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  • Grace Owsley

JEC BALLOU CLINIC ATX COVERAGE - HIGHLIGHTS & TRAINING NOTES (PART 1)


Photo courtesy of Crystal Forsell Dressage, who did a GREAT job organizing the clinic!


Wow, it has definitely been a while since I’ve been here in the blog section of my website! Let me start off by giving a quick hello, or hello again if you’ve been here before. I’m Grace Owsley. I’m a trainer, coach, and judge in the Austin, Texas area. Dressage is the foundation of everything I do with horses, but for those that don’t already know me well, I am well known for my cross training methods such as hopping horses over fences, being out on the trails, working in a western saddle, endless pole exercises, playing at liberty, trying my hand at cattle events, or any other number of equine endeavors any day of the week. With that in mind, I was more than elated when I heard that our local dressage chapter, the Central Texas Dressage Society, was hosting a clinic with Jec Aristotle Ballou.


If you don’t know who that is, all it takes is a Google search to see that she is a very accomplished author and horsewoman, known best for her 101 Dressage Exercises book, but also very well known for her books about equine sport conditioning and her seemingly endless lists of exercises and conditioning programs for horses and riders of all disciplines and levels. I own nearly all of her published books, I am a big fan of her approach to cross training and conditioning, and I feel like her outlook and programs are very synchronous with what I do in my own training programs. As soon as the clinic was open I signed up for both days with quarter horse, Louie.


I arrived at the clinic location, only about 45 minutes to an hour from me, on a Friday evening. Louie settled in great; we had a short ride before tucking him in for our first overnight adventure together. The next morning began with Jec doing a demonstration for 30 minutes in-hand with one horse. It was a great introduction to the type of work we had to look forward to that day.


In-Hand/Ground Work Demo & Lesson

Jec expressed that she preferred to use a properly fitted lunging caveson for ground work since using a lunge caveson keeps the throatlatch open and avoids tension in the neck and poll that can happen when pulling them down where a halter attaches. She also explained that one of the number one causes of equine injury is repetitive movement. As equestrians, especially as we specialize more into one specific discipline, our training and riding can become too repetitive with the same type of exercises day in and day out. This is dangerous for the horse and counterproductive to conditioning a well-rounded athlete. Not to mention downright boring for both human and animal. I completely agree with this!


The first group lesson consisted of four horse and human in-hand partnerships, who worked with Jec for roughly an hour on several exercises. She stressed that ground work should be done regularly, whether once or twice a week or even a little bit before riding. Here are a few notes of mine from auditing the in-hand:


One goal/benefit of ground work - the less we interfere/touch the better so that their brain can process what we are asking without extra interference (compared to the overstimulation of a rider on their back always cuing intentionally or unintentionally).


Don’t force, offer. We aren’t pulling them or pushing them.


The neck must stay in front of (lined up with) the chest crease. Otherwise it’s over flexing not bending and using their body. She was particular about keeping them here and not letting them swing their head around and about during the exercises.


Chin at or lower than their chest. Always inviting the neck out.


Pre-ride circles from the ground. 3-4 good circles then pause. Not crossing the front legs when circling. Do this from both sides. 30 seconds or so of this before getting on your horse is good for pre-ride.


Change the tempo of the walk several times while leading without swinging the neck around (keeping centered).


Gaze at their armpit when asking for lateral steps from the ground moving them sideways from the shoulders, “flexing” towards you. Preride circle first then with that same rhythm ask for sideways about 3 steps then stop.


If the horse gets wiggly in the back up/move forward exercise, just move forward to establish forward again before checking back in with the back up.


Notice if your horse is tapping the pole with one particular foot consistently. This can indicate tightness in the shoulder for that forelimb.


For both the in hand and riding groups, she encouraged doing the exercise a handful of times and then walking out to take a break. Here's a highlight video:




Group Riding Lesson

I left to go tack up Louie for our group lesson. I chose jump tack for day one since I knew we were doing poles and planned to do our western dressage gear the next day. Our group consisted of 3 of us mounted. The exercises utilized poles and cones, and we also did several changes within the paces along the rail. Here are a few awesome things we did:


Serpentine through poles set up parallel to long side. Walking only three steps each side then switch side and so on. This was harder than it sounds! You had to stay so straight and have absolute control over the shoulders without over riding it. Louie and I did fairly well at this, but we definitely added an unintentional fourth step several times!


Back up one step, forward one step. Only one step! Can you be quiet and careful enough with your aids to do this one? We got this one down pretty well.


Walking over a pole with the front legs, then backing them up just so those two legs came over again. Being very precise and slow.


Walking turn on the forehand around a cone, trot straight to another cone, walk turn on the forehand around that cone, trot out to the previous cone, repeat. Make it like a figure eight so you are turning around each cone from a different leg. Louie is not the most laterally supple guy, but we got this one fairly well once we did it a few times. It became easier and easier as he got the groove of the exercise and I needed less and less aid to get it done.


Alternating between medium or working walk, a very slow walk and a big extended and loose rein walk. She would call out which one to do in seemingly no particular order so we could practice being adjustable. I use this at home a lot already, and it is great for loosening the horse, tuning them in to your aids, adjustability, and encouraging the proper rhythm of the walk especially when changing between longer and shorter rein lengths.


Similarly, we did the exercise in trot, alternating between slow western jog type trot (time for my quarter horse to shine lol), working trot, and bigger extended type trot. She also included a stretchy trot. A few transitions in and out of canter were included in the mix.


After the main lesson was over she asked if we wanted any additional help or insight. She had not commented on Louie and myself too often which I assumed was a good thing since we were getting the exercises ok without needing much additional attention. I asked if there was something she would particularly have us work on as a team and she graciously gave us one on one time with turn on the forehand. She felt Louie needed to open the throatlatch more in his work (something he could do more of overall), so we did a turn on the forehand square. She instructed me to be careful about keeping his neck open throughout the whole turn, and making sure he was forward forward forward out of the turn straight to the next to encourage that push from behind reaching to the bit. It was a great exercise for us, and a great mental note for me, and I could tell a difference immediately.

Louie the QH did fantastic. This was my first clinic with him with a large audience. There were a lot of people in folding chairs at the end of the arena. This was a new place to him and it had mirrors in the arena. He didn’t know the other horses in the ring. I could tell he was a bit tense but not to the point where it was a big interference. I can’t blame him! He did have a few moments of loss of balance and offered up a mild hop in the air at those times. It happened near the audience so it could have been the more exciting clinic environment mixed with tension causing him to react. Overall he was quite the solid citizen, paying close attention to me and being very willing to try each exercise. I was super proud of him. I’ll link a highlight video here:


More Group + Private Lessons

After untacking and getting Louie a good roll, rinse, water and lunch, it was time to audit some more. The next group did the same exercises that we did. This group had some more inexperienced horses, so it was a different vibe in the lesson for this set of horse and rider pairs. It was interesting to see the greenies process and work through each exercise. The riders were tactful and patient, even allowing their horse to just stand and watch if it got a little too overwhelming. As with each group including my own, Jec encouraged each pair to leave the exercises after doing them a few times to not overstimulate and to give them a mental and physical break. Here's a short highlight reel:


There were a few private lessons, and I caught some moments in these. One lesson for a more advanced pair had a square pole setup in the middle (4 poles to make a square). Jec had them trot in, halt inside, trot out. They also would trot in, halt, turn on the haunches, walk or trot out a few steps, then canter on. Another exercise had them cantering throughout, entering and leaving the square always going right or left consistently, but entering from a different side each time. Imagine they would draw a four petal flower. I’ll link a video with clips from this lesson here:


Day one was hot but everyone had a great time. Plenty of notes and homework to take home, but we still had another day to look forward to. Stay tuned for the next blog post covering day 2!


*Big thank you to Central Texas Dressage Society for putting on this great clinic for their members and community.

*Another big thank you to Rolling Ridge Stables for hosting the clinic and being so welcoming.

*Shout out to Nuun Hydration for keeping me hydrated during this clinic!

*I had multiple compliments and people approach me with questions about my shiny light blue printed sun shirt that I wore during this day one clinic, and it was from SanSoleil. They are my absolute FAVORITE sun protection shirts. Visit their site (click here), search for keyword "SOLSHINE" if you're looking for the shiny ones like I was wearing, and although the exact shirts I had on at the clinic aren't available now, there are several just like them in many colors and prints. Be sure to use code LUVGrace15 on their site to get an awesome discount! Video and pic of me in said shirt on Day 1 below :) Also see the video above of me riding Louie. You'll have to tune in to the next blog post to see which shirt I wore for Day 2!








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