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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label clinic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label clinic. Show all posts

March 12, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 1: Arrival

Before I begin, I want to encourage everyone within reach of our beloved Southern Pines to check out and send in your entries to Denny Emerson's Tamarack Hill schooling horse trials!  Ok, I may have an ulterior motive...the last one got canceled due to lack of entries and I've already sent my check in, so enable us!  The show itself isn't advertised very many places, so I'm hoping we can give it a boost because Denny's courses are fun to ride (ok, the one time I was able to take Solo) on nice terrain with a great variety in stadium as well!

Nevah stop the pettingz!
As for the Grand Holder Event Team Training Adventure 2013 -- at the moment, I'm sitting on Becky's couch next to a poster from the Beijing 2008 Olympics looking at a picture of the one and only Comet.  Scrappy, the world's cutest dog, has already put wet paws on my lap and I keep pinching myself to see if this can possibly be real.  I am not in the demographic of "those who send horses to training" or "those who frolic at farms for days on end in the winter with no office to worry about."  But since Becky just came into the kitchen with a friendly hello to collect Scrappy for the days rides, either it's the best hallucination ever or I'm here!

After a marathon day yesterday of an oil change apparently performed by sloths, a UPS truck stalking to nab my SmartPaks before I left town, and a missed turn which required a trailer direction reversal on a tiny SC back road in a crooked driveway, we FINALLY arrived at the Southern Eighths Farm grandeur.  Encore was installed in his own paddock to stretch his legs and eat his dinner and I squealed with glee when the BO issued a dinner invitation.  Yes, I am a shameless food whore -- you can call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner!

I had to pry myself away from wine-induced stories in order to make it back to Becky's before 9 pm, as the rules stated this is when quiet hours begin and I didn't want to get in trouble on my first day!  Finding things in the dark is not my strong suit, but the plus side of SC highways just west of nowhere is that when you miss a turn, you can just stop and back up; it's not like anyone else is out there.

I crawled up the long dirt driveway, realizing that when Becky told me where to park by her house, I forgot to ask which house was hers (there are four farms which share facilities on the 70-acre property).  All I had to go on was "park by the white truck."  As I crawled across a narrow dam with pond water lapping disconcertingly close to my truck, I fervently hoped there were not multiple white trucks lurking in the woods.

To my relief, there was only one and I was able to sneak into the quiet little house and find my room with the help the resident working students.  I was happy to find it simple and pleasant, in the style of normal people, so I didn't have to tiptoe around in fear of touching (and naturally breaking) something worth more than my annual salary! 

This morning, I will catch my breath and as this edge of drizzle moves out, I will head out to watch the master at work before I go pick up Encore for our first lesson at 5 pm (when it will be much sunnier!).  Here goes nothing...

March 3, 2013

To Do

Apologies for fisheries conference-induced hiatus, but ONE WEEK TILL THIS RIG HEADS SOUTH TO BECKY'S!!!!!!!!

It will fit!
-Calculate how to fit gargantuan amounts of horse feed into limited space.
-Come up with room that doesn't exist to store five bales of hay.
-Remove archaeology-worthy layers from backseat of truck.

-Ride Encore 57 times in 7 days (I feel so behind!).
-Make note not to ride on four hours of sleep and half a hangover.  (But I had a great time and THANK YOU Amber for your thoughtfulness of taking me out for an awesome birthday dinner.  It was my own fault that I failed at high gravity beer math.)

-Change out leaky trailer tire for spare.  Why is there always one leaky one?
-Break down and buy a trailer tire jack.  I mean, really, with my luck?
-Clean shipping boots so Encore can poop on them again.  Repeatedly.
-Seam seal repaired spare rain sheet in case SmartPak replacement sheet doesn't get back in time (another story)

Yeah, horse, get to work!!!
-Clean your freaking tack, how 'bout it?
-Clean excessive collection of leg boots which is even more amusing now that I am a boot minimalist.
-Wash pile of breeches and attempt to pack riding clothes that don't make you look like a homeless person (barn clothes are barn clothes!).
-Find stupid girth extender for Mr. Belly Puffer that I bought and promptly put in a safe place.  A really really really safe place.

-Charge every recording media device in possession.
-Posit ways to casually hand strangers recording devices (although Amber is going to come down and take pics for us next weekend, yayyyy!).
-Create space on crowded hard drive for (hopefully) many new files.

-Bring carrots for Comet.  Try not to embarrass self in fangirl paroxysms.

Did I forget anything?

February 13, 2013

Until...Spring Training Awesomeness!

Or at least it will be awesome if I can get my mess together...

I'm sure that you regularly study our posted calendar in the sidebar and, while doing so, have noticed our upcoming "Spring Training Surprise."  While making notes of our plans in your diary (right??), you surely have been dying of curiosity.

Rest easy, for the time of knowing is here.

Solo is skeptical of Becky's body demo...
The Most Excellent Mother has given us an amazing opportunity as a gift:  those ten magical days you see delineated will be spent by Encore and I with none other than  She Who We Worship And Stalk At Our Events, Becky Holder.  I only got to spend two days with her at a long format clinic after WEG late in 2010, but she did wonderful things for Solo.  It was a pipe dream of mine to take Encore to her, but thanks to this generosity, it is looking very very real very very soon!

Plans (oh, apparently I have not yet learned to not make these) are for Encore to stay at the lovely Southern Eighths Farm, where we cliniced with Becky previously, and then I will trailer him a short distance up the road to Becky's winter farm for our lessons.  Gunnar Ostergaard, the dressage trainer who has taught Becky to be arguably the best dressage rider in our sport, will also be teaching there for two days during our stay.  I opted to audit any lessons he will be giving, as riding with him ranked somewhere in the stratosphere, price-wise, but I think this works out well, as it offers Encore at least a day off in the middle and a chance for me to sit and absorb and process.

Becky and Scrappy, the cutest eventing dog evah!
Horsewise, the big brown charmer got prepped by Dr. Bob yesterday; his back is doing well, his hips and hindquarters have healed their injury and are doing much better, and his teeth, which were working on some hooks, are repaired to a normal, non-poky state.  I hope to be able to strengthen him some more before we go IF IT WILL EVER STOP RAINING, sigh.

Personwise, wellllll, that might be a bit harder.  It's all a big hot mess and my PT has his work cut out for him.  I gave him his deadline upon which the knee must be ready or not, but apparently no one told said knee, who decided to implode painfully on us last week, setting me back to simple range-of-motion work.  Hopefully, when I return there Friday, we will be able to get back on track -- I still can't quite get up to my XC stirrup length, but I only have one hole to go.  

Don't ever tear up your moving bits:  PT informs me that going into ANY joint generally means a year to really, truly recover, even though you may not be in therapy for that long.  With a giant cartilage tear, well, that's not coming back but that's why they invented ice and Advil, eh?  Good thing this is all free.  Oh wait, it's not.  Good thing I like noodles!

February 10, 2013

Camp David 2013

Almost exactly a year ago, Encore and I went down to SoPines for two days of my invented Personal David Clinic.  Five days from now:  Camp David II.

In a whole year, we have...ummm...tried really hard? 

Encore came out well in the spring, hopped up to Novice, and was going strong over the summer.  August gave us the lovely gift of a pulled SI ligament.  That it took his dense owner two months to figure out.  November rolled around and I was in the OR, getting my knee innards sandblasted, effectively putting me on the curb for about two months.  Meaning I could only provide my muscle-y young horse with hotwalker and longe line sessions and an occasional ride from a friend.

It could have been worse.  Had I gotten my originally intended surgery, I would still not even be able to fully bend my knee at this point, much less walk around fairly freely.  So I was able to start actually Riding Properly in mid-January.  It was still enough time for Encore to lose a lot of that sexy muscle I worked so hard for

It feels like I've been back on longer, until I realized that we have not had any type of jump school until our light XC session at a local farm last weekend.  Doing the math, I've only been back in the saddle with focus for maybe four weeks?  So I am excited that Encore is strong enough now to actually step up into the canter again without running on his forehand and jumping evenly and roundly (and regularly saving his rider's rusty butt) once more.

We've lost a lot of time, but we had a dressage lesson Saturday and good (first since October!) stadium school today.  Even better, after spending the winter reading and thinking and watching and thinking some more about straightness and engagement and contact and all the other enigmatic processes of correct riding, I am riding better.  Encore was softer last summer, but he wasn't really connected because despite all the knowledge and years in my head, my body didn't get it until it got it.  Connection and straightness FIRST, then soften.

Yes, yes, we all know.  But do we really REALLY do it?  I wasn't.

Why the training pressure now, you ask?

Because we only have four weeks left until.....

September 6, 2012

Red Alert: An Opportunity For You!

For those of you who are not Facebook subscribers to TFS (for shame!), I wanted to let you east coasters know that September 15th, you can come and have a lesson with our amazing David O., jumping coach extraordinaire.  He will be in southern VA at the most beautiful farm owned by a friend.  You too, can be epic in the arena!

Please contact me if you are interested!  I cannot make it up this time and the owner needs spots filled!

You can do a stadium, XC, or dressage lesson and David is phenomenal at them all, focused on bringing out the best in your horse, which he magically succeeds at any time.  He also (besides being wonderfully patient with my dorkiness and very kind) teaches to your level, no matter what that is -- a Prelim horse went before me, I rode Novice, and a young horse who had only ever jumped a couple tiny x-rails went after me.  There is never any judging or denigration, only encouragement and improvement under his awesome eye.

Again, for details, contact me through email link on the sidebar -- you won't regret it, if you can make it!!

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. 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....

October 24, 2010

Cross Country With Becky OR Why You Should Never Take A Jump For Granted

Cross country day promised to be many things.  Solo & I didn't run till after lunch, so that meant I got to spend all morning watching the Training & Prelim folks go (which means I got to spy on them to see what I'd have to force my aching legs to do).  So I limped up the long sandy path from the stabling which led through the woods & around the field to the steeplechase area.  As the group moved on to the cross country course, I quickly discerned my goal for the day:

WANT TO JUMP THIS! (double stairstep bank that Jammie & Rocky demonstrate effortlessly)

Like, want so bad I can't stand still.  Want so bad that I tell everyone around me how much I want it.  Want so bad I work myself up into a frenzy of want.

Note to you non-eventers out there: this is one of the classic signs of a terminal case of eventing fever. The twitching, the frothing of the mouth, the hopping motions all indicate an incurable eventer who has spied a new obstacle to attempt. Do not try & stop her, it is pointless to intercede. Just stay out of the range of any limbs that may be thrashing with excitement, I wouldn't want you to get hurt.

Moving on...

(It's going to be a long story, but if you stick with it, I promise great entertainment.)

At one o'clock, I head up the path again, only this time on my horse. One member of our group has never really schooled cross country; I caution her that once she gallops through that water at the end, she will no longer be able to think about anything else for the rest of her riding days.

To begin, Becky wants us all to gallop the steeplechase loop sans jumps so she can watch our galloping position & our gallop rhythm. Solo is more than happy to oblige with the galloping through a field bit, but I have to remind him about every 0.2 seconds about the rhythm bit. I choose to ignore the burn of my thighs, what do thigh muscles know about what is important anyway?

After our circuit, Becky offers effusive praise for our rhythm & position & my ego shoots up about 25 points. Which is probably about 30 points higher than it should be.

"Okay," she says, "Now do the circuit again, but include the small steeplechase jump."

This jump is maybe a 2' or 2'3" wooden coop with fake plastic sticky "brush" coming out of the top. No problem, a simple fly jump. Solo's already sniffed the brush anyway.

I gallop off with a smug little smile, thinking, We're so awesome. My horse is awesome. I am awesome. Everyone is going to watch us do this jump so easily & they will wish that they were us!


We roll around the turn & I put my eye on the jump. I half halt, balance my horse, & casually gallop up to it. I'm so busy thinking about how easy it all is, I only barely notice Solo's front feet tap the ground for takeoff & I lean forward for his jump.

Only there is no jump.

The next thing I know, I have cartwheeled over Solo's head as he ducked & spun to the right as he is wailing, "OMG, HORSE SPEARING STICKS OF HORRIBLE DOOM!!!!" I am flat on my back on top of the jump with a hearty whack & I think, Cool, this vest is awesome, I can't feel a thing! Then I slither backwards & land conk! on the nice baked clay on top of my head (that helmet's pretty sweet, too).  Finally, I am sitting on the ground with a bridle in one hand (I always wondered how people did that) & a fly bonnet in the other. Damn, I wish there were pictures.  Oh besides that one on the right.  Yeah, that's what I totally looked like.

I look to the right & I see a shiny chestnut butt & tail hightailing it into the woods back to the stabling. I think I can hear a distinctly equine snicker.

I look to the left & I see Becky walking towards me. "Well," I say, "that was unexpected."

"Now do you understand why we emphasize staying back before the jump?" she admonishes.

"Yes, ma'am, yes I do!"

Unfortunately, now I must do the Walk of Shame with bridle in hand to fetch my very naughty horse. It's a long way to stabling (remember that sandy path I mentioned), so they are kind enough to give me a Gator ride. A few minutes later, Solo ambles up to me as I exit the Gator with pricked ears. Hey, mom, whatchyou been up to? I just had a great gallop!

I resist the urge to call him a very nasty name. Or at least I resist saying it out loud.

He has a bloody mouth & it appears he has either bitten his tongue or hit his nose on the jump.

I don't feel very sorry for him right now.

The bloodflow has stopped though & he cheerily accepts the bit, so I swing back up & we trot down the path (again) to rejoin our group.

With my ego thoroughly deflated back down to proper levels, we gear up to have at it again.  We must do the little jump & we are given our choice whether or not to do the Big Kids' jump.  This time, I am sitting on the back of my saddle & my legs are well-wrapped in place.

And the shiny bastard refuses it, clearly terrified that the plastic sticks will stretch up & grab his little wussy hooves in mid-air. I am ready this time though & we whip around with a snarl.

Now I am seated approximately on Solo's tail & the spurs are fully engaged. There is no option; he WILL go over or go through, these are his choices. Wisely, he opts for the former with all the grace & beauty of an orange goat.

And damn straight, we are DOING the Big Kids' jump!!  Solo considers & finds this aligns with his best interests.

And after that...things went smooth as warm butter.  I most certainly did NOT get ahead of my horse (funny how I had zero further temptation to lean forwards) & Solo took everything as old hat (it's amazing what proper riding can do).

As we work the bank complex, I hear Becky telling our newly-converted classmate to watch how we go up the bank because "she's riding great now."  Ha.  Ok, that was pretty funny... 

Oh yeah, & that second picture? That's us going up the DOUBLE BANK. WAHOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

The Red Machine gets a well-earned drink after we finish at the water complex.
As always, we ride back to the stable with a big stupid grin on our faces (well, at least mine).  Oh, & our classmate whom I warned about the habit-forming properties of cross country?  Yeah, she can't wipe that shit-eating smile off her face, I'm afraid her cheeks will pop.  We have a new convert!

The Wisdom Of Becky With Respect To The Ego-Maintenance Tool That Is Solo:

-STAY BACK when jumping at speed.  Sit down on his tail & push him forward with your seat & leg, especially at slower gaits. Stay very strong in your core & don't let the horse pull you forward & compromise your position.

-If you keep your position, when that stutter step in front of the fence happens (you know which one I mean), you just wait & let him jump up in front of you.

-When galloping, put your hands down on his withers & keep them quiet until you need to make a correction; don't carry them up.

And I must add a huge thanks to Morgan, for all the pictures!! She worked hard all weekend to get some shots of everyone enjoying this fantastic opportunity & we are so grateful for it. Great job, kiddo, & thanks again!

October 21, 2010

Gymnastic Jumping: In Which I Fail To Successfully Coordinate Body Parts

I don't feel like I rode that well on the clinic's show jumping day. I couldn't get my hand and my body and my legs and my head to all work properly at the same time. It was like I tried to get everything to listen at once and as a result, NOTHING listened.

But we tried.

Becky explained that today was more about balance and riding a jump safely than what you would really do in a stadium jumping ring. So we focused on gymnastic exercises, keeping your body strong and defensive and controlling your horse's stride length and rhythm.

Exercise 1 was a simple one stride of cavaletti about six inches off the ground. I forgot to upload the video last night, so maybe you'll get lucky and I will remember to do it tonight. The goal was to get the horse smoothly through in a bouncy, compact stride. I mostly kept forgetting to let go of Solo's face and moved my body forward too much. Fail. Now with video!

Exercise 2 was a small bounce with a placing pole out front. I mostly kept forgetting to let go of Solo's face, again. But we were successful in convincing him that he needed to not dive on his forehand before the jump and hurl himself through the line like a rhino.

OMG, don't jump ahead, you idiot!
Oh ok, that's better.

From there we moved on to two bending lines from the bounce to a two stride oxer line or a two stride panel combination. I ride so much better then the jumps get bigger...

Then there was a really interesting exercise (that I also forgot to upload the video to, dammit.  I have some work to do tonight.) to emphasize keeping your body back and waiting for your horse. You rode downhill to a skinny two-rail vertical at a slightly-faster-then-comfortable pace. The fence was purposely innocuous enough to NOT back your horse off so most of us pulled a rail the first time. Then you turn and go to a line of two barrels where again, you use a faster pace and WAIT for the horse.

At the end of the day, the sum total was me = excruciatingly sore from balancing Solo with my leg and seat, Solo = so annoyed at having to stay balanced for the SECOND DAY IN A ROW, Becky = possibly questioning my abilities to ride a stadium course without pissing off my horse.

BUT, Becky did re-emphasize some important points that we have been working on with David and she also added a couple new exercises to make Solo a more adjustable horse.

The Wisdom Of Becky With Respect To The Enthusiastic But Balance-Challenged Jumper That Is Solo:

-Keep his front end up with your core, do NOT let him pull you down his neck.

-Keep your hands down closer to the withers so your corrections are more subtle and really press them into the neck when jumping.

-Practice compressing the stride, making a slow and bouncy canter coming into the line. Sit down lightly on his back to collect with your seat, letting it do the work instead of the reins.

-Solo has a big "booty bump" over the fences; slip the reins to him and stay back during the jumping effort.

I also really liked this thought:
Remember that there are moments in the ground and moments in the air; the moments in the air belong to your horse.

October 19, 2010

Dressage With Becky

There is so much to tell of late -- the new saddle came in this weekend (YEEHAW!) and is currently in Phase Break-In. We are busy prepping for VA Horse Trials and still trying to finish photo processing from Ecuador. However, I cannot go any longer without talking about the phenomenal experience that was our recent clinic.

About three hours south of us, a guy has been hard at work building an eventing facility for the adult amateur. He already has one farm in Connecticut (why oh why was I not born to these people!! Sorry mom, I still love you!) and decided apparently that warmth was better (of course, I agree!). So he has created Southern Eights Farm just over the border in South Carolina.

This place is exquisite. Designed for and by the adult rider passionate about the true form of our sport, the long format, everything about it is top of the line. Parts are still under construction, but there is a full cross country course with one of the loveliest water complexes I have ever ridden, beautiful guest stabling, a roads and tracks course and steeplechase galloping track and barns that *I* would happily live in. There is no skimping and I have to give a shout out to Brad and his manager, Shelley, who runs Classic Eventing, their training business. I wish I had remembered to take pictures of the place...

The scene is set then and Solo and I march our way up for our dressage lesson (in our jumping saddle no less) with Becky Holder. We are longtime fans of her and her fantastic OTTB partner of eight years, Courageous Comet (left), and have watched them ascend through Rolex to the Olympic Games and two weeks ago, to a beautiful performance at the World Equestrian Games. So I may have been a weeeee bit star-struck as we rode into that arena.

I did laugh when Becky walked up to us and said, "Hi! I'm Becky!" Just in case we had any doubts that she might be an imposter? But I quickly briefed her on Solo's history and his Quarter Horse tendencies to prefer lazing along on his forehand to actually pushing uphill into the bridle. 

Solo and Rocky meet Becky. Solo is fascinated by arena pole, ambivalent to equestrian superstar.

She watched us warm up and then said, "Ok, stop! Now, trot again, but this time shorten your reins about five inches, double-time it and stop being such a nice little student and get bossy."

Solo did display some nice stretching during warm-up though. No, our reins were not always THIS long.

I say, "Yes, ma'am!" Solo says, "Aw, crap." And then I said, "Trot! Now! For real! From your butt! No more Nice Mom from me, buster!" And holy hell, did he trot.

Becky: "Look at that! That's not Quarter Horse-y; that's a mini-warmblood!"

Me: (out loud) "Wheee!" (in head) Hey, don't call my horse a warmblood, that's an eventer insult! (then head argues with self) But I guess it's ok to have warmblood trot...

Becky: "I can see his face when you ask him to work, I can see the twinkle in his eye as he pulls you down forwards trying to get out of really using himself."

Me: (in head) Ohhhh, you have no idea how good he is at that, you get an A+ for horse telepathy...

So we got to work. And wow, did my horse feel different. His back was up and active; his hind end pushed up into transitions like a piston coming up through the saddle; I could sit down on his trot and lift and shorten it with my seat and leg. We stepped up into canter. Becky caught him immediately in his classic antics of grabbing the bit for the first four steps. "Don't let him snatch those steps as his own," she admonished. "Be strong and insistent and make him be where you want him IMMEDIATELY." I did it over and it WORKED. And Solo was pissed. They always hate it when you take their cheats away.

We did get a few pictures from a co-clinic-er. I am kind of stunned -- not only is my horse pushing up into the bridle, but I am SITTING UP STRAIGHT. No hunter perch!!! Do I have any idea how I did that? Absolutely not. But now I have evidence that it is possible...

A summary of the Wisdom Of Becky In Respect To The Dressage Slacker That Is Solo:

-Be strong in your core and back (I cannot tell you how hard this is!), really use your legs to push the trot up into the bridle. Set yourself up where he needs to be and make him work up into that place.

-Be fair, but demanding about when and where transitions happen; get tough, it doesn't matter if he pitches a fit about it, ride it through. Make him give you the awesome trot right away, don't let him shuffle a few steps into it. Never accept mediocre.

-If he tries to come up and brace, especially in transitions, use bend and leg yield to soften him through it.

-For downward transitions, wrap your legs around him and squeeze him in two so he goes forward into the walk.

-In the walk, sit back on his back legs even if they are sticky off the ground. Don't let your body get ahead of them, wait and let them come through under you.

-When asking for the canter, demand the good canter immediately and really stay solid and strong. Don't let him seize any steps away from you. Lift your hands and really "show off" the horse, lifting his poll.

Is any of this new information? No -- but it was a good series of reminders, in the right place, at the right time, that I need to NOT let him get away with slacker moments. Needless to say, it was a very tired and sore me that trooped back to the barn. But I was excited about what we'd accomplished and very much looking forward to Stadium Jumping Saturday.

October 12, 2010

Can't. Keep. Up.

My time and energy to write is failing to keep up with all the things that are happening! So here is my cop-out with a list and teaser of coming attractions:

We finish our Ecuador trip with the most spectacular day that it is possible to experience inside the wild, amazing Cotopaxi National Park. The expanses of high grass and beautiful silence are simply beyond imagination.

Solo and I choose our new dressage saddle. We do not have it in hand yet, but there are some little English elves hard at work in a factory right now!

We also completed an amazing long format clinic with Becky Holder this weekend, fresh off her beautiful performance with Comet at the WEG's a week ago. Important lessons were learned: (1) Becky Holder has the cutest dog in the world. (2) If one leans forward during steeplechase jumps, carnage ensues (oh, this is a good story, you'll like this one). (3) Solo's booty CAN be engaged to great effect. Thanks to some VERY kind and generous co-clinic-ers, we even have pictures!!

Now, all I need is an eensy bit of free time to write all that in. Waiting....waiting....

August 24, 2010

So Much To Do, So Little Time

Ever feel like you are juggling 12 balls in the air at once and although it seems to be going ok, if you dare to blink, they will all crash to the floor?

Yeah, that's what now is.  So much to plan and prep for! 

Operation Belly Burner is going well:  I can actually see my horse's ribs when he is moving now, turns out the fat did not dissolve them after all!  He continues to improve on the longe, giving me longer periods of stretching trot into the vienna reins and three (!!!) laps of canter at a time.  He has rhythm like a freaking metronome and is moving well.

We are officially registered for a Becky Holder long format clinic in early October. It has come at a perfect time; I was really despairing on how we were ever going to learn how to do all those fun extras like steeplechase. No one in my area really has a track set up, but lo and behold an email falls in my inbox from a new farm just over the border in SC about this clinic. It's like the heavens are psychic and we are IN!

I have NINE DAYS left before I leave for mum and I's Grand Ecuador Adventure. Omg omg OMG!!

After I get back from Ecuador, it's all prep for the clinic and for our first horse trial of the fall season: Halloween weekend at the Virginia Horse Trials!

So -- tell me about your balls! Hahahhaha, yes, I HAD to say it!

October 5, 2009

And Then There Was The Woff

Unless you live in some kind of cave, Jim Wofford is a household name in the horse world. And in eventing-land, he is synonymous with God. Only funnier and less likely to smite.

For over a decade I had longed to ride with "The Woff," (that's right guys, it's skill, humility, & humour that make thousands of women long for you) but considered it about as likely as being recruited to the Olympic team (read: probability = zero). Until I got a flyer about a Wofford jumping clinic being held about two hours from me.

Oh yeah, baby, I pounced. That check got written so fast that the pen burned a hole through the register. And on a cool fall morning in 2008, we trailered up to the mountains for two days of immersion in The World According To Jim.

Each day started with a sit down lecture for about an hour in a room with a whiteboard where Jim drew diagrams, answered questions, and postulated his great theories on how eventing should be done. Just like his writing, it was steeped in experience, insight, humour, and a passion for the horse. I mostly sat there with a stupid look on my face, staring in awe.

Then we'd go get horses ready and move out to the understated little arena at the hosting farm.

It was freaking gorgeous.

I started out so excited -- jumping is our strong suit, so I was sure we were just going to blow Jim away with Solo's boundless heart and enthusiasm coupled with his easy going and calm demeanor. We started to warm up as Jim set up his gymnastics. Then I asked for the canter.

Then my horse vanished into thin air and was replaced by a hopping, bucking, bolting, snorting beast of an animal to whom I claimed no ownership. I was mortified. And Solo -- I mean SatanSpawn, bless his heart, was kind enough to keep it up for the entire clinic.

I dealt with it as best I could, namely, 40,000 half halts, swearing under my breath, getting left behind half the time, and perfecting the leaning circle at terminal velocity. And Jim, in his infinite patience and kindness, refrained from laughing.

Each day started with progressive gymnastics, with an emphasis on a soft, quiet rhythmic approach (which we failed, mostly dismally) and letting the horse work out problems for themselves, as they would be REQUIRED to do on a XC course, where, when the rubber hit the road, the ability of the horse to think for itself was critical!

Then we'd string a few fences together in exercises that varied each day. One of my biggest problems when jumping is that my mind tends to go blank as soon as I start a course. I walk it, I analyze it, I get all prepared, then I get on my horse, and as soon as the whistle blows, all my planning coalesces into an internal monologue like this:

Ok, canter, OMG JUMP, ahhhhh, SLOW DOWN, dammit another jump, AHHH TURN TURN TURN, OMG, no we have to jump THAT ONE!

Yeah, the picture of composure. So as we were doing several exercises, I could hear Jim calmly asking, "Where are you going? The jump is over here?" But he was able to give me some great tips on being a THINKING rider, instead of a reacting one.

Getting tips from the Master

We didn't leave out our dressage either of course -- my lovely mount, SatanSpawn, decided to practice his levade mid-lesson over a terrifying blue jump.

We worked it out in the end.

We left that weekend with a LOT to think about. Jim really changed my approach to riding and training, building on what I had learned from Ian Stark and reinforcing the fact that as riders, we really need to be thoughtful about what we are teaching our horses. A horse can learn something with as little as ONE repetition. So lessons like "you WILL be on the correct lead every time" and "you WILL have a calm, rhythmic canter before proceeding to the next jump" are ones that we are teaching (or UNteaching) every day by insisting that these things WILL occur and not proceeding until they do.

There was much much more of course, but in the interest of moving forward, I will leave you with that. Next time: Tales Of The Blue Lagoon And Confidence Lost.

September 14, 2009

Assimilation Complete Or Course Changing Pt. III

Someone asked in the comments yesterday about my pictures -- all the pictures of my riding are taken by my erstwhile and wonderful SO, who we discovered has a natural eye for timing. Don't forget it was 110 degrees this entire weekend and my Tahoe did not have functioning air conditioning. And central SC is not exactly heavily forested. SO carried our water, took pictures, and generally rose above and beyond the call of duty at every possible moment -- you know who you are, darlin', and we couldn't have done it without you!

During day 2, the heat had hammered me terribly. Midway through our stadium phase, I became quite dizzy and felt as if I was fading away. My (some might say smarter) subconscious said, Hey, this is dangerous, perhaps you should get off. My (dumber but more adventurous) conscious said, No way in hell. So after every turn jumping, I poured a bottle of ice cold water over my head. Literally. It kept me going enough to finish.

So coming into day 3, the much-anticipated cross country day, Solo and I were both already quite hot and tired and neither of us had ANY idea what would happen that day.

The sum total of what I knew about my horse's past experience: (1) track pony (2) a little foxhunting (3) trail riding. So when we rode out onto the course and Ian asked what Solo knew, I promptly answered, "Nothing, as far as I know. He'll jump a log and is not afraid of water."

We started simple, just hopping over a Beginner Novice, then a Novice log. No problems there, sweet, I can totally be an eventer! For the second jump -- OHMYGOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME, THAT IS A GREEN WALL OF DEATH! Oh it may look innocent, but riding at it, all you see is the massive, upright green impenetrable wall waiting to engulf you and your horse.


Second time's the charm. And yes, my entire body IS in a mortal death grip on Solo going I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna die...
But we lived!! Next was a bank complex that we climbed up, jumped on, jumped off...Solo never hesitated as Ian hollered, "Now, don't let me down, show us how it's done!" Thence began my love affair with banks (That's another person in our group on the left, showing the bank. The drop on the other side was the same height). Then off to the ditch and suddenly, we were being asked to give the green horses leads over it -- in what parallel universe had we been sucked into where my horse was a pro???


By the time we got to the water complex, I was completely incapable of keeping the big stupid grin off my face. Even the spectators were chuckling at me, saying, "Um, I think we have an eventing convert..." YES, YES YOU DO! I discovered new gears that I didn't even know Solo had, including a very impressive trot:

Yeah, like he'll ever do THAT in an arena!

By the time we were done, my goals had taken on a whole new direction: we were going to be eventers! Not only was it A FREAKING BLAST, but I knew I had found the sport my horse was destined to do -- he had just galloped and jumped that XC course like he was born for it and all I did was hang on and catch bugs in my teeth.

I stopped and asked Ian a few final questions and thanked him profusely. Never before had I encountered such a gifted and patient teacher. He has a true talent for challenging the horse and rider in a way that sets them up to succeed and to grow in confidence with every step. Besides being a beautiful rider, he has a fantastic sense of humour and is imminently approachable and down to earth. He didn't care that me and my backyard horse showed up in a rattly stock trailer -- he "quite liked" Solo and ended up impressed with the courage and heart of my reject trail horse. Ian earned every penny from that clinic out there in 110 degree southern heat all day long for three days, hopping on horses who were stuck, and encouraging many very hot and tired riders through the tough spots. He is the best kind of horseman, the kind that not only do we aspire to be, but we just love to be around.

As we packed up the trailer and got on the long highway home, I knew there was no going back now...


September 12, 2009

Learning To Fly Or Course Changing Pt. II

I don't know how, mom!
I'm spending some time on this clinic because it really DID change everything.

As we moved into Day 2 (Stadium Jumping), I was already starting to think more critically about my riding. When riding on my own at home, I would do the standard W/T/C warmup, some circles, some jumps, but wasn't really that analytical about it. I just...did it. Surely that would prepare me for anything, right? Right??? *snort*

At least I was much more confident coming into stadium day -- I was most comfortable jumping given that was what our most recent lessons involved back in 2001. And I was bound and determined to live down dressage day -- when Ian yells out in mid-buck, "Hey, you should ride this horse with a neck strap!" Sorry, Ian, but he never tries to buck ME off! And I knew my horse was brave and honest.

Reset: ok, so he didn't really get gymnastics at first and five bounces in a row was pretty intimidating. But we figured it out and I thought, Ok, we've got this. We worked on a couple of things, namely, keeping my shoulders back over the jump and not throwing away too much rein in the air.

We started here...
Jumping ahead with a lost leg, laying on Solo's neck with loopy reins. Not gonna fly in eventer land!

Finally made it to here...
Tight leg and seat, MUCH better release and ready for anything!

Time to do some courses. Ian laid it out and said go.

I looked at the first jump. I looked at Ian. "That's ENORMOUS!" I bellowed.  I'd been jumping Solo MAYBE two feet at home, like a big fat wuss that I was.

Ian kindly agreed to help me feel at ease. By taking the back rail off of ONE oxer later on the in the course. Leaving all the rest of the jumps (set around 2'9" to 3') completely and terrifying intact.

As he emphasized during the warm up and gymnastic, you must ride FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD (as I learned, Ian is BIG on forward and a rather aggressive rider in terms of approaching an obstacle). Once you're going FORWARD, go FORWARD some more.

So we racked up a pace, I attempted to beat into silence the wailing in my head that insisted, We're going to dieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...... and I muttered, "Please, buddy, show them that I am right for believing in you."


I was so proud, I probably looked like the Cheshire cat. And it was a blast -- leg on, eye up, and we could FLY!

The only hitch was the jump before the final triple combination. I had never seen anything like it before or since. It was a panel jump, but it was a skinny. And the panel was a triangle of board with the top point pointing at the ground.

I came around the corner on the approach to that think and my head went That thing is insanely weird and scary!  Solo promptly responded by screaming, "OMG, that thing is insanely weird and scary!!!" and it was a no-go.

Ian says, "Don't look at me, look at the jump!" Oh damn, he noticed my eyes pleading at him to rescue us from this heart-stopping monster of a jump.

*sigh* Ok then...


And that guy standing in the background is NOT short. Holy crap -- I wanted to screech and whoop at the same time. Ian hollered a somewhat surprised shout of congratulations. It was so narrow that my toe actually pulled the standard over behind us, but Solo didn't touch it and he then made a perfect, balanced show jumping turn to the triple.

God, I loved my horse!

He Changed The Course Of Things To Come, Pt. I

It was a humiliating ride.

I had just spent an hour watching the group before me with lovely, springy round horses and a sinking feeling in my chest. Looking around me, there wasn't a horse to be seen that wasn't trained to the nines and not a one looked like it would sell for less than $10K. I was the only person there with a rattly stock-side trailer and a backyard horse. Most folks were friendly -- a few gave me The Look, that one wealthy people give their staff. Yeah, you know the one.

A bit of background: I actually grew up riding dressage on school horses, German trainer and all. It turns out dressage is easy when you are a 10 year old with no bad habits. It's a bitch when you are 27 and lopsided. Plus four years of college riding hunter eq...well, that dressage seat was so far gone it was like it never existed.

Looks like a 10 trot to me!
As I entered the ring with the others in my group, I was, as mentioned, slightly petrified. Solo obliged by being stiff, crooked, and notably uncooperative. Note the chestnut in the background on above. That's what we were supposed to look like. Also note Solo turning around going, You've got to be freaking kidding me.

We looked more like, well, the backyard pair that we were, sigh. And our canter, true to form, went something like this:  

Me:  Solo, for the love of god, please oh please canter nicely in front of Mr. Olympics!

Solo's response: buck-buck-buck-bolt-transition-sidestep-ugly-strung-out-canter-at-high-speed.

The man hides his face in agony - let's pretend there was a fly...
Awesome, thanks, buddy.

Then came the charming, lilting Scot words I was hoping for from Ian: "If you don't mind, I'd like to have a sit on him." I couldn't slide off fast enough and hoped he didn't really hear my effusive begging oh-please-please-fix-us!

Now Solo is a very gentle, loving horse. But he is very cautious with his trust -- he will pack around a dead beginner oh-so-sweetly, but if the person on his back knows a thing or two, Solo worries that they might hit him or rough-house him (he is NOT a horse you can force into things).

Ian Stark is an exceptionally strong rider who likes hot, talented horses like the legendary Murphy Himself, the talented Irish-bred grey. So he gets on Solo and wraps those legs around my stiff red horse and says, "Excuse me, but you WILL move forward into contact." It progressed just like this:

I don't think I like you
Who the hell are you?
You shall receive one warning only.
Get off, bossy man!
Get the f@ck off, devil man!

Looking back, I wish I had stepped in a little. Ian gave him a mighty crack with the dressage whip (accompanied by an exclamation of "Bloody horse!"), which, given some past incidents of abuse, Solo did NOT receive well and I can't blame him. Hindsight...

But overall, Ian gave him a fair and consistent ride and they ended up looking like THIS:

I never got that trot!!
And I drooled. And then I had to get back on and feel what a dressage horse is SUPPOSED to feel like. And it was amazing: I could feel Solo's back up and swinging and he was THERE, in my hands. And he was FORWARD. It felt like super-speed, but I was informed, no, that was where we SHOULD be.

Oh and all of a sudden, our canter reappeared. So apparently all we needed was a world-class rider to climb up and find it for us again. Good to know.

We can do the bendy thingz!
I left the ring that day deep in thought -- I needed to ride my horse FORWARD. I needed to bend him, I needed to sit up, I needed to change, well, everything.

I also left that day with my jaw set, DETERMINED to redeem our poor showing in the two days of jumping to follow. I knew this was where our strengths lay and I was going to show the doubters why we did indeed deserve to be part of all this.