(The spouse of a Centered Riding® clinic organizer)
Peals of Donna’s distinctive laughter resounded through the arena. Mary Kay and Leslie moved their chairs closer to mine, they wanted to know how to tell when Cody was in the proper gait. "That’s easy." I said, "When Cody gets into the right gait, Donna laughs."
As I looked around, I thought about how close we had come to giving up on this clinic. Kim and I started three years ago by booking a date with a clinician a year in advance. After arranging for a facility and advertising the clinic that clinician was unable to come. Bumping our clinic out a year, we contacted the clinicians we had talked to previously but they were all unavailable. As a last resort we mailed letters to all level IV Centered Riding® instructors expressing our desire to host an instructor update/open clinic in Colorado this year. We were very encouraged by the response we received from Judith Cross-Strehlke. Judy was flexible and willing to work with us to achieve our goal. With her help sorting out a few misunderstandings about the requirements and procedures dictated by Centered Riding® Inc., we were able to put the clinic together in three months and make it happen this year. Seeing the participants so excited about their experience made me glad we persevered.
Kim and I ride gaited horses with Western equipment and train using principles commonly referred to as natural horsemanship, so we don’t fit into the typical Centered Riding® mold. Our clinic didn’t look like a typical Centered Riding® clinic either. Not because it was on a western ranch near a picturesque alpine lake in the Colorado foothills, but because so many people were riding in Western saddles, and there were so many gaited horses. This venue turned out to be very successful. To a student, people said they got exactly what they needed and more. Everyone’s expectations were exceeded. Several people made miraculous changes, physically and emotionally. For a few it was one of those life-changing events. We are already making plans to have Judy come back in October.
What made this "the best Centered Riding® clinic I’ve ever been to," as one of the updating instructors put it? The key was the cohesiveness of the group. The elements that led to that cohesiveness were: The attitude of the clinician, the students being put in a situation that was out of their element, and a willingness on the part of everyone to pitch in and help out when needed.
Judy came to the clinic with the idea that she was a facilitator. Her purpose was not to impart her knowledge on people, but to use her twenty years of Centered Riding® experience to help people discover what they could do. Her teaching style focused on what the student was doing right and how they could make adjustments to improve on it. This approach gave students the confidence to open up and discuss their needs and weaknesses. It also gave them the confidence to try something new, not feeling the need to protect themselves by remaining in familiar habitual patterns. Judy was extremely gifted in relating what riders had discovered about their bodies in the morning body work session with what was going on in their riding. She also would pause often, when a special teaching situation arose, and say to the instructors, "Did you hear what the rider said there?" "When that is what they are feeling, this is what you need to do..." Judy also reminded people over and over that it’s 75% about themselves and 25% about their student, emphasizing the need to stay centered and grounded while teaching.
The playing field was leveled, somewhat, by putting students in an unfamiliar situation. Most people working with Centered Riding are experienced riding walk-trot-canter horses in English tack. At this clinic a significant number of the horses were gaited horses ridden with Western equipment. The sensation of feeling something totally foreign was a great learning experience. It seemed to help people rediscover balance and rhythm because their habitual patterns were ineffective in the new situation. It also brought back the innocent, child-like thrill of discovering the feel of a new gait -- hence Donna’s laughter.
I went into the clinic with the idea that I would make myself available to handle the little details that came up. In this way I could support Kim in her ability to participate, even though she was the clinic organizer. The first day was almost overwhelming. I felt pulled in so many directions. There was not enough time for me to help everyone get ready for their lessons on time. By the second day the group was coming together. There were no divisions or hierarchy, just a group of people sharing a common experience. With the first day jitters behind them, people pitched in and took care of things as they saw a need, joyously stepping up to help their new found friends. I was able to actually sit down and enjoy my lunch, and even ride in a lesson in the afternoon. It’s not that I minded helping people out, but it was refreshing to see the group dynamic as people began working together and helping each other.
Highlights that stand out in my mind are: Hearing Elizabeth, our oldest participant at 71, thank Judy for giving her what she needed to keep riding for another ten years; seeing Sandy change not just her posture but her entire countenance; and Donna’s laughter.
The bottom line is, prayers were answered -- Judy’s prayers for wisdom, to know how to help each student with their specific needs; Kim’s prayers that the clinic would be a success; and my prayers that Kim would be able to participate fully even though she was the clinic organizer. It is amazing what happens when God brings the right people together in His timing.
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