Journey Journal

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By Nancy DeMaeyer

My 12-year-old Danish Warmblood, Fellini, and I recently embarked on an exciting journey. I bought Fellini about a year and a half ago, and we are still in the process of getting to know one another. He is beginning to trust me in new situations, and I admire that in him. I know that, once I have that trust, we will be a great team. So, I decided to work on our trust, communication, and teamwork by attending a USDF Adult Clinic with Kathy Connelly and Betsy Steiner. Here is the recollection of our journey.

Thursday was travel day. We trailered from Lexington, KY, to Wadsworth, IL, to take part in the USDF Adult Clinic at Tempel Farms. I was very excited to work with Kathy Connelly and Betsy Steiner. They both have exemplary reputations, knowledge, and experience. Of course, this was also very intimidating, putting oneself out there to be watched by these clinicians and many auditors. I wanted both Fellini and I to be at our best so those watching could get the most out of their experience, as well as for our benefit.

Nancy with her family

Friday was the day for Fellini to recover from the eight hours he spent in the trailer, and get used to his new surroundings. Later that afternoon, we had a quick warm-up and assessment session with Kathy and Betsy. The riders came into the arena in groups of three and were asked to walk, trot, and canter. If the clinicians liked what they saw, the rider was excused. Fellini and I passed. He was definitely forward, since he’d been standing around all day and was raring to go. This was also a chance for the riders to become familiar with each other. That night, we all went home to rest and prepare for the next day.

It rained hard Friday night, leading to a very hot and humid Saturday. Thanks to all the rain, the round pen was very sloppy, and I had just a short warm-up before my first lesson with Betsy. She quickly honed in on my body position, and we worked on some great exercises to get Fellini forward into the bit using my back, seat, and leg. No pulling allowed, not even a little! She was so good at picking out my tiniest flaws that kept me from getting the most from my horse. Her exercises made Fellini very happy and cooperative. Its funny how that works, going back to the basics! I was so afraid I would be intimidated by the audience, but it turned out not to be a problem at all. I was so focused on what we were accomplishing that I didn’t have time to give anyone else a single thought. I left the arena with a big smile on my face, not because I had done so well, but because I had learned so much. I couldn’t wait for the next session.

That night, the whole group of riders, trainers, and volunteers went out to dinner together. It was nice getting to know everyone better. They were all very accomplished inside and outside the world of dressage. Earlier that day, one of the auditors had asked if there was going to be a long-lining demonstration, and Kathy tactfully explained the clinic was focused on riders. However, at dinner, I let her know that I had my long-lining equipment with me, and since Kathy had previously worked with Fellini on the long-lines, she felt comfortable doing a brief demo with him during my ride time. It was simply a great evening, and I was really looking forward to the next morning.

I got to the barn early Sunday morning. I wanted to walk Fellini before the sessions started, and didn’t want to miss a thing. There was a good variation of training levels, so each rider seemed to be working on something different. Although, I must say we all got a good dose of correcting body position. After our previous conversation the night before, Kathy did a brief long-lining demo with Fellini, in the beginning of my riding session. I think the auditors were quite impressed with her skill and what she can, with her gentle technique, get in return from the horse. After the demo, my lesson consisted of moving my horse forward into the bridle with soft hands, using my leg and seat. It was inspiring, and the additional long-line session only enhanced our lesson, and was of great benefit for the communication between Fellini and I.

The weekend ended with all the riders promising to keep in touch. We all connected at some level, and all the riders helped each other. This sport is not about being better than someone else, it’s about being better than you were yesterday, and everyone displayed this attitude all weekend. It was an honor to ride with Kathy and Betsy, as well as among riders trying to improve themselves and their horses. After a weekend of inspiration, I returned home with a new commitment to this wonderful sport called dressage.

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