Amelia Newcomb Dressage: We’ve Got Legs

Self-described “ever student mature rider,” Candace Wade had the opportunity to audit an Amelia Newcomb Dressage clinic. Inspired by the experience, here are her take-aways:

Dressage touched my rider’s heart – but the discipline made my head swim – until I discovered Amelia Newcomb. As an “ever student mature rider,” I find Amelia’s presentation style makes the foundation of equitation — that is Dressage — accessible to all riders … even to me.

“Amelia Newcomb is coming!” buzzed the equine social media in Tennessee. The Central Tennessee Dressage Association brought the symposia to a Dressage barn south of Nashville. Varied levels of equestrians (riders and auditors) signed up to soak up Amelia’s expertise and constructive presentation of what some instructors make snooty and overly complicated.

Amelia Newcomb instructing one of the clinic participants, Cristin on Blondie. Photo by Candace Wade.

We’ve Got Legs

She’s got legs and knows how to use them” (nod to ZZ Top). So do we. (Listen to the lyrics. That song needs to be us!) Legs, legs, legs. The initial training for many of us was hands, hands, hands. Every ride is an opportunity to use our legs first. Leg placement and leg yields telegraph corrections and help us and the horse balance. Inside leg to outside rein in turns. Knees on the saddle. Equal pressure from big to little toe so as not to push leg forward. Weight not heavy, yet not floating above the irons. Give a request and . . . check in with your legs.

Amelia’s frequent leg and body position reminders (“Yah, I know that, but I forget”) comforted me in that my slips are universal. You know — toe face front, knee on the saddle, sit deeper in the saddle, balanced, but not rigid, leg weight on foot, torso weight in the seat. Much of the instruction encouraged a strong foundation for successful riding. I was relieved to see that even more proficient riders slip up.

  • Lesson One: Yes, Virginia, we all make the same body position and response errors, so do you know where your legs are?

Cristin and Blondie. Photo by Candace Wade.

Sit Like a Leader

All the horses and riders were lovely and worked hard to accomplish Amelia’s corrections. “Blondie” and her rider Cristin had me at first trot. “Blondie” is a whimsical little Palomino, ex-trail/working cow Quarter horse, learning Dressage. Amelia cautioned, “Remember, Blondie is used to skidding stops, so practice stopping in balance. Be patient with her. Help her.” Yikes! How many times had I been impatient and frustrated? Cristin looked so Zen.

  • Lesson Two: “Help your horse. Let her look to you for direction.”

Blondie was a bit excited – mini kerfuffle. Cristin was great at staying with her. Amelia coached, “Ride the rhythm. 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. . . . Shoulders back, stay flexible and fluid, readjust your legs.” I could see Blondie settle.

  • Lesson Three: Sit through the kerfuffle. Don’t ball up and get tense. “Hunching is a natural, protective response.” Thank you, Amelia.

Circles Are Our Friends

Amelia coached the magic of circles. Circles wake up the horse . . . and us. Have a horse that rushes or runs through a request? Rather than pull, make 10-meter circles to get her attention. Is her trot too big for what you want? Ten-meter circle and practice leg yields to get her to think, relax and slow. Trot too small and choppy? Turn into a larger circle. Circles make you and your horse think, to get organized. For Blondie, Cristin was counseled to make larger circles and to be patient in her “ask.” Give her time to organize.

  • Lesson Four: Practice Tool — Use the “Snowman” (20-meter circle to 10-meter circle — change directions at center line) for suppleness and for organization of mind and body.
  • Lesson Five: Practice Tool – “Ice Cream Cone Pattern” exercise (for leg yields) and proper Half Halts.
  • Lesson Six: Half Halts with circles. What a Half Halt is and when to use is best explained by Amelia. I did get that we should practice Half Halts — a lot — to get attention and collect, but not to annoy. More legs, legs, legs.

Cristin and Blondie. Photo by Candace Wade.

We All Mess Up

Amelia helped me to feel that most of us are in the same “goof” boat. Common goofs:

  • Wimpy foot placement
  • Nagging bumps to push forward.
  • Grumpy when we goof up (relax goofs happen)
  • Not breathing
  • Floating above the saddle
  • Curling fetal in times of trouble
  • Not using my legs!

My audit of Amelia Newcomb’s symposium was an empowering experience. Her tone and information fostered confidence, support, and how to create a successful horse/rider relationship. I came away believing that it’s ok to mess up. I’m not the only one who forgets to breathe . . . and, most important, that we’ve got legs and we know how to use them!

Bonnie Lake and Laurel Carron with Amelia Newcomb. Photo by Candace Wade.