When you have a great clinic experience locally and that clinician (Tim Bourke) suggests that you go to eventing camp at GMHA in Vermont (where he’d be teaching in a few weeks), it gives you pause. Well, why not?
Why not go to one of the most beloved eventing venues in the Northeast for a few days of great instruction? As anyone who knows me and Willow, getting both horse and rider to this point of health and readiness has been hard won. Carpe diem!
We were already scheduled to compete at the GMHA June horse trials, the weekend before camp. So Willow and I would simply stay on and enjoy a day off before the camp started on Tuesday. The pressure of competition would be over. Now we’d be able to relax, learn. . . and PLAY!
Fast forward . . . CAMP! It was not camp in the way I had experienced it as a kid. There were great stories alright, but no ghost stories around campfires. I had a cooler filled with food and snacks, but no S’mores. Yes, I stayed in a treehouse AirBnb which required mid-night treks down a steep path to use the facilities . . . but that was the closest thing to childhood summer camp that I experienced. Oh, and some rain.
Some riders had been attending eventing camp for years, and they warmly welcomed newcomers. (And lest you feel that camp is not an option for you because you and/or your horse prefer the sandbox, this year GMHA added a dressage-only option!)
Camp was a bit reminiscent of college (minus the stress and term papers). Of course, there are your scheduled lessons—group lessons for jumping and individual lessons for dressage. But beyond that, you manage your time, preparation, meals, attendance, auditing, goals, and self-care (and horse care) as you see fit. We monitored whether our horses needed to end a session early due to weather, workload, or simply ending on a positive note. There was as much independence and/or camaraderie as one might want.
Clinics allow for fresh eyes.
As it turned out, the instructors didn’t see the picture I had painted—of a horse and rider who “couldn’t.” While I am typically quick to tell a clinician what my horse and I can’t do and what we struggle with, there was little time for that here. All three instructors (dressage, cross country, stadium) were of the “can do” mindset and wasted no time setting tasks and courses before us that were, to my thinking, a bit of a stretch. But that was exactly what I needed to experience: a stretch.
Did I have some bobbles, rider errors, and miscommunications with my mare? You bet. Did I get hauled around a bit on day one of cross country? You bet . . . and thank goodness! After all, I was there hoping to sort out some of those trouble-spots.
The fact of making mistakes was never dwelled on at camp. We all make errors. Sometimes, the instructors simply shared observations, such as, “You lost a little power there.” Or “You looked in the ditch.” And the rest was up to us. My response? “Whoops, he’s right; I lost power. I need to kick on!” I was forward thinking, not only in how I corrected my pace, but also mentally. I was not bemoaning the fact that I had over-adjusted my horse and had gotten a weak jump into a combination; instead, I was already establishing the stride I needed for the next jump. That paid off in spades.
Another time, as I was galloping toward a sizable xc table jump, Tim simply said, “Use your voice.” Now I look back at that and laugh, “You mean to tell me that my powerful 1100 lb. mare, happily galloping over hill and dale in VT, is going to give two hoots that I’ve crooned ‘whoa’ into her ear?!” But I knew Tim was serious and stood behind this intervention with Willow. Another beautiful jump.
When the heavens opened up on the last day, we each decided for ourselves whether riding during the heavy rains would add to our riding toolkit or whether it would be best to mentally consolidate our learning, pack up, and get a head start on the road home.
Willow had jumped so beautifully and earnestly all week that I chose to bypass our last stadium lesson in the downpour. Instead, we waited out the worst of the storm to enjoy our last dressage lesson in the afternoon. While it was sloppy going in the dressage arena (but amazingly safe and rideable), Willow was extra fancy with her footwork. Bonus? The extra pep in Willow’s step gave me a new feel for the “jump” I was looking to add to our flatwork.
So . . . back to the storm. I was so grateful that my barn-mate had videoed my xc lesson the day before that I wanted to return the favor. Like a true eventing fan, I stood out in the pouring rain on that last morning to video her cross-country. That was an intrepid group of horses and riders!! I believe I said a few choice words during the videoing as water seeped down into the sleeves of my raincoat. Ahhh, more camp memories.
For me, camp was about lightening up, letting go of what WAS my history with this horse, trusting the instructors’ confidence in us (a little “fake it ‘til you make it” leap of faith on my part), and absorbing the positive energy in my group.
My final answer? LOVED it! My mare and I still have the glow from camp. Go if you can!