Please sir, don’t hit me on the head

Since plans for Chunkie’s owner and I to go do a “pre-season” training session in SE PA fell through, we decided to go to a Peter Atkins clinic over Memorial Day weekend. Usually about once a year a local barn or the Hunt Club gets a somewhat BNT (big name trainer) to come in and do a clinic. We try to attend, both to help keep the clinics going and because its wonderful to get some real jumping instruction.

Some clinicians have wonderful theory, others have tremendous teaching ability, others you are so afraid of that you do what they tell you even if you have just broken your nose and can’t really see (more on that another time). I am not certain where I will be filing Peter Atkins. I am pretty sure he is not my biggest fan, and Chunkie’s owner and I have cracked more jokes and milked tremendous sarcasm out of the experience, but boy did we learn a lot, especially Chunk.

I rode Cosmo (Ries was lame), who despite a wonderful heart and great scope over fences is a tense, crooked horse to say the least. Peter waved me over as we were warming up. “Is it okay to warm up in that canter?” was the question he posed. I went with an attempt at a megawatt smile and said “I’m pretty sure you want me to say ‘no”. (In my own defense, Cos needs a little bit of time to move forward and loosen up. I could have sawed his jaw down and made him ’round’ but it would have been manufactured. Peter’s point, which has validity, was to always practice the canter in your ‘dressage canter’ and canter off the ‘muscle”). WRONG response. Evidently, this was an ‘I tell the jokes, and you laugh’ type of event and I should have simply kept my mouth shut (Now there’s a lesson that I should have learned as a teenager). That pretty much set the tone for our interactions for the weekend.

Then I was told to look down at the fence as I was coming to it. ‘Scuse Me??!! I am pretty certain George Morris would strike me down with a lightening bolt on that one. Again, there was a valid method to the madness, but I made the mistake out of decades of carefully drilled practice of flicking my eyes up on the next approach. At this point, I was berated and made to get off my horse and run through the cavaletti myself without looking down. Feeling a little pugnacious at this point, I sprinted through and did not look down and through the grace of God, did not break my ankle doing it. I was then sent through looking down and asked which was easier. That one I answered correctly and was allowed to remount my horse. I am not really complaining. Peter Atkins comes from a military background and enjoys the drill instructor approach. The teaching is solid, but Chunk’s owner and I have had a lot of laughs re-enacting the clinic. As we found out later, he does this to most everyone in the first hour and we just happened to be the only two new ones in our group. Chunk’s owner won Peter over by the end (he referred to her and the horse as “pure talent”), but I am pretty sure he was happy to see the back of me. Cos and I had a hard time incorporating some of the teaching,  but managed to jump through well enough, nonetheless. Again, this clinic was completely worth it and we went back on Sunday as well.

Peter did a few times clunk a rider on the helmet for making a dumb mistake. Fortunately, Cos and I have a combined height that made that unlikely and Peter never tried it on us. Chunk and his mom went through the gymnastic and Peter marched over to them, raised his hand (Chunk’s mom winced a bit) and delivered a high five much to the group’s surprise/relief.

I never did quite get the appropriate level of sitting up – some of which I will admit was due to vanity. I was not arching my back and standing up that high in my stirrups. Barb Lindburg spent a year getting me to quit jumping like everything was a drop fence and I am still too scared not to listen (not the nose story though). However, the clinic really helped with not jumping ahead and my automatic release. The exercise on Sunday was awesome and I can’t wait to try it with Ries someday.

The other verbal gem of the weekend was “that rider’s horse-to-weight ratio is a bit off”, along with “oh, you mean the good dressage canter” (not stated by Mr. Atkins) that we have quoted non-stop. Certainly one of the better jumping clinics I have ridden in and to be honest, I would ride in it again next year, however, I will keep my own thoughts under wraps and be a good soldier.