Poulin Unplugged

Members of The HUB Club pose with Larry and his cake

Members of The HUB Club pose with Larry and his cake

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.

Theresa Adams in the box, Sue West putting final touches on the hitch, and Dr. Ann McCombs heading (with Piper sneaking around behind)

Theresa Adams in the box, Sue West putting final touches on the hitch, and Dr. Ann McCombs heading (with Piper sneaking around behind)

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.

HUB Club member Grace Frejlach-Grubb and the pair of small ponies Chaos-ey and Dreamer. Photo by Karen Davila.

HUB Club member Grace Frejlach-Grubb and the pair of small ponies Chaos-ey and Dreamer. Photo by Karen Davila.

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!”

Larry closely scrutinizing Lydia and Newman

Larry closely scrutinizing Lydia and Newman

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.

Larry drives Newman to feel the connection for himself

Larry drives Newman to feel the connection for himself

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.

Lydia driving a corner at the trot, could have more bend!

Lydia driving a corner at the trot, could have more bend!

Dr. Gray and Newman pose with Newman’s biggest, smallest fan. Photo by Karen Davila.

Dr. Gray and Newman pose with Newman’s biggest, smallest fan. Photo by Karen Davila.

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.

Larry assists with the leg yield-on-the-circle exercise

Larry assists with the leg yield-on-the-circle exercise

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!

Larry hangs on in the navigator position as Theresa Adams flies across the diagonal

Larry hangs on in the navigator position as Theresa Adams flies across the diagonal

Theresa Adams drives her Morgan pair Jeep and Dozer with an attentive Larry looking over her shoulder

Theresa Adams drivers her Morgan pair Jeep and Dozer with an attentive Larry looking over her shoulder

—“We Love Larry” has become the group’s mantra, made into a cake this year

—“We Love Larry” has become the group’s mantra, made into a cake this year

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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