Married to my horse – insights from Maree McAteer clinic

Marees Clinic(1)

By Belinda Rodriguez

Maree McAteer is a well respected Working Equitation trainer, rider and judge from New Zealand who has been living most of the year in Colorado, USA for a good many years. She is a key influence in developing this discipline as a sport within New Zealand. I recently attended a two day clinic with Maree to further my Working Equitation skills.

Maree has an uncanny knack for making you think about your own actions and behaviours as a learning tool.  Our group of clinic riders have just spent two epic days asking ourselves some important questions. The brilliance of Maree is that she shares so many relatable stories to trigger those “ah ha” moments.

One such “ah ha” was the relating of a horse-human partnership to a marriage, which over time gets a bit stuck into some behavioural patterns.  As I gathered my reins from an inactive period, my horse Lily and I went into one of those married life patterns, which was so automatic that it had not crossed my mind to do it differently. Maree observed this interaction and provided us with a good reminder to start every session with a “new day” mentality, as if you are a new horse-human partnership.

On the first day, we focused on the Ease of Handling where we witnessed Maree providing entertaining demonstrations, such as riding around on a bunch of sticks to demonstrate what we might be doing on our horses. An insight from this day was to aim for a high level of rider organisation in order to ride the Ease of Handling course well.  By the end of the session we were more “thinking” riders, getting ourselves ready for each obstacle earlier, and using Maree’s tips on making the transitions and flow to produce a work of art in motion (or the freeze frame art of our motionless halts).

The old marriage had some freshness added, as we observed and modified ourselves. “How are you?”, we could say to our horses without the old baggage coming out. This was helped along by the use of SURE FOOT® pads which our horses thoroughly enjoyed during the breaks.

On the second day we had dressage (or suppleness as an alternative way to describe it) lessons, and then a run through a ten obstacle Ease of Handling course, and finally a speed round to see if we could keep our quality movements in conjunction with more speed.

Again, the marriage part was there in the dressage lesson. We warm up the same way as always. “How about doing that differently.”, Maree suggested. At preparatory level, we are working in the space of developing rhythm and relaxation. In this fundamental area, Maree is adept at finding those one or two things in a horse-human partnership that can flip the switch into a more harmonious outcome.

Putting the previous days learnings into a whole Ease of Handling course raises the ante in our cognitive sphere.  Here, we are now remembering (for the most part) a succession of obstacles to execute, directions of entry and exits, and our own thought-out lines for showing off the majesty of our newly upgraded capabilities.  Maree guides us around the course with tips to prompt our brains in their attempt to keep all the pieces together, and then cheers us with great enthusiasm as we finish – all having made a leap forward from our earlier attempts.

The speed round provides some relief from overthinking, having gone already around the course, that information is more ingrained, and now we can concentrate on shortening the lines around the Ease of Handling course. Maree again provides tips as we zip around, keeping us in check with how to achieve a good speed round in a relaxed effortless state, thereby not disrupting the quality of the earlier Ease of Handling schooling.

At the end, we are congratulated for keeping our ducks in a row over those three phases that we covered this weekend.  It’s been a super two days working on our marriages. As we wipe down our dusty, sun-drenched sweaty faces to drive off home, we can take along that buzz of all that is Working Equitation.