gage
After that, it was time to jump! There were four main lines we worked over during the lesson: the grid line (three offset fences), the diagonal of oxers, the bending line with liverpool, and the outside in and out. Plus a corner as the end jump. There were two other jumps set in the ring, but we never did anything with them, so I left them out of my diagram. Also included were markers in every corner that PD insisted: stay outside the markers!

holy moly tho it did not *stay* innocent tho! Charlie's side eye says it all haha... pc Austen Gage
We started with the grid: first going directly in 3 strides over the first and last of the three, both directions. Then tracking right, catching the middle inside element to the final outside element in 1 stride. Then changing directions and putting all three together in 1-to-1.

First thing to realize in a PD lesson is that every exercise is done twice, once from each direction. Second thing to learn is: his instruction is focuses almost exclusively on outcomes. For example, "Ride this line in 4 even strides." He's not saying how to do it, rather he's saying what he wants you to do. And either you do that thing, or you repeat the exercise. With the way his lines were set (open), the answer to basically any problem was "forward."

not sure we ever quite executed this grid particularly well lol. also i hope you are enjoying how well all these hq photos capture my and charlie's WIDE array of expressions... pc Austen Gage
And so, you could expect to hear PD say (and will hear him saying in the video): "Forward," "Good," "Kick kick kick!!," and "Next horse." And occasionally, "Less hand."

Anyway. Back to the exercises: That grid was way more challenging than I expected it to be. Even with the jumps being very very small. It wasn't super clear to me if we should be aiming to jump the center of each fence (something that's been a focus in recent lessons with Trainer P) and thus create a bend in the grid line; or if we were supposed to find a straight line by jumping the ends of each fence.

small diagonal line was easy peasy after that grid! pc Austen Gage
With Charlie, I aimed for something sorta in between. And yea, it was a lot harder than I expected, possibly bc the jumps were set on an open stride. I've worked very hard on Charlie's flat work, but have done almost everything on a compressed stride.

Charlie felt like he was landing a little too strong too, which made me want to collect him even more, but in retrospect he was landing strong bc he had to make big moves to make up the distance when we jumped in too quiet.

jumping in for the add stride back down the line. pc Austen Gage
PD, for his part, didn't seem to care how this grid was accomplished so long as it was done in an even 1-to-1 strides. Most of the horses made very ugly shapes through the grid - esp the middle element, all the horses had at least one effort where they were very hollow and inverted. Considering I typically use grids to improve a horse's shape, this was interesting to me.

I suppose the intention was to demonstrate that the horse's salvation was forward, and that the riders needed to stay committed and go with the horse, and not rely on hand to do so. Easier said than done!

charlie don't care about no liverpool! please to note the strategically placed blocks all over the place. pc Austen Gage
After that, we worked on the diagonal line of oxers - first in 4 strides, then turning around and coming the other direction in 5. This I *did* expect to be challenging considering what I perceived to be Charlie landing a little strongly from the fences, but actually he was mostly pretty good. Swapped leads and was a little braced coming down in 5, but did the thing. Good boy.

Next was the bending line. The line had a block parked in the middle as a land mark. First trip (off left lead) we were to go outside the block, which rode in a nice 5. Then coming back on the right lead we were to go inside the block (so a straighter line) which worked nicely in 4.

aww lookie charlie being so fierce about those jumps that don't even reach his knees lol. pc Austen Gage
Next we came back down on the right lead from liverpool to oxer, but this time outside the block (so more of a bend), and Charlie and I chopped in a 6th stride. That was interesting to me, and mirrored the issue I had with the grid of three offset fences. When we're tracking right on the right lead, but have to bend left, Charlie and I struggle to maintain stride length.

Anyway, from that bending line we went to the corner. It was relatively small - set around <= N, but wide. Charlie didn't care tho, jumped it easily.

oooh there we go big guy!! pc Austen Gage
Then the next piece felt like we were building toward some course work. We came back down the grid on left lead, wherein Charlie and I almost died and I totally slipped the reins. PD was hollering to keep going and ride forward and "C'mon!!!!" to the corner, which Charlie thankfully did, and jumped it great, then turned immediately (but outside the corner blocks!!!) back to the bending line, taking the inside route in a forward 4.

#obsessed with this sweet horse tho. he's so game! pc Austen Gage
That was.... not a very pretty sequence for me and Charlie. Felt like we really kinda had to fight for it, and I sorta expected to repeat it. But I guess since we ended up getting the "forward" answer well enough, we left it at that.

atta boy, chuck! pc Austen Gage
Next was the final line of the lesson: an in and out that PD cautioned was set on a very open stride and that I'd need to get to the canter where I felt like "This is good," and then... add more haha.

This was the first jump that went up a little bit, and we rode it first from vertical to oxer. Then it went up again to actual proper T size, and we rode oxer to vertical. Charlie knocked it the first time, so we repeated and he really jumped the snot out of it. Good boy!

finally starting to look more forward- PD's intention all along. pc Austen Gage
I thought from there we might put everything together into a course, since that's often how trainer P operates. Jump each individual exercise, then put it all together. But nope, that was it, class was dismissed!

game face: engaged (lol....)!! pc Austen Gage
Slightly abrupt, but not a moment too soon if you asked the horses haha. Charlie was a very VERY good boy for the entire lesson. He got a little sulky at moments, but nothing actually perceptible to anyone else. Mostly just kinda felt like, "It's raining and it's miserable and I'm cold but I'm being a good boy so why do you keep torturing me so?!?" Poor suffering Charlie!

yesssss go Charlie!! this was probably one of the only T fences we jumped all day, but he made it count. pc Austen Gage
The organizer told us when we pulled in to park that PD was sacrificing a lot of the normal "chat" in order to keep things moving, considering the wet miserable weather. So while I did get some commentary from him, mostly I've had to reflect a bit on my impressions of the experience and the videos to better understand my takeaways.

landing locked and loaded. pc Austen Gage
First up: The Forward! issue. This is entirely of my own creation, an artifact of the years spent teaching Charlie to compress and collect and carry his own self. Charlie's defining characteristic is his extreme length. And his six years on the track left him plenty capable of flattening into an extremely ground-covering gallop. So we've taught him to shorten.

final vertical of the stone wall in-and-out line
The issue is: I need to make the next step in Charlie's training. We need to maintain the feeling we can achieve on the flat: round, uphill, in front of my leg, and soft to the bridle; but carry a more forward pace and increase the activity and reach of his hind end.

yup, he's a champ. a very patient, and very wet, champ. pc Austen Gage
My job here, however, will be to not throw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than changing our entire approach to training Charlie (which seems to be working pretty darn well for the horse, let's be real), this clinic serves as a reminder that we need balance. And that ultimately, as we look toward more technically challenging levels, I *need* to get a better feel for riding Charlie on a longer stride.


Second big takeaway: This lesson was basically all about turning. Partly due to the realities of a small-but-functional arena. And partly bc of the exercises themselves. And? Charlie did a helluva lot better than I would have thought.

thoroughly soaked haha. pc Austen Gage
But that left bend in particular caught us out a couple times unexpectedly. Luckily that's easy enough to practice! Considering each of these exercises routinely show up in lessons with Trainer P (albeit usually at shorter distances), we can start targeting that apparent asymmetry.

aw what a good boy tho <3 pc Austen Gage
So overall, two very useful and actionable takeaways. And all in all, a good experience for Charlie. Both as a test of his current skill set and an addition to his education in decidedly sub-optimal conditions. Hopefully we'll be able to translate this into perfect off-season fodder lol!

39 comments:

  1. My most favorite piece of this whole post: "I suppose the intention was to demonstrate that the horse's salvation was forward, and that the riders needed to stay committed and go with the horse, and not rely on hand to do so. Easier said than done!" What a great take-away. I dunno why, but that resounded with me SO much. So much, in fact, that I wrote it down in my catch-all planner that goes everywhere with me.

    Great job to you both and I absolutely love the photos!

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    1. Austen did such a nice job with the photos!! And that whole “find salvation in forward” thing is so important for me to think about too. That specific wording actually comes from Ralph Hill, he set some exercises with the same intention and I’m not sure I would have had the same takeaway here with PD if I hadn’t already heard Ralph talk about it. You should go back and read that clinic summary if you’re interested in more!

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  2. I found that last line (vert -> oxer/oxer -> vert) to be particularly interesting. Reminded me of a Wofford clinic I watched once where Jimmy kept emphasizing that horses should "expect the unexpected" from their riders. Switching around the direction and taking the oxer first in the line really caught a lot of horses out. Felt like overall the purpose was to get the horses forward and GOING, locked on and game, but also listening and paying attention. Forward, but not autopilot if that makes sense. I can see that being a very useful lesson for an event horse. Wish he'd lectured more, even despite the rain. Would be nice to know the actual intent. The obtuse theory in so many jumping lessons bugs me. Haha.

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    1. Yea I really wish he would have lectured more too, sometimes that’s what I get the most out of at these clinic experiences. Oh well! The exercises were instructive enough lol! And I’m actually not sure the oxer first was what caught the horses out - aside from the grid more than half the jumps of the day were oxers. Rather that stone wall was a touch spooky, oh and maybe the fact that we had been jumping 2’ for an hour and suddenly there’s a 3’ oxer that had been raised since the last time they saw it lol....

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  3. Great photos, nasty weather. 40 and rain is so much colder feeling than 30 and dry. I find it interesting that he didn’t go much into the “how” or even the “why” to do an exercise and instead focused on the “what” and left it up to each rider to figure it out. I’m very much a why person but I’m also no where near T level so maybe the smaller levels got more input? Way to conquer a tough clinic and adverse conditions.

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    1. Yea I’m definitely with you - would have liked to hear more about how to approach each exercise and why. That’s what makes the lessons easier to apply in different settings, IMO. Trying to understand my takeaways and write this post was a little like trying to squeeze blood from a stone haha! But there ARE good lessons for me to learn here so overall I’m satisfied

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  4. What an incredible opportunity, and kudo's to you all for persevering through crappy weather! Sounds like a lot of great take-aways and can I just say... love me some Charlie!

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    1. the weather definitely really sucked haha, but c'est la vie i guess!! and isn't charlie just the greatest?? idk how i got so lucky with this horse <3 <3 <3

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  5. Those exercises sound so tricky, but Charles looks SO GAME!

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    1. Aw thanks! I was really proud of him - the format was tough with all the starting and stopping, with not quite as much time to “prepare” him for each exercise like I can do in our more casual normal lessons. plus the rain, which was obvi nasty. But he stayed on point the whole time, even when it was clear he felt ready to be done!! What a grown up haha <3

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  6. I think my brain would have imploded from all the different things AND that nasty looking weather.

    Your faces are priceless in some of these photos!

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    1. omg and there so many more incredible faces that didn't even get posted.... omg. and yea that weather was definitely brain-implosion-inducing!

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  7. You've done such a fantastic job with Charlie <3
    I might have fallen a little apart with that teaching style - I need more feedback/reassurance and don't do as well the whole "pass/fail" feel of some :) Well done! :)

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    1. yea honestly i'm probably more similar to you - i want to understand more about how a process is working or why we choose to do things certain ways, bc that's how an idea becomes scalable to me. luckily with all the stuff we faced this day, even tho it felt a little bit like a "pass/fail" test, charlie and i are at least up to date on our studies!

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  8. Omg I'm cracking up at the people in the background of you're pictures! People hiding in trailers, covered in horse blankets, yep...you're at a clinic in shitty weather!

    I rode in a clinic with PD back in the day when he was just some Aussie dude that rode in the Olympics (can't remember if it was winter of 2002 or 2003... just remember it was cold and the grass was brown) instead of P. Diddy, anchor for all American teams etc etc. I'm trying to remember if he talked a lot in his clinic then...but I do remember the jumps stayed small and it was about the exercises not the height of the jumps. But it did sound like you got a lot of info (even if it was through person reflections) on the next step for you guys and moving forward!

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    1. ha yea it's a pretty safe bet the 2002-2003 version of myself had never even heard of PD.... at that point i was still safely ensconced in hunterlandia doing the local schooling circuits with my barn up at college haha.

      but yea, something tells me PD has a bit of a reputation as being kinda .... not super chatty. my friend audited him a couple weeks ago down in VA (i wanted to skip out on work soooo badly but was too busy, womp) and felt like he had a lot more to say on that day than he did this weekend, so probably it was just the weather. oh well, still lots of good stuff to take home and unpack!

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  9. Interesting to read and great looking exercises! It's always good to find some things that work well at low height for our small indoor in winter. I have a friend who rides with PD, I'll have to ask her about his style in regular lessons vs clinics. But damn, I was cold and miserable just looking at these pics!

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    1. these were great exercises and could translate really well to an indoor, i think! the offset grid honestly wasn't my favorite bc of the bad shape it produced in the horses, but a normal straight line grid on an open distance is always a good bet! and yea i'd be curious what your friend says about PD's style. i'd guess that a normal student gets more from regular lessons, compared to a clinic designed to work for a wide range of students at all levels. but still curious haha

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  10. Charlie looked great!! You've done a great job with him. It would've been nice to hear some thoughts on him by PD but ah well right? In the end it doesn't matter. You rock!!❤️

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    1. thanks! i do regret not asking more specifically at the end what he thought of us in terms of our gaps, strengths and weaknesses re: moving up. generally tho i don't usually ask what the pros think of my horse overall. bc..... well. poor charlie, he just doesn't really compare to the types of horses they work with in their own barns lol! and i don't want to put anyone on the spot trying to figure out a nice way to say "well he's kinda awkward and not the soundest thing in the world but ya'all will probably be able to survive T, maybe!" lol....

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  11. Damn you guys look soggy. (lot of great takeaways and things to build on.

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    1. so so soggy tho. but hey, who doesn't love some solid homework to dig into over the winter?!

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  12. That weather looks yuck, but the exercises look really interesting. Tricky to have a clinic in such challenging conditions, especially with a trainer you haven't seen before, it can be hard to make the most out of it but it sounds productive.

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    1. definitely productive, i'm glad we did it! esp bc it gave me a fresh perspective on some of the approaches we've been taking with charlie's training

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  13. Wow, that was truly miserable weather! Getting forward can be tough in that weather - good time to work on it!

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    1. we might be meaning forward here in two different ways -- charlie was moving out and in front of my leg (you can see in the video) just fine, that wasn't the issue. rather, i'm riding him on too short of a stride. the issue is my feel for what's the right canter for the level, rather than him not being willing or able to go forward.

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  14. Congrats on finally making it to a clinic, then crushing it! And not dying...always an accomplishment, I feel like :)

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    1. ha thanks - not dying definitely felt like a good accomplishment for the day ;)

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  15. Congratulations on having a such a successful clinic. You guys looked great. It's good to know that Charlie can survive such horrible weather. :)

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    1. seriously haha! he definitely doesn't like the bad weather, but he still plays along. actually not so much this year, but last year an inordinate number of our lessons were in nasty rain. plus i imagine on the track he ran in all conditions, esp considering he raced in the winter time. so... ya know... he's pretty good about "having a job," and i'm definitely grateful!

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  16. Whats your rating on PDuddy as a clinician on a scale 1-10?

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    1. so that number rating system i think doesn't quite capture how i'd assign value to the clinic (convicted overthinker right here haha), so instead i'll try to answer a little differently:

      1. am i glad i did it? yes, 100%. my 2 main takeaways from the experience are actionable and can be integrated into my existing training program over the course of the off season. furthermore, the takeaways are a direct result of riding in the clinic -- i couldn't have figured out the same just from auditing. and they were also not likely something i would have gotten out of my normal lessons as immediately, compared to a lesson with an expert stranger who could assess "this is what i see in front of me today, using these exercises i designed for the purpose." the bigger step takeaway in particular was something i was a bit blinded to by charlie's history.

      2. if i could do it all over again, would it? again, yes. i feel like everything that went into this clinic -- the cost, the time and energy of travel, and even getting soaked to the bone -- was worth it for the experiences we gained in the ride.

      3. given the opportunity to repeat again in the future, would i? here is where i'm not so sure. it was a good experience with good takeaways, but i kinda had to suss out the takeaways on my own since PD did not provide a ton of direct feedback. this means that the takeaways are all kinda rooted in the knowledge i already have about myself as a rider, my horse, and the sport. rather than, say, increasing my knowledge on those things. i would have liked more feedback, and it's possible that the lack of chat was situational (poor whether, challenging conditions). a friend who audited PD a couple weeks ago said he was much quieter this time, but he also has a bit of a rep as a man of few words. so who knows. overall tho, i probably won't sign up for another clinic immediately, and if i did it would probably depend on venue and where charlie and i are in our riding.

      hope this word vomit is helpful even if it isn't a simple rating out of 10 ;)

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  17. This sounds like a good clinic with some good takeaways! And you guys looked great out there too! Charlie was such a good boy! I'm so glad he was FINALLY sound and the stars aligned for you to attend one LOLOL

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    1. ha thanks! i'm so glad too - honestly i really wasn't sure whether it would happen literally right up until the moment i was actually physically putting charlie on the trailer lol. bc let's be real, ya never know with this horse!!

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  18. There is so much turning, and different combos! My brain would've struggled to keep up. You and Charlie look cool as cucumbers out there though (and a little damp). Congrats on a great outing and an interesting clinic!

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  19. YAYYYY Charles for playing safe and getting to a clinic in one piece, lol. He looks like such a professional out there :)

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  20. Looking good!! The flatwork is especially lovely, great progress from the beginning of the year!! Can't wait to see you guys conquer Training level next year. :)

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  21. Yasssss! So excited for you Emma! Sounds like a very challenging clinic, with possibly not a ton of explanation, and sounds like you and Charlie totally stepped up the the plate. So so thrilled for you lady!

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  22. Major kudos for you for getting out there in the cold and rain. I would be miserable and then I don't concentrate and then it all goes to shit. lol.
    I'm so torn about clinics. Mainly because, I DO want the feedback. But it's so hard for clinicians to make their lessons less than universal, and therefore we don't always work on what we need to work on. I'd be frustrated with not knowing the purpose of exercises as well as what my biggest take aways need to be.
    I just put a deposit down for a SJ clinic in June with a big name eventer, but I have ridden with her before and figure the more time in the SJ arena, the better. We'll see how it goes!

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