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We Are Flying Solo

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

March 20, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 9: Adjustability

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

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

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

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

Shoulders ow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 18, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 7: Dressage

Monday is break day.  Well timed, as a windy, cloudy sky settles over us and makes for a good day to sit by the fire.

But Sunday was time to put together what we'd shown Encore during our first lesson and during his long lining session and see what we had.

The grey wunderkinds look on bemused.  Who is who??
The wind had changed direction and was blowing the fresh scent of the neighbouring cattle our way, so Encore was on high alert.  Add to that, the previous horse had dumped her rider (rider was unhurt) and hightailed it at Mach 10 back to the barn.  We tried to head her off but she gave us the finger and roared by, leaving Encore puzzled as to what the fuss was about.  I was left wondering if there was any chance I'd get a soft, round horse out of this.

Determined to stay focused, I started with our turn on forehand exercises we'd learned earlier in the week -- we've been practicing them before our lessons every day and Encore is getting much quicker at giving to them and I am getting better at keeping him moving forward into that give.  Suddenly, I had this lovely round walk beneath me and I began to feel a little hope for our afternoon!

Becky did not have us perform any special technical exercises this time; we just worked on creating quality within the gaits and enforcing the new Dressage World Order, since Encore had shown us he was perfectly capable in his long lining work.

Within the trot and canter, we just kept asking him three things:  (1) Move off thy inside spur.  (2) Go forward with thy hind legs.  (3) Give to thine contact.  Three commandments of dressage.

The tricksy part was knowing when to push for more and when to give and move with him.  Becky would have me sit, collect him into an eensy jog trot, leg yield him out and apply contact, pushing him into both to soften him.  Then, when his topline opened and relaxed, post and start pushing him forward over that line.  All while keeping your hands very steady, NOT throwing the contact away, and finding that hair-thin zone between riding into contact through resistance and just pulling his head around

At the canter, keeping him slow, again, I would sit, apply leg and contact, engage the core and thigh, and compress him, then immediately when his balance shifted and/or he softened, to relax and follow his motion forward.

Sara (working student) and Winston have more fun than Encore!
He was trying very very hard, but he still opined that the new rules seemed rather demanding.  He quickly figured out though, that life in compliance was much easier and less annoying and produced some VERY nice work.

I am so sad I was unable to get video of it; I guess I will have to reproduce it at home, ha.  But we were putting together elements -- Becky had fine-tuned my aids in our first lesson, then showed Encore the correct response on the long lines.  Now we were adding them up to equal more productive and successful work.  Building blocks were beginning to make a structure, one that is hopefully portable and doesn't blow out through the trailer slats!

March 17, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 6: Cross Country

What could possibly be wrong with that?

A warm beautiful Saturday meant it was time to revisit our XC skills and work on some drops.  Apparently, my signature zombie move when dropping off a bank is neither correct nor effective.  Colour me shocked.  *sarcasm font*

I had expected to mount a very tired pony after his attitude in the long lining pen yesterday, so I hopped on with the intention of doing just a little lateral yielding to get his hind legs moving.  Instead, when I asked for trot, I discovered someone had slept well indeed and I was sitting on a rocket, ready for launch!

A little N table on the ridge
The exercises were basic -- a few simple warmup lines, small down-banks, some accuracy questions, and a drop into water.  But the theme throughout was optimizing my position and eradicating the zombie.

Upon approaching a drop question, the horse needs to lower his head to examine the jump and then execute it, so my challenge was to make sure I let out the reins upon approach so when he needed to lower his head, the space was already there.  As he jumped, I was to focus on keeping those hands down, shoulder back, and give him freedom to do his job.  

Drop it like it's hot...with lower hands.
A few skinnies asked a similar question -- keeping Encore straight, as soft as possible, and keeping my hands on his withers the entire time.  The drop into water carried it one step further, making sure I did not choke up on him, which would then have him approaching the drop with his head in the air instead of down and ready to stretch over the edge.

Although we often took about 1/2 a mile to stop after each jump, it was great fun to have another go at XC when he wasn't fearing wild beasts (I'm sure having a schooling buddy helped!) and he put on his best bold, clever hat for the day and worked through it all like a pro.

It was a nice way to spend the afternoon before chilling the beer and readying the food for the annual farm party -- yes, live band included!  All I can say is that eventers of all ages have no issues with climbing up on those picnic tables and showing off their mad body control, shaking what their mommas gave 'em!

Our last lesson before his day off will revisit our dressage.  I have no idea WHAT to expect from him at this point as far as energy level is concerned.  It's very warm today and the wind has FINALLY taken a break, so hopefully I won't have quite the brick-mouthed machine of XC inside the little white fences!

It's hard to believe we only have three lessons left.  I have no words to encompass what an amazing opportunity and what a good, hard-working, hilarious, and genuine group of people I've met.  The real world doesn't seem to appealing; I'm in no rush to go back!

March 16, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 5: Long Lining

With each day of surreally amazing experience & knowledge streaming in front of me, my brain gets progressively more loopy (a terrifying thought, that it becomes more loopy than normal).  It feels a bit like Cookie Monster with a funnel down his throat -- "me love cookies, but me can hold no moooorreee..."

Friday morning brought several not-to-be-missed items on the schedule, so I mashed real-world duties together quickly & scurried out to resume dutiful creeping.

Up first was a 5 year old mare, a lovely dapple grey named Greta who had come with severe contact avoidance issues, including backing & signature mare fits like mini-rears & insistence that such feats were simply not possible.  She was assigned to long lines & then a short schooling ride, so I had particular interest in watching the process again, given that Encore & I would perform it later this afternoon.

Suffice it to say, Mme. Greta does not appear to have contact issues anymore!  She did a lovely job & Becky was kind enough to talk me through as she worked.  The long lines had helped her along to a real horse breakthrough; in the pen & the consequent ride, she looked steady, duly educated, & confident in her new abilities.  Becky helped her figure out the right choices by many kind words & pats along the way.  I got even more excited about our later lesson.

Up next, I volunteered to be "pole bitch" for two gymnastic rides.  First was RJ, whom Becky described a rogue novice horse that she was beginning to consider keeping, as he reminded her of a young Comet!  I'd met him in the barn a few days earlier -- an adorable chestnut gelding with a white blaze & a huge, goofy personality.  I am sure that whoever grooms for her would be THRILLED if she finally brought along a brown horse...

I don't think he's a rogue anymore...



Then came Teddy (Can't Fire Me).  He is such a neat horse to watch, with a very professional attitude & a "what would you like from me?" demeanor.  Oh, and he can jump a little too.



Standing a foot & a half from the line, I really got a feel of how much power & pace you have to bring to a 5' jump.  Watching, it often appears as if the horses are just rocking nicely along.  When you are close enough to feel the breeze as they pass, it becomes clear that a massive amount of energy has been created, compacted, & channeled to fuel these big jumping efforts...and make them look easy.

Much to a tired Encore's dismay, his moment had arrived.  Becky watched me longe him briefly to get a feel for how he responded to my body language & how he worked on the line (thanks, buddy, for throwing in that belligerent kick; your opinion has been noted...and ignored).  Then I turned him over.

She started him on a straight line setup to get him use to the line contact.  Her system is not dissimilar to vienna reins, but allowed you to push them up into a steady contact & "ride" them with a live connection from the ground.

The warmup setup.


He quickly figured out what was being asked (although not without some comments of his own) & it was time to move on to the real work by adding a bit of leverage to help him find his shoulders & open his topline.  Junior was trying very very hard the whole time; I was really quite proud of his efforts!

Working setup.


After Becky worked him a bit, she handed the lines over to me, at which point I proved that I can even hang on the left rein while on the ground -- hey, we all have to have skillz.  It was surprisingly difficult (look, uncoordinated people can own it) but I was amazed at how much softer & "rounder" he felt in the contact.  No more brick mouth!  Becky felt confident that this would really help him understand the contact & how to relax & really swing through his back & body, so we will DEFINITELY be taking this one home (and practicing where no one can see me trip & fall).



It took a lot of focus to balance the feel on both reins & not crowd him too much in the bridle all while pushing his hind legs ever forward.  As we finished, he gave both Becky & I quite the look as he stood immobile, praying that if he just didn't move, it would be over:  THIS is my easy day???  Bless his golden heart, he got many pats & snacks & went home early to nap.

Next we'll have another XC school, only this time, we'll be riding with a lovely friend of Teddy's part-owners who I've had a blast talking to the past few days.  She has a gorgeous, catty little firecracker of a mare & I look forward to the fun!  It will also give Encore a buddy out in the tiger field, which will help him immensely, & give him plenty of breaks so he only has to work in short spurts.  Monday will be his day off; hang in there, buddy, we are almost to sleep day!

March 15, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 4: Cross Country

You FB peeps already guessed who this snoozer is!
It was Pi Day!  But I forgot to get pie to celebrate, sigh.

The days seem too short, even as they technically get longer!  Although I am determined to catch more morning schools now, to heck with real world duties!

Today was a mini XC school -- we've gone through the three disciplines I think so Becky can get a feel for Encore and where he is and how he ticks.  Simple exercises to establish and focus on the basics.

It all began well enough, with Encore cruising in a lovely, round rhythm through yesterday's cavaletti bounce.  I could feel he had definitely used some energy in the past two days (haven't we both!?) but I'd stretched him in warmup and he still felt solid.

It was a short loveliness.

I felt his body stiffen as we paused to listen to Becky and his head whipped towards the barn up the hill.  It was the "OMG WARNING DANGER CONCERN!" body language and his ears (and brain) trained like a laser away from me to whatever silent menace he perceived.

I moved on to a simple jump series of BN bench/cabin-types, then added a N table.  He jumped but his focus remained elsewhere.  We were a hot mess the first time through and required some putting back together.

Two mares at the same time!  Lesson in leg yield.
Normally, it is not difficult to keep him up and in front of my leg as long as I concentrate, but now, I was riding Solo -- pushing him up into the contact and having to work for it.  No fair spoiling me then taking it away, horse!

We moved down to a wide ditch, but at this point, his brain had hit rolling boil and it appeared we were being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger.  He probably did not appreciate us laughing at him, but sorry buddy, work trumps invisible tigers.

So it took some coaxing to cross the ditch, but cross he did, although by braille a few times.  We continued to walk across it until he jumped it with some semblence of order.  Since he remained intent on his perceived predator, I had to compete hard for his attention to bring him back to walk each time.  It was extremely helpful when Becky had me lower my "whoa" hands from my shoulders (I know I'm not the only one whose hands come up when trying to stop the mildly desperate horse) to Encore's withers.  It helped lower his energy as well and bring him down more quietly as I kept my hands low and quiet and he finally began to relax a little.

A few exercises through the water and surrounding mounds and cavaletti followed, all very easy for Encore, but my job was to keep my position solid and still and my hands low over the rolling mounds and jumps.

We've all enjoyed this streak of Carolina blue skies!
Whatever it was he saw, he remained certain of its need for attention the entire time, so the lesson itself did not involve as much complexity as I might have thought.  However, it was a VERY valuable opportunity to have Becky there on a rare occassion when he does mentally vacate (I can probably count the times he has done this on my hands), as she was able to tweak my body language through my hands and core to help quiet him instead of ending up in a fight with him.  Because he is not trying to avoid work and he is a very honest tryer in all things; he simply got sucked into the horse parallel mental universe where invisible monsters live.

And now I am laughing because I bet to any horse owner, that insane-sounding place description elicits a completely blase, "Oh yeah, I totally know that universe."

Next on the syllabus:  long lining - the magical Holder way.

March 14, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 3: Gymnastics

The porch view of the Windhaven dressage and gynmastic work area.
I did not get to do much creeping watching today; since I had to fetch Encore late morning and he had become so disgusting I decided to bathe him following our lesson, it was more of a day for peeks here and there.

Since it was another gorgeous, sunny morning, I ambled to the front porch to watch Teddy (Can't Fire Me) execute his gallop sets, which Becky mixed with cavaletti and ground pole work.  He really is a fantastic horse with a powerful gallop and Becky makes him look super rideable.  Watching him surge up the hills and then settle back into tiny rollback turns to the rails made me feel like I had a very privileged box seat indeed!

As I packed up to head to So8ths, I was also able to catch a few minutes of Comet's dressage school as he practiced his tempi changes, moving from fours to threes to twos.  He still has his signature aura of something very special and it's easy to see why he is Becky's Solo.

Junior horse in his hotel room.
Encore and I were the first lesson after the daily break, so we were alone warming up at the top of the hill, leaving Encore convinced that all the world's horses had deserted him to an uncertain fate.  I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before due to a loudly snoring temporary roommate, so I struggled to be patient and breathe and decided to stop and work on the turns-on-forehand from yesterday.

Becky and Scrappy arrived, the latter to supervise all parties, and our turns were pronounced much improved from the day before (it must have been all the practice I'm sure Encore did overnight).  Then we revisited the trot and canter work from the day before, alternating large circles with ~15m circles.

So8ths hovel of a barn.  Poor horses.
It was as if I had brought a different horse.  More likely, my horse was relieved that I was finally starting to use the aids properly.  But Encore was so much softer and willing in the bridle, trying hard to keep his withers up and push from behind and, miracle of miracles, staying focused on the work at hand!

Key points:  Stay even on both reins (I was caught multiple times with my trademark hang on the left rein, dangit).  When he is moving in a good rhythm and wants to stretch down, let him have the rein as long as he is not falling down the hill and then push him a little bit forward over that newly stretched topline.  Really focus on keeping the rhythm of trot and canter very pure (Encore can sneak a disconnected tranter in to try and avoid pushing at the canter).  Alternating very small circles at the canter, swing your hips to push his hind legs forward forward forward through the tight turns you make with your outside aids (this felt amazing).

They have a tiny dressage arena over there too.
Exercise 1:  Jumping a single cavaletti, alternate the approach on a small circle from the left and right.
Key points:  Use an opening rein and new outside leg over the jump to show him where we are going.  The primary focus is holding the rhythm and my position consistent the whole time (woohoo, something I am successful at!), not letting him fall apart or get strung out.

Exercise 2:  Jump single cavaletti to bounce cavaletti series to single to low gymnastic line.  I've drawn you a masterpiece of a diagram.  The low line is not pictured.  Because I was too lazy to redo it when I realized I'd run out of room.  Deal with it.
Key points:  Rhythm, hold position over jumps, use outside aids and really push him forward through the tight turns.  All of these are on the side of an incline, so you MUST stay balanced and not let him just fall on his face.

Nope, always got lost after 3rd jump.
Exercise 3:  Jump larger gymnastic line of vertical-two strides-wide oxer, then do 10 rollback turns over cavaletti (ok, it may have been slightly less than 10, all I know is I got lost every time).  If you get lost, just turn and jump something.  And yes, all of the turns were as tight as they look.
Key points:  Keep his hind legs swinging in the turns.  REALLY stay solid with your position over the jumps; be still and let him jump beneath you while you stay in the center.  Hold him together with your core and thigh between jumps so he doesn't get so strung out.

The last green arrow leads back to the low gymnastic line.  The goal was to alternate direction with each turn, which my confused self didn't do, but I did turn and jump SOMETHING each time and I started and ended in the right place, so was given the ok on execution, ha.

One of four beautiful wood sculptures at So8ths.
We did several variations on this exercise, but the goals and design were the same.  The turns continued to improve; I was quite excited to discover the Encore was much stronger than I thought and as he figured out how to sit down and pivot, it became easier and easier for him.

He retains his tendency to slow down when he is thinking about the question in front of him or if he needs to sort out his feet, so he would fade a bit in front of both gymnastics.  I heard David in my head upon approach saying, "go forward now!" but still could not get enough impulsion through the first line.  Becky recognized the effort and reminded me which piece I was missing:  since the line is built for a forward, powerful canter, build that in front of it by not just applying more leg, but keeping him balanced in front with your core so his rhythm does not get faster, but that power keeps building beneath the saddle.  Aha, got it! 

So now I just need to build cavaletti when I get home.  Oh, and a place to put them.  Next up for us:  XC!
 

March 13, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 2: Dressage-ish

What have you done in the last 10 years?
Mind blown.

Also, you might as well start calling me Wrong Turn Reba; all these tiny SC roads around Encore's hotel look the same and as I'm driving along, lost in thought about all I saw in one day, apparently I decide to just randomly turn down one.  It doesn't help that you have to go by SR numbers...which are tiny on dark brown signs.  I think Encore is getting dizzy.

But you wanted to hear about horsey things.  As everyone else here seems to think this is a normal, day-to-day activity, I am the solitary creeper, following Becky around like a stray dog gathering scraps.  I should have brought all black clothing so I would be a ninja and no one would see me.  But she hasn't run me off with the longe whip yet.  I think Scrappy is rooting for me, I keep his ears well-scratched!

After finishing some work duties (it sucks being an adult sometimes -- an ancient old lady by comparison to the rest of the girls in the house, ha!), I spent the late morning filling the wide open creeper niche, stalking and watching.

One owner brought her gorgeous bay mare (when I asked Becky what type of horse she was, I was told "Eh, some warmblood thing or another"), who would throw enormous rearing mare tantrums when asked to connect, reportedly.  Becky got on and immediately began engaging her hind end at the walk, keeping her moving sideways, crossing her hind legs beneath her and pushing her neck forward and down.  Exaggerated turns on the forehand led to big leg yields, constantly pushing the inside leg over into the outside rein.  Yeah yeah yeah, I need to do that, I thought.  She did similar work in a stunning trot, which fancy mare tried to evade...by using passage.  Encore tries that evasion too, it's so annoying.  I mean, doesn't yours?  A similar evasion presented in the canter, where the horse would just bounce up and down in a teeny four-beat canter to avoid moving forward into the contact with the outside rein.  But no one beats Becky, so she was soon rocking along, being a very impressive little workhorse.

The staple diet of the horsewoman.  Creeping takes energy!
Next was a long-lining session with a younger gelding, a big, strong-looking WB/TB ("some warmblood thing crossed with a TB" -- there seems to be a trend in broad categories, much to my amusement) who was quite the tryer and had just come back from SoPines I at Novice.  Now I have long-lined Solo, but never like this.  I drew a picture of the line setup to try as soon as I get home -- it was certainly much more effective than mine!  In short, the inside line ran from high on the ribcage, through the bit, and back to the top ring on the surcingle.  A side rein was connected on the outside to block his outside shoulder and teach him to accept the outside rein.  With his brain whirling a mile a minute, he put the pieces together and then Becky showed his young owner how to work the lines (Becky used an outside long-line but simplified it with the side rein for owner). 

I already had to run back to the house to write things down and then a quick calculation showed I still had time to watch a few lessons before I had to go fetch Encore.  Students were working on some fun (ok, probably fun for me to watch, less fun for them to ride) canter/counter-canter/10-m circle diagrams for the Prelim dressage test.  I confess I was happy to see the rider before me was a woman on a (mohawked!) stocky bay appropriately named Sofa who was working on outside rein connection and stretching over the topline -- woohoo, my level!

Has anyone picked up today's theme yet?

This afternoon, 5:00 pm was not beer-thirty, instead it was go-time.  I'd warmed up Encore on top of the hill and thought I had him fairly supple and ready.  I was instructed to put Encore through his paces quickly, at which point he did his best prancy, carriage-horse trot on the side of the hill.



The Becky Assessment:  He has a huge step behind and comes very far up under himself, really using his hind end and back, but then it gets to the front and nothing is going on there.  Correct again.  I will never cease to be amazed at people like she and David and Jimmy who can assess everything in five minutes and one sentence!  Actually, I think she got Solo in about three minutes.

Exercise 1:  Execute turns on the forehand (oh, I knew I needed more of those!) at the walk.
Key points:  Don't worry about keeping the front feet immobile.  Focus on the hind legs crossing over beneath him.  Keep the outside hand in a steady contact with the pinky almost touching the saddle.  The inside hand is an OPENING REIN ONLY, no direct rein, no pulling back with it, EVER (this was very difficult for me, I was scolded many times).  Then push ribcage over into the solid outside rein, softening when he crosses over and gives in the bridle.  Every time he gives, it's "money in the bank," each step a training investment in your future performance.

Exercise 2:  Turn these into half circles at the walk and trot.
Key points:  Ride them the same way.  Don't move that outside hand.  STOP PULLING HIS HEAD AROUND WITH THE INSIDE REIN (this is where I have been going wrong!); simply use your inside leg on his ribcage, keep asking, and wait for him to find the right answer.

Exercise 3:  Graduate to full circles at the trot and canter.
Key points.  Ride them the same way, hahahaha.  Outside hand, STAY!  Opening rein, NO PULL.  Be patient and let him find the right place to be.  At the canter, you can make the circle smaller by pushing him in with the outside leg and feel him shift up and over under you.  Try not to pass out and fall off in front of Becky. 



Encore tried very very hard and was excellent; he had "read the book" but his rider had missed some important parts!  Her explanation of HOW to establish the outside rein first, then apply inside leg, then open inside rein was the one that finally made breakthrough sense to me and my little lightbulb nearly blinded me.  But after years of hearing that to supple the jaw, we must "give and take" or "vibrate the rein," it was extremely hard for me to just open that rein as a guide and then do nothing with it.

As the hamster wheel in my head spun like mad on the way back to Chateau So8ths, I realized that the circle exercise was the same as the one David has us do and the aid requests are the same.  Becky just nitpicked the details of my aids in a new way that allowed me to finally bridge the two.  Which is why clinics are valuable -- a fresh pair of eyes and a different vocabulary works as a complement to the trainers that know you well, giving your overthinking brain a new angle to gnaw on, because in this game, sometimes you have to throw a lot of noodles at the wall before one sticks!  

So, a month's worth of homework from my 30 minutes on Day 1.  This afternoon, we are to show up for cavaletti and gymnastic work after lunch and I will NOT forget my protein bar today (idiot) and I will NOT throw myself up my horse's neck/hold my breath/clench the reins/all the other things I do when I am out of practice and get nervous.

For now...I have some important creeping to do:  Comet gets schooled at 11:15!


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. 

December 27, 2012

In Which I Once Again Prove That I Am Daft

I've been working with Amber and Solo, teaching her how to dig out his trot from beneath the turtle shuffle veneer.  In the process, I have her with very little contact, just riding his butt forward.  And we all know that if you ride the hind end forward correctly, the back and withers lift, the neck becomes soft and round, and the horse reaches into the bit, right?  Which is exactly what I watched my horse do today.

Aww, I miss Muscle Solo
Which is exactly what I've been trying to get Encore to do.  I even said it out loud to Amber:  "Well, damn, looks like I can teach it, but I can't ride it..."  I spoke half in jest, but....

When we were finished, I got on Encore.  Thoughtfully.  I've watched David ride him.  I've watched Foy ride him (see Micklem review post below).  What did they have in common?  Both rode from the seat and leg with a longish, very soft rein.

I know it in my head.  I know it in my body.  I got another rider to do it on my own horse while I was on the ground.  I even get it with Encore, but can't keep it consistent.  But it didn't all mesh together and I wasn't riding it.

Idiot!

I was riding Encore into contact, but I began to wonder if it was too heavy.  Was I using too much rein?  I often feel as if I am in his face more than I would like.  I am not heavy-handed and I have become consistent and following with my hand, but I still feel like I am doing to much in the bridle.  David had said, both after riding him and watching him in our lessons, "The key to this horse is going to be a very light hand."

So even though our footing resembled a cranberry bog after yesterday's rain, I gathered up my reins and asked for a trot.  I rode almost entirely off my lower body, my contact barely there, just at the level of okay, I can lightly feel you but I shall remain passive and just give you the space where you should be.

Yes, yes, we know how this ends -- SURPRISE!  It clicked into place, even in the ten minutes of squishing around that we squeezed in.  When you ride correctly and thoughtfully, you get correct results.  It is slower in the beginning than pushing them into the shape that you want, but -- I know, ever more surprise *insert dry sarcasm here* -- you lose the tension in the horse's body.

Oh, we are SO getting that left lead back!
It's hardly epiphany -- if you've ridden for any length of time, you hear "ride back to front, don't worry about the head, ride the hind legs and the front will take care of itself."  Basic equestrian gospel.  Yet so counter-intuitive to let go and trust the process.  To REALLY let go and do it right.  We think we are doing it (or at least, I thought so) but then something causes me to make a tiny shift in my approach and I realize what I WASN'T doing.

It seems too obvious to even write about.  But one of the biggest challenges of being the (financially challenged) adult amateur who cannot do consistent lessons is that your training is a slow process of trial-and-error.  That starts over when you have an entirely different type of horse.  Encore is able to physically give so much more than Solo could, that to get more, I need to do less.   

From the Master of the Obvious, you're welcome.

November 21, 2012

The Wheat From The Chaff: Separate It Does

This story is a little overdue, but no less worth telling.  Because it is a perfect illustration of the line of horsemanship those of us one side of it know perfectly and those on the other side are convinced does not exist.

Last weekend, Amber came out to practice her bending and I wanted to get her in a basic two point and cantering before I was laid up (ah, back when The Plan was still alive).  As we warmed up, she was doing worlds better with her bending (as in, Solo was bending!) in serpentines and circles (ok, I still tied her hand together) and making serious progress relaxing her upper body and guiding Solo with her eye.  We worked on trying to get a more forward trot and I even saw a couple steps approaching a trot that was awake -- not bad for three rides! 

So, let's do a couple of canter circles and we'll be done,  k?

No problem.  And she'd been great cantering on the longe, very well balanced and smooth.

I stressed that it was important to sit up, keep your leg wrapped around him, and to keep your spurs off of him when he was cantering and just keep a light seat, he might get excited.

She picked up her canter at A with a fairly prompt transition and made a nice corner tracking left.  Going down that long side is a bit of a down slope, so I saw Solo fall on his forehand a bit and cheat his way through by just going a little faster.  Before I knew it, he made a motorcycle turn across the arena and I yelled, "Half halt!"

He was pointed almost straight at the arena rope now and I saw the conflict on his face.  Never jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's pointing me at a thing and digging in her spurs and saying go!  NEVER jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's telling me to go faster!  NEVER JUMP OUT OF THE DRESSAGE ARENA!  OMG!!!

Fortunately for the long run, Solo made the correct decision and politely said, no ma'am, you have requested the wrong thing, and slid to a stop with his ankles against the rope.  Amber, less fortunately, had lost her leg behind her and tipped forward and did the MOST superlative Superman impression out to the side that I think I have ever seen.  We're talking full-body, stretched out, completely level airtime here.

R U OKZ?
She hit the ground on her butt, rolling (yesss, someone who knows how to roll!) and Solo sidled two steps over to me with worried eyes, saying I'm sorry, mom, but she was wrong.  I yelled to Amber not to move, patted Solo and told him it was ok, he did the best he could.

I knew Amber had a pre-existing back sprain, so I didn't want her to get up (I never let people get up anyway), to just take a minute and breathe.  She popped up a little soon, but insisted she was ok and climbed back on the horse to walk it out.  I had her walk around, stretch everything out, breathe and chat, and just relax.

This, this is where the line starts.  After calmly assessing she was unhurt aside from some road rash and bruising, she climbed right back up and said, "Let's do this because I don't want it to be a thing."

Right on.

I re-emphasized the spurs; "Now we know why we don't dig them in, yes?  Do you feel like you know where they are right now and that you can control them?"  Because Solo is nearly impossible to ride without a spur and he knows it.  She thought she was good, so I said, ok, let's try this again.

I always cantered Solo perfectly.  Ha!
We did the right lead, his easier one.  It was perfectly uneventful and had some nice strides on the short end.  When he got unbalanced, I had her take a tug and then release to rebalance in a crude sort of half halt, but she was able to keep Solo from slithering down the hill. Yeah!  So we changed direction and hit the left lead again, although I had her stay on a 20 m circle at one end this time.

Solo picked up his canter and after the first few strides, I saw Amber get a bit wobbly from nerves.  Solo shifted a bit and tried to keep his balance under hers as they turned towards me.  I love my horse.  But as they turned in the arena corner, she tipped forwards and lost it again and rolled over his shoulder, albeit much less dramatically this time.

I will say now that I HATE when people fall off when I am teaching.  I know it is part of the process, but standing in the middle of the ring, I am responsible for everything that happens there.  It's why I've been keeping our work mostly in the small grass dressage arena from which I've removed all the rocks and know every inch of the footing.  Much nicer than the bigger arena down below where you land on rocks and a very hard base....  

But Amber hopped up immediately this time (I'm going to have to work on that!) and came back over and climbed up again.

That's the line, right there.  Many people walk away after the first fall.  Most of the rest are gone after the second.  Especially within 15 minutes of the first.  Given of course, that no injuries in need of medical care occur.  One must, of course, take of those first!  

Well, I'll be.  She's the real deal.  She's someone who knows that Rome wasn't built in a day and it is definitely not a painless process.  Colour me impressed.

The second fall really gets your adrenaline going though, so I made sure she spent lots of time wandering around, relaxed, doing breathing exercises, talking about other things.  Oh yeah, and I took the spurs off.  I felt confident that Solo was awake at this point. 

I said, "I'd really like you to canter a left lead circle one time before you leave, so that this is resolved.  However, if you are not feeling comfortable, that is absolutely fine and we can pick it up next time and I have no problem with that."

Her reply, "No way, I don't want this to be a thing and I want to DO it."

RIGHT ON.

So she picked up her trot, settled her shoulders back, asked for the canter and I yelled "Relax your leg and sit up!"

And she did it.  Then we dropped back to trot, did a bit of stretching for Solo's back, stuck a fork in it, and called it done.

I hope that Amber went home feeling very accomplished (well, after she got the dirt out of her pants), because it was indeed a big thing.  It takes courage, dedication, and a heck of a lot of try if you really want to ride and she displayed every one in spades.  I would have been ok if she had just wanted to fall off once, but I guess she had something to prove... 

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!!

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...



Ca-anter!



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.



Fixed.

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.

So...hard...
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....