“Riding is about the same things at every level. Collect, go forward, turn left, turn right from short stirrup to Grand Prix.” - Diane Carney
by Emily Baker
It was a chilly and overcast day in Castle Rock, Colorado as we pulled up to Cañon Ridge Farm. The property is set atop rolling green hills that appear to extend for miles. There is ample pasture space and a nice outdoor arena, but the unexpectedly cool temperatures had driven the riders indoors for the day. The clinic was already underway as we walked down the barn aisle, but we followed Diane’s clear and confident voice to the entrance of the arena. Cañon Ridge boasts a spacious indoor arena lined with mirrors entirely along one side. Six riders were trotting a series of poles on the ground getting the feel for the layout of the course. Though it did not appear all that complex, we were to learn an incredible amount in two short hours that day.
Diane Carney has been a professional in the horse world for over 30 years now, and is currently based just outside of Chicago. Diane led a successful international show career, competing from the East Coast to the West Coast in the United States and up to Spruce Meadows in Canada. Nowadays Diane teaches lessons and clinics across the United States, and works alongside the famed George Morris. She emphasizes the basics of flatwork in her teaching, and the importance of education as we would quickly learn.
“You’re probably an A+ student right?” she asked one rider once the clinic got underway. “Well in order to be an A+ rider you have to plan ahead.” Diane had set up an exercise in the arena in which the students started with a very collected four stride line on the short end of the arena, to a spooky five stride line on the stride with a liverpool. From there they did a bending three stride line, then across the diagonal and back to the collected four, to another five stride line on the stride along the other side. They finished with a rollback turn through the arena.
The course embodied the essence of her philosophy. It involved collecting, going forward, turning left, and turning right. And a lot of planning ahead.
Many of the riders struggled at first. One of the biggest issues the course identified in each rider was the use of their reins. “You don’t ride a horse with one rein,” Diane quipped in response to this, “You don’t drive a car with one turn signal.” She pointed out to the riders that they were often more consistent in one rein than the other and they needed to learn to use both reins evenly. With only one rein (often the inside rein) it presented issues with balance which caused the horses to miss lead changes and be off the stride to the jumps.
Some horses stopped at the spooky liverpool jump as well. This presented an issue of confidence for many of the riders. “You have to want to jump the jump,” Diane told them, “You have to decide you would rather let go of his mouth and jump the jump.” This advice really spoke to me personally, coming from a long line of horses with stopping problems. There is a point when your horse stops that you put up a mental block, pull on the reins, and in effect induce the stop. That is when it is in your hands (literally and metaphorically) to get your horse over the jump.
The riders began to catch on to Diane’s main lesson toward the end of the clinic and were able to smoothly navigate between forward and collected lines. Diane ended the clinic with a laugh and stated to her riders “I’m not a magician, I’m just a mechanic.” Essentially, it’s not a mythical skill that allows us to ride horses, it’s about mastering the basics: collect, go forward, turn left, turn right.
The course also spoke to Diane’s testament about planning ahead. If riders made a mistake in one part of the course, then it threw off the whole rest of the course. I learned this the hard way when I did the course later that day with our trainer, Brianna Davis, back at home. When I allowed my horse to get too forward across the middle of the arena, it set me up to be too tight in the collected four, and then I missed going into the outside line, and then was off balance to the bending three. As Diane pointed out, planning ahead is crucial to be a successful rider and to “have a better horse IQ” as she accurately put it.
After the clinic we were able to catch up with Diane. She was very nice and enthusiastic about our article, and gave us some great insight about her riding philosophy. “Every clinic is about the basics of riding,” she stated, “the safety of the rider through position, and their ability to guide the horse through a course.”
“Understanding it takes time,” she added, “it doesn’t come as easy as kicking a soccer ball.” This statement couldn’t be more true. In our sport we are often overlooked by the lay community for not being a “real” sport or chastised for “the horse doing all the work.” But Diane’s clinic showed us that it is a sport that takes patience, hard work, and dedication, but when it comes down to it, it’s really all about the basics.