Monday, October 21, 2019

xc clinic with Martin Douzant

Every year, Loch Moy Farm hosts a series of clinics dubbed the "Week with the Pros." The series is wedged between their final recognized HT with BN3DE and the penultimate starter trial of the season, and boasts a different clinician on each day of the week.

Making it more of an occasion, the lessons are held out on the competition cross country course -- which is generally not open for schooling most of the year. Considering the course is still set from the recognized show it makes for a special opportunity.

to glory!!! or something!!!! it's probably over there!!!
Over the years nearly all the Loch Moy schooling vouchers I've earned from volunteering have expired unused. Mostly bc.... Damn, it's a rough drive. My horse lives north east of Baltimore City and Loch Moy is out toward western Maryland, so it's a lot of highways across a lot of traffic. As such, I strongly prefer having two horses on board so they have company on the journey.

I really wanted to do the "Week with the Pros" this year, tho, so I asked around the barn until I found someone who wanted and was able to come with. Based on a combination of scheduling nirvana and personal recommendations, we decided on registering for the Thursday session: semi private xc lessons with Martin Douzant.

starting small. so we can demonstrate our deficiencies as ironically as possible
Charlie somehow managed to keep himself in one piece leading up to the clinic, but our traveling buddy was not so lucky and had to bow out at the last minute. I was super bummed she couldn't come and more than a little reluctant to make Charlie do the drive alone, lest he end up weaving the entire way...

But we pushed forward anyway and actually he ended up completely fine. Better than fine -- he was GREAT. And actually, so was the lesson.

we spent most of the warm up hitting < 2'3 fences at embarrassingly awkward distances
Martin Douzant may be a familiar name in that he's extremely well known as a producer of young horses -- including in the Young and Future Event Horse programs. He's got a quiet steady way about him that seems to really help young horses thrive and flourish.

Overall, I wasn't really totally sure what to expect from a private lesson (since, again, my lesson mate had to cancel last minute). But my plan going in was: Have Fun.

BN table looked exciting after all that
After telling Martin a bit about ourselves, he had us begin with going back and forth over... some extremely tiny jumps lol. Which, obviously, Charlie totally aced as the most perfect horse in the world. And I felt all nice and smug in having explained that we'd been doing N for ages and schooling T for nearly as long.

But then... Martin sent us out on a mini course of another 5 or so tiny jumps (the largest of which was the BN table above) and.... Well. We proceeded to miss just about every single distance. Oops.

martin trying to tell me to be less... uh, me-ish.
M: "that thing you do.... don't."
Y'all have totally seen us do this before too -- when Charlie gets to the slightly gung-ho long spot and I sorta sit back, slip the reins, and clutch my pearls while he flings himself across the fence.

So. Um. Martin did not like this. At all. He was adamant that, in that moment right before, during, and right after the jump itself, the rider *must* be in balance with the horse.

charles feels likewise
So this would be the focus of the lesson -- making me go with the horse. Which, I gotta be honest, was in a way weirdly refreshing. For years now I've sorta cringed at all these photos and videos of me riding horses in my *me* sorta way. But yet, none of my regular coaches have made much of a point of changing that habit, so I guess I sorta figured it was ok.

And like, tons of professional riders routinely maintain fairly upright positions (Phillip Dutton comes to mind), so perhaps I'd convinced myself that maybe it wasn't really a bad thing. Considering I've managed to stick some shit in that position, maybe it was even a good thing?

pleading with me to please try holding mane.
M: "it's right here, srsly tho"
But Martin's point wasn't actually about my upper body -- rather, he cared about where my hands were going. Which was perhaps something I was willfully overlooking haha. All those pros who have upright positions still have independent and following hands lol...

So yea. In this lesson, the crazy pearl clutching I do with my hands when we hit a funky distance would be a primary focus. In no uncertain terms, Martin wanted me holding mane over the fence. Actually he would have preferred I was riding with a neck strap, but the mane would do too.

trying to not get left behind at BN
He actually described me as having "fragile balance," something that surprised me bc again I feel like I've been able to more or less sit some shit. My own impression is that... these positional flaws have more to do with muscle memory stemming from lack of commitment to the forward ride.

Honestly tho, I'm not sure the "why" really matters here. Bc the prescription is the same either way: I need to stay in a more forward balance with the horse no matter what. Long spot, close spot, no spot. My hands need to stay in the appropriate zip code.

oooh we graduated to N!!
Obviously it won't surprise you even a little bit to hear that when I made it my business to grab mane and keep my hands in the right spot, suddenly everything felt wayyyy better. Which is a lesson I apparently will continue to relearn again and again: that when you maintain a more forward positional balance, it's easier to keep a forward pace that gives you more options to the fence.

heck yes, progression yo
After Martin got us consistently holding this forward position, he sent us back out for more course work. Actually -- this was probably the biggest distinction of this lesson compared to most other xc lessons I've taken (with the exception of Dan's xc lessons): it was almost ALL course work.

is a skinny!! just ignore the slightly crooked line to it!!!
And I REALLY liked that approach. It definitely suits Charlie more than the start / stop of just doing one or two fences at a time. The horse did really really well with just being set loose to cover some ground and jump 5-6 things at a time.

and another skinny!!!
Another aspect of the lesson that kinda surprised me a bit was what sort of fences Martin would include. On any given course we'd have jumps ranging in size from 12" to T, often one right after the next.

This.... Is not something I've really ever done before in schooling sessions. Usually there might be some sort of progression in size as part of the warm up. And perhaps for more technically challenging combinations or questions you might downgrade the size of the fence. But generally I try to get up to size and then stay there.

N oxer!! -- for some reason i dislike these airy rails
But Martin's point was that... So much of how Charlie and I are meeting the fences has to do with my own reactions to them. I'm maybe not careful enough with the very small fences. And then maybe I'm a bit nervously excitable at the bigger fences. Either way, I'm not consistent.

And he wanted consistency. He wanted me jumping each fence exactly the same, whether it was 12" or 3'5.

this log is usually on the T course going into water. seems like an N configuration here tho. either way, finally jumped it one way or another!
Specifically, he wanted me holding a forward balance in my position (holding mane at the fence itself) but otherwise waiting for the fences.

As soon as the jumps started getting bigger he noted my tendency to want to "chase" Charlie a bit if I didn't see a distance. Which like... I fully admit it. At this point in my riding I feel like I have to "do something" or make a choice or go for it or something.

M tootsie roll.... kinda hate that these fences have false ground lines
Which led to quite a few bad distances at the line of tootsie roll fences we did (modified and training). Martin wanted me to... do less. Which, ya know, haha, is hard.

It was interesting tho, bc I felt like this was the sort of counterbalance I needed to really understand some of what Sally has been saying to me all summer. She's been wanting me to keep Charlie's hind end moving forward to the bridle, while also maintaining solid contact.

tho the T had some nice brush for a ground line and we still biffed it so... meh lol
I felt like in this lesson, I could keep Sally's words cycling through my head while also focusing hard on following Martin's real-time instruction. And that in doing so, I was ending up with a better ride and more complete understanding of what that "feel" is that each trainer is looking for.

Bc it's all the same stuff, right? They all want to see the same thing.

M explaining to me that my horse is better than me. lol, we know bro, we know
In a way I actually felt oddly reassured that Martin kinda wanted us to break it down. Rather than focusing on challenging combinations or questions, he simply wanted us to be consistent. And said that THIS was our biggest limiting factor in moving up.

Which is true. I've felt like, at our best, Charlie is invincible. But.... In those moments when Charlie isn't operating fully at 110%, I still can't reliably pick up the slack and fill that gap.

wedge back the other way!
For the record, tho, Charlie was an exceptionally good boy for this lesson. We'd had a spot of rain the day before so the ground was finally a bit softer. Plus it was gusting at up to 50mph haha. Like, really fucking windy. Which sure, might make some horses crawl right out of their own skin, but was just the ticket for helping Charlie feel his most forward lol.

next lesson showed up before M was done with us...
And I actually think Martin kinda liked Charlie. Like when I tried to defend my defensive upright position by saying how some shit had happened this summer and I wasn't always sure whether the horse would go at the long spots... Martin basically said, "Uh... Yea I think the horse is going to jump, tho. So just go with him."

Or when we finally started including more N and T fences in our course work, how he was like, "Oh, ok yea, this horse needs to jump bigger fences." He described the horse as plenty scopey, and said he liked how Charlie jumped the skinnies. I'm not entirely sure what, exactly, he liked about it (probably should have asked) but it was nice to hear all the same.

had to finish with some steps!! here be where charlie threw his shew
Honestly my overall impression was that Martin liked the horse and felt he was completely capable of doing the things I want to do. But that *I* need to be better. Which, ya know, we already knew.

I appreciated tho how it felt like he was able to communicate his own soft quiet style of riding through instruction in such a way that I could adopt it at least in part. The trick will be, as always, in seeing if I can hang on to the feeling without the constant instruction haha.

we went down too!! which, incidentally, produced the motivation for my new "oh shit" d-ring strap...
I also really liked the format of the lesson being predominantly course work, with just a few instances of sessioning individual elements (like the bank above, which proved to be another example of my bad hands at work...).

Especially considering his courses had less to do with the individual elements and more to do with the consistent steady rhythm, this gives me a lot of ideas for how to incorporate into my own schooling routine.

The video is a bit longer than what I typically try to upload, and even so it still cut out most of our earliest warm up fences. But I really wanted to capture as much of the ride as possible, especially the parts of the course work where I was working on adopting the feel Martin was trying to impart.

Tho, lol, you can tell we didn't really do much in terms of addressing the left drift in this particular ride. The longer I watch the video, the more I end up leaning farther and farther to the right, trying to subconsciously straighten us out LOL. Ah well, there's always more to work on for another day!

he had a lot to say to us. all of which was extremely useful.
Obviously signing up for a private clinic lesson with an unknown trainer is always kind of a gamble. Especially if things haven't necessarily been going well in our training. In this case, tho, I felt like it really paid off.

The instruction felt like the perfect counter point to all the work I've been doing this summer. I've taken probably more cross country lessons this year than in the last couple years combined, and it really feels like this particular ride helped refine and hone some of those key concepts.

It's not clear if there will be future opportunities to ride with Martin bc he's based even farther away down in The Plains, Virginia, but 10/10 would do again given the chance lol.

In the meantime, tho, it was great to have Charlie feeling more like himself again! Here's hoping we may end up with a fun fall season after all!! :D


  1. That sounds like a great experience. I recently participated in my first ever clinic/XC lesson. All my experience outside the ring is self-taught.

    One of the things that I didn't like about the format of the one I attended is that there was six in my group, and there was a lot of standing around and not a lot of flow. Like you mentioned in this post, I really like the format of doing full coursework, I feel like I learn the most from that.

    1. Oooh yea six is a hard number for cross country, unless it’s like at least a two hour lesson. I’ve generally had a pretty good time with groups of 2-3, tho 4 is also fine personally if it’s the right group and there’s enough time. Privates generally make me a little nervous bc they seem so intense haha. Tho this worked out really well bc we would do a course and then talk for a while then do another etc. the entire ride actually still ended up being like 1.5hrs anyway tho.

      And yea there are advantages to doing course work vs schooling individual elements. Honestly tho I kinda like a combination tho the course work seems to suit Charlie best and also is closest to what we will actually experience in competition. Charlie is a different horse when he first picks up his canter vs when he’s been cantering for 3 or 4 minutes, so I gotta learn to deal with both!!

  2. As I was reading I kept thinking oohhh, I hope she gets to ride with him again. And then whomp, whomp, I saw he's based in The Plains :( Sounds like an incredible experience, though!

    1. Yea I was disappointed when I saw that too. I really liked the lesson tho so I’ll definitely keep an eye out for future opportunities. Even if it’s just him coming somewhat closer to us!!

  3. He sounds like a really great teacher! I think a lot of us can relate to our horses progressing faster than us lol. At least I know I can!

    1. Lol I think it’s honestly super common, and actually I kinda appreciate it bc it’s reassuring to know my horse has got at least his own bases covered!! And yea Martin I felt was really effective as a teacher. Nobody has ever (or probably will ever) accuse me of being a “quiet” rider but I felt like maybe he got me closer?? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  4. That sounds like a really great lesson and I'm glad you were able to make it even if your trailer buddy was not able to!

    1. Thanks yea it worked out. The drive home sucked and Charlie was 100% over it by then but at least he was able to get straight out to his friends!!

  5. I have just recently started doing THE EXACT SAME THING with my hands and I laughed out loud at your 'clutching your pearls' description- yup! It's absolutely my Jesus Take The Wheel move. I have a lesson tomorrow that I am sincerely hoping will help me overcome that, and I'll be thinking of you guys and what sounds like an amazing lesson in the meantime!

    1. Ha yea it’s amazing all the crazy habits we can start harboring without really realizing. And just when I think I’ve got something under control, the moment I get outside of my comfort zone it’s all out the window again LOL. But hey lessons are part of the fun right? Hope yours goes well!!

  6. What an awesome experience! He seems like a really good instructor based on your recap! I like the perspective that clinicians sometimes bring to your rides. Honesty about what they see in the moment! Sounds like an improvement from the beginning to the end!

    1. Yea he was really great! And while I seriously rely on the coaches who know me best to really help dig deep, I’ve come to appreciate the folks who can only really take what they see and go from there. Obvi it can be hit or miss but I’ve been lucky lately !

  7. Sounds like a great lesson. Sometimes you don't get much from a one-off lesson/clinic where they don't know you or your horse, but this sounds like it really gave you some good material to focus on getting consistent positions over the bigger fences. And Charlie is a big hunk o' horseflesh that can of course jump big jumps! lol

    1. Yea clinics are hard and it can be tricky to have appropriate expectations and goals etc. I think this teacher had the right approach tho, at least as it came to really zeroing in on me and what is apparently some low hanging fruit !

  8. What a great experience. I don’t ride with numerous people, I had a hard enough time finding 1, but I’d think that having them all come at the same issue slightly different would be really helpful in building understanding a better tool box.

    1. Yea actually I think what I liked here was that he ID’d an issue I’ve known about but that none of my other trainers have focused on. They all want to see the same outcome but each have different ways of describing it and often prioritize different factors too. It can be useful sometimes!!

  9. Sounds like such a good experience! Martin also sounds like a great teacher; I really hope you get to ride with him again despite him being based in the plains. I agree with you in the "jumping courses" versus just one or two fences at a time. It looks like Charlie greatly appreciated it, too! I certainly noticed times where Charlie was like "YAS I run now!" lolol

    1. Ha yea he was full of it on this day - after this summer I’m really learning to love that feeling LOL! But yea I hope I get to ride with Martin again too. I’ll certainly be looking for opportunities !!

  10. I feel this so much. Yesterday I had a lesson on my hands as well (except over ground poles on green bean Leo, not Modified XC jumps lol), as my body has an ok balance, but hands are always riding a handbrake of sorts and my knee jerk reaction to ERRRYTHING is to pull back. Subconsciously, of course, as I'm typically horrified when I see videos I thought I rode perfectly in.

    I also have a mean right drift and find myself leaning to the left while watching helmet cam footage of my rides. The struggle is reeeeealz.

    Love the longer footage and C looks like he's right at home jumping the bigger fences!

    1. Omg the lean LOL - I’m glad I’m not the only one!!! And yea the hands are so hard... I just want to fix every problem with my hands ya know?? Except turns out that’s really not the right approach for the avaerage horse, go figure!! And hey, ground poles are just as hard. Some of our worst jumps this lesson were the littlest so it’s all relative haha...

  11. Wow what a great opportunity! So glad you went ahead and did it when your friend had to cancel.
    Lol I love it when a trainer or judge comments on my flawed riding like I'm making a deliberate choice to ride that way. Even if I know I'm doing it and I know it's wrong, I can't make my body cooperate with changing to the correct form!

    1. Ugh I hate knowing I’m making bad mistakes while somehow not being able to fix it. Luckily this clinician really helped me make those changes so I’m hopeful with enough focused effort maybe the changes will stick???

  12. I feel like riding is mostly having a perfect rhythm and staying out of the way. But also, it's really hard to find that rhythm, and I just really want to help! (But my helping is rarely useful.)
    Sounds like a great lesson, and the focus on fixing your hands seems like it will be very helpful for the future!

    1. Riding is so hard haha. I’ve gotten in trouble for confusing softness with effectiveness. Meaning - being soft and quiet and wishy washy when actually I’m not being effective enough in helping get my horse where he needed to be. But I’ve also gotten in trouble for doing too much and making too big of adjustments. There’s a sweet spot in there that maybe one day I’ll find!!!

  13. God I am so jealous of the courses you guys have over in the US, they always look so polished compared to some of our bush doofs

  14. It sounds like a really constructive session, it's good to work with fresh eyes that identify other issues in our riding. And it sounds like it helped build your confidence too which is a win! It's always a risk with new trainers that they might not click with you.

  15. Sounds like a really good lesson! I definitely prefer doing "course work" over XC jumps. It's just too hard and not realistic to school them starting and stopping. I like getting into a flow. I think the idea of mixing different heights is interesting too!

  16. That stinks your lesson buddy had to back out last minute, but that's pretty awesome you still went!! It can be pretty intimidating to ride with a brand new instructor, esp in the private lesson on your own, but it sounds like it went really well!

  17. What a great lesson for you and Charlie. He sounds like a good fit for your program. :)


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