Fun and Educational Clinic at J6 Ranch Equestrian Center

“Yep, it’s unanimous J6 and Katherine [are] quite a combination. It was such a great time, I have to say I’ve never been around so many women I enjoy spending the day with” –DeeDee Pierce

“It was fun and very satisfying to watch the horses noticeably improve!” –Martha Calkins

“Neat seating area under that tree on the north side of the dressage arena. We never used that area but it worked fantastically. Look at the audience – everyone is engrossed!!” –Joyce Hostetter

“Many riders today are “returning riders” – older, perhaps wiser, but with new aches and creaks and parts that don’t work as well as they used to. With our hats off to the pro riders and competitors out there, we want to safely motor down a trail or compete at levels appropriate to our abilities and appreciate an instructor who challenges us to work within, around and through our physical shortcomings to be as good as we can be. That includes relearning balance and position without stirrups and other things we “knew” as kids. Having an instructor who reminds us that learning good horsemanship in general is more important for us because we don’t bounce like we did as kids is worth her weight in gold – that she can push and challenge us without shredding our geriatric egos is a plus.” About Katherine Calkins –Patti Woodbury

Western Dressage Clinic SpectatorsThis is just some of the great feedback about the Western Dressage Clinic by Katherine Calkins at the J6 Ranch Equestrian in Benson, AZ. The clinic started out as all Dressage clinics do with a sign-in, some mild confusion with the speaker and mic systems, students and auditors settling in, and a set-up for the day’s events. It would start with a demo, progress to a discussion about the new sport of Western Dressage, and then riders would break into groups based on skill level.

Katherine warmed up a just-now-five-year-old Western Dressage Horse, a large Cremello Quarter Horse known to the barn as “Salty”. While waiting for everyone to settle in, Salty and Katherine mingled with the auditors, nervous participants, and staff. Once everyone had settled, Salty performed some basic Western Dressage maneuvers to the upbeat country song “Free and Easy” by Dierk’s Bently.

Despite his youth and being a first-time Demo horse, Salty performed well. He was an excellent platform for Katherine to discuss Western Dressage, the Western Horse, the movements, the discipline, and the sport of Dressage in general. Questions ranged from “Why are the letters so confusing?”, “I’m a returning rider, and my horse is older, can we do this?”, to questions about proper conditioning, training, and preparation for tests and finally, “How do you keep Salty so white?”. Answers were thoughtful, occasionally entertaining, and thorough.

Before being put away, Salty was briefly tortured by Katherine demonstrating the proper vs. improper way to sit the jog/trot. After dismounting, Katherine proceeded to demonstrate the often-times laughable movement of sitting the trot using your core with phrases such “jello booty”, “keep in your gut *wink*”, and the traditional “hold and use your core.” After thoroughly embarrassing herself, Katherine climbed the fence to join the audience and passed around her mic. She continued to playfully pester everyone by walking up, kneeling, giving a good hand shake with a “Hello, my name is Katherine Calkins, what’s your name?”

Western Dressage simple lead changesThe participants were then separated in walk-joggers, and walk-jog-lopers. The walk-joggers went first and the class was spent teaching the connection between the rider’s inside leg, the horse’s inside leg, and the outside rein. First step was to gain control of the horse’s ribs at the walk, understand the difference between the working walk and the free walk, and finally allowing the horse to enjoy and take contact. Most of the horses entered the ring short-strided behind to one degree or another and evading contact, with quick short steps in the jog and walk. By the end of the hour, all participants had mastered pushing the horse’s ribcage to 1) get a longer more engaged working-walk and free-walk 2) have a long, but slow and controlled working jog with a softened contact.

Lunch arrived and Katherine brought out three bright red pilates/exercise balls. Explaining that this was the single cheapest and best purchase for the rider’s seat, Katherine and associate trainer Danny Goodman demonstrated five exercises on the exercise ball to encourage a rider to have an engaged, but active core, swinging hips, and relaxed back. Participants and auditors alike all had an opportunity to work with the exercise ball and feel its benefits, as well as their restrictions. Katherine then showed a few stretches without the ball to help participants who due to injury or other reasons were not comfortable as yet on the ball.

After lunch the loping class was brought together. After warming up and working on the same principles as the walk-joggers, the lope class worked on extending and collecting the jog in order to get more balance, submission, and swinging back from their horse with the use of the half halt and allowing seat/leg aids. A few horses were overly energetic in their jogs, and Katherine showed the class how to work with the hotter horse by keeping them committed to a smaller circle, waiting for the correct bend and relaxation, and then changing the rein and repeating.

Western Dressage conformation discussionThe lope class finished with practice of a simple change of lead using two 20-meter circles. If the horses continued to get too-hot-too-trot then they were re-committed to a smaller circle until they relaxed, refocused, and then their rider could take them back to the lope work.

After the two classes, Katherine spent time with the auditors and participants talking about how to improve and read a Dressage test, how to “fake it til you make it”, and how Dressage really is about being a good actor and having fun. Her final take-home message was that “If my students are having nightmares about their upcoming Dressage tests and shows, I’m teaching it wrong…”

Thanks to Tucson Dressage Club and Cochise Dressage and Eventing Association and J6 Ranch Equestrian Center for putting on this event.

Submitted by Katherine Calkins on 04/29/2013

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