By Alice Bruno
Riding used to come easily for me. I grew up riding and spent most of my saddle time in the “flow” state that sports psychologists talk about. No naughty horse rattled me, no clinician intimidated me, nothing made me feel as confident as sitting on a horse.
Fast forward ten years, several bad falls and three children later. Trying to ride after I had my third baby was so frustrating I usually cried when I dismounted. My body wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. I tried to remember old lessons to improve my position and increase my stability in the saddle but nothing was working. And doing this alone with my tricky thoroughbred was an overwhelming and discouraging project.
I needed to get my riding mojo back.
So it seemed like a sign from the Universe when I saw a post on Facebook about a clinic called “Position Matters,” taught by Clare and Tom Mansmann of Pacific Farms Inc. in The Plains, Virginia, and Amanda Cousins of Ashland Equestrian LLC in Warrenton, Virginia. I didn’t hesitate to sign up and was thrilled to pay the $175 fee. I knew this was the first step of my new equestrian journey.
The clinic was held at the beautiful Ashland Equestrian LLC facility. The mounted session took place in their indoor arena and the unmounted portion was held in this neat mini-gym, which was indoors, heated (!) and had enough room for all four riders in my group to stretch out on our yoga mats and roll around on our fitness balls.
My group started at 9 AM and did the unmounted session first. Clare was energetic and encouraging as she led us through an hour of exercises we could practice at home, out of the saddle. This portion of the clinic was invaluable for someone like me who wants to practice more but has limited access to horses to ride or time at the barn. Now I can crawl on my yoga ball after the kids go to sleep and rock my hips and visualize away.
At one point Clare commented that good hands start with good elbows. I had never heard this before and keeping her advice in mind has really improved my contact when I ride.
After the unmounted session, the summer-camp-excitement of school horse assignments began. Tom taught the group portion of the riding lesson and Amanda pulled individual riders out of the group one at a time for lunge lessons at the other end of the roomy arena.
I don’t know if it was the sweet expression on my horse’s face, or Tom’s kind and caring demeanor, or the cushy comfort of the CWD saddle I was helped into, but I felt a joyful rush of my old confidence as I picked up my reins and walked (triumphant already!) away from the mounting block.
We practiced the same exercises Clare taught us at the walk and trot. Then riders who were comfortable took turns cantering over a pole.
I was worried that I would feel self-conscious during the lunge lesson with Amanda, but she put me at ease immediately and we got right to work on my posting. The ten minutes zoomed by.
After the riding lesson, Amanda collected the horses and took them back to the barn. She would
bring down fresh horses for the afternoon sessions. The riders poured ourselves Starbucks coffee and grabbed veggies and donuts from the breakfast bar to nibble on during a casual Q & A session with Tom.
Tom wore a microphone headset attached to a little boom box he carried with him so he was easy to hear during the lesson, but he took it off to answer our questions. We talked about some issues that came up during the lesson. Then he off-handedly commented that there is always a scientific reason for a rider’s feelings of fear in the saddle. I asked him to clarify, and he said that, for instance, if someone is afraid of their horse spooking, it is only because they know that their position is not stable enough to stick with the horse if he jumps to the side. If the rider fixes their position so that motion won’t unseat them, the fear of spooking evaporates, sometimes overnight.
This was revelatory for me. I have read dozens of equestrian sports psychology books but never heard fear described as something that could be solved scientifically, by following a program to improve one’s riding. The matter-of-fact way Tom talked about fear as a curable condition made it seem much less overwhelming. For the first time in years, I felt hopeful that I can conquer the fear of riding that has nipped at my heels since I had kids.
The clinic started at 9 and I was on my way home by 12. The clinic’s auditors and riders were given access to the Position Matters Facebook group, where videos of the sessions were posted so we can review them whenever we need to.
The Position Matters Clinic exceeded my expectations. Signup was easy and the clinician’s communication before the clinic was excellent. The small group size (four riders in each), quality lesson horses and well-designed exercises were enough to make a pleasant and educational experience. But the quality of the clinic was elevated to exceptional because the environment was so professional, supportive, and empathetic. The clinicians’ passion for teaching was evident and they were encouraging but not patronizing. I felt comfortable asking riding questions that I have wondered about for years but was embarrassed to ask because I felt like I should already know the answers.
So: did I get my riding mojo back? Not overnight, but attending the clinic confirmed that I hadn’t lost my love of riding – I just lost my way along my riding path. The clinic put me back in touch with the part of me that is a good rider and helped me identify less with the part of me that was overwhelmed, afraid and uncertain if I could ever well ride again.
All in all, a great success.
Alice Bruno owns and operates Shenandoah Sporthorses, a boutique-style equestrian company serving Virginia and surrounding states. She offers a curated selection of horses for sale and support services including horse transport, PEMF treatments, and layovers for horses and people at her farm in Lexington, Virginia. You can find Alice on Instagram @shenandoah_sporthorses and online at www.shenandoahsporthorses.com.