My group (Pre-Beginner Novice) was the first one of the day, so we did not have the advantage of seeing anyone ride the exercises. I was also the first lucky victim. My group was a very good group to be in and some how I was the one with the most confidence. One lady had a bad fall a while back and has been trying to get her confidence back. Another rides a Missouri Fox Trotter (super adorable, but they struggle with the trot when there are nerves involved). The final one is a college student who only rides when she is in town, so both her and her horse were out of practice. I figured I would take one from the team.
We started off with a pretty basic exercise that you can make as complicated as desired. This is an exercise Sinead uses at the beginning and end of the majority of her rides. There were three poles on the ground that were roughly 48 feet apart or 4 strides. The way they were set in our field there was a slight incline and I am not sure if it was intentional or not. The intention of this was to test our adjustability and ride ability. This went pretty well for Pongo and I minus the fact that I counted the pole when I was counting strides. Darn nerves. We ended up not doing too much with this, but we did have to make a trot transition.
Canter poles where I can't count...
Some of the other groups did exercises that I am super excited to try. Some people rode the line 4-5 simple lead change with a turn 5-4. Sinead said everyone should do this exercise until the can rapidly pick up either their "4 stride" canter or their "5 stride" canter. This will help with being comfortable with being able to adjust your horse's canter in any situation. You can play with this forward/back feeling at any time. As the levels moved up, she added in canter the first pole, trot, simple lead change, second pole, 4 strides, final pole. Like with all of her exercises, these can be changed and altered to suit what you need to focus on, but the main point is all about adjustability and ride ability.
With trot transition
One group was really interesting. They were all struggling with the simple lead change, so she went around and asked the group what their cue was for smaller canter vs. trot. Most of the girls (they were all teenagers) didn't have a difference, it was just slow slow slow then trot. This is why they were unable to get the trot then back to the canter between the poles. Sinead made it very apparent that your horse needs a distinct cue between collecting the canter and the trot. Of course the dressage queen in me was going duh, but then I realized I am guilty of this with Pongo. Possibly one of reasons our down transitions are still sluggish and braced.
Another girl (not my group) was having some serious issues with her horse. He was wanting to rush the poles, slam his head sky high (almost got her in the face), and generally be a butt head. Sinead had them canter circles (dressage canter) then when the horse was calm, he could canter a pole. If he tossed his head at all or became inverted at all, he had to circle between poles until he was back to his dressage canter. She slowly moved this down the line of poles. Circling between the poles and over the poles as necessary. Also alternating directions (right lead vs left lead). Slowly the horse became calmer, while he would still get a little up, he was manageable.
The next exercise we did was a line of three jumps 4 strides to 3 strides (I think) when you are in a nice canter. There were poles that made a straight line along either side of the line with gaps before and after the jump and in between the two poles. For this one, I cantered the line to start and had to say now every time Pongo was supposed to jump. I had one little hiccup (he made the right choice to fit an extra stride in, but I was expecting the long launch). Then I cantered in, trotted between 1 and 2 and he was allowed to canter out after 3. Our down transition almost didn't happen, so 2 was super awkward.
Canter Line Reverse
Then we started to make things interesting. We trotted in exited the line through the gap between the poles circled left. Came back into the the line through the gap by jump 1 trotted 2 made a right hand circle and trot three. Then I was able to progress to canter in, leave at canter, trot on circle, trot 2, pick up the canter on the circle between 2 and 3, then canter 3. Again all of this was to test adjustability and ride ability. We struggled a bit with this mostly due to transitions being a little sluggish (he felt slightly behind my leg and I should have popped him in warm up to get him up, but I didn't so the sluggishness stuck with us). Overall, I was very pleased with this.
Once the groups were higher aka not us, Sinead removed the poles and let them canter the entire thing. Personally I liked the transitions because they made your riding be on point. I felt like Pongo and I could have managed the canter circles easier than the trot transitions. With some of the higher groups, this line was then fed into the next exercise.
Trot with Circle
Canter Trot Circles
We had a circle...aka the blender. I loved this analogy. Basically, Sinead said jumps set in a circle were like ice in a blender. At first everything is a little rough, but then all of a sudden things smooth out and it gets quiet. This circle was set up so the jumps had 60 feet between them. I went all math nerd when we were struggling to get them set. I calculated the radius, stood in the middle then we set the jumps based off the radius. No jumps moved when we started jumping. Math for the win! (I might be a little bit proud of myself for thinking of that).
We are in the blender
Everyone had me terrified of the circle, but honestly I thought it was a lot of fun. We started off with skipping one jump, then as things felt comfortable we could add the jumps in, if something got off we could skip jumps. So there was no pressure of OMG I have to make this circle. So that was nice. I don't have much more to say about the circle, other than in some of the more advanced groups she linked it into the line.
Overall, day one was really about being able to adjust your horse and having ride ability. The only group that the jumps really got raised for was the prelim group. Sinead said she doesn't necessarily try to jump her horses big a lot (obviously before competitions you need to jump them the height they will see), but instead she really focuses on being able to create the right canter. When the horse is in balance with a nice canter, the distances take care of themselves. She is very big on not making any adjustments the last few strides. Sinead said, "Once you are to the last few strides you are stuck with what you have. Ride through it and when you are on the other side fix it."
I really liked that you could tell she truly likes dressage and sees the benefit it has for the horses jumping. Like I said before, I really wish that I had signed up for a flat lesson with Stinker. I also, really appreciated the fact that Sinead took time for the horse I mentioned above (that was rushing fences and generally being bad). She made a point to take 30 minutes to get on the horse to see if it was an unsafe horse issue, a training issue, or a health issue. Then the following day (since she didn't feel comfortable having the girl do cross country), Sinead made time to give her a 30 minute lesson on stadium. The difference between the first day and the second day was amazing. I really hope things keep progressing for the girl, because it is a lovely horse and she is a lovely rider.