Thursday, May 28, 2009

Finding the right trainer

I've been taking dressage lessons off and on for about two years now. More off than on, especially since the horse that I first started lessons on, Cash, had to be retired. I got along really well with Cash and actually made fairly good progress while I was riding him. Unfortunately, after he retired, there wasn't really another horse that I felt as comfortable riding. So I pretty much just stopped riding, though I would still ride occasionally, and take lessons from The Oracle(one of my friend's early teachers) when she would come up to Texas from Mexico once every three or four months. I knew that I needed to take lessons more regularly, but not only did I not have a horse that I really wanted to ride, I also didn't get along all that well with the local instructor that my husband and friends take lessons from. Well, I recently had a breakthrough on how to ride my friend DA's horse, Sonata. And my other friend, JJ, just recently acquired a horse, Saga, that I really like. I'm also getting pretty serious about finding my own horse. So I figured that it was time to find a local trainer that I got along with so that I could take lessons regularly instead of just when The Oracle was in town.

I did some research online and came across Christine Bergeron of Cadence Ranch. I called and spoke with her several times over the phone, and I really liked what she had to say about teaching students and training horses. I also just enjoyed talking with her. I'm somewhat of a hermit and don't really enjoy talking to very many people, so I thought that it was very promising that I actually liked talking to her. I asked around and everyone who knew her said that she was a very good trainer. Even the instructor that my husband and friends take lessons from said that she thought that Christine would probably be a better teacher for me than she herself would be. My farrier was also very enthusiastic about her. So I decided to go and observe one of her lessons, and if I liked what I saw, then I would arrange to take a trial lesson with her.

I was being sort of lackadaisical about actually scheduling a visit, but my friend JJ encouraged me (vigorously) to start the process as soon as possible. So last night around 6pm, I called and left a message on Christine's voicemail asking if she was teaching that night and if she was, would she mind me and my husband coming over to watch. She called me back about 6:30 and said that her last lesson started at 7:15 and that we were welcome to come and watch. I very much appreciated that she was willing to let us come on such short notice. (I meant to thank her when we got there, but totally forgot to do so. :smacks head:) I hurried to feed our critters while waiting for Foxfire to get home, and, of course, that was the one time that the critters didn't follow their routine and it took twice as long to get everyone fed as it should have. I also discovered that one of my goats had finally given birth, to twins no less, and that slowed me down a bit more. But finally Foxfire and I made it out the door.

We got to Christine's about 7:30, so the lesson had already started. We watched for a few minutes and when Christine came to a breaking point in the lesson she waved us over and we all introduced ourselves. She continued the lesson, occasionally speaking to us when the student was resting her mare. And I must say that I was VERY impressed with her. She was very clear in her instructions to her student. Praised her when she did something right, pushed her when she wasn't doing it quite good enough, but was never harsh. From comments she made to us, it was clear that she knew both the student's and the horse's abilities and limitations and was balancing her instructions to match both. And she was not just teaching the student to ride, she was also, to a certain extent, teaching the student how to train her horse as well. She would tell the student to reward the mare when she at least attempted to do what she was asked to do, and in case the student couldn't tell when the mare was at least attempting to comply, Christine would state clearly when the mare was doing her best and when she was slacking off. When the mare actually accomplished what was being asked, Christine would tell the student to reward her even more thoroughly. She also kept a close eye on the mare's condition and would tell the student to walk her when she needed to take a break.

During these breaks, Christine would talk to us. When I asked her about one of the exercises she'd been working with the student on, she explained exactly what she was doing and how it benefited both rider and horse. She also talked about working within the horse's abilities and working gradually to build up the horse's strength, stamina and agility in order to achieve proper balance and movement rather than trying to force a certain "look" on a horse that wasn't physically ready for that level of performance. As I'd been watching the student ride, I'd been thinking that she was one of those girls who'd been riding for years. She was doing things that seemed fairly advanced and doing them pretty well. Not perfectly of course, but doing a very good job. It turns out that she had only been taking lessons for two years. Now she may be one of those people with a natural talent, but I think that at least part of her ability was due to good training.

Christine continued to talk with us after the lesson was over and one thing that she said really impressed both Foxfire and I. I don't remember her exact words, but it went something like this,"Headset! Headset! Everyone is so concerned about proper headset. First you've got to get the rest of the body working properly, then the head will naturally fall into place." Foxfire said that at that point, he decided that if I didn't set up a lesson, then he was going to.

She also introduced us to her lesson horses and a few of her other horses as well. They all looked very healthy and well cared for. And they all responded very positively to Christine and to us, most of them coming up to be rubbed and scratched on. Of the two lesson horses that she had, I really liked her little gray arab, Meshack. He had a lot of personality and showed a lot of interest in me. Her other horse, Will, a tall bay appendix, seemed nice enough, but just didn't have as much personality and was more interested in grazing than in interacting with us humans. But I think that I would be comfortable riding either one.

And in case you're wondering... Yes, I did set up a lesson. I'll be riding this Friday at 3pm. I'm really excited, but also pretty nervous. Since it's during the day, Foxfire won't be able to come with me, and I'm going to feel sort of anxious without anyone there for moral support. But hopefully, things will all go well.

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