Conrad Schumacher Clinic Review, 10/4 - 10/7
by Jessica Hainsworth
In late summer, I turned 16, and my best present was being awarded a grant from the USEF as part of the High School Equestrian Program as the best submission from the USDF. I was thrilled to say the least, but was also told I needed to have the grant funds disbursed by October. A few days later, I received information about the Region 8 clinic that would be held with Mr. Schumacher and be hosted by Nancy Later. It was a huge opportunity despite the 8 hour drive, so I immediately applied to be a rider, and was so excited when I was notified I was accepted to ride in this clinic! In mid-August, I sold the horse I had just finished my USDF Silver Medal on and moved on to a new project horse that had just been purchased as a potential horse to campaign at FEI Jr's. This clinic was only our second major trip and clinic together in just about three months together and a big step for us to start creating a better bond as a team. This horse has not had a "real job" for a few years now, he is an East German WB and is now 10 years old, he is the type who needs his own rider and has some trust issues, so we have a bit of work to do to get us both speaking the same language and working as a team. (Let alone just being able to stand quietly in cross ties at the wash rack!)
We had an uneventful drive to Massachusetts and that started what became an amazing clinic with Mr. Schumacher! I must start with a huge thanks to Nancy Later for being such a great hostess and her wonderful staff, working students, and husband as without them this clinic would have never been such a great success! Throughout my experience at the clinic I participated as an EDAP program rider and as part of every EDAP clinic the participants are expected to observe every lesson or discussion when not riding. I brought my riding journal as I do to every clinic and recorded notes and points on each lesson. I learned so much and met so many new friends, as well as made connections with other teens who have a passion and love for horses. Both days I rode right before lunch, so I was able to bathe my horse first thing in the am (my new mandatory morning duty as an owner of my first gray horse) then watch several lessons before having to get ready for my lesson. A clinic like this is such a great learning opportunity yet so many try to get as much as they can out of it by just listening and trying to remember the details... it just won't be enough! If they are truly trying to take what they learn and then apply it to their own riding it is a must to write down what they learn so each lesson I jotted down notes and comments to help me recall the focus and main point of the lessons.
My new horse can be stiff and blocked in the neck that in turn leads him to have the option of being behind my leg and often ends in a battle between us trying to get him to respect and react from my application of the aides. Mr Schumacher was so amazingly patient to wait for him to give at his poll, even giving him a sugar when he had been quiet and soft in his neck connection with what my hand was asking. He acted as my interpreter between what I was asking and finding a generally quiet and kind way to work through the tension until I was able to feel a better connection up into my hand that came from behind. The first day was spent mainly finding ways to use lateral work to reduce tension to get him through his neck. One exercise especially useful was the use do the counter bent extended canter on the long side turning on the 1/4 line and focusing on leg yields and straight lines. The second day we used a ton of cavaletti work which my horse had not had much exposure to in the 3 months I had him and from his reaction not much prior to that either. Despite a few excited "discussions" the cantering cavaletti work helped to loosen him to a point where we really established some trust as I helped him figure it out. Mr. Schumacher told us during that lesson "That only in the dictionary does Talent come before Work." That it was my job to show him how and where to take off, cantering within the small corner bordered by cavaletti showed how precise your straight lines need to be coming into a quarter pirouette and then how straight you need to ride out of them to be able to maneuver this short corner in 4 or 5 short strides on every straight line. My horse was excited at times but I have to say the improvement in his gaits once we went back out on the track was amazing. I felt the future passage that is in there, the flying changes we made after this work brought new meaning to "flying" as they were the most uphill I had ever had with him. We had established a new level of connection not through toughness but through making him use his body in new ways to release tension and create trust.
At lunch Saturday, we had a lecture from USDF judge Bill McMullin about test riding and judging and were even lucky enough to watch Taylor Lindsten ride a beautiful Junior test and then listened as he gave each score being able to hear his remarks with each movement was so helpful as a rider considering that test for the next year. We also had Dr. Brett Gaby, come on Sunday to discuss how to keep your sport horse sound by sharing a wonderful PowerPoint presentation. Then, each day finished with some more really great lessons, and no matter what level or age the horse and rider, I was learning something new as Mr. Schumacher found ways to get the best out of each pair. He was really an inspiration to watch as he found a new and refreshing approach with each lesson and I was amazed by the tactful and kind approach to each horse and rider. Never did one lesson resemble what the last rider had done or if it did it was presented in a way to address the specific area of tension or stiffness in either the horse or rider that he was being presented with. Being able to ride with Mr. Schumacher was such an amazing opportunity, my horse has great gaits and a lot of potential, but is tricky based mainly on the inconsistency that he has had in his training. He said in my lesson that retraining a horse is "one of the hardest things to do and in Germany it would never be done by a "young lady" that instead it would be the job of a professional." Yet he was very supportive of my efforts so far in the short time we have been together, and focused his lesson on ways giving me some great tools to work with to get my horse to soften and allow us to work together rather than holding that tension between us. In just two lessons I learned so much and I could feel the change in my horse and as we became more connected.
We had a great dinner Saturday night followed by a lecture by Mr. Schumacher about the preparation for a show and how it's not just about packing up the equipment and walking into the show, but that you as the rider need to be mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared before you consider entering a show. He explained that a rider should see mediate through each part of the test, be in good physical condition and fit, and emotionally know and be prepared for whatever they are about to do. Also, a rider should have a planned warm up similar to the warm up done at home rather than the 45-60 minute warm up he sees so many people do at shows. He said that essentially providing this consistency of the warm up routine to your horse often will help your horse behave more similarly at a show ground if what you ask there, is the same or very similar to what you ask of them at home. One of the best parts of this lecture was his explanation of the difference between being a good rider and a good competitor. I hadn't really thought of it that way and he shared many points of preparation that go into being at the top of your sport. I was able to meet many of the riders from Region 8 that being from 8 hours away, I just haven't had the chance to do so before. We also had a chance to discuss some plans for the NAJYRC region 8 teams and discussed the planning and commitment that goes into that program.
I am so very thankful for the opportunity to come to this clinic to learn from Mr. Schumacher! I had an amazing time getting to meet the other Region 8 riders, and of course the excellent staff at the Ashby Farm! This was my 3rd EDAP program clinic and thanks to the support of Dressage4kids and Lendon Gray several youth riders will be getting some funding to help cover the cost of this clinic and more importantly we had the opportunity to get some incredible education offerings as part of this program. Most of all a huge thank you to Nancy Later, and the USEF and USDF for helping to support kids like myself through programs like the High School Equestrian Program and therefore allowing me to participate in this amazing opportunity!