Posted by: shannonc | April 12, 2010

Michael Page clinic: “gooder is better”

Day 1.

The pony and I entered the 2’6″-3′ group of the Michael Page clinic at Cutter Farm, April 10-11.  I rode Blue once with Michael and remembered that he pushed the horses and riders but left them feeling very confident.  Especially the horses.  So I thought it’d be a perfect setting to introduce the pony to a little more height and see how he felt about it.

Saturday is chilly, in the low 40s when I feed, and when I bring the pony in to groom him it’s so windy that my brushes are literally blowing down the aisle.  I wonder how electric the pony will be in a new place with this somewhat uninviting clinic weather, but when we land at Cutter after managing to avoid driving the trailer through the middle of Lowell, he’s actually pretty calm.  Alert, but calm. 

We gather for introductions and Michael starts by thanking us for coming, which I think is pretty classy coming from a multiple Olympic medalist and Eventing Hall of Fame member.  He tells us that it doesn’t matter what discipline we prefer because any discipline will benefit from plain old riding better, and that we should listen to our horses tell us if we’re riding well.

He asks us for some background on our horses and riding goals.  There are four in my group:  besides us, an experienced ConnX with a junior rider, a green TB, and a level 3 jumper.  Michael eyes the pony a little bit doubtfully and asks me what my long term ambitions are, because I can’t be thinking of taking this pony very far in eventing?  I say I don’t know, he’s a cute jumper, and he seems to like the job!  He makes a point to tell me that I need to let him know if I think the pony is in over his head, especially with the distances.  This causes me to start looking around for a 33-foot 2-stride, which was hard for the pony last year.  But from the saddle I can’t tell exactly what the distances are, so I nod and say I’ll try.

We go out to warm up and he settles us into his style – he manages to be funny while throwing out some hefty insults (“You’re riding like a turkey!  Of course your horse is going to go like a turkey!”).  He bestows praise, too, with equal exuberance.  We begin trotting through poles on the ground which will later become gymnastics.  He emphasizes straightness and steadiness.  We change rein frequently and begin trotting small jumps.  Lots and lots of trotting jumps…I don’t think this is anyone’s favorite exercise, but the horses are all improving.  I really should have remembered to ask if there was a particular reason we trotted everything on day 1 – the only time we cantered fences was when we landed into related distances.  The pony is very quiet into everything and seems to be having a great time.  I find myself thinking maybe we’re ready to try out the plain snaffle again over fences.

One horse stops at a jump, Michael yells out, “that was depressing!!” and I find myself hoping the pony doesn’t put the brakes on at either of the small panels in the ring.  Not only does he jump everything willingly and touch nothing, but the first thing I get nailed for is my defensive position.  Michael does not want me in the backseat.

I’m somewhat worried about fixing this but I do it and we’re fine.  Over the very first gymnastic line he yells out, “You were right about this pony!  Very cool pony!” and he keeps saying it for an hour and a half, which is a lot of fun to hear!  He likes how clever and neat the pony is with his feet, both in front and behind.  I like that he was willing to change his mind :)  The two-strides turn out to be 30′ and they are riding almost short as the pony is jumping in very boldly.

We get a walk break after maybe 40 minutes, which lasts one trip around the ring, and then he tells us to drop our stirrups.  I actually think he’s joking, but he isn’t and in fact I learn later that no stirrups work is a hallmark of Michael Page clinics.  We proceed to do 20-30 minutes of trotting without stirrups, and most of it we do posting! 

And then we jump some more!  The fences all go up and we add a broken line in the middle of the ring, which is short five or a long four trotting in.  I am worried about making the turn but the pony is happily locking on to things today and seems to have no intention of passing up any jump in his path.  Even when we are just changing directions.  ;)

Michael closes the day with a brief review for each of us.  He tells me that he likes the pony’s attitude, and that he just needs time and experience. 

After I take care of the pony – who hasn’t turned a hair in a solid hour and fifteen minutes of hard work (I was a little surprised at how fit we both turned out to be) – I put him back on the trailer and return to the indoor to watch Vicki’s group.  I look out a bit later to check on him and he’s totally zonked.  First time I’ve ever seen the pony not eat hay that’s in front of him!

Day 2.

Today we are scheduled to do coursework.  We have much nicer weather and I’m only concerned about how much gas the pony will have in the tank after yesterday.  I gave him a little bute Saturday night and let him stay out all night to walk around, but I just haven’t tested him with this much jumping two days in a row this year.

When Michael rounds us up, he tells us that first and foremost our horses gave us all they could yesterday, and we should not overwork them today.  All his comments are very horse-focused, sensitive to their experience and perspectives.  He tells me that the important thing for my pony is to leave confident, and that I can bow out at any time. 

The pony does take awhile to warm up.  He’s very stiff especially on the right side and I try to spend extra time suppling him and asking him to stretch down when we’re tracking left.  Michael has me loosen my running martingale a notch.  When I dismount to do that I realize that after I cleaned it, I reattached it on the wrong hole.  Talk about riding like a turkey.  The pony stops complaining that he’s hitting it all the time as soon as I fix it.  Duh.

He makes very few tack comments but the ones he does make are right on target.  He tells someone in the 3’6″ group whose horse is very fussy to change the rein on her bubble bit to the snaffle ring, and he improves instantly. 

We begin again with poles but do fewer iterations of them and move on to coursework after…more time with no stirrups.  Holy cow.  He tells us we all need to make the most of our riding time and that we should be doing this at home regularly.  He says with a wink that he never wants to see the “low fuel” light go on in our horses, but that he doesn’t mind a bit when it goes on in the riders.  He teases us mercilessly as we all turn red with the effort – asking if we need oxygen, and telling someone she matches her pink shirt. 

We all get the point :)  “Gooder is better,” he tells us.  “You ride gooder, the horse goes better.”

The pony starts to run through me a little bit in the coursework and Michael actually has me whoa in the two-stride so that he sets up better for the third element which I find out afterwards is 3’6″.  Serious??  I was definitely feeling the airtime, but I was not feeling the pony say he was overfaced or labored in the least. 

This is just why I brought him – I knew we’d get some bigger jumps probably at the ends of gymnastic lines, built up slowly so that the horses were all very comfortable.  It’s not the same as a course of 3’6″ by any means, but actually most of the course is a solid 2’9″ – 3′, excepting the first elements of the gymnastic lines which remain crossrails.

I make a mistake in the broken line – we get in short to the first panel and I push the four to the oxer.  The pony goes when I ask him to but he hesitates, telling me clearly that he would have preferred I sit up and package the 5, or move up to the 4 in the first 2 strides instead of the last one.  Michael tells me I just gave my very brave pony a shitty ride and to go do it over.  We do and the pony forgives me.  He finishes the course beautifully and promptly takes me over to Michael at the end to ask for a peppermint.  The spectators laugh and someone says, “smart pony!”

The pony gets every single lead on landing.  We worked on this last year because he doesn’t have changes installed, but it wasn’t 100% there.  Surprise – it was 100% there today!

Michael tells me I need to convince the pony not to hurry, I need to keep improving his steadiness, and – just as Eric Smiley said in the fall – I need a little more control. 

Here’s the course video.  The right side line went up one more time after this was taken.  You can see the pony’s bid for his well-earned peppermint at the end!

I leave definitely agreeing with all the comments…especially the smart pony one :)



  1. Love love love it! :)

  2. I love watching you ride! Your amazing :)

  3. BIggest waste of money was paying for a michael page clinic Id really like my money back he was very nasty and didnt present himself as a professional

  4. very nice – thanks for sharing

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