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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label David O'Brien. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David O'Brien. 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!


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...

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 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...

February 23, 2013

Balancing The Classical With The Practical

Such are the words from Camp David.

Encore and I were able to sneak in two excellent lessons before the snowstorm hit, although I did most of my jumping with snowflakes in my eyes, gah!  Friday evening, we allowed David to torture us in Death Circles on the flat, and Saturday, we attempted to brush the rust off my jumping skills.  Rebuilding of my left leg is DEFINITELY not complete, ugh.

Two things emerged as themes, though, as we worked through unlocking all the parts of Encore and reminding my battered body that it is NOT supposed to be on my horse's neck (who knew?).

(1) It was with great enthusiasm that David pronounced Encore worlds sounder than he was last year.  This news was received with equal enthusiasm, as the amount of money, energy, and time we have spent with Dr. Bob and his crew is not small.  Every bit is worth it though when I ride his left lead and he feel like one horse instead of two ends of a horse suit loosely tied in the middle, doing their own thing.  While I expressed that I wasn't sure if this was a compliment, David assured me that there is a difference between unsound and lame -- lame is limping, unsound is just...not right in the body.  I certainly can't disagree that between his back and his injury in 2012, Encore needed "rightening."

Last year:  a better haircut and less fat, but greener
(2) Traditional wisdom and training dictates that we ride our horse forward forward FORWARD into a steady, receiving contact and simply (simply....HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA) wait for him to offer the roundness we seek as he becomes supple through lateral exercises and transitions.  However, almost immediately on Friday, David had me slow my horse down and work his neck and poll in flexions and bending while moving off the inside leg.  My favourite instruction was, "Flex his poll to the outside while keeping his neck bent to the inside and his body bent around your inside leg."  Ooga booga, is that even possible and how the heck does one do that?  Apparently I did something correct by thinking about it, because he said, "GOOD!"

Our goal was to get him super round, even if he got slightly behind the vertical in front, and then let him carry the bit forwards and down.  When we did, I IMMEDIATELY felt his whole topline unlock and become soft and delicious.

This left me confused, though; this would seem to contradict the FORWARD and waiting thing.  One of the greatest things about David is that you can talk to him, so I asked him about this on Saturday.  His explanation:

Training is not black and white, it is all shades of grey (oh, goody, just like life).  With this horse, because he has a tendency to go tight in his topline and he stays locked in his poll and jaw, he has overdeveloped the muscle at his poll.  This in turn makes it even harder.  Were we to just run him along off his feet, he would spend most of the time working incorrectly.  We have to unlock these spots and supple him first and then ride him forward over his back.   

This makes sense to me.  In January and early February, I had been riding him simply forward in lateral work.  While we could eventually achieve some softening, there was a lot of back and forth, fighting, and a lot of time spent impersonating tense llamas.  Every step doing that is definitely not producing good results.

Using David's process, the difference was dramatic (although much harder work, so I guess it must be right).  It also meant I had a softer horse the second I got on Saturday morning, which caught me by surprise.  He continued to emphasize riding what was underneath me in the moment and keeping the focus there, creating the feel, instead of wasting time hoping for a horse that may or may not appear in the future.  This is why I keep stalking David around the region -- his tailored approach to the horse in front of him brings out the best in my partners, the way a generic program never would.  Drawing lines in the sand never gets us anywhere but frustrated when it comes to training horses. 

August 22, 2012

Don't Yell At Problems -- Solve Them

That was definitely the theme for our lesson on Saturday, so I will let you take my lesson as well!  Encore did very well and feels in fine form, just in need of more strength as usual.  Our warmup felt solid and I was particularly pleased with his left lead canter, which no longer feels like you are riding a washing machine out of balance.

Video hint:  if you want to see details, click the little gear at the bottom of the YouTube window and you can pick HD.

Trot trot trot...


As always, David had a gymnastic for us to start with.  Encore ate it like it was nothing, but decided he'd rather throw in a lead change AT THE TAKEOFF STRIDE so he could do the whole thing on his right lead, which he much prefers.  I never said he wasn't quick with his feet.


Then we were allowed to begin our courses.   Watch very carefully as I jump the first oxer here, I think you will see a magnificent example of equitation the way it should be -- a moment of harmony I don't even have words for.

Heh.  After Encore proceeded to scare himself by overjumping the oxers, we set about fixing that too; David always emphasizes breaking things down and being very methodical in your training, one careful footstep at a time.  In fact, he should just wear a t-shirt that says, "Be Methodical" and it would save him a lot of breath.

They are all green horse mistakes -- I was not supposed to let him run out and I was set to make him eat it, but he is so quick and athletic, his body moves faster than I can think!  Lesson:  never never never take a jump for granted.  Keep that leg ON even if you think you are already at the point of no return!  At least until he gets some more solid mileage this fall.

Hopefully, on Saturday, all our fixing will fall into place and we will be ready to eat up some jumper courses!

August 18, 2012

Make Your Horse Kinetic

Encore had an excellent lesson with our beloved David O. this morning and I am busy downloading and uploading and sideloading our videos!  Thank you to the most awesome Sue for not only organizing the lesson series, but letting Encore and I come up and have a mini-vacation at her beautiful farm.  We hit the galloping lanes on Friday to take the edge off, explored the XC fields, and then got to leap (sometimes more enthusiastically then others) over her lovely show jumps.

I can't wait any longer, though, to post a remarkable summary of horse training that David gave during one of Sue's lessons (the woman has THREE horses going right now, I have to nap just thinking about it).  Meditate upon it and make it your zen:

Forward is not fast.
Forward is creating the energy.
Collection is harnessing the energy.
Extension is releasing the energy.

June 22, 2012

Away Again IS Away Again!

That's right, baby Flying Solo is back in business and got the seal of approval from David last Saturday at our lesson.  I had hauled Encore up to Virginia where he was giving a clinic at a friend's farm because it was exactly three weeks after his injections, when the vets told me to evaluate -- I figured who better to evaluate than the man who had given me the plan in the first place!

A lesson with David is never easy, but he has an unfailingly quick eye and his worlds (literally) of experience always gets you where you need to go.

You start with what I like to call the David Circle Of Death -- while it looks deceptively easy, you are working HARD and it usually leaves me panting desperately, chanting Do not fall off your horse in front of him, do not fall off your horse in front of him....  I could still breathe at the end this time, which leaves me wondering whether my protein shakes are indeed working or David was just being easy on Encore.  I'll pretend it was the first one, it makes me feel better.

I barely managed to not squeal aloud with glee when David pronounced him better, but I couldn't contain a completely foolish grin of joy.

You then follow with an alluringly simple gymnastic, which you unfailingly override and then feel like an idiot.  But the horses do fine and get to thinking about picking up their feet and putting the jump in the middle of their bascule.

Next you begin to work a few lines.  As noted on the video, I really struggled with the grey oxer -- something about the colour and arrangement of the poles made it impossible for me to read and Encore seemed to struggle with getting a line on it as well.  It was a very odd feeling to turn the corner and see...nothing.  That has never happened to me before and as a result, I proceeded to mess it up many times.

Once your horse is traveling well through the lines, you put some courses together, increasing in complexity.  The jumps stayed low this time since Encore hasn't jumped in over a month, but he felt good and when I wasn't doing ridiculous things on his back, he jumped well.  No rushing, no anxiety -- the problem really WAS the pain and not my training.  Which makes you feel good.  Then bad.  Then good.  Then bad.  Then you just try to stop thinking about it.

During our last course, Encore's weak side got tired; you can see he struggles to pick up his left lead.  David still never fails to have a simple fix for me.  Everything goes smoothly when he is around -- I just need to somehow kidnap him and haul him around in my trailer to horse trials.  Except his wife would most certainly murder me in the night.  Dangit.

Thank you so much to Sue, the farm owner, clinic hoster, and mad tough eventer, for taping us!  After being gone all week chasing fish, I hope to spend the weekend getting back in the groove while trying not to die of heat exhaustion.  The lake just might win me over, though, when the Carolina sun gets brutal around 3:00 in the afternoons...

May 13, 2012

Full Stop

It was madness on Friday.  Dashing 100 miles from our last field site of the day home, changing bags, changing trucks, only to dash again to the farm and pick up Encore and wind our way up into the Blue Ridge of Virginia.  We made it to our friend's farm around 9:00 pm, I tucked Encore in in his pasture, then passed out shortly after.

I played video and pole girl Saturday morning; it was interesting to watch the lessons I taped.  The first, especially was tackling the same problems I was having and I laughed as she finished, "I think you just got my lesson!"

We had a quick lunch with David and I was excited to saddle up Encore and show off how far he'd come.  We started our typical Warm Up Circle of Death, but as soon as we got to the canter work, I knew something was wrong.  Encore was falling out hard behind and kept doing a strange hop step with his hind feet on his left lead.  David watched carefully and said, "I don't remember this horse doing this before."

"No," I said, "he's been uneven but this is the worst it's been."

He put us through a low bounce gynmanstic.  After we did it for the fifth or sixth time, I knew he was concerned.  We never work through a gymnastic line that many times.  We tried a couple of small courses, but every jump was odd.  I stopped and said, "David, I can't see anything, it doesn't feel right, I feel as if I've suddenly forgotten how to ride, there's nothing there?"

"That's because there is nothing there, you have no canter," he responded.  My heart sunk.  "You know," he said, "I had a whole plan for this horse today but as soon as I saw the canter issues, I had to throw it all out the window."

It was like a knife to the heart but I knew he was right.  And I couldn't say it was a total surprise either.  I'd been watching Encore for a few months, not sure if it was strength issue or something else, as horses are often uneven behind until they get stronger.  But as the work got harder, the issue became more pronounced.  Our dressage trainer noticed his left hind didn't flex as well as the right and even Dr. Brian asked if he'd ever had stifle issues.  David was just the one who came right out and said, "You have a mechanical problem."

"I've just been really hoping he just needed to be stronger," I pleaded.  "I've been gun-shy since the Solo Incident."

"I completely understand that," he said, "but there is nothing to be gained by being an ostrich.  Go do your diagnostics, pinpoint the problem, then you can fix it and move on with the myriad of treatment options available today."

I was disappointed, yet at the same time, very grateful for his direct assessment and the recommendations he offered.  It gave me a concrete game plan to step forward and address the issue and his eye gave me credibility to take to the diagnostic center.

Sorry, mom.  But I wanted to make sure the insurance was worth it!
My money is on the left stifle and I am hoping it is something simple.  I've known several other horses with similar issues and a simple stifle injection or something similar had them back on track.  Well, I am really hoping it is nothing, but anyone who's been in horses long enough knows they are horses:  it is not if but WHEN you be looking sorrowfully at your lame partner.  It doesn't matter what breed or type -- they are all walking suicide machines (except for Shetland ponies, but I believe evil sustains them).

On the plus side, he is not out of riding commission, so we can still work on things and do fun rides, but we cannot step forward in training until we resolve this and he is able to even up behind.  At the very least, our spring eventing season was done anyway, my summer work schedule is picking up, and we had no horse trial plans until the fall.  So I suppose if any timing is ever right, this one is.

Tomorrow morning, I shall consult the Batphone and we shall see what there is to be seen.  This, indeed, is why I insisted on insurance for the first year!

February 6, 2012

The David Intervention: Pt. III

Encore looked at me like I was crazy.  You put me on the trailer, we drive 5 minutes, you take me off.  I run around for a while, you put me back on trailer, drive 5 more minutes, you take me off.  I nap, you want me to get back on trailer?  Does anyone else see how psychotic this woman is? Anyone?  Bueller?

Despite his skepticism, Encore stepped on with a sigh and we trundled back over to David's farm for YAY, JUMPING!  Except before YAY, JUMPING comes OMG, DEATH CIRCLE OF ARM-KILLING WARMUP.

My favourite part is when David said, "Hey, he learned something yesterday!"  I don't think we caught it on the video, as he was trying to save my battery, but I was so proud of my brown pony.  And I had to laugh at his unconscious clucking when I was supposed to apply leg.  As riders, none of us can help ourselves -- we all cluck for horses we are watching.

We didn't catch the canter work, but it was very good and Encore was able to maintain a slow balance.  The most important point I took from this warmup, especially the trot work, was that right now, we need to gooooo slooowwww.

You can see that Encore really struggled with the trot poles.  This is not because he has never done them -- we have done rows of five poles many times.  But he has never done them ROUND AND CONNECTED.  I could feel that it was very very difficult for him.  We continued to work on them several more times both directions and David assured me not to worry, he just needs to learn to find his feet without sacrificing the roundness and balance.

After this (and me shedding several layers of clothing), we moved on to a massive gymnastic.  Our first attempt:

To complete the sentence, David instructs, "When he lands, encourage him to canter away and move forward after the jump."  This exercise was difficult too.  We've certainly done gymnastics before, but not with an approach in such a slow, round trot.  It took us a few more goes to work that one out too; I had to really focus on softening my hand at the first pole, letting him lift his head to look at the jump, and keeping my shoulders back, not changing my position.  We did finally sort it out....

I felt like I rode this line rather craptastically, but there is more good advice here.  And I'm going to pretend that was one of the dogs belching, LOL.

Completeing the David sentence again:  "He a little bit ran out of distance there, but that is just him being green and figuring out where he needs to be.  Don't worry about it, that's just a matter of getting out and jumping lots of things."

We then did a myriad of courses, which I do have video of but got too impatient to upload them all.  Encore began to work out his footwork.  The oxers seemed to go better for us, but the short turn to the perpendicular vertical was very tough for us both (you will see in video).  I wanted to lean forward in the turn & hold him to the base of the fence.  I think we all know how successful THAT particular technique is.  Yep, I just got a hollow jump with a pulled rail behind, my bad, sorry buddy.  About halfway through, a woman entered & began longeing her horse on the corner -- I always welcome extra challenges, I feel it is good for the horse to learn from, but it made our turn to the diagonal line quite short & added another unexpected level of difficulty!   

This is our final course:

There are many fantastic tips from David in these videos, but I won't retype them all, else this entry would be ten pages long!  Leave it to say that I will be watching these over & over.  And over.  And over.

I can do it, mom!
But that was the end of it.  David & Lauren saw us off & I spent the next 1.5 hours on the way home trying to digest all I had felt & heard.  I turned my hard-working horse back out in his paddock when we made it back to the farm & went home to nurse that post-clinic funk.  Yeah, you know it, when you go, Awww, man, it's over?  But that was so amazing, I wanted it to last forever!  However, I am quite sure my shoulder sockets would have separated, which does put a damper on one's equitation.

So thank you again, Ryan, we couldn't have done it without your help, and THANK YOU, DAVID (although I doubt he reads this unless he googles himself, which doesn't seem quite his style) for an incredible two days of shoving us over a training hump & untangling my ragged mess of a brain.

Bets on how long before I tangle it up again?

So I shall leave you with that.  The red boys saw their vet today for their annual shots & Me Annoying Dr. Brian (Dr. Bob's alternate) With 10,000 Detailed Questions About Everything.  So all are resting and we'll see what we have tomorrow!

February 5, 2012

The David Intervention: Pt. II

I had a lot to think about as I drove....around the corner.  As I mentioned, Ryan had graciously offered Encore and I berth at the little farm where she works, conveniently located 3 miles from David's.  Ok, so it happens to be Charlie Plumb's (quite the family legacy) farm, so this is what you see when you come to the stop sign:

How do you get grass that green in the sandhills in January? 
It's a nice enough place, as you pull into the drive...

They have a little arena with a few jumps scattered here and there...

They even let me park my rig where it would be shaded by trees!

What?  I haven't shown you my traveling rig before?
I tucked Encore into the barn.  I guess it was ok....

Ha, it was, naturally, a lovely place.  I only saw Charlie for about four seconds, as he was busy with a clinic, but he offered a friendly hello (and escaped smurf picture recruitment, dangit).  As dusk settled, Encore devoured his well-earned supper and settled in.

I sought to digest some of what I had learned that day and fought to retain David's advice and instructions (although I still giggle every time in the video where he yells, "Work it!  Keeping working it!"):

-The Duo bit we are dressaging in now is great to introduce babies to contact and great for a finished horse who is light.  But we might want to try something a step up for the sake of my jello arms, which will encourage Encore to soften faster and more readily.  As he gets stronger and is able to be lighter, then perhaps we can go back to rubber finger bit.

-Keep the pace slow and NO RUSHING ALLOWED.  In order for Encore to stay balanced at the stage he is in, he must stay slow and resist the urge to run off his feet and get tense.  As he feels more comfortable in his balance, you can gradually ask for more trot.  But you have to have that balance before you can have forward.

The journey with Solo and now this new endeavour with Encore has, I think, taught me, more than anything, about what real contact is.  We are always told, "Don't pull on his mouth, stay out of his face."  That is, to an extent, true.  But real, working contact is not a feathery light touch until your horse actually has the balance, muscle, and training to carry himself completely.  That doesn't happen at the beginning.  Unless you have a freak horse that I just don't want to hear about. 

When you see me riding in those videos, none of that is easy.  My upper arms are screaming and when David asks us to reverse direction for the last time time, after I comment that I have noodle arms, my brain cries, "Dear cod, NOOOO!"  Contact is CONTACT -- you are asking your horse to push power from his hind legs through his body into the bridle and until he learns how to do that on his own, he needs your help at times and the reminders are constant.

As I said before, it's not locked, it's not a pull, it's just a steady, almost a resting feeling against the bit.  But it's alive and I am asking half halt with the outside rein, just little bit rounder with the inside rein, just a little bit straighter with that outside rein again.  And when he complies, I do not "release" as we normally think of it, not in a physics sort of way.  Rather, I go passive -- my resting contact is still there, but my forearm muscles soften and my hands are quiet, saying thank you, proceed as you are.  The horse's mouth can feel this subtle difference in energy.  The hard part is for the rider to regulate exactly the right amount at the exact right time.  I figure I'll have that worked out in about 60 years.

But for now, it was time for both horse and rider to sprawl out and rest for the day to come.   

Charlie might have escaped, but his lawn jockey didn't....

The David Intervention: Pt. I

I needed an intervention.  I was getting all tangled up in my head.  Encore would warm up lovely and soft and compliant and rhythmic and then we would take a walk break and then he would be rushy and stiff and hollow and blah.  His back didn't hurt.  His legs didn't hurt.  His saddle didn't hurt.  I was very frustrated.
Encore is a poser with Ryan and our smurf.

So I invented Brena's Personal David Clinic, Februrary 2012.  I packed up all our excessive crap gear and drove down to Vass on Friday afternoon.  As luck would have it, Ryan from the Insanity in the Middle blog works for another trainer at a (lovely) farm three miles from David and she generously offered to allow Encore and I to have a sleep-over there.  Ryan rules.  Check it on the left.  Sadly, her horse, Pop Star, was already turned out, so he missed out on his smurf photo opportunity.

I wanted to do flatwork on Friday afternoon and then jump on Saturday morning.  Encore did not get a vote.  I also wanted David to sit on Encore and tell me which parts were Encore's problems and which parts were my idiocies problems.

It's about a 1.5 hour haul from the farm to Vass so I had plenty of time to convince myself that (a) David would sit on horse and pronouce him lame, (b) I would not be fit enough to do what I needed to do since there is crazy shit going on in my life and sleep is hard to come by, or (c) I would pee myself with nervousness because even though I love David and he is the kindest person imaginable and we have ridden with him for perhaps two years now, I am still intimidated as heck by his accomplishments and the fact that he is so generous with his knowledge with Nobody Me.

But we made it unscathed, although I did have to pee because I had worked very hard to mega-hydrate myself all the way down (it makes a HUGE difference in your fatigure level in your lesson, try it), slurping down a liter of water even when I didn't want any more.

I will try to let the videos speak for themselves.  Not only is David cool enough to pose with a smurf, he is also awesome enough to videotape for me while he taught.

He hopped right on and this is where it began and lasted for about 20 minutes.  While you are watching, you notice that he moves the bit A LOT in Encore's mouth.  As he explains, which I know I caught in later videos, racehorses are taught to lean into the hand and rely on it for their balance.  They HAVE to re-learn how to carry themselves without you holding them up.  And if you are tempted to get judge-y and feel that David is being too harsh, remember that Encore is wearing a HS Duo bit (right), which is basically a soft, rubber finger.

Sometimes, it does take a little tough love to retrain a horse how to use his entire body.  Training is certainly not always pretty butterflies.  The key is knowing what your horse's mind can handle, fairness and immediately letting the horse know when he has offered you the right thing!  David points out that because Encore is stable-minded and has raced for three years, he is tough and sensible and won't lose his shit when you have to make a point.  He often prefers the OTTB's for this reason, and says it's a completely different approach than with a horse who has been started gently only a longe line with side reins and knows only quiet paddocks and arenas, who can be a bit of a "delicate flower" without the mental and physical toughness of a horse who has known the ups and downs of track life and didn't break down.

I do want to know how come I get in trouble for riding with long reins!  But without further ado -- the beginning:

Then we move to canter.  David emphasized afterwards that balance is very hard for Encore right now.  He focused on straightness above all else and would give up everything, not caring where his head was, cross-firing, whatever, as long as he maintained straightness and then balance.

Right lead came first, Encore's easier side.  You can see at the end the canter work has already improved the trot work from when he started.

Then we move to left lead.  This is VERY difficult for Encore to do while maintaining his balance.  But David maintained, that if he breaks, fine, if he cross-fires, fine, but he MUST stay straight.

I was enthralled, but apparently, I was expected to remount my horse and replicate what I had just watched. Encore is a fast learner, but you will hear David talk about how hard the new balance is for him. Not to mention for my arms. Ouch. The contact I have here is a very firm, but elastic one. I am not locked against his mouth. When I soften, it is a subtle softening of the arm and elbow -- you CAN'T throw the contact away, he has to have something to step into.

Then we have the left lead with what arms I have left.  Thank cod for all that hydration!

Compare those canters with the one we were playing with in October.  He's getting stronger and we are learning together.

Up next.....Saturday, JUMPING day!  Will my arms stay attached to my shoulders?  Will my horse decide this roundness business is for the birds?  Will I throw myself at David's feet and beg to move into an extra bedroom?  Anything could happen....

January 15, 2012

Encore Furthers His Jumping Education

As projected, Encore and I did indeed meet with David on Saturday; Encore's first stadium jumping lesson and his introduction to David's "death circles" of warmup (they only make the rider want to die, not the horse).  My tired brain will attempt to share it with you.  I offer no guarantees of lucidity.

The wind was icy cold, the high temperature of the day was 42 degrees, and the Canada geese next door splashed in the pond at the end of the arena.  Encore took all this as an invitation to try out his new "I iz STRONG pony" routine on a very tired me.  Thanks, buddy.  Nothing impresses your trainer quite like panting like an asthmatic grandmother on a stairmaster.

Encore's big brother demonstrates bend.
Despite his antics, David seemed to remain thrilled with my little brown boy and reinforced that I had been working in the right direction.  Establishing a steady contact on the outside rein on the warmup circle, we used inside flexion, moving the bit in his mouth to soften his jaw, at which Encore obligingly (at least most of the time) came round at the trot.  If he starts cocking his head, don't forget to use your outside rein to straighten his head on his neck, keeping it all in line, even counterbending a little so that he can't brace against your hand.   

Walk/trot/walk/trot transitions in quick succession, which we have begun to introduce at home recently, making sure he stayed soft through the transition, prepared us for canter.

David made the observation that I really needed to stay off his back at the canter and to focus on working that way for a while, as Encore learns to lift his back at that gait.  He reassured me that it is very normal for the racehorses to remain uneven behind for quite some time, which put my mind at rest a bit on that count.

Once we began jumping, Encore got much stronger than I am accostomed to!  Whether it was weather or excitement or both, my shoulders got tired in a hurry!  But it was gratifying to see my work at home paying off -- he felt comfortable finding his distances on his own and he skipped through a mini gymnastic without a hiccup. 

Because Encore was getting heavy in the bridle, perhaps because his young muscles were beginning to tire, David had me just lift the inside corner of the bit on the long side for one step to lift his shoulder and then half-halt and then lift his poll and release as we turned to the jump.  Result:  immediate shift in balance, bringing him up in front of my leg, where I could then soften and wait for the jump to come to us. 

Both David and I had a smile at the end; there were some lovely sections of rhythm and nice jumps.  Encore came calmly forward to every fence and jumped well up to about 2'9".  He is not as naturally round a jumper as Solo, but he feels already like he will be much more comfortable with height than Mr. Shiny ever was. 

Now, if anyone has suggestions on how to convince Encore that he no longer needs to transition to canter as if he is leaping from the starting gate, I am ALL ears...