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Nemo’s First Dressage Clinic

I found my horse Nemo just shy of 5 years ago. I always laugh when I tell the story of how I found him, as it was completely unplanned. At the time, my childhood horse was beginning to retire, and I just happened to do a search for young Morgans. I learned how to ride on a Morgan, and my sister had one when we were kids as well. I’ve always had a soft spot for them. As I searched through ads, Nemo came up. After that, the rest was history. Nemo’s a 16hh black Morgan with a happy and playful personality. He’s the type of horse that always brings a smile to your face, (even if he’s acting up a little), and he gives the best pony hugs. Whether we’re cantering the track at the barn, trail riding, or riding together in the show ring, I always have fun with him.

As a rider myself, I grew up riding in the hunter/jumper ring. I love the exciting rush of a fast, clean jumper course. In college, I was presented with the chance to train in dressage. This was a discipline that was always a bit of another language to me growing up. I saw beautiful photos and videos of horses who appeared to be dancing, but I couldn’t understand how the rider was making them move in such a lovely way, while hardly moving themselves. Once I started learning more about dressage, I was hooked. I had a chance to ride some really talented horses, and I knew that continuing riding in the discipline was definitely something I wanted to do as an adult rider. I’ve found that it pairs nicely with any discipline, and that Nemo continues to improve the more we practice.

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I recently was presented with an exciting opportunity to attend a dressage clinic by Sheila McLevidge with some of my friends. I’ve participated in jumping clinics before, but it’s always been on my “rider bucket list” to attend a dressage clinic with Nemo. As we packed the trailer, and I made sure we had everything, thoughts were running through my head, “What if he acts up?” “What if I forget something,” and “Have we practiced enough to be ready?” Laughing with excitement with my friends as we loaded the horses, I planned to not worry about the little things, and to have fun and soak everything in. I couldn’t wait to find out what we’d be learning and working on that day.

As we arrived, and unloaded the horses, I was very excited to find that Nemo was calm and relaxed. He has a tendency to be a bit excitable off property, and it was great to see him take in the surroundings and settle right in. As we were warming up in the indoor, and he picked up his happy, bouncy canter, I knew he was in a great mood and ready to ride.

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When our turn came, Sheila had us begin with a loose-reined walk while I shared Nemo’s history, our goals, and she shared her plan for our ride that day. As we rode, we worked on leg yielding from the quarter line to the rail at the trot, changing bends, and also addressing Nemo’s tendency to pick up speed as he trots. He has a quicker stride and a naturally higher headset, characteristic of his Morgan heritage, and she gave some great suggestions to help us work together, and use this to our advantage.

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One of my favorite takeaways was the idea of working on his cadence in the trot. We’ve been working on improving his balance, and she gave the great suggestion of riding a trot circle while half halting at every letter, and tilting my lower back forward just slightly. This helps to rebalance Nemo consistently throughout the ring, and kept him from picking up speed and rushing. As she was describing it, it seemed so natural and simple; an “Ah-ha riding moment”. (I wish I’d thought of it sooner!). We also worked on encouraging him to stretch forward and downward at the trot, and it was great to see him relax and stretch, and use his neck and shoulders as we worked. A take-away I carried with me as a rider is to be conscious that my inside and outside rein are even. I have a tendency to shorten my inside rein, rather than keeping it even. We also worked on releasing the inside rein slightly when he drops his head and gives. When he does pick up speed, I have a tendency to go with him, and I loved the reminder to slow my posting instead. I’ve practiced this in our rides since then, and have been excited to feel the improvement.

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As the ride ended, I couldn’t stop smiling. I’d had a chance to attend a great clinic with Nemo, and I was so proud of how well he behaved. I was also very happy with everything we’d learned, and couldn’t wait to practice in our rides at home. As we packed up the trailer and headed home, we chatted about things we’d learned, takeaways, and how much fun the day was. As I wrote my notes from the clinic down later that night, I couldn’t help but smile at what a fun experience it had been, what great riding friends I have to plan and go to the clinic together, and at how proud I am of Nemo. He’s such a fun horse, and I can’t wait to see what adventures the future holds for us.

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