Clinic Review With Courtney Sendak

I was recently reminded of one of the many reasons why I love Pony Club: reasonably priced clinics with upper level riders!

It’s actually been a few years since I have taken any clinics, and I was lucky to participate in two good ones this winter! (Click here to read about my clinic with Doug Payne.)

Most recently I had the opportunity through Elkridge-Harford Hunt Pony Club to ride with Courtney Sendak, a graduate “A” Pony Clubber and active competitor up to the 4* level. Even though she’s local to me, I have never ridden with her, so I was excited to ride with her.

Like Doug Payne’s clinic, Courtney’s was at Oldfields School. Again, there was a grid and what looked like some bending lines set up in the pristine indoor with footing that felt like riding on a cloud.

I got on Murphy and had a quick warm up, and then she called me over to say hi. I introduced myself, and she immediately said, “I know who you are!” I met Courtney in 2018 when I interviewed her after XC day at Fair Hill International. I told her that I was impressed she remembered me, especially with a helmet on!

Courtney kicked things off by asking us to warm up over a cross rail with placement poles to focus on straightness and rhythm, and then moved on to jumping a small vertical and oxer, still focusing on pace and rhythm. For me, I had to focus on keeping my shoulders back and not folding so much over the jumps. She pointed out the difference in Murphy’s jump when I sit taller and fold less over the jumps: it’s much rounder and has more power.

All videos by Susan Gorham

Courtney also had a short one stride with poles set up in a narrow V to help with straightness. I wasn’t sure how Murphy would react to the angled poles on the jump, but he jumped it without batting an eye. What might look like difficult exercises in our eyes usually end up being like nothing to the horses.

Now that we were warmed up, we moved on to the simple but effective grid Courtney had set up: three crossrail bounces, then three strides to an oxer. The first time through it we got four strides, and I saw that Murphy was definitely not forward enough. After two times getting the four instead of a three, I gave Murphy a bit of a wake-up call by giving him some taps with the whip behind. You can see in the video that he was NOT happy about my request to giddy up. But, it worked, and Murphy was certainly ready to go after that. As Courtney said, “I think we woke the beast up!”

We then put together the grid, to the one stride, to a bending line to an oxer, which was a good exercise for adjustability, straightness, and accuracy. Murphy handled this well, but it showed that I need to work on adjusting him further out before the fences.

Moving on to the next exercise, we jumped the grid the opposite direction, and then had a tough line off the wall to the one stride. The first time Murphy stopped at it because I was picking too much with my hands, which I cannot get away with on that tight line!

This really opened my eyes to just how much I was taking away from him, because the next time I did it I forced myself to let go about five strides out, no more half-halting, and he jumped it beautifully.

To end, we did a few more lines, worked on the one stride coming off the wall again, and eventually got it to where I really felt and understood the difference that just letting go made. It was definitely a lightbulb moment when I felt that!

The top three things I took away from the clinic with Courtney were:

  1. Say your piece and then be done with it. Meaning, make your adjustments to the canter further out from the jump, but once you are about five strides out, you just go with what you have.
  2. Keep my shoulders and body back, and use my body to half halt instead of my hands.
  3. Develop a good canter early on and work to stay in that same rhythm. 

Overall, I liked how Courtney taught. She was positive and wanted to make the clinic a good experience for the horse and rider. She was quick to point out flaws, but also quick to compliment a well ridden course. Her high expectations and attention to detail were qualities that I appreciate having in an instructor. I liked the exercises she set up, and I took away both homework and new feelings (like letting go) that I’m going to keep working to recreate!

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