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Gifted Memorial Fund for Adult Amateurs Recipient: Charlene Jensen (Region 1)

Cayman is a 17-year-old Standardbred/Thoroughbred cross. Prior to getting Cayman, I had not ridden dressage and he previously had been ridden hunter. We have been learning together and growing in our knowledge of dressage since January 2020. We have been on this dressage journey together for three years and have progressed from barely being able to walk a straight line to qualifying for USDF Region 1 GAIGS for Training Level and First Level. It has been a wonderful experience and receiving TDF's Carol Lavell Gifted Memorial Fund grant is an amazing opportunity to continue progressing my and Cayman’s dressage education. My goal for training was to progress my education in preparation for Cayman and me to ride Second Level as well as a First Level musical freestyle. I wanted to strengthen First Level and Second Level work including balance, and collection, improve the use of appropriate aids and improve rider position.

My plan was to spend a week with Jodi Lees at her farm, Rivers Edge Farm, riding Cayman, working with Cayman under saddle and on the ground, and auditing lessons/trained by Jodi. At the end of February, I loaded and trailered my horse Cayman from Southeast Virginia to Campobello, South Carolina, to enact the plan. We arrived safely in South Carolina in seven hours, Cayman is a steady boy and trailers well. I was met by Jodi’s working student, Chloe. She helped Cayman and me get settled in quickly. Once, I was settled in, Jodi started out training right away with an introductory lesson to get to know Cayman and me. 

Day 1 – For my first ride, Jodi had me focus on keeping the connection with forward movement between the reins. Cayman has the tendency to slow the tempo or come above the bit to avoid the connection, which Jodi says is a normal avoidance. We primarily focused on developing/keeping the marching walk with soft connection, transitions between walk/trot, and forward-moving trot with soft connection/soft body. The take-home of that first lesson was “quality of movement," you must have quality in the movement before transitioning from one gait to the next. That quality includes keeping the horse moving forward while maintaining a soft under neck with connection to the bit and rider even at the walk. 

Day 2 – For my second ride, we focused on the timing of the aids. Especially at the walk to keep Cayman marching and moving his hind leg up and under. We also focused on moving him from the inside leg to the outside rein. Using the inside leg to say, “go there” invite them with the outside rein to say, “come here." It was important to use my aids to help him stay connected and move forward with appropriate timing and separation of the aids. We also continued the lesson from Monday on “quality of the movement”.  We focused on the use of the aids at the walk, trot, canter, and during transitions while still maintaining connection, and forward movement. The take-home of that second lesson was that I needed to be ahead of Cayman and use my aids to keep him focused on the task. 

Day 3 – For my third ride, we continued to focus on forward movement, connection, and timing of the aids. Jodi had us work on shoulder in and haunches in to coordinate the aids and prevent Cayman from taking over. This lesson gave me a better understanding of shoulder in, haunches in, travers, and renvers. It also gave me a better understanding of how to coordinate and separate my aids to give clear instructions to Cayman and keep/redirect him to the task. I became more aware of how my body position was affecting the movement and potentially giving conflicting information to Cayman such as keeping my shoulders aligned with his shoulders instead of twisting/rotating my shoulders away from the movement. At the canter, we focused on how my body position can help “bounce the ball” to keep the movement coming from his hind legs and help maintain balance during the up/down transition.

Day 4 – We started working on walk-to-canter transitions for my fourth ride. We focused on being able to set up the transition without rushing. Making sure the horse stays on the bit, soft and round without rushing during the transition. This might mean setting up the transition several times and not actually completing the transition to prevent the horse from taking over but transitioning with quality of movement throughout. This set us up to have better gaits immediately and was essential to circumvent Cayman’s tendency to anticipate the transition or next movement. Jodi says, “Use the half halt and make him wait for you, set it up 100 times if necessary until he waits.” This was a major take home!!!

Day 5 – For my fifth ride, we continued to work on walk-to-canter transitions and timing of the aids as well as my position. We worked on keeping the balance and impulsion in the canter which required me to sit even in the seat and keep Cayman moving between the reins. The take-home was learning to rebalance as needed and be self-aware of my body position, which was challenging but, essential to maintaining the bounce/jump in the canter and progression to counter-canter. 

Day 6 – For my sixth ride, we continued working on trusting my seat to get the canter and not overusing the leg aids. This day was really a day to incorporate everything learned in the previous rides. We continued to work on the timing of the aids, moving him from the inside leg to the outside rein, keeping my body moving with his to receive his back, and keeping his hindlegs moving underneath. We had forgotten about groundwork until this day. I watched Jodi doing groundwork with her five-year-old KWPN mare, Nadina. This was great training to watch how to teach the horse bodywork from the ground and to teach the horse the rules of the space. I couldn’t wait to do this the next day with Cayman!!!

Day 7 – For my seventh ride, we did groundwork instead of riding. I was very excited to try this and learn something new. Cayman has great manners under saddle but, can be a bit of a bully on the ground and likes to invade your space. This was also a great alternative to riding seven days in a row which is something Cayman and I have never done. Cayman and I did well!!!! We learned how to obey the rules of space and not invade my space and for him to let me into his space without moving. I learned six different exercises in the groundwork to start with and plan on getting a rope halter and lead to continuing with at home as well. 

Each day continued with the same schedule. Before riding we would discuss what I learned the previous day and any insights. Jodi would answer my questions and provide clarification when necessary. I audited rides and training of all breeds and levels. From four-year-olds just learning the basics to accomplished schoolmaster horses. Then I had a daily lesson on Cayman and after our lesson, we reviewed the schedule for the next day, the care routine for the barn, and then I headed to the Air BnB to relax and prepare for the next day. At the end of each evening, I journaled the day's lesson, reviewed the videos of my lesson, and reflected on what was taught earlier in the day.

I feel that this experience has taught me several things to reinforce the basics of riding and I have gained many insights into my riding. I think my biggest take-home from the entire week is about the quality of movement. There needs to be quality of movement in walk, trot, and canter before you can have quality transitions and before you can move onto more complicated movements. Another take home was knowing the intention of what you are asking of your horse, if you are not clear then the horse will be confused and neither of you will be happy with the movement. That means that the aids must be clear and appropriate to the movement you are trying to achieve.

Overall, it was really a gift to have this time and experience. I have learned a significant amount over this week, I learned many new tools to continue reinforcing the basics every day so hopefully, those are mapped to my brain. I feel more confident in my position with Cayman’s training, I look forward to showing this season and I feel that I met my goals set forth at the beginning of this week. I am grateful for the quality time I spent training and being with Cayman without having to manage my home and work life. I want to thank TDF, the Gifted Fund selection committee, and the TDF Board of Directors for this opportunity and I want to thank Jodi Lees for agreeing to take me on as a student. It was a fantastic experience and worth every minute for the insights, observations, and ability to ride/train on consecutive days. Jodi and her husband, Bill, were very welcoming and the farm is beautifully maintained with rolling hills, trails, and an outdoor arena with excellent footing. Jodi is an amazing teacher and wonderful communicator, which made this week the fantastic experience I previously described.