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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label guest poster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guest poster. Show all posts

July 26, 2014

Guest Blogger Returns & So Does The Original Flying Solo!

David at Blenheim (Small)
David & Red at Blenheim c. 2000 (via O'Brien Eventing site)
[eventer79:  I remember my very first lesson with David O’Brien, in the spring of 2009.  The scene is so vividly imprinted on my senses because, as I walked Solo into the arena, I was so nervous that my hands were shaking.  I don’t get nervous.  

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 drag lead Erica across that bridge.] 
Body Demo 0 01 01-08
David: Srsly, stop stalking me!  Erica: IKR!?
Hey, Erica, How Did It Go??

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…

The Lesson

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).

Solo Canter Warmup
I'd say they got moving...
I have to take a minute here to acknowledge what a great instructor David is. He was direct, positive, and never once made me feel like my skill level was beneath being worthy of his time.  It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever had.  [aaand my job here is done, folks :D]

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!

And Then…

…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.

Solo's Final Gymnastic Jump
Balance getting better!
Untitled 0 01 30-30
No worries, minion, I got ur butt.
I get it! I was nearly in tears cooling down.  [I confess I couldn’t keep the grin off my face when, approximately every two minutes, all the way home, Erica would turn to me and yell, “I DID IT!”  Epic Moments In Life.  I kid you not, her FB update that day:  "So, uh, when I said we moved to NC because of the job market & cost of living?  I lied.  I moved to NC so I could trailer down to Southern Pines & take amazing jumping lessons with 4-star eventers."  *insert moar grinning*]

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.
Erica Flying Solo Edits
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.

Want To Go Faster
Letz go faster!! However, note perfect rider balance here!
I’m no stranger to “speed” anxiety and I used to be drop-dead terrified of downhill jumps.  To this day, I won’t get on a bolter due to an accident when I was about 9.  I STILL get a tweak sometimes.  But Solo was the horse who taught me about trust.  It’s not an overnight process & it’s ok to be afraid, but I know he will always be safe.  I also unfailingly install an emergency brake on my horses, heh.  I would NEVER say, “Just get over it,” but I saw in that lesson the perfect opportunity for Erica to experience that critical first step.

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!]

Head Profile Solo (Small) Untitled 0 00 28-21
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.

July 9, 2014

Meet The Minion: Solo’s Full-Service Provider Shares Her Story

Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 017 (Small)
Thanks for teh staffz, mom!
You’ve heard me mention Erica, aka Blog Stalker, aka She Who Lunges Children, and her amazing appearance in my life a shockingly short time ago.  It has been my surprisingly great joy to watch her discover the unique gift of Solo Magic; it’s like falling in love with my horse all over again.  In return, she keeps my buddy moving, putting the spring back in his step, & fills in as Server Of Noms when I am on travel status for work.  On top of all that, she has quickly become a wonderful friend.  Take it away, Erica!!

Hi, this is Solo’s mysterious minion, Erica! If you follow Team Flying Solo on Facebook (and you should), you’ve probably seen a picture or two of me looking like a dweeb standing next to *** XC jumps, looking like a dweeb massaging Solo’s butt, or looking like a dweeb unabashedly shoveling Bojangles in my face (sweet mother of biscuits, I was meant to live in the South, y’all).  [enter eventer79: perfectly complements my dorkiness, if you ask me]

Did You Grow Up With Horses?

I rode & worked at an eventing barn in metro Detroit during high school, once I finally convinced my folks that this whole “horse thing” was not a phase. In college I rode when I had time & money (read: rarely), but I did play with my university polo team & catch-rode OTTBs for CANTER.  Even then, I was a super timid jumper, and swore off jumping more than once.
Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 033b (Small)
U ready for dis?
During my junior year, I got the unbelievable opportunity to study  in Northern Ireland, taking classes like equine sports medicine & living in a legit castle, residing in dorms…just above the stabling. Barely three weeks into my stay, I rode in survived my first XC schooling, only to fall off in a 6” gymnastic grid in my next lesson, & snap my wrist. Luckily the awesome instructors continued to include me in lessons on the ground, & I still learned a boat load. I also learned that being an American in an Irish pub wearing a cast will get you lots of free drinks. From there it was grad school, a baby, & a couple of interstate moves, but sadly, no more horses.

So What Made You Decide To Become A Stalker?

I randomly e-mailed Solo’s mom before moving to Durham, hoping she might have some leads on pet-friendly housing. The response was an open invitation to come over for a hack on the red beast!  So last summer I showed up, beers in hand [eventer79: you had me at ‘I brought some drinks’] and jeans on because I didn’t want to seem like I was assuming ride time. By January, we were making arrangements to bring Solo back into regular work. He’s just about the perfect packer for my stage of re-riding-ness: doesn’t give away freebies, but well-schooled on the flat [omg, who would have thunk it…], and will totally take care of my sorry behind over fences.

Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 051 (Small)
He's a tarp pro these days!
And Has Solo Accepted Your Proposal?

It’s being going fantastically, as weather & work allow. In May, I did a horsemanship clinic with Mr. Shiny next door, navigating tires, tarps, pool noodles, & even the ever-challenging single ground pole (Solo was all “Whadaya mean, put one foot over? Ground poles are for CROSSING, lady.”).  I tend to be an “act first, think later” person, so one of my big riding challenges is becoming more aware of my body & the timing of my cues. Having a chance to pause & focus on making a plan BEFORE moving forward was very helpful as I try to convince Solo I really AM trustworthy, I won’t hurt him, & he doesn’t always have to check with Mom to see if it’s okay.

The Calendar Said Something About Jumping?  We Want To Hear About The Jumping, Already!  Win, Lose, Or Draw??

Oh, back to that whole “I’m a candyass over fences…”  If everything is going well, the horse is balanced & we meet the jump on a good stride, ok.  Problem is, I never really understood how to create that balance, & when something goes wrong, I don’t have a toolbox. Thus, I hunch forward, clamp my knees like a crazy person & generally toss all my toys out of my mental pram. What could possibly go wrong with that approach?  [eventer79: I don’t see the problem, it has always worked so well for me in the sandbox…]

Solo & I had a few mini-jump schools that had gone reasonably well. He sometimes lands & roots & scoots & goes “wheee,” particularly if he wishes to point out a tight hand or heel, which can wig me out [eventer79: unfit horse bonus – it only lasts about four strides].  When the opportunity arose for a lesson with TFS favorite, David O’Brien, I planned on an awesome & super tough dressage lesson.  [ROFL, plans!]  Therefore Erica, established darned fool, jumped off a tractor holding a heavy post-pounder [eventer79: I’m rednecking her already!!!], and cracked said sorry behind on the wheel well.  Three weeks later, my tailbone is still yelling.  So what doesn’t require sitting in the saddle?  Oh yes, a jumping lesson!


Body Demo 0 01 24-10
David: ...then you launch the rocket like this!  Solo:  Erica:  Please don't fall off, please don't fall off...

May 14, 2013

It's All About Energy

One of my favourite things about working events has to be the people I meet.  Owners, trainers, product reps, sponsors, photographers, artists, vets...just about every category you can think of and a few you probably can't.

Wendy shows off her display space in the indoor arena.
At Southern Eighths, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Wendy McCaughan, a designer from Ireland who decided to take equestrian safety into her own hands by creating KanTeq and manufacturing custom fit body protectors.  The business model is very similar to that of my beloved Rodney Powell, but I learned, and Wendy confirmed, that he has gone out of business, gasp, sadness!  I have a body that is all kinds of odd shapes, so a made-to-form vest which has been certified is something I cling to with desperate hands.  All foams have a lifespan though (and it's not 20 years, sorry, my friends), as I have learned from several materials and textiles engineers, so what to do when I must replace my sturdy RP? 

Wendy had come to the US in late April to display her product at Rolex and we were lucky enough to have her stay over to the next weekend to visit South Carolina and provide some demos and information on falls and energy and how to think about protecting yourself as you inevitably hurl yourself from your steed.  As we do.

I've talked about my vest before and my basic thoughts on the types of protection available to us at this time.  Too bad we don't have knee protectors.

I apparently lack Irish style genes, but it doesn't stop me!
Wendy was kind enough to share with me, though, a lovely article that she had put together on energy management, with the help of the testers and engineers who examined the shock absorption properties of her vest (yes -- they tested it and she showed me the graphs of data, eeee, GEEK OUT!).  It was such a well-written and concise summary of the topic that I begged her permission to share it with you (if you haven't already seen it in BHS publications).  So without further ado and with a huge thanks to Wendy and KanTeq for not only supporting our long format event but also for just being a wonderful, kind, fun person to chat with and for letting me try on her sweet (blue!), very comfortable vest, which was both reassuringly solid and notably lighter than my RP, while at the same time giving me complete freedom to move (absolutely KEY in a fall; if you can't move, that impact energy is going to find its own way out = not good) and breathe.  That sentence is way too long...

My disclaimer:  I have received no incentives to share this product with you and have no stake other than my own safety parameters and intellectual curiosity.  I hold, as you know, quite firmly to my self-proclaimed title of Mme. Skeptic and Ms. Analyse-It-To-Death (that one's not so catchy).  But I was really impressed by the work and thought that went into this vest and with Wendy herself and her earnest desire to have an open, honest dialogue with riders and to provide them with effective protection, having evented herself on the other side of the ocean.

ENERGY MANAGEMENT – Body Protectors and Air Jackets Explained
Written by Wendy McCaughan

This article is intended to be a basic but factual and helpful piece for anyone who is confused by what is on offer in the market – there is no reference to brands including my own. My thanks to the Impact Engineer and Aeronautical Engineer who helped me get the physics right.

Body Protectors and Air Jackets perform in different ways.

The purpose of a traditional body protector is to help prevent injury to joints, bones and internal organs in the event of a riding accident when thrown from a horse or kicked. It does this by absorbing and spreading the forces involved. To a large extent body protectors are designed to emulate a ridged shell with spinal conformity and have the effect of wrapping around the ribcage. They should be impervious and ideally largely unbending around the circumference of the upper body, backed up by an impact absorbing and dispersing layer to cushion the blow. Too much flexion in the shell would allow blunt point impact to bend and possibly break a bone.

I finally got to do a Google Image search for physics!!!!!

An air jacket is designed to help provide protection by decelerating or slowing down the moment of impact.  However, to spread impact loads on the rider’s body, a body protector must also be worn because the inflated bladder of an air jacket will not dissipate sufficient energy – instead this energy is transferred from outside to inside, which is why there is a “bounce,” and must then be absorbed on the inside. BETA, the FEI, USEF, and BE insist that if you are wearing an air jacket it must be worn with a body protector to give sufficient impact absorption. 

Physics of Impact

When falling from something there is the energy from gravity accelerating the person’s weight (mass) plus the energy given by the thing they fell off (bike, horse etc). Most riders are sitting at over 1.4 metres (4’8”) above the ground and may be traveling anywhere from 15-25 mph.  That is a long way to fall, even when the horse is stationary. Once on the ground there is the added danger of being kicked or trampled - an average horse weighs 1200-1500 lbs, (544 – 680 kg), so the risk to the rider is significant.

Newton’s third law of motion states: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” i.e. push a ball and it rolls away, the more energy put into the push the further the ball goes. When landing, this energy has to go somewhere and often the energy goes into the rider’s body. Therefore the choice of safety garment must be shock absorbing so that the body inside is protected.

In a horse riding environment impact types would be:

-Flat impact on ground with no hard lumps,
-Blunt but point loaded impact i.e. a rock, tree root, fence post or rail,
-Sharp penetrative impact.

I would say that the first two and a combination of both are most likely. If when falling from a horse we hit, for example, a tree root or fence, the energy is transferred into a small area causing greater damage than if we fall onto flat ground. Therefore it is vital that the rider chooses the best shock absorbing and energy dispersing materials as their primary layer of protection (it is all about lessening the transfer of energy to the body). Body protector foams for use in the equestrian sector are designed to pass stringent impact tests.

Do not want.
Safety Standards

All body protectors carrying the EN: 13158 or BETA marked labels have been tested to one of 3 levels and this denotes that at each level the body protector is capable of absorbing and spreading a given amount of impact. Protectors meeting BETA Level 3 should provide a level of protection that is considered appropriate for normal horse riding, competitions and for working with horses. These certified body protectors also have specific dimensional and space requirements so that sufficient torso areas are protected.

Air jackets are not body protectors. Whatever the benefits of wearing these items, currently none of them meet the relevant European CE standard for body protectors for equestrian use. To pass the standard protectors must be independently tested by a European-approved laboratory, using impact performance test methods to simulate impact due to falls and kicks from horses.

November 2, 2012

The Guestest With The Bestest

I am proud to introduce you to Amber, who humoured me and has written a guest blog for us today.  She contacted me through email about my woeful longings for Solo to have a job again and to get him back into shape.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday and she is fantastic.  Not only does she have a lovely seat and posture, she got the Solo seal of approval, a list which only has two people on it, AND she's just a fun person!  Perhaps my red love boy is finally relaxing and learning that its ok to trust the people I bring him.  He thoroughly enjoyed his job as caretaker and Amber very quickly re-found her balance and rhythm.  I couldn't be more excited and proud for my beloved shiny horse and so happy and grateful to have met such a great person.
Without further ado, take it away, Amber! 
Everything. Hurts. And it’s glorious.  I couldn’t be happier to be this stiff and sore!  It’s so completely worth it for the experience of riding Solo. And I guess a statement like that begs for some background information.
While I haven’t left comments on this blog, I’ve lurked in the background for a while.  I’d sit reading away every morning when I got to work; yes I was procrastinating.  It was just a nice window into a sport I enjoyed in my teens.  I stopped riding about 15 years ago and pretty firmly closed the door on that part of my life. It’s funny how horses manage to creep back into your heart and your life, sometimes when you aren’t expecting it at all. One morning I read Brena’s blog post about Solo needing some attention and exercise, and all of my casual thoughts of getting back into eventing became this uncontrollable urge to start fresh with this horse. It’s the Solo magic I think. Before I knew it, I was emailing like a complete creeper to see if this stranger would let me ride her horse.  Imagine my surprise when instead of a restraining order, I received an email response! Brena has been immensely generous with her time, expertise, and her shiny wonder boy.
I drove up and was privileged to ride Solo this past Sunday.  Of course when I first saw him, Solo was running around his pasture screaming and performing aerial maneuvers I haven’t seen outside of a Royal Lipizzaner Stallion performance [eventer79 notes:  Encore was on the hotwalker and Solo disapproved and there was a cold wind blowing up his tail].  I just looked at Brena as she laughed and said “that’s my broken horse”. I’ll admit, I definitely had a moment of questioning my sanity as I watched him gallop and buck. As soon as he realized we were coming to get him though he settled right down. It was awesome to see his happy face as he received some well-deserved attention from his minions. Solo is very expressive, and it was easy to see he enjoys having people fawn over him.

Wait till she gets to do this...  Damn, he looked good then!
As I scrambled aboard he was a saint, and definitely babysat me as I exhibited amazing feats of clumsiness and a complete lack of coordination.  It is simultaneously humbling and hilarious to ask your muscles to do things that they haven’t even considered for 15 years. My brain said one thing and my body did something completely different! I’m so grateful that Solo took such good care of me, and I know he most definitely took pity on me because I really doubt any of my cues were very effective.  I’m also grateful that Brena is willing to allow me to ride His Shine-ness, and I look forward to the both of us slowly getting back into shape. Who knows, maybe someday you guys will see us out doing a maiden course somewhere. But for now, Sweet Heavens to Betsy…I am a bowlegged mess, and this is several days later! I’ll take being this horribly sore any day if it means I’ve been out riding.