I knew I was going to ride, as I've enjoyed his clinics before and do well with his style of teaching. He has a way of breaking things down so you wonder why you ever complicated matters in the first place. Plus, it seemed like a great idea to get some extra coaching in before my daughter and I head off to our first sleep away show. What I wasn't sure about was if it was appropriate for my 9 and a 1/2 year old to ride in the clinic.
I'd seen Eric coach kids before and had liked the rapport he built with them, but could not remember how old they'd been, and wondered if my daughter was too young to really absorb all the learning that can be had in a clinic. Let's face it, these experiences are expensive, they can be arduous, and if she wasn't ready mentally or physically, nobody was going to come away happy.
Obviously the child in question should be somewhat mature, and a willing and attentive learner. While her father and I may lament that she's got the attention span of a fruit fly at home, there are two places she's fiercely intent and focused; on the soccer pitch and on horseback. So, I contacted the clinic organizer, 3-day event rider Kristin Schmolze of Everbreeze Farm to get her take on the participants age levels, level of experience, and to get a sense if she thought someone jumping 2' on a medium pony would be a good fit. Kristin asked good questions about Sophie's level of experience, work ethic, and based on my answers, felt Sophie would have a beneficial learning experience and not detract from other's learning.
I also checked in with my trainer, riding friends who knew Sophie, and of course, checked in with the COTH forum members to see what the general consensus might be. The verdict? Kiddo was going to the clinic!
Although the first day was hot as heck, then rainy, and our ride times were 4 hours apart, we had a blast! Sophie kept herself occupied by taking care of her pony, watching some of the sessions, helping me with my horse, and reading. By the time it was time for her to ride, the heavens had opened up and it was pouring. When she got to the ring she and the pony were soaked through.
Eric took a few minutes to get to know the riders and asked questions about what they'd been working on with their ponies, what they hoped to accomplish in the clinic, and for a bit of information about the ponies and any health or training issues they had. He and Sophie immediately started an easy banter, with Eric teasing her about some of her bad habits and challenging her to do better.
One of the things I've always liked about riding with Eric is that he "got" you as a rider almost immediately, and understood your mentality and your horses instantly. I wasn't surprised that he did the same with Sophie. His humorous ribbing relaxed her and fired up her competitive juices, and she did her best to do what he asked without any of the nerves that can impede your progress when you're riding to impress someone. They worked on transitions, understanding rhythm, and some equitation, and the end result was a pony showing very respectable gaits and transitions, and a very stoked kiddo.
Day Two was our jumping day. Again, the emphasis was on rhythm, and the riders and ponies started out cantering poles on the ground. When they graduated to small fences, it was clear both ponies were a little over-enthusiastic and rushing their fences, so Eric had the girls canter to a fence, come to the walk immediately afterward, pick up the canter and go to the next fence, come back to the walk, and so on. This proved successful, so then it was time to apply the learning to a full course.
Unfortunately, the other rider had a fall and although she bravely got back on, she was unable to finish the session as she was too sore. Eric, realizing Sophie was a bit shaken by the other girl's experience, kept her focused and confident by asking her to repeat the exercises she'd been successful at, then slowly building on them, all the while keeping up a running banter with her. Pretty soon she was happily negotiating a course, and she even jumped her very first skinny ever! Considering Mom had had her issues with the skinny earlier in the day, Eric told Sophie she had "bragging rights." Trust me, the kid used them!
I'm so glad Sophie was able to take advantage of this experience. Not only did she ride well, learn a lot, and gain confidence, but more importantly, she took great care of her pony and showed a maturity she hasn't before. The Kristin and the crew at Everbreeze Farm (Vanessa, you rock!!) couldn't have been more helpful or supportive, and we're hoping they have Eric back in the fall so we can sign up for more good times.
Here are a few of the ESPN highlights from the kiddo's first clinic...