Doing it wrong (in all the right ways)

I was fortunate again to scrape together the cash to ride with Michael Barisone the weekend before Thanksgiving.  The last clinic in August helped give me motivation and a little breakthrough that really helped improve my position.  The hope was that this weekend would do the same, which would be especially good heading into the long, dark, and hopefully not-as-cold-as-last-year winter.

I’m very happy to report that the clinic was once again worth the money, but not in the same way as last time.  Sure, I have some new things to work on, new focus, and I had another little “aha!” moment in the changes, but the best thing I learned is that I continue to do lots of things wrong, but I’m learned how to do them wrong in the right direction.

Michael knows that we’re aiming at the Prix St. Georges next show season.  It will be a stretch for sure, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to put on a tailcoat sometime in the late summer or early fall.  Knowing that’s my goal, and after a little warmup to get Cardoon really working over his back, we dove straight into the PSG work.

This would be a good time to point out that we’ve only schooled tempi changes a handful of times, and Lauren has only had me approach the general idea of a pirouette.  We never really tried to execute one.

Michael didn’t know that, so when he asked me to show him my four-tempis, we careened wildly across the diagonal (actually, about 5 different diagonals), throwing in random changes.  I think we did three of them.

Once he made it clear that he wanted FIVE changes, FOUR strides apart, on ONE diagonal line, I finally got myself together, and really rode them.  That was the “aha!” moment for the clinic – feeling just how much effort I had to put into those changes.  It’s no longer about just asking Cardoon to move forward, and then asking for the change.  Now I need to train myself to keep him strongly centered between both legs and both hands and drive him STRAIGHT into each tempi change.  Only when I really SAT and DROVE in a way I’ve never done before, did that line of FIVE, 4-tempis appear.

The more important lesson came in working the pirouettes.  To be fair, I’ve never done them on any horse.  And since I’m pretty sure Combined Driving tests don’t call for a canter pirouette, that means Cardoon has never done one either.  Again, this didn’t daunt Michael.

“Come through the corner, onto the diagonal, and TURN before you get to X!” he says.  Sure, sounds easy…turning.  Just…turning.  Of course there’s the turn to the diagonal, straighten, bend, collect, keep cantering, stay round, KEEP CANTERING, and then turn the smallest figure you’ve ever ridden.

Fortunately, Cardoon is a saint, and while I’m sure he was confused by the push, pull, and groan of frustration coming from his back, we did eventually start to approach something that may have resembled a pirouette.  What I learned, and what will be invaluable as I go into a stretch of riding on my own, is how to do pirouettes wrong, but in the right direction.

Lauren likes to tell me that its not a problem when I keep making mistakes, as long as they’re not the same one, over and over.  I think the lesson from this clinic is also to keep making different mistakes, but make them in the right way.

In the pirouette, what I realized is that I was trying too hard to keep Cardoon’s head down, and keep him round.  This gave him no room to come up through his shoulder and turn.  My turns were round and on the bit, but way too big.  When I let go of keeping his head down, I felt like I could lift his shoulders right up and move them over with each stride.  While I’m sure the result was somewhat horrifying to watch, it gave me a better feel for where we’re headed, and those formerly 6m voltes started to be more like 2-3m pirouettes.

I’ll need to go back and fix the roundness once I can get the turning sorted out, but at least I have a map of which pieces can be wrong while we get the feel of the pirouette.

After all, Michael told me that I have to do 10,000 pirouettes to really understand them.  I think I have 9,950 to go.



2 thoughts on “Doing it wrong (in all the right ways)

  1. Thank you so much for this post and HBD in general.  I’m doing things wrong at a much lower level but it all rings true here too, which proves the inherent correctness.  I hope to be lucky enough to have this revelation again and again 🙂


    • Trust me, we had plenty of moments (days, weeks, months) as we’ve come up the levels. Someday I’ll recount how we learned our canter-walk-canter transitions. Some days, we could do it and then others we could walk, we could canter, but forcing the two to relate was like creating peace in the Middle East! Keep at it. The payoff of doing it wrong for years is really paying off, and this is so much fun now!


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