Fay Haney, CTDA member and Adult Amateur Scholarship Recipient
Before I talk about my experiences at the two-day Lynn Palm Clinic, a bit of my personal history in beginning Western Dressage is in order. I had heard of Cowboy Dressage and Western Dressage and became interested when my good friend Cindy did a clinic with Frances Carbonnel a couple of years ago. I couldn’t attend that clinic, but I audited the final day and was convinced that learning dressage would be beneficial to both myself and my horse Sonny, maybe especially to Sonny, so I was inspired.
However, inspiration only goes so far and my Horsemanship dollars are limited so I didn’t jump right in to lessons or Clinics. Not long after the Frances Carbonell clinic, Cindy showed me a book by Lynn Palm and in 2016 we both were in her short clinic and demo ride during the Southern Equine Expo in Murfreesboro. It was at the same time both exciting and pretty terrifying. I’d never, NEVER been in a huge arena with an audience and she is such a big name in the Western Dressage World that I was more than a little bit intimidated! Of course the situation wasn’t helped at all by the fact that Sonny showed his high spirited, opinionated Arabian self when we entered the big arena. He pranced and snorted his way around the arena but, thankfully, did settle down by the time we went in to the dressage ring as a class. She also conducted a class in one of the smaller arenas that had been set up in the warm up area. During that class, she asked for the dreaded “drop your stirrups at the trot”. Yikes! Sonny has a jack- hammer style of trotting as well as an “I can’t post fast enough to keep up with him” style. Needless to say, we fell apart at the dropped stirrups trot. In survival mode, I went into the elbows out, hands up, bouncing out of the saddle technique. Not pretty, or effective.
Fast forward to earlier this year when I saw that Clearview Farm was hosting a two-day clinic with Lynn Palm in June. Cindy and I were among the first to sign-up. The response was so good that Marie and Lynn added a second two-day clinic.
Sonny and I arrived at Clearview Farm on Friday, June 23, 2017, for the weekend clinic with Lynn Palm. Sonny settled in his stall for the weekend. Cindy and I audited the second day of the first two-day clinic, awaiting our clinic tomorrow and Sunday. Watching these sessions calmed my nerves. Lynn is patient and kind, encouraging good efforts, and clear in her instructions. It’s good to be able to relax.
Sunday 6/25, Reflections on the clinic: Lynn met with us sans horses each morning for a lecture on theory, a description of techniques, and time for our questions. The first day she had us ride ad lib in the dressage ring or outside the ring in the periphery area so that she could evaluate our needs. After that, she formed us into groups for our sessions.
She stressed three main fundamentals to good riding. These basics help both rider and horse to perform better with less effort. Well, for the rider, it’s eventually less effort when it’s become second nature and when your horse understands and responds to the aids. But a LOT of effort
when learning. I was physically and mentally pooped before the end of each day. I had to push myself to participate in the last session of the second day.
The three fundamentals are 1) Rider balance 2) The natural aids 3) Horse’s balance. We spent the first day on #1 and the second day on #2. To my understanding, #3 will occur on its own when the rider has mastered and is consistent with the first two.
In her teaching of rider’s balance, she told us that proper balance allows the horse to carry the rider more easily and therefore to carry himself without bracing anywhere in his body. It also allows the horse to easily comply with our aids or cues. The rider, in another way of looking at it, gets out of the horse’s way. She told us that she wouldn’t be teaching us Lynn Palm’s methods, she would be teaching us the time tested and proven method of alignment of ear, shoulder, mid hip, and back of the heel. Some saddles, especially Western ones are made with the fenders set more forward on the saddle and they can make it more of a challenge to achieve and maintain optimal balance. I re-learned that another pair of eyes critiquing you is essential to knowing if you are in balance or not. Until you learn and experience what it feels like to be in correct balance, it’s too easy to think you are in balance when you are not.
When I got in optimal balance with Lynn’s coaching, I was able to sit Sonny’s fast trot which I have always had to post. Always. I was able to do the ‘dropped stirrups’ trot exercise as well! Happy, happy relief!!I asked Lynn if being in optimal balance caused him to offer a better trot, or if it allowed me to sit his fast trot. She thought it could be either or both scenarios. All 11 of us in the clinic were very pleased with our improvements and our horse’s responses to it. Yay! It was a hot and sweaty, tired but happy end of day one.
Day two focused on the natural aids for my group. Lynn taught us that the 3 natural aids are 1) seat 2) legs 3) hands/reins.
For upward transitions, use seat first, then legs, then reins–move your seat forth and back in the saddle to encourage movement from the halt, or for an upward transition, if no response , continue moving your seat and add light pressure with your upper calves which should already be lightly in contact with the horse, from the optimal balance position , move the legs back just a bit further when giving the leg aids, then when the response is obtained, go back the original position, maintaining the constant, light contact. Be sure to not pull back at all on the reins to avoid inadvertently blocking forward movement. For downward transition, or a halt–tighten the core muscles and buttocks, lean back to get a deeper seat and add a very slight pressure with the legs.
She taught us to use a direct rein and a neck rein, to hold the reins with thumbs up and at least 3 fingers closed softly around the reins. Turn the pinky finger toward the neck when communicating to the horse. Slightly push the reins forward and for a right turn, pinky toward neck with right hand, move the right hand out sideways from the neutral position. With the left hand, turn the pinky finger toward the neck and bring the rein up against the horse’s left neck.
Both these reining positions ask for and support the right turn, and obviously are reversed for a left turn.
It was an awesome clinic and I am very, very grateful for the CTDA Scholarship that I used toward the cost of the clinic. I highly recommend Lynn as an instructor, and am sure that all the students would agree on that. Her books and DVDs can be purchased on her website. Those would explain everything in much more detail and you could be assured of accuracy vs. what I was able to remember and write in my report to you.