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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label lesson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lesson. Show all posts

September 28, 2014

Drive-By David Lesson Report!

Skinny Oxer 01 19-21 (Small)
Owning it in July
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I have THE BEST NEIGHBOURS EVER!  Behind me lives a wonderful professional trainer who rode her now-retired Appy at Prelim/1*/CCN in the late 1990's/early 2000's; back when I was still a spectator, eventing was Eventing with a full endurance day, and they ran all the classic events like Radnor & Ledyard & Bromont.  As she has an all-weather arena, jump field, & hosts a variety of clinics & practitioners in addition to her own lessons, I walked over after our last David date (erm, I totally meant to post Encore’s videos for that one) with a big question.

Skipping through some cat-herding to the exciting result: we collected some of her clients & a few of my fellow David-disciples and I was able to have my lesson…IN MY OWN BACKYARD!  In some odd fantasy world with no trailer-packing, no driving, I could just saddle my horse & ride up the fenceline to enjoy my Circle of Death.  The word gratitude doesn’t even describe it, given how much I need good things in my life right now!

The Jumping Dressage Lesson

Despite my plans of improving on our jump performance in July, Encore had only been back in work for two weeks & still lacked hind strength, so I opted to put on the dressage saddle.  I wanted David’s eyes to evaluate my horse once again



Encore Transitions 0 04 43-20 (Small)
Not Hackney trot anymore!
Perhaps the most rewarding part of our initial warmup (aside from the words, “He looks pretty good to me!”) was that the Circle of Death now includes less Death!  Due to my own exhaustion, humid days prior, & a horse who’d been standing around on duct tape for six weeks, much of our schooling had been at the walk & trot.  However, I had focused hard on fine-tuning & brushing the dust off of one concept:  You Will Move Off My Inside Leg & Accept My Outside Rein

Hello, payoff.  Imagine that:  break it down to simple, clear things, teach your horse to respond to individual aids, and *gasp* I didn’t have to work so hard to get a response to my aids!  Erm, some of us are slower learner than others…  *raises hand*



My lessons are so rare, they are incredibly valuable to me.  While forward energy is crucial, David reminds me each time we meet how important it is for this horse to unlock his body & open his topline FIRST.  Encore must be correct & balanced before he is asked to move out, otherwise you end up back at downhill rushing.

Ok, I Couldn't Help Jumping A Little...

I knew his butt would tire soon, but we decided to do some simple jump work at the end, for the sake of my rusty self.  I confess, hearing “keep his poll up & wait with your body” STILL after five years makes me beat my head on the table a little.  Perhaps you can even hear me mumble, “I should get a tattoo of that” in the video, ha.  I have to wonder if David gets tired of saying it…





While Encore was compensating a bit at the end, it was good for both of us to feel some balance & pace again.  Watching the videos, I realize that I lapse into riding him like he is still a green horse!  Although our three years have been rather a roller coaster, I need to remember that I have actually trained him along the way and he now has a skillset of his own.  Fortunately, I have no control issues whatsoever, ahem, none at all…  *shifty eyes*

The Big Takeaway

I do consider Encore a Training horse now, but this reinforced for me yet again how vital it is to stay focused on the core principles – effective aids, consistent rhythm, balance for you & your horse, enforcing & rewarding correctness in your horse – no matter what your level or discipline.  Riding can seem overwhelmingly complicated sometimes, in a world full of books & articles & forums & clinics, which makes me appreciate David’s focus on methodical simplicity even more.  It’s the perfect antidote for my crazy hamster brain.  My horses have no idea how much gratitude they owe that man for that!! 
FenRidgeFHT2013_0812-2847848484-O (Medium)
Chill, mom, I got skillz

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!

*Gulp*

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

July 8, 2014

Solo Knows Something You Don't

That's why he had this look on his face Saturday morning:


 But then, he does always like to hold out so you realllly appreciate the results...

Post in progress...

April 11, 2014

Tell Me Your Favourite Volunteering Experience!

Who has adorable ponies!  Go meet them!!!!
On my last post, Eventing At Midnight (who also has some posts up from a spectator's view at the Carolina International CIC*** & HT, go read them!) asked a great question -- which I promptly & shamelessly stole for this post.

Because I suspect that for many, when they think of volunteering, they think of a day of slogging work when they could be taking a lesson or going to a show.  The reality, however, is quite the opposite. 

She asks, "What was your most memorable volunteering moment & event?"

As I paused to think, I realized it was a harder question that I first assumed.  Of course, I can't just say one thing, I must keep up my reputation as a hopeless rambler thoughtful writer, you know!  Priorities!  So instead, I'm going to share my top five.

Then, my dears, I would love to hear yours (in the comments or on your own blogs -- link in the comments so I don't miss any!!).  

Officially volunteer stuffs
(5)  Scribing at the 2013 Wardaca T/N3DE for an excellent FEI judge whom I had met previously as a TD (and wow, we are so glad he got his FEI card, what an eye!).  After noticing a pattern on several movements for which he made the same comments, I quietly asked what he was looking for.

Not only did he answer, but he explained the question the movement asked of horse and rider & why the noted evasions occurred.  I wrote it down somewhere, because it was a dressage lesson in itself, & I know I applied several gems as soon as I got home -- with results!

Meet cool people: Wendy, designer/owner, Kan-Tec
(4)  Sitting in on an afternoon break conversation between two dressage judges (both also licensed as TDs) at the Southern Eighths BN/N/T3DE (& HT this year!!!!  Entries are open until next Tuesday, April 15th, send yours in if you want to ride at one of the most gorgeous venues in the country), one very experienced with her FEI card (and my personal favourite to ride for, tough but very fair, positive, & helpful), the other having just completed the early part of her training.

It really opened my eyes:  you would not believe the unbelievable amount of time, money, & effort people put into becoming a licensed judge.  While there are still a few not-so-great ones who slip through the program, it is HARD, & I certainly think twice if I am tempted to grumble about a judge (although I am really not that person; rarely has there been a comment that I don't 100% agree with).

I judge Karen O'Connor at The Fork; the key is a great chair
(3)  My very first time (yes, I was a volunteering virgin!), when I XC judged the World Cup 3* (and so many other levels, I remember something like 350 horses) at The Fork.  I had a fly fence, a simple (if you have an Advanced horse!) table at the top of a short incline.

I was amazed at how differently each rider chose to approach it in terms of balance, speed, the shape of the horse, & whether or not they used the rolling terrain.  That was when I first glimpsed how educational volunteering could be -- and how fascinating to sit at one fence, any fence, all day long.

Of 350, I had maybe FIVE who never lost a steady, forward galloping rhythm & jumped the fence out of stride, as a fly fence should be, while remaining balanced in the center of their horse with a soft & educated hand.  Even more surprising was that those five were not the winners, nor were they big names.

Tremaine:  "OOOVER the jump, like this, not through, ok?"
(2)  Walking the Waredaca T3DE course with a top tier course designer (CD; yes, Tremaine Cooper, you rock).  I learned so much in that 45 minutes that completely changed the way I think as I walk my own XC courses.

As he perfectly put it, you are not competing against other riders, you are competing with the CD.

Seeing how a thoughtful & creative CD's mind works showed me elements that I had never even contemplated, such as the simple placement of a jump in relation to different types of terrain.  You can change a question entirely just by putting a log at the crest of a hill as opposed to putting it two strides back.  Knowing what is being asked at each jump gives you the ability to ride it proactively, instead of reactively.  And I think we all have experienced the difference that makes!!

2006.  What MY last 3DE jump would feel like.
(1)  The last day of the 2009 Waredaca T3DE.  It was the first year I staffed this USEA Area II Adult Rider-run event.  And it was beyond even my ample words to describe, in terms of atmosphere, horsemanship, education, professionalism, comraderie, sportsmanship, teamwork, & generosity.

I got to know each rider & follow their ups & downs through the weekend, attend all of the teaching workshops & course walks, pick the brains of officials, & meet fellow Adult Riders who, five years later, are irreplacable friends.

I walked away with two distinct feelings:  (a) I want to do this more than anything!  (b) With Brian O'Connor's trademark voice on the loudspeaker, a contest for the Best Dressed at each jog, dressage judges at C and E, & multiple vet checks, you really did feel like you were doing Something Big.

Max & DOC help Karen O. warm up at Rolex 2006. They'll help you, too.
My mind & body thrilled with the same excitement & anticipation of two decades ago, wandering the Kentucky Horse Park at Rolex every year.

But at the same time, there was a clear undercurrent of team spirit, that we, riders, volunteers, clincians, judges, were all in this together & if any member found themselves in need, they'd better find a snorkel before the descending hordes of help smothered them!

Everyone was Someone & as folks like Stephen Bradley & Karen O'Connor & Max Corcoran & Tremaine Cooper & Sharon White & Colleen Rutledge are by your side & no question is silly or out of bounds, how can you feel anything but lucky?

Notice all but one are at a 3DE?  Hmmmm....  I showed you mine, now you show me yours!!

October 23, 2013

Defying Gravity, Pt. II

Ah my dear friends -- has anyone figured out how to clone yourselves yet??  I so need that option!

I must be off to Maryland for one of my favourite (although exhausting) experiences of every year:  helping to run the Waredaca T/N3DE.  I have written before about how important the long format is & how much it means to me, so I will let you play around on your own with that.

Photo by High Time Photography.
However, as a parting gift till I get a bit more time, I will leave you with the rest of our videos from our stellar XC lesson with David in early October.

Read Part 1 here

I had every intentions of offering some analysis of each section but I will let David's limitless experience & wisdom speak for itself, as he is more than capable of doing so.

One critical point that I will point out as you work through the videos is that, to be truly safe & effective cross country, it is not enough for your horse to merely be fast & game.  Encore has that in spades.  It is easy to get caught up in the thrill & whoop as your horse leaps over logs!

But it can get you in trouble in a hurry & David explains why.  He needs to understand what he is doing, he needs to use the correct techniques, & rider needs to give him the best opportunity possible to succeed (and stay on)Slow it down, break it down, and build a solid foundation.

Even if your goal is to complete a Maiden course or school some Novice fences, it will pay off in safety for you & your horse, not to mention making your partner into a smoother, more confident ride.  Everyone likes to understand what is expected of them in their job!

Note: yes, you caught me.  I was not wearing my safety vest.  In all honesty, we were running late on the way down, I got nervous about holding up David, tacked up my horse quickly & just completely forgot to put it on.  I did not even notice until the end of the lesson.  You all know that I am the Safety Nazi & gave myself a good mental scolding on the way back to the trailer.

Banks I



Banks II



Banks III



Water I (I would like to note that a year ago, David & I could NOT get Encore to jump over the little log into the water, no way, no how.  We spent about 15 minutes trying & then moved on so it wouldn't become a thing.  I am very proud of my boy for tackling it bravely this year & I credit that to the passage of time & the building of our relationship.)



Water II



Just as a comparison, here is Encore's attempt at dropping off a bank into water this March when we were under Becky Holder's watch.



Big Banks and Straight (ahem) Lines

October 20, 2013

So Many Updates, So Little Time!

I have more fantastic videos from our XC lesson with David to work through with you, really great material!

Encore is staying sound and getting stronger.

Solo is feeling spunky despite his continuing efforts to remove skin from his legs.

Ground is being broken for the new farmhouse this week!

So proud of my brave, but very tired poneh!
Oh and should I mention that Encore did his first Training-Novice HT today (Training dressage and SJ, Novice XC)?  He is finally on his way and I think he is going to be a HECK of a Training horse.  I am sure glad I decided to put mud studs in, but I guess it went ok....  Hee.  Most of our penalties were because I rode very conservatively over the footing so we were quite slow in SJ and XC.  My goal was good schooling and the last thing I wanted was another slip and injury or both of us wiping out on wet clay.

And a big TFS shout out and thanks to the folks who came up and said hi, shared their treats with my sweet, honest boy, and offered such kind remarks on my big sexy CANTER horse!  We always love meeting new folks and sharing hugs with old friends.  We also can't wait to review the many great shots captured by our friends at High Time Photography!

Last, but not at all the least, to Patricia Roberts at FenRidge Farm for once again putting together a fun and new XC course and a challenging SJ course on a lovely day in a safe and well-organized environment.  We love you so much, Patricia!!!

VJM6JVN22VB3

October 11, 2013

Defying (And Occasionally Obeying) Gravity

Solo locks on at Longleaf Pines.
This saga may end up longer than Newton's treatise on gravity...

When you gallop across turf, towards a cross country obstacle, it's as if gravity pulls you.  Not just your body down into the saddle & your horse's hooves to the ground, but also, drawing you both forward to the challenge in front of you.  Your eyes, his eyes & ears, are all pulled to its height, to its breadth, to shadow, to distraction.

His shoulders, head, & neck are all pulled by gravity down & forward; his gallop gains speed to hurdle this obstacle placed in his path by the course designer & by you.

Mr. Shiny Schools with Mrs. Holder
We have a charge, as horsemen, not only to recognize this momentum, but to arm ourselves with the innumerable skills of the educated, technical rider.  And to wield them with confidence each & every time we leave the start box.

Technical riding is a matter of subtlety of minuscule degrees.  It is with this technique that we much teach the horse & teach ourselves to defy the force of the universe itself.  We must take on these forces, these strings of gravity which pull eyes, balance, velocity in towards this solid jump, staked to the ground & unyielding in nature.

By taking these strings & snapping their hold, we are creating something better.  Creating something difficult to describe, but once felt is rarely forgotten, and is chased down time & again until it becomes second nature.

 But what is this mystical technique?  Do I have to order glitter hoof polish?  Won't my $7896906 custom boots do the trick?  I'm not familiar with the Vulcan mind meld.  Do they have it at Family DollarBit of Britain?  Is there a class at the Y?

Ah no, it is much simpler than all that.  And much more difficult.


It is shifting the points of your horse in relation to gravity, to momentum, to the pull of the jump in front of you.  It is rearranging those points to change your horse's balance, sometimes in ways so minuscule that only the most experienced eye can tell the difference from the ground.

But when you are in the saddle, it is not a difference of degrees but of miles.  Or more accurately, a difference of probability:
  1. The probability of success, of that distance out of stride or that perfect bascule, or...
  2. The probability of failure, which is at best, an ugly jump, a refusal or a runout, at worst, the accident that no one wants.
So how do we set our horses up for the first & avoid stumbling into the second?  This is certainly not a process of an afternoon or a clinic or even a month.

Just as we guide our partners up the progressive steps of the dressage training scale, we must lead them to the correct answers to the questions on course, always, ALWAYS keeping an eye on the future.  I think each of us knows all too well what happens when we stumble into one of those gaping training holes we bypass in our quest for finish flag glory...

Horse: 1, Rider: 0
 As usual, David patiently offers his (literal) world of experience and lights the way...

To be continued...

July 7, 2013

Cross Country Indoors!

The first sound I heard upon waking for cross country day was the drip of rain on shingles.  My heart sank as my fantasy of finally galloping my horse on Waredaca's turf evaporated.  Much to my surprise, however, the sadness was misplaced.  As we arrived to help set up new jumps in the indoor, I saw that Eric managed to create interesting, challenging questions that taught just as much, if not more due to the horses' lack of distraction, as being out in the field might have!!  That man has some undeniable talent!

There was a different focus for each group.  For ours, it was moving your horse forward in balance, both straight and through turns, and using your rhythm and pace to be competitive with accuracy and planning.  Making it even more educational was our eclectic group of horses.  Beth rode her experienced Prelim TB mare (a fantastic Silver Charm daughter with overflowing enthusiasm), another Adult Rider friend rode her green OTTB gelding, one of Kate Chadderton's young working students rode her spectacular jumper of a pony, and I had Encore, still rough around the edges, but making real strides in consistency and approaching readiness for Training level.

It was hard.

As we warmed up at the trot, we were instructed to look at all the possible lines, approaches and turns for each jump.  Eventing is not about beating each other, it's about beating the course designer.  So we trotted around, looking at everything.

Then we were told we were terrible at it, ha (learning isn't all roses, and I very much liked that, with each passing day, we were held to a higher standard, with no malice, but with a strong sense of accountability).  That wandering around in warmup without riding the lines of the course (when this option is available) is a complete waste of time -- ride the turns, ride the approaches, know what every. single. option. is.

By take three, we finally got more aggressive as a group and attacked the arena much more critically, although the Stern Irishman was not exactly impressed.  I could see by their faces that my lesson buddies were determined to kick some butt now too!

An important point about your first warmup jump for cross country:  its purpose is to wake the horse up.  Not to be pretty.  Not to win an eq medal.  Ride that horse forward to the jump and don't do a darn thing.  If he crashes through it like a gorilla, he wasn't awake.  He will be on the next one, unless he's as dumb as a post, in which case you probably should not leave the start box.  And you sure don't want to find that out on the very solid first jump out on course!

We worked both ways through a simple bounce and then added a jump or two following it, keeping the emphasis on riding forward (don't you add that stride!!!) and being quick with your eye to guide your horse to the next jump.

Now it was time for the meat:  turns.  This is where many people lose time and when you are trying to be competitive at Training and above, time matters.  It's also a good thing to practice at all levels.  Truly good cross country riding isn't about who can run the fastest.  We ride racehorses for goodness sake, they're plenty fast.  Good cross country riding is about who has the most finely tuned technical skill, who has laid the best foundation on their horse to be sharp and accurate on course without sacrificing balance or rhythm.  Watch Britain's Fox-Pitt or Germany's Jung and you will quickly see what that means.  Skill, finesse, and a concrete plan A, B, C, D, and Z. 

This is where it got ugly (for us!).  Encore is very capable of sitting on his butt, stepping under himself, and turning beautifully.  However, I had never schooled this skill on such a tight line (it was about a 12 m circle), so we both looked something like AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! JUMP!!



After Eric got me to stop pulling on the inside rein, though (NOT ALLOWED), and really pushing with my outside leg, Encore quickly began to understand what I was asking of him.  That big crash in the middle is actually not him hitting a rail -- that is me pulling the whole standard down with my toe!  Go big or go home!



Before long we were able to put all this together and even add a constructed corner to finish off in style.



I cannot fully express my gratitude to Beth for not only setting this up, but making it possible for me to participate.  She is amazing!  Thank you too to Sunset Hill and Kate Chadderton for their hospitality and beautiful facility.  Kate is great fun and a lovely, patient rider; look for her and her current *** mount, Collection Pass, as they gallop towards 2014's Rolex!

And of course, thank you to Eric Smiley -- a wealth of experience, knowledge, an incredibly deep and thorough understanding of horsemanship and correct riding and training, generous, hilarious, helpful, gifted, fun yet disciplined, and with that quick eye of an excellent teacher and equestrian.  Thank you for sharing so much and for putting up with the weird girl, haha. 

July 6, 2013

Clinic Videos From Show Jumping Day

Yep, I'm taking the lazy way out for these.  Highlights covering most of the types of exercises Eric used to get the horses rhythmic, straight, and balanced.

Warming the canter up over a pole.  Circle good, corners bad.  While Encore's trot needs to be much more forward at the beginning, I soooo excited about how much more steady he has become in the bridle.



Basic warmup line.  Don't allow your horse to speed up (I did, several times, oops), don't make a bid for the fence, do relax and wait for it to happen in its own time.



A single vertical on the circle (notice a circle trend?).  I'm super proud of Encore in this one, he is such a pro!!!



Of course, right after that triumph, I did this.  But I think it illustrates an excellent point that Eric made often:  YOU are in charge of finding the canter and the line.  Then you pass the torch to your horse and he is in charge of jumping whatever it is you point him at.



And our last course.


July 2, 2013

Learning With An Irish Smile

Quick vid capture from today's jumping warmup
Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Every clinic is different.  Infused with the personality and riding style of the technician, distilled over years of experience and mistakes and triumphs, and hopefully capped with the flourish of their unique teaching style.  Eric Smiley is no different.

It's difficult to accurately convey the details of this one though.  With a quiet humility and a ready smile, he says he's "not one of the big boys," but with accomplishments from 1982's Irish Field Event Rider of the Year to 2012's Belgian Olympic Team Coach, one could certainly insist that there is more than one definition of big.

A gifted instructor, he makes a quick connection with all of us, asking each rider (1) what they like most about their horse and (2) what is one thing they would like to fix THAT DAY.  "People coming to clinics always have a long list of negative things about their horses, but I want to get you to think of what you enjoy about them."  And this is only the first of many questions and insights that strip away all of the fuss and details and noise surrounding How To Ride Your Horse and reach down to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish and polish the gems of wisdom passed down through generations of horsemen.

I'm a visual, logical, process-oriented person; I like to understand why I am doing something and what end I am trying to achieve.  This is probably why I enjoy listening to all of Eric's lessons.  There is no "use outside rein, now more leg, now your left buttcheek, now inhale three times..."  Instead, he challenges us to really think about and engage into each ride, using questions aimed at simplifying and streamlining how you approach riding and training.  These are concepts which you then fill in with details and through this, deepen your understanding.  For example...

What is forward?  The horse should be taking you.  Not you chasing him or tapping him or nudging him.
What is impulsion?  Energy that you can then do something with.  I thought of it this way:  trying to ride without impulsion is like trying to wash a car with an empty bucket.
What does 'through' mean?  There are NO blockages in the flow of energy from your leg to hind leg to hock to stifle to hip to back to neck to poll to jaw to hand.  So, are there?  Examine each of these areas.
How many ways is it possible to jump a fence?  Four -- twice in each direction, one turning left and one turning right.  Know them all for every fence you see.
How do we turn our horse after a fence?  Using the outside aids.  Then the eyes and the inside hand show him where to go.
and...

DON'T RIDE CORNERS!  Yes, that's right.  Why?  Because they are hard.  Try that one at your next lesson, ha!  But in all seriousness, because almost no one rides them correctly.  They lose impulsion and rhythm in the corner, so when schooling your jumps, keep your lines on a curve and your energy flowing forward, stay out of the corners and you won't get stuck in them.  I heard this one alllllll day today, stadium day.

But I already know these things, you protest.  Perhaps, but have you really, really thought about them, the biomechanics and the definitions and the reasons, and applied that directly to practice?

Encore has been, in short, a gem.  On dressage day, I identified my one project as consistency -- in contact, in rhythm, in outline.  I'll be damned if he wasn't solid as anything.  Today, throughout the entire jump school, he remained attentive, balanced, steady as a metronome, and jumped as round and lovely as you could ever want.

Giant breakthroughs?  For us, no (although several other riders have made amazing strides with their mounts, particularly the very green horses).  Well, I was told my lower leg was completely wrong and got my stirrups jacked up two holes, details...  However, the sessions have nonetheless been extremely valuable to me by offering not only a vastly simplified way to think about what and how I want to ask my horse, but perhaps even more noteworthy, how to think about what is NOT working.  You can't fix a problem if you don't understand the cause!

What do you do when your horse is hanging on the bit?  Push his hind leg farther beneath him with your leg.  Why?  Because if he is hanging, there is too much weight on his front legs.  Placing his hind leg farther beneath his body shifts his balance back a bit, weighting his rear through the hocks and lightening his front end.  He is, quite simply, a teeter totter.  Understand this dynamic and you have the power to manipulate it into any variation of balance you desire.

Tomorrow is the best part, naturally, as we head over to Waredaca, just down the road, to school cross country both to ours and our horses' delight.  We've been lucky so far and not really been rained on, as well as having the benefit of Sunset Hill's massive indoor arena.  If the weather will hold until 3 pm, everyone will be home free!

Naturally, a wonderful part of it all, and one of the reasons I love this sport, is the people.  Meeting (and perhaps re-meeting, hey, I have a terrible memory) fellow Adult Riders, spending time with the awesomeness that is friend Beth, soaking up my doggy fix, margaritas by the pool and the best sangria you've ever tasted (hey, these things are important) and basking in the exchange of knowledge and skill between teacher and rider and horse; all of these pieces just make me hungry for more.

April 25, 2013

The Becky Diaries: An Afterward

All eyes are turned to my favourite patch of turf right now, a park filled with history in Lexington, KY and an event that continues to change, but still offers the amazing spectacle of horse-human partnerships giving their all in an incredibly difficult test of courage, grace under pressure, and preparation.

Just before lunch today, behind those rolling fencelines, our hero and teacher, Becky, and her workhorse of an OTTB, Can't Fire Me, laid down the gauntlet in the dressage arena and I was lucky enough to watch online as they smoothly cantered into second place, just behind the legendary Andrew Nicholson.  While they are up there, checking and double checking jump gear and legs and footing for the days ahead, I figured it was the perfect time to wrap up my training series with the last few tips from the woman herself.  Turn your sound up!



When watching other jumping lessons, I'd often noticed Becky yelling, "Keep your body between the reins!" at a rider's cantering back.  I'm a very visual person, so the concept seemed obvious enough.  I had no idea that I did not practice it!  Becky demonstrates above in a way that makes it very clear to me why you NEED to separate your eyes from your body.  I have a very hard time with this and I also am mostly unaware of it unless I specifically think about it.  After repeating our jump line while working on this concept, I immediately felt a sharper, more accurate response from Encore too!



I think we've all done it (do it!) -- as we approach a drop, we slow down so the horse has time to read the question and he is not tempted to launch at terminal velocity, leaving an unsuspecting rider on top of the bank wondering if she found a crop or lost her horse.  This often takes some, er, convincing on the rider's part, so the horse's head comes up against the rein as we "discuss" this strategy.  We then arrive at the edge of the drop with an inverted horse who then might put his head down with a snort and skid to q stop to investigate the sudden appearance of a cliff at his feet.

What we should be doing instead is using our body and balance to ask the horse to shift his weight back while we let out the rein several strides early (see above video).  This encourages him to lower his head and neck so he can see the edge and put his body in the right shape to leave the bank rounder and softer and we now have far less of a chance of catching him in the mouth.  Another one that seems obvious, yet takes thought to get done.

Finally, a conundrum I have puzzled for many years.  There is an insistent chant in the horse world that when you first mount, you MUST let your horse walk around, stretch out muscles, and not ask anything of him for X period of time.  But my horse spends 23 (often 24, ha) hours a day walking around, rolling, galloping, stretching in the field he lives in, is the prior statement not better applied to horses who are primarily stalled, standing still?  I've gone back and forth in dressage and schooling warmups and never settled on either side of the fence.  So, after watching her school one of the youngsters, I just asked.

Becky confirmed my suspicions.  PARTICULARLY if a horse lives outside for all of much of his time, he's already moving.  When you get on, it's work time.  You can have a lap to check out distractions if you need it, but after that, we pick up the reins and get to work.  Of course, you still retain your common sense -- your starting work might be in a longer frame or focusing on serpentines or other figures to supple his body, but he is still asked to immediately move forward into the bridle, step under himself, and lift his back.  And asked is the key word.  He is working towards this -- a green horse, an older horse might take longer to get there, but he still has to be trying.

Talented young RJ (Telperion) out for a test flight.
Thus endeth the Becky Diaries of 2013 and one of the richest training experiences of my life.  Becky's graciousness, eye for detail, phenomenal instincts, positive teaching approach, insistence on correctness, and systematic approach to building a horse in both strength and skill all impress me endlessly.  She deserves nothing but success and I hope that this year is her year to shine in the Rolex spotlight.  I will certainly be waiting with bated breath until Teddy clears the last jump in stadium!

I can  honestly say that Becky is probably one of the best, if not the best, instructors I have ever worked with (and that is some stiff competition), both in terms of teaching skill and compatibility with my style of learning and riding.  It was truly a gift and an honour to live and ride with her for those two weeks (although my horse was probably less excited about the Raising of the Bar), thank you, Becky.  Thank you again to everyone I met and watched and learned from, thank you to Amber for coming down and helping, thank you to Encore for showing up for work and trying his hardest every day, and thank you most of all to my mother, who made it possible.

March 25, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 10: Stadium Jumping

It was time to put it all together.  Adjustability, focus, position, balance, and accuracy.  All without running over Scrappy.  Yeah, I think you get kicked out for that.

We started out as we do with David -- a simple, tiny pole you canter in both directions.  Your goal is to be in a consistent rhythm, be steady in your position, soft with your hand, and have your horse in front of your leg without galloping around like a nutball.



Although apparently, you are supposed to approach jumps with a straight horse.  Sheesh.  So picky.



Next, we find our rhythm and pace to another single jump.  Keeping the straight approach and your position, settle and commit to your canter rhythm and just. ride. it. no. matter. what.  I was apparently confused by being in the XC field so I decided that we still needed to gallop fences.  Tiny show jumping fences. 



Becky, however, did not see any need for a 15' stride to a 2'3" fence (I wanted to be REALLY sure we cleared it!) and had us bring it down a notch to, say, a show jumping canter.  Crazy woman.



Then came something new for Encore:  a short bending line.  The first time through took some seat-of-my-pants steering (what, leaning doesn't help?) and he did some greenie foot-shuffling, but it improved each time until we finally got my eyes and both our bodies on the same page and he understood the question being asked.



Success!



With our eyes tuned up, it was time to put a few jumps together and NOT lose the rhythm, focus, and balance by thinking ahead and preparing.  No celebrating what you just jumped, no sigh of relief, no worrying, simply, ok, next this.  I honestly thought I would have to work hard to steer from a wide triple bar to a skinny vertical and that my horse would fall apart and rush after the wide first jump.  Colour me pleasantly surprised.



THREE jumps, with Becky emphasizing planning and waiting for your turn after the skinny to give you the squarest possible approach to the oxer, ENSURING your horse's hips are lined up just as we'd worked on over the warmup pole.



Finally, we get to our course.  Encore was very good; the hardest thing for me was staying mentally focused -- my tendency is to lose my brain about halfway through the course.  Becky made an excellent suggestion of picking the points on your course where there is some space between the jumps and bring your horse back like you were starting a whole new course with the next jump being your first.  It was a really effective mental exercise for, erm, ADD overthinkers like me.  *guilty*



We were given the option to be done at that point, but I wanted to fix our messy bit of the first four jumps.  I resettled my brain, promised my mentally tired pony we were nearly done and fixed it.  Well, the second time.



I think that is actually the first time Encore has ever bucked!  To be fair, I was trying one link tighter on the Pelham chain since he'd nearly ripped my shoulders out in the snaffle the day before.  It worked VERY well and I needed to be lighter on it than I was.  My leg strength is getting much better in PT, but we are still working on lateral muscles and I am just starting on rebuilding my abs so I do not fall back in the saddle as much after the apex of the jump.  *more guilty*

But to say I am proud of Encore does not even begin to cover it.  He came to the paddock gate and loaded on the trailer 20 times in 10 days without a single protest.  He tried so hard every day and never once tried to purposefully evade work; his protests were limited to explaining to me when things were hard, which is fair enough.  That horse knows how to WORK and caught me a little off guard by bringing it at a whole new level of pressure.  All I can say is...

GOOD BOY!!

March 20, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 9: Adjustability

It is the end times.  *insert ominous music here*  Tomorrow will be just washing linens and throwing things back in the truck and hauling our butts back to what I'm sure will be a very excited Solo!

After a quiet Tuesday morning watching the girls long line Comet and RJ (Becky was off in Aiken Mon/Tues for the USET High Performance Training Sessions -- I wanted to creep there soooo badly, but figured that might be pushing it) and helping set up a new stadium course, I fetched a rested Encore and Becky was kind enough to squeeze us in at the end of the day when she returned.

It's springy!!!!!  Just like my horse.  Or is that jumpy?
By "rested," I mean completely refilled with insane amounts of energy and with renewed conviction that large, hilly fields are only for galloping and avoiding large predators.

I knew I should have put the Pelham on.  I won't make that mistake twice.

Shoulders ow.

But it was time to install some new gears, or rather put controls on pre-existing gears so they appear when I ask for them, rather than at Encore's whim.  I quickly discovered it was NOT going to be a soft and round day, try as I might and I cursed myself for not rebuilding those core muscles faster after surgery.

Exercise 1:  Working in a circle, establish teeny tiny canter, as close to cantering in place as possible.
Key points:  Wrap your calves around the horse and use your core/thighs to (as my dressage trainer put it) "suction cup" his back and ribcage up underneath you without losing the hind leg energy.  It's ok if he breaks or loses stride, he just needs more strength.  Think of making a transition to walk, but do NOT lean back; this will only dig your seat into his back and hollow him out.  Keep hands low, connect your elbows to your hips, and ride through his assertion that he can surely go no slower.

Teddy watches big bro Comet give Dad a lesson.
Exercise 2:  Push him forward into a big, giant canter for about 6-8 strides, then come immediately back to teeny canter.  Stay on circle.
Key points:  Don't give up your position and seat when going to big canter or else he'll just get strung out.  When coming back to teeny canter, GET IT NOW -- don't fight about it for ten strides.  If you are not getting a change, you might have to get in his face a time or two.  Again, don't lean back, make an elastic wall of core, elbows, thigh, and butt suction him back up to that tiny stride.  Rinse and repeat a billion times and only do each (big, teeny) for a short time, maybe half the circle.

Exercise 3:  Get soft, round walk, pick up teeny canter for 5 strides, walk, reverse direction, repeat ad nauseum.
Key points:  Don't ask for the canter until you have a moment of topline softness in the walk, then lead with your inside hip.  Accept the first few tiny canter strides that you might feel like are just him being stuck; don't push him too far out of that, those are him really sitting on his butt.  Come back to the walk quickly and as you reverse direction, use the turn to unlock him.  Soften him, then get canter back. 

I have been a wuss and avoided exercises like these so far because even though I knew it was time to take this step, I was dodging getting him riled up.  Encore really did a lot better with then I thought, however, given that we had thusfar not played much with adjustability.  As Becky said, you might just start out the exercises going through the motions, but give them a chance to relax into it through repetition and it will get better.

Solo demonstrates the barrel in 2010.
Exercise 4:  Use a small jump (we had a single barrel on its side with two vee rails resting on it) and use all your canters in approach and landing.  For example, approach in big canter, land in teeny canter.  Approach in teeny canter, land in big canter.  Approach in medium canter, land in teeny canter.
Key points:  Approach is easy, landing is HARD.  Hold your position and committment to the gait you chose all the way to the base of the jump.  Get the new pace as quickly as possible on landing.  Even though this one was difficult, I really liked and could see its utility for a variety of training goals.  I'm not sure Encore completely got it yet, but he did very well at holding the rhythm I picked and not pulling me to the fence.

Hopefully, we can build on this work today when we finally tackle show jumping.  I tend to fall apart in the second half of courses, so I will be trying to improve my focus and slow things down.  Which will, please universe, be a bit easier with some brakes not provided by the snaffle -- Encore is really very good about understanding that arenas are for work now.  This is great news for, say, competing at the horse park.  He just needs to get the memo (which has not failed due to lack of sending, believe me!) that work can happen anywhere, gasp!