Lucky Illinois carriage drivers were able to enjoy the instruction of eight-time USET pairs champion and current FEI-level ridden dressage competitor Larry Poulin the weekend of April 12-15. I was particularly fortunate because not only did I have a driving lesson with him the Saturday of the clinic, I took advantage of this wonderful opportunity to also schedule a RIDING lesson with him that Monday.
This was the fourth annual spring clinic that The HUB Club was able to arrange with Larry. The HUB Club, or Horse Und Buggy Club, based in northeast Illinois, is dedicated to the sport of carriage driving and is led by a wonderful president (me). We’re becoming familiar with a few of Larry’s key phrases and concepts, such as “gotta go, gotta go, gotta go” when he wants a horse to cover more ground, have more impulsion or be more forward; “no you can’t have it” referring to the rein contact when a horse becomes too strong in the bridle and leans on the driver’s hands; and “take him right but make him look left,” or vice versa, to supple a horse in the neck when he’s stiff.
I knew I was definitely at the right place with the right teacher, as this excerpt from my pre-submitted bio testifies:
“Newman would like to work on being soft and round in the bridle and not leaning on his driver’s hands, also not ‘setting’ his neck but being supple left and right. This horse is quite talented at ‘hovering’ above the bit, not really being on the aids or through. When he does truly connect over the back, he is able to collect, extend and demonstrate lateral work quite nicely. Could his hind end be more active and engaged? Absolutely!”
Did we work on being more forward? Yes, Larry caught Newman offering a lovely lofty trot that went nowhere and instructed me to encourage him to actively gain more ground by alternately touching each butt check (left, right, left, right) in time with his hind legs.
Did we work on achieving honest contact? Yes, Larry watched me drive for a few minutes then hopped up onto the box to feel Newman’s mouth for himself. He said he’s a bit dull and unresponsive to half halts and that I should be quicker with my corrections — get in and get out.
Did we work on suppling his neck? Yes, in order to make his neck more mobile, Larry suggested I always start out to the right (the side he finds it easier to soften) and keep him on a circle until he gives. Going left and going straight are not my friends right now.
In the riding lesson that followed this driving lesson, Larry made a point of saying to the auditors how helpful it is to be able to ride your driving horse because you can do so much more under saddle than in the cart. For example, after watching our warm-up and flying lead changes, he had us spend the rest of the lesson in leg yield, both to free up his shoulders and front end as well as engage his hind legs and back end. While driving horses can leg yield to some extent, the ridden horse’s leg yields can be exaggerated. Exercise One was leg yield on the small circle off the right inside leg.
A few times around doing this and his trot became really big and free! Next we moved to the canter, and then head to wall leg yielding. Now, I have done this movement at the walk and trot, but never at the canter. There’s a first time for everything, and after we figured out what Larry wanted and how to do it, positioning Newman’s body in this way definitely opened him up in front and provided power behind. Both exercises will certainly help us on our journey to Third Level—which requires collection, self-carriage and flying changes—and we thank Larry for sharing his knowledge and expertise!