I woke up quite early Sunday morning and saw the weather was looking a little iffy for the outdoor things I had planned for the day, I decided to head to Red Deer to the Mane Event Expo and catch the morning clinics. I literally hopped in the truck about 10 minutes after waking up - impulsive, much? ;)
I made it there just in time for the first group in the Rob Gage clinic. For those not familiar with him, here's a short bio I found online (stolen from a COTH posting, his website appears to be down at the moment)
"He is best known as a top Grand Prix rider, having won the AGA Rider of the Year in 1985, the West Coast Rider of the Year 4 times, and going to the World Cup Finals 3 times. However, he is also a top coach. His students won over 30 year-end equitation medal finals, including the USET finals twice. He currently is a "R" judge and course designer, one of the main judges for judgemyride.net, and gives clinics all over the U.S. and internationally."
Similar to Saturday's Rolex fiasco, I sat absorbed and nearly motionless for the next 4 or so hours. From an auditor's viewpoint, I really, really enjoyed this clinic. First off, I think the organizers did an excellent job putting the rider groups together. There wide mix of riders and horses, but everyone fit well in the groups they were assigned to. In the intermediate group there was everything from professional hunter riders on greenies to a (very talented) girl on a pony, in the advanced, giant warmbloods to a super cute 19 year old appy, and even the upper level group (who are all beautiful riders) brought a couple of horses that were green at that level.
|Bad pic of the lower level course - as you can see, lots of tight turns, bending lines, and related distances were the order of the day.|
As for the instruction, again as an auditor, I'd say it was top notch. He's not afraid to tell it like it is and can be super blunt, but on the flip side he's also very enthusiastic when the riders get it right. He's also excellent at explaining step by step what went wrong (or right) and why - I decided I might like him when he 'cantered' around on foot through the course pretending to be one of the horse and rider combinations to illustrate a point about choosing the right line and using your aids at the right time. The day was all about seeing your distances and planning your lines efficiently, and started with exercises similar to the ones we worked on in my lesson Saturday, then moved on to full courses. I felt like his critiques were really fair, and loved that he spent a lot of time explaining WHY he didn't like something, He also wasn't afraid hop in the saddle to really show you what he meant or school a horse. Think a slightly more laid back/approachable George Morris (but only slightly :) The focus was a little more towards jumpers, but he did review parts of each round and tell you how he would score it as a hunter judge and why. He's all about giving the horse every opportunity to do a good job. If a rider took a different line or added or subtracted he wasn't overly concerned provided they had a good reason for doing so and it benefited the horse. He mentioned several times that he loves to see a 'thinking' rider - one that will adjust to circumstances rather than just sticking with plan A - and stopped a few riders to praise them for good horsemanship type decisions made even if the end result wasn't 'pretty'. That being said, there were definitely big bonus points to be found for perfect style and distances and he was very quick to compliment those with beautiful and effective equitation! You also DID NOT want to misjudge a fence more than once :) He's very detail oriented and insightful, and has an amazing eye. Hi steaching style really worked for me as an auditor, and I picked up tons of little tips I'll try to use in my own riding.
|Exhibit B - why you don't get more photos. My real camera was stolen recently and iPhone is simply not up to the task. Proof though, that I did try to get you a picture of the cute little appy!|
After the clinic, while I was eating lunch, he happened to sit near me and I was also was super impressed to overhear him making a point of personally tracking down and thanking all the 'behind the scenes' people in a very genuine manner. He also made a point of saying hi to me and asking if I enjoyed the clinic, and spent quite a bit of time chatting to some young girls and signing autographs for them. Very classy. I'm still a little scared of him, though :)
I was a little ambivalent about going to the Mane Event this weekend - I feel like G and I have overdone expo type things in the past few years, and it's starting to feel like it's the same demos and vendors year after year, plus the price of admission and parking seems to increase every year. Also, it's usually WAY overcrowded and not always the best environment to sit and learn much. I have to say, the expo part itself met my expectations and was a bit of miss for me, but the clinic itself was well worth the drive and the price of admission - I wish very much I could have made it to more than one day and will certainly make an effort to see Rob Gage again if the opportunity arises.