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Two Lessons with Michelle Gibson
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"Cut to the Chase",
Two Lessons with Michelle Gibson

After riding in my first one-hour lesson with Michelle Gibson, I decided it would be appropriate to design a tee shirt that said, "I survived a Michelle Gibson clinic.". When I was finished after my first hour, my hat was stuck to my head because of the sweat. But it was worth it. Michelle encompassed Rio and me into her commands and off we went whether too sideways in the half pass or not, we kept on trotting and cantering, with a three minute break to walk. I loved it. There is no way my horse and I did not get our money's worth. At $150.00 an hour - that was $2.50 a minute - we got a good lesson for the dollar value. And I, personally, could not believe that I rode with someone of her caliber; no matter what the money - me, a back yard Pennsylvanian equestrian taking instruction with Michelle Gibson.


The Vivianos (Sam and Lin at Rockin V Stables), who hosted the clinic provided a beautiful arena, superb stabling, and encouragement. The footing was excellent and the simplicity of the whole set up was mind calming, especially for a rider like myself who, for the first ten minutes warming up in front of Michelle and fifty on-lookers, was so nervous my legs and lungs didn't operate! Ironically, I do nearly nothing every other day but ride. However, on this day in front of her and in front of my peers, I let my dysfunctional aids let the horse run into the chains that separated the spectators from the arena. No doubt the auditors were petrified when I half-passed at a canter toward them. I know they thought at times I wasn't going to turn, but I did, and no one was alarmed and they kept breathing as Rio, and I too, soon began to resonate into the rhythm of our lesson.


When people ask me to describe Michelle Gibson's lessons, it is easy. I say, "she cuts to the chase. I asked her, on the second day when I could breathe, and as a result think, "When do you start shoulder-fore in the corners?" Michelle's answer was something like this: Once the horse can feel a half-halt, it's shoulder- fore in the corners (half halting before the corner, of course) then putting your horse straight with shoulder-fore along the long side, then when your horse is straight, it's shoulder-in up the long side. Once this is perfected with angle, both hands to the inside and bent around the inside leg, without losing rhythm, then you go directly into half pass. No ten-meter circles, no walking, just right to the movement, just cut to the chase! You do your preparation in the corner. If you didn't get your horse together there, then you get it together in the half pass. We loved it. Do, do, do, and do more, now that is a lesson and we did it. Her corrections were right on and Rio Grandes performance was grand.


Michelle's common commands to me for the half-pass were, "You are going too much sideways in the half-pass, bring the horse's shoulders over, bring the shoulders over, sit on the inside seat bone, both hands to the direction you are traveling, the haunches are leading, look at them, get the shoulders to go first are too sideways again...go more forward and over". On the first day I could barely speak or even think, let along coordinate these aids. However, I was awestruck at the end of my lesson because of Rio and my accomplishments. Afraid to ask a question, and just vibrating with happiness because the first hour was over, I said, "Thank you", lowered my head and walked out.


On day two I entered the arena with confidence, my horse warmed up with a bigger trot because my tense legs werent stopping him from coming through my seat, we both felt like Zorro we were ready for action! I, and the group of riders, had dinner with Michelle the previous evening, so now I was her pal, (hardly) but it made me feel more comfortable for the next day. The auditors were fewer; the day was nicer; the sun actually shone.


Rio and I strutted into the arena. As Michelle was pausing between lessons, we boldly approached her to discuss the prior lesson. "Obviously, Michelle", I said, "I spend too much time leg yielding. Rio can go perfectly sideways and straight, not exactly what you want for the half-pass. Do you not teach leg yielding?" She replied with confidence, something to this effect: I only teach leg yielding if my students need it for showing. Otherwise we immediately get down to business with shoulder-fore, shoulder-in and half-pass, counter-canter then flying change. (Whew could I ever keep up with this routine.)


I realized at this point, that I had to concentrate from now on when I rode. I had to prepare for the corners, not just ride the corners. I have to half-halt before the corner, during the corner, and ride it shoulder-fore. Before, I thought just getting the horse into the corner was the accomplishment. Now, I realize it is the work in the corners that will set me and the horse up for the future work. "Kristin, the choice is yours, do you want to dilly dally, or do you want to move on?"


On day one I was uncoordinated with the half-pass, on day two Rio felt like a small private jet in perfect flight doing his half-pass at a canter to the right; I was feeling heaven. We sweated, my shirt stuck to me when we were done; he sweated, but he knew what his job was and he paced himself despite a mere three minute break. We were ecstatic. We ended our lesson with a huge grin to Michelle and said, "We hope we see you again in Pittsburgh. Thank you."

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