|David & Red at Blenheim c. 2000 (via O'Brien Eventing site)|
Strangely, there was something about David’s quiet, friendly patience combined with the mind-boggling fact of this guy who had galloped his Irish TB, Fox In Flight (Red) around Blenheim & Fair Hill International, who I’d watched in the Rolex dressage arena, whose wife, Lauren, I’d photographed and cheered for when Dunrath Alto was eating up the KHP course for breakfast, that intimidated the hell out of me.
How was it that he was not only willing to teach me, but also give me his undivided focus, clarity, & respect for my earnest efforts to convince Solo that his butt was not just for holding his tail on?
I’m not a “starstruck” kind of person, but that day, that arena entrance became a bridge linking childhood years at Rolex, when I thought that eventing was only for an elite horse & rider, to the discovery as an adult that nobody-me could be ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. Ok, not the Rolex people, but a slightly slower & more comically stubborn version.
I feel lucky indeed to have hitched a ride to a friend’s farm that day. And I still get ridiculously excited about every opportunity to learn more “David-isms,” although if I’m the one riding, it’s far more likely to be the same one…repeated often.
So I couldn’t wait to
|David: Srsly, stop stalking me! Erica: IKR!?|
Over the 4th of July weekend, Team Flying Solo took a field trip down to Southern Pines. We hauled in Friday, stayed with some friends at their beautiful property [thank you, Alison!!!], ate by the pool under the eyes of some very sad dogs who clearly never ever get fed, and hit the sack.
The morning dawned unseasonably cool & crisp, thanks to Hurricane Arthur, and I tried to keep my mind occupied on getting Mr. Shiny looking, well, shiny. Luckily we weren’t sure WHICH of Tanglewood Farm’s 27 beautiful arenas was our rendezvous point, so I had a chance to breathe as we wandered. Don’t mind us, just a couple clueless poor people, nothing to see here…
After a “getting to know you” chat, David quickly assessed & assigned. As all warmups should, we were to be first, forward, and second, bending. Solo showed up ready to play and he felt great; I think we had some really nice moments while David helped finesse my position. I apologize for anyone who has watches the videos, it’s got to be somewhat annoying to hear “shorten your reins” that many times, haha. [eventer79: Why do you think we watch videos of lessons? So we can get the benefits without sweating! Besides, I’m sure NO ONE else out there EVER rides with their reins too long; I know I never, ever do. *quickly takes down all videos of self riding ever*]
Warming up at the trot. You’ll see David almost immediately puts Solo on a classic figure-8; this is a fantastic exercise for any warmup because it engages the horse’s mind with the changes of direction and the latter also supples his body more quickly by asking the muscles on both sides to actively stretch and contract at shorter intervals. The pattern also helps both horse and rider settle into a rhythm, while keeping the human brain & body busy enough with steering to avoid the stiffening & over-riding temptation of a single circle. May or may not contain a cameo of up & coming Phenomenal Rider/Trainer/All-Around Awesome Person Andrew McConnon schooling the freaking adorable Jack Reacher at 4:19.
Continuing the Circle of Death at the canter. Yes, I remain a heinous videographer. I wish I could have gone in the arena, but I had to supervise a certain brown nose-r. I also remain incapable of remember that the camera’s mic picks up MY STUPID COMMENTARY TOO. *facepalm* I would mute it, but the value of David’s teaching trumps my own embarrassment (meh, I’m used to it).
|I'd say they got moving...|
And Then You Jumped Solo? Really? Really?? Really??! [hells, yeah, she did!]
We started out with three ground poles to a small cross rail, just trying to get me to relax going through it.
From there, the second x-rail went up, then finally a small vertical, each with a one-stride placing pole. Solo did his land & root & scoot a few times after the last element, which nearly had me unglued. My mantra changed from “shoulders back, neck strap” to “you can’t wuss out on David.” [Now you’re truly a part of the Team; the latter is my strategy…for pretty much every single lesson with him, LOL!]
David stops us and breaks down body elements critical to riding out the line: for me the take-home message was to think not about slowing Solo down but rather bringing his front end & balance up.
Fine-tuning the exercise.
They Did It!
We finally made it through the grid quietly & confidently!
…the magic happened. [I love lightbulb moments!]
The last exercise David had us do was to simply ride a circle with a single jump on it. [eventer79 was devastated by being unable to capture this on video, but she had to get on her horse] We started at the trot, then brought it up to the canter. I sort of wish we had started with this, though perhaps if I hadn’t gotten to it at this point of the lesson, it wouldn’t have been such an epiphany [see evil footnote]. The grid work seemed to bring out my clingy, panicked side, & I white-knuckled through it, but with this exercise I was able to establish a rhythm & just…ride it. All of a sudden, it was like “OH! You mean, shorten my reins. And sit up. And put a monster half halt on going around the turn & then let go.”
We’ve naturally now got tons of homework to do & reviewing the footage reveals that it’s pretty much all mine. [it’s always us, sigh] But that, folks, is how Erica found her jumping position and how Solo has resumed his flying.
|There's no feeling like it -- welcome to the Flight!|
Footnote Revealing Pre-Existing Evil Plot
[eventer79: I must now reveal my cruel strategery. Solo has always been rush-y going through gymnastics because they are very hard for him. Even low, slow ones, ask a horse to shift his weight back to his hocks and use his back, both weak points for my boy, so he worries. These very tiny ones don’t hurt him, but he does have a Lifetime Exemption from bounces and most other gymnastic exercises. I know David’s system and I knew Erica would find these unsettling, and now I am going to admit I did it on purpose.
|Letz go faster!! However, note perfect rider balance here!|
I believe in always setting a horse & rider up for success; the best possible environment for this moment, for Erica & Solo, was in a clearly enclosed arena with level, perfect footing under the instruction of David’s calm, methodical, & positive expertise. He is a teacher who brings out the best in you because, as he matter-of-factly directs you to “go do this thing that makes your eyes bug out,” the systematic manner in which he has prepared you and his quick reassurance of everything you did right make up the parachute which always lands you safely on “holy shit, I DID IT!”
You can’t build anything without a solid foundation block & you can’t place the block without careful site prep. There’s a method in most of my madness – sometimes it even works. ;P I AM SO PROUD OF BOTH ERICA & SOLO & I HOPE THEIR JOURNEY CONTINUES!]
And THANK YOU, Erica, for the wonderful gift of seeing this look of joy & proud bad-assery back on Solo’s face. That puts tears in MY eyes.