Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 4: Cross Country

Karen began the day asking riders to show off their galloping positions…and then she asked them to change gaits, do shoulder in, haunches in, etc. while still in galloping position. “you should be able to do anything in this position!” Riders had to lower their heads below their butts without moving their legs. “Feel those quads burn!”

Riders needed to make sure they kept plenty of spring in their elbows. Common problems were posting at the canter, not having elastic elbows, not keeping the butt up in the air, hands too high, hands not close enough. One rider was told her stirrups were too small—there should be ample space on both sides of the boot.

Karen and David call the place on the withers where the hands go “home plate”.

To go faster, don’t lean forward; use your arms.

Don’t just survive XC. Be balanced. Teach the horse to trust you.

In my session, Karen told me “open your sail! It’s big enough!” OUCH. But I DO need to remember that my upper body weight affects my horse. Just like William Fox Pitt had to learn to balance his height, I need to learn to balance my weight.

I’m still having trouble with the whole preparation period. I don’t do it enough, or I do it too much. I think I’ve learned to ride to the fence, and I ASK for the short or long spot RIGHT BEFORE the fence. Karen wants me to fix the chip in the turn—that is, get a great rhythm, then ride the rhythm. I THINK that’s what Jimmy Wofford is talking about…but I guess I don’t have the right rhythm. Again, I seem to be too strong or too soft. After what happened at Road Runner, I’d rather be too strong! But that’s not the answer. It’s about balance, and I think I feel it from time to time (like I feel things transiently in dressage). I just need to learn to extend these feelings and control them.

We worked on banks, and I need to make sure that I’m a lot more aware of what I’m asking my horse to do. I worry too much about the balance, and I forget direction. ARRGGGHHH! When I lighten up and let go, it goes sooooo much better.

We moved on to ditches, and we did both the smaller and larger ditches…no problem.

We went through the small water, over a ditch to a rail, and it was good, too—I need to remember to get off his back for BOTH take off and landing on banks.

We got to do an advanced set of steps, both up and down. Even though we were trotting down, I had to remember to engage him on the second step. We needed more “umph” going up, but we got it.

We got to cross into the other field to do the half coffin, and Heidi suggested we jump over the weldon’s wall to get there. Gulp.

But we did it just fine. Perhaps too much speed the first time, but the second time I had him up and it was great. I blurted out that I was terrified of those because we’d flipped over one, and Karen barked “then do it again!” We did it really well, and I think we “own” at least THAT weldon’s wall now. I wish Karen were coming to Greenwood…!

We ended up by doing the Training water, but then by adding a bounce between the barrels and the log. Then one rider asked to learn to use the bank to go out of/in to water…so we did. Once again, I was worried about balance rather than direction, but once we got that figured out, it went well.

I had a harder time this clinic, but I think it was because more was expected of me. I need to expect more at home, and bring it with me to competitions.

Thanks to Tracy and Bobby Hewlett for bringing Karen and David in. And thanks to all of the wonderful folks I met—eventers really are the best folks in the world! Thanks especially to Karen for kicking my butt and making me rise to the occasion (even though I couldn’t do it w/out “drama”. I’m working on that). Here’s to expecting more, being safer, and having fun with the best horse in the world!

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Here's a big thanks to all those who've helped us be safe, free, and able to pursue our happiness. Thanks, dad.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lunch Talk: On the Way to XC!

Lunch Talk Day 3
Karen and David made sure we knew that XC was the part of our sport that we practice the least, but the one that had the most profound consequences if we made a mistake. We needed to make sure we could apply what we’ve learned the last few days.

Just as Stadium is won or lost between the fences, so, too, is Cross Country made safe—or not—between fences. There are three parts of a XC course:

1. Galloping from jump to jump
2. Setting up/getting ready for a jump
3. Jumping

All of these things are amplified by speed, terrain, type of jump, and so forth.

Just as there are three parts of XC, so, too, there are three positions we need to know, to practice, and to MASTER:

1. Galloping/Cruising position
2. Preparation/Balancing position
3. Jump or “C” position

David noted that we’re working hard out there, but it should FEEL effortless. And while the rider’s body seems still (I’m thinking of Peter Atkinson’s helmet cam now!), the rider’s body is constantly changing with the terrain.

Make sure that in XC galloping position the seat is OUT of the saddle! Karen admonished several riders not to “post the canter”. Keep that rear end UP!

The rider’s foot is further in the stirrup than it is in stadium. Not on the arch, but right behind the ball. Also—they both made sure that we weren’t so far down in our heels. Interesting.

There are three points of contact in XC:

1. The feet in the stirrups
2. The knee area (some below—depends on horse and rider conformation)
3. The hands on the neck

Karen wants us to use a simple bridge, and our knuckles leaning on the horse’s neck right in front of the withers, pushing where our rings would be.

David made sure we knew that our job was to be in the middle of the horse at all times. Jimmy Wofford talks about how if the horse was removed, we’d still be standing. David demonstrated with a couple rulers.

We get closer to the horse to gallop, and we open our position, standing in the stirrups, “opening the sail” to balance. (as Karen says, “the hip goes higher than the turbulence, where the air is smooth”) We need to feel engagement, and work on helping the horse to know that opening the sail means balance. Then, before the jump, we lower our seat, choose a spot, and ride to it. The slower we go, the closer we are to the horse.

Every jump is different, and it’s up to the rider to feel how much the jump is holding the balance, and how much the rider needs to. I’m reminded of a Leslie Law clinic where he talked about an imposing trakehner having “a built in half-halt”.

We need to make sure we’re landing on a slightly longer rein, and that we land on our feet to absorb the concussion.

Our speed is determined by several things:

• How vertical the fence is (more vertical = slower, more collected)
• How the fence face is shaped (slanted face = more speed)
• What is behind the fence (water? Drop? Another fence?)
• The width of the face
• The terrain (up or down a hill?)

David had us stand up, then get our head closer to our feet. “How did you do it?” he asked. We didn’t do it by putting our feet back—but by sticking our butts out. That’s how we have to do it in XC when we’re trying for the “C” position over fences…..keep the leg still, but move the butt up and back so we are in balance before, during, and over the fence.

My job is to make it easy for the horse to jump.

Some things they prefer: knot the reins. Where boots. Where a breast plate. Karen loops a rubber band over the whip and has it on her finger.

We need to be all the horse being safe (once again, it’s not about US…it’s about THEM).

Decide what you want to do. Make a plan. Then do it. We are limited only by our imaginations.

Day 3: Stadium Course

Both Karen and David set up a thoughtful, technical course to challenge the riders on the second day of stadium jumping. Both courses had odd distances, bending lines, and lots of rollbacks.

Karen’s first question to the participants: How does the specific technicality of the course affect your warm up?

The “flavor” of this course was adjustability, so the warm up should reflect that: Lots of going forward, coming back. Karen says when she warms up, she’ll begin with the walk, making sure it’s adjustable, doing lateral work, making sure the horse is on the outside rein, etc. THEN she’ll move on to other gaits.

In Karen’s course, the riders had to come to the first jump in a collected canter so the jump will be soft, get close on take off, then do a quarter pirouette to a long five/short six stride combination. Riders needed to be able to get the turn without losing energy so they could get a good, rhythmical canter for the line.

Her next advice is what I need to tattoo on my brain: “You can’t get self-absorbed in what’ve you just done. You MUST be thinking ahead.”

Why is it SO HARD for me to do that?

After the related distance line, jump four was a little skinny demanding almost a three quarter pirouette about six strides from the third jump. The riders needed to know that they should begin the turn at least by the second stride…then a roll back left to a bending line of three jumps (a fan jump, an imposing vertical with dressage letters underneath, to a triple bar). The striding was a strong three to four stride, and participants were instructed to “attack” the triple bar.

After that line, we were to send our horses strongly around the first jump to a triple combination of one stride to three stride Liverpool with the “water” part BEHIND the jump, not under it. The final line was another triple combination, a three or four stride to a one stride.

She encouraged participants to think about how they would ride the course: where will you enter? Salute? Karen noted that if she had a “spooky” horse, she’d do a shoulder-in past the dressage letter jump and Liverpool, then gallop down the long line, collecting before the turn so she’d have a nice line to the jump.

“Jumping a course is NOT a survival game. You MUST have a plan!”

She suggested to the participants that we see the course as a series of exercises grouped together. USE our corners as “decompression” places to balance the horse and prepare for the next series of exercises.

One of the riders asked about sitting in the corners, and Karen noted that riders often snuggled in as they slowed/balanced. But don’t “sit” to the point where you flatten the horse.

She likened the rider’s position to plane: You can’t keep a plane in the air at 30,000 feet if you’re not going fast enough—so you are in two point while you are “going”, and you come closer to the horse as you collect.

She made sure that the advanced group was very, very detailed. Depending on the ground and what kind of shoes she has one, Karen will check her “stride” step with a 12’ pole. Then she’ll very carefully walk her strides several times.

As one rider went onto the course, she said “you’re nervous about getting it right, but intimidated by all that’s around you!” WOW. That pretty much sums up how I’m feeling! So how do we get over that?!

Karen tried to get riders to pick their horses up (and it might be heavy), then make them “light in the bridle”. I don’t think I’m getting that; I think I’m fighting too much. I need to learn “feel”…which means being elastic (not dropping, but not too much).

To one rider: “He doesn’t care if it’s four feet or two feet—if you drop him, he’s upset and he won’t do it!”

Once the advanced riders analyzed their first course, Karen gave them a second chance to do it again. “Ride smarter!” Karen advised. More rhythmical, too.

To another rider having trouble on the course: “What’s the big deal? Why are you hyperventilating? You’re not having a baby!”

One young woman was having trouble with her very FORWARD horse taking back too much. Karen suggested “when you add an aid, let go of one. That way he won’t be overloaded.” It really helped. “You can’t push and pull at the same time; you do so at the cost of rhythm.”

When riders (including me) chipped at a fence, she said “get the three stride in the corner! Fix the striding before you get there!”

A rider with an “electric position” was told to let her arms follow, but NOT her shoulders.

“GET ORGANIZED!” This pair of words was uttered quite a bit, and it made me wonder: how does personality type affect riding? I wonder if there are any ENFP eventers, and what they do to BE successful given their outward focus, their tendency toward theory, and so forth.

When a rider had a refusal and was tentative toward the next fence, Karen shouted “forget that happened!”

“You’ve got to be cool in your head so you can see where to kick and where to pull!”

I asked Karen how often we should we be schooling this size/level of technicality. She said “you can school technical stuff any time—even over poles. You should school big, but only under supervision.”

“Most riders can jump big, or jump technical—but if you put them together, it gets challenging.”

When a pony when first in the after lunch group, Karen told the rider “you’re dealt with a bad situation: the adults are too lazy to change the distances for you. You need to figure it out.” And the rider/pony did! Karen then asked “what does it tell you that the pony got a four to a five in that line?” One of the riders responded “Pray!”

I was really able to see how the rider’s body affected the horse/the ride by watching all the groups go. I saw picking at the reins (which I tend to do) vs. holding, and the latter almost always resulted in a smoother ride.

In my own session with Karen, I had a rough time—I misunderstood what she was asking for several times (when she yelled “Gallop!” I tried to do it—but she meant in the context of the line for the jump). It was a rough session, but ultimately, we had a good course….after several “false starts”. What I learned is that I can “get by” pretty easily: that is, my horse can save himself when I get him in badly, or in a lesser balance—but I need to step up to the plate and learn balance and rhythm (and how to control both) MUCH more.

More Karen Gems:

Jumping is NOT seeing what you can get away with.
“yes ma’am” doesn’t take me anywhere.
Your horse is saying “why’d *I* get stuck with the dope on the rope?!
Never put your body where you want your horse to go.
As soon as you get a reaction, ease up!
Land faster than you took off.
Try to do what I'm saying! I'm an expert!
Shorten his neck! He looks like he ate a telephone for breakfast! Make him look like he ate a slinky!

DOC and KOC Clinic, Day 2: Grid and Stadium Exercises

Pre day (and pre-coffee!) thoughts: Before Karen and David called it quits last night, they set up poles in the arena. I know we’ll be working on getting our horses to go forward and come back, and I hope that Paddy and I are up to the challenge. Last year, we’d only been together about three months, and we weren’t so hot. We’re better this time, but still not to where Paycheck and I were. Still, it will be a good challenge for us…and for me especially, since I NEED to learn to ask him to be better on a regular basis.

Let the faint of heart beware! Karen and David O’Connor mean BUSINESS.

And that’s one of the many reasons why they are such a popular, effective training team.

But OUCH….!

The day was all about adjustability, and the morning began with the prelim group. Perhaps because this was the most advanced group, Karen was the hardest on them. I’m impressed that every one of them rose to the occasion.

She started by asking the riders to warm up, then to all together lengthen down the long side, and drop stirrups on the short side getting into a dressage canter, then picking them up again to lengthen down the long side. She insisted on a BIG change, yelling “is that your dressage canter? I want MORE” to several riders. When one young woman didn’t have much of an adjustment, Karen called her over to ask if the rider was “blowing her off”. “You’re paying a lot of money to be here—why aren’t you doing what I say?” The rider was respectful and made a much bigger effort—and was rewarded with a MUCH bigger difference.

Our group had to do the same exercise, and I had real trouble getting my stirrups back, especially on my left side. I ended up having to do it on my own for a couple laps….sigh. I need to practice this at home!

Event horses, Karen explained, are often eager. Many of the exercises they’ll be doing are designed to help teach them to hold off the jump. The first exercise consisted of two boxes set about 21 feet apart—a good solid one stride. The riders all took it as a one stride, then they had to fit two strides into it. “It’s a stupid pet trick!” Karen shouted to riders who were having trouble.

The riders needed to be able to shorten without just “pulling on the horse’s mouth!” Echoing yesterday’s rides, the riders were to use their seats and hands, pulling up the reins so that they were lighter in the reins.

“Get on a line” Karen said. “Those two boxes just happen to be there! One rider who was having trouble fitting the two stride in was asked to halt in between the boxes. She was finally able to do so, then backed up. “I didn’t say halt and reinback! But that’s self carriage! If he can do that, he can shorten!”

To another rider she said “if you can’t halt between the boxes, you’re out of control! I’m trying to save your life here!” Her main focus was to teach these riders to be able to adjust at a moment’s notice should the situation call for it…which might save their lives when they’re faced with larger jumps.

“Ask for halt…then change your mind! Karen said over and over.

Karen knew what she wanted, and she wanted the riders to oblige.

Paddy and I were able to do this exercise, but even when I felt he was collected, Karen demanded MORE. It was frustrating, but I found “gears” I didn’t realize he had….what an amazing horse!

To another rider: Too much concession! If you can’t do a two stride in a one stride, you are dangerous at Training level!

I think that’s true…but I fear a lot of riders at Training level would have trouble.

One rider’s horse was acting up, to which Karen shouted “If your horse is disrespectful, get mad! Then DO something about it!”

Several horses broke to the trot when their riders tried to make them collect. Karen encouraged them to recognize the moment when the horse comes together, then let go to lighter contact. I need to remember that/feel that.

The next exercise was a ground pole to a vertical to a ground pole. The goal was for the rider to concentrate on the first ground pole, finding a distance to it, then riding the rest in rhythm. The upper level riders seemed to “get” the exercise, but I had difficulty with it. Somehow, I couldn’t divorce the vertical from the rail on the ground, and the harder I tried, the more unbalanced I got. Karen finally yelled at me to stop counting, which flustered me even more. In later rides, she pointed out that the horse who came in balanced and in a good rhythm had no problem—I think I would’ve had more success had I understood that. Nonetheless, it’s an exercise I will set up at home!

Next we had to do a five fence one-stride grid. We had to go in balanced, then re-balance throughout. “I want to see you/hear you!” Karen yelled. She had one rider stand up in her stirrups the long side before the grid to get a feel for the grid, because “standing up means you have control of your upper body, and control of your upper body means clear stadium rounds.” Another lesson to remember. I need to get back to doing more gridwork!

Several riders (myself included!) were admonished not to “chase” their horses. After yesterday, when several riders were told to exaggerate the hand movements, I found that odd, but I realize she’s putting tools in our tool belt, and we’re expected to finesse our use of them. For me, that means being still, being quiet, and NO DRAMA. Boy, if I can master that, I’ll have come a long, long way.

“Don’t change the ride!”

At one point, Karen said “we’re about making horses and riders believe what’s possible”. Given what I saw in terms of horses REALLY coming back, etc., I tend to agree. I guess it’s hard to imagine. It’s even harder to DO. But it can be done!

To one rider Karen asked “Was that the right speed?”
“It was a little bit too fast”
“Then a little bit slow down!”
When riders reacted to this, Karen said “don’t mess with me!” and turning to the rider next to her, said “Having fun riding with an Olympian? Hot stuff, right?” I love that she can literally bark out orders, yell at riders, then poke fun at herself all within the scope of a minute!

After a rider successfully navigated the next series of jumps (short two stride to an oxer, long four to another), she told the rider to do it again. “You don’t own it unless you can do it over and over!”

All the riders did a corner to a skinny, and then she put a course together including ALL the exercises…which meant we needed to ADJUST a lot.

One group with a couple very exuberant horses came in, and Karen lamented that “the next exercise will be like marbles spilling on a floor!” She kiddingly asked a rider to move so “I can see [the rider on course] get bucked off”…..! Luckily, no riders got bucked off, and EVERYONE was able to navigate the exercises successfully!

To a rider (who recently had a baby): “Organize! Organize your life! Did you remember diapers this weekend? “ (rider responds: “who, me?”) Karen: Yeah, YOU’re the one sh**ing yourself!”

Great Karen line: “It’s a matter of keeping all the balls in the air.”

“Be effective! Make a difference!” (but I need to remember: QUIETLY. NO DRAMA)

One of the best lines from the weekend: your horse is your teacher. Listen to him!

One rider who was a bit timid (“milk toast”) was told: The great with horses is that is you are milk toast at home, you can be anything on a horse. Be an actor! Be a hard a**! Be Karen O’Connor!” The rider went quite well for a long while after that. I need to remember to try to “be” someone I respect.

TO a rider who couldn’t get her horse to “step it up” and get a good canter going: “If you’re not loud enough with your aids, it puts the horse in peril! Doing “not enough” is one of the most unkind things you can do to your horse”. That’s another one I need to think about.
Karen and David fielded questions at the lunch talk. Questions about changing leads more effectively were addressed (need to make sure haunches are in before asking). David reminded us that the reins controlled the horse’s shoulder, and the seat/legs the hind in. He had us stand up, then gave us several scenarios (leg yield, shoulder in, half pass, etc.), and had us move our bodies/reins where they should be to best assist the horse. It was a great learning aid (for instance, shoulder in and leg yield are very similar—but one is four track, one three track—so for shoulder in, the hips stay straight, while the shoulders/arms bend in to the inside of the ring, while both are tilted in leg yield).

I asked about dressage riders who seems to be leaning back to make their horses extend, and Karen noted that the “big dogs” (my term) often did it (I even saw folks at Rolex do it). Karen noted that it was a good question, but it had to do with engagement. The more engaged the horse is, the more you can be upright to push. The horses who are VERY underneath themselves might make a rider look like he/she was leaning back…but typically, even then it’s better not to lean back.

At training level, the horse’s engagement is such that ANY backward leaning is a “drag”. So when a rider posts with hips very forward AND shoulders go back, it makes the horse think the rider is sending mixed signals.

I asked about doing better about prepping at home, and Karen said “if you didn’t bring it with you to the competition, you won’t find it there”. In other words, the groundwork MUST be done at home. That means that we need to expect more: read the directives in the dressage test. Videotape yourself and critique it. And so forth.

“Too many people exercise their horses without expanding their knowledge” Karen said. I need to think about that. How can I expand Paddy’s knowledge on our daily workouts??

David said there were five levels of learning:

1. Technique
2. Theory
3. Instinct
4. Intuition
5. Imagination

Most riders, David asserted, get through the first three. Even up to Intermediate. Intuition and imagination are the prowess of the top level riders.

The problem is, most people go straight to instinct: muscle memory is the best metaphor I could come up with. They don’t finesse technique, nor do they do enough with theory. We need more of the first two.

Someone asked Karen and David what was hardest for them to master. For Karen, it was elastic arms. “It took me ten years, and a lot of ruined mouths” Karen stated frankly.

David was a bit more coy at first: “How to speak up!” Eventually, he admitted that balance was hardest for him. Karen is short, strong, with legs relatively long for her body. “She’s balanced naturally” David said. “She can pick up skateboarding, skiing, surfing, etc. and do it really well very quickly….but I can’t. I have to really work at being balanced.” David does have a “gift” he was born with, however: he’s very flexible, even double jointed in several places. He has pins in both elbows, but he’s still got full flexibility.

Nice to know that these Olympians have difficulties in certain areas…and nice to know that hard work can overcome difficulties.

KOC and DOC Clinic: Day 1, Dressage!

Jennifer, I thought of you as I started the day on the floor of my trailer stretching my hips! I think it really helped me last time, and I needed all the help I could get, since I didn’t sleep well: it stormed last night, and I kept walking up thinking “are the horses ok? Is the trailer going to blow over? “ etc.

After feeding, stretching, and eating/hydrating, I stopped to consider what my goals were for my dressage lesson. I need to remember “more leg than hands”. I need to be more aware my aids, so that I can ask, but not nag. I need better, more well placed, more effective half-halts. And I need to work on lengthening, esp. at the trot.

I was in a lesson with a young woman I remember from last year, Olivia, who was working on some of the same things I was, so we had a good, productive lesson. I learned as much from watching her as I did from riding.

Karen started each lesson by asking the participants to “warm up as usual”. This served two purposes: it allowed the rider to begin feeling more comfortable in the ring (the horse, too!), and it gave Karen a chance to see us to determine what we might need to work on (other than what we talked to her about. I warmed up while Karen had Olivia work on getting more forward/rounder at the walk. Karen said “race at the walk”. “It’s not about his mouth” Karen said. “It’s about what he does with his back.”

Both of us were admonished to USE our hands. “Hands are a driving aid!” Karen stated. “Think about jockeys—they don’t use ANY leg. It’s ALL with their hands—what do they do? They follow, then PUSH.”

My contact isn’t contact until Paddy pushes into it. Even when I have him “in hand,” he’s often resistant or evading, and NOT using his back to come through. And we can’t do anything until he’s “round”.

“It’s like hamburger” Karen said (inventing a new metaphor on the spot). You can’t smash it until you make a ball, until it’s round. If you do, it gets cracks and goes everywhere.

BUT if you make a nice ball, you can carefully smash it into a beautiful, round patty. That’s what we need when we lengthen.

(can I just say I LOVE people who can teach using metaphors?!)

I need to become MORE consistent/demanding about the outside rein. Paddy wants to throw his shoulder out, and if I can be constant (but not overbearing—elastic) with the outside rein, he’s MUCH better. When we got a few steps of round, it suddenly became much easier—he was lighter, and we were shorter but bouncier.

Karen explained that we push INTO the contact, raise our hand to see if the horse becomes “light”, then re-establish the contact. This procedure, in addition to the various seat/body aids, helps balance the horse on his back end…and that’s part of our job, part of the “rider’s responsibilities” that make us better, safer riders.

We need to insist on contact in the walk. When a horse was looking at something outside the ring, Karen said “take his vision from him with your hands!” Nice image, and it worked!

“Where does the bit have contact with the horse?” Karen asked. The bars of the mouth, the tongue, and the corners of the mouth. It’s the latter that we need to be most concerned with. Karen said someone explained it to her this way: contact with the corners of the mouth is like a postage stamp: it’s there, and it’s never going anywhere w/o it.

We did a lot of trot circles, making sure that the trot was “good”…that the horse was on the bit, that he was in a good balance…because without that, the lengthen can’t happen. We prepare for the lengthen in the corner, where we make sure the horse is under us. We turn like we’re turning a boat, with both reins (and our body); then we need to be STRAIGHT. The long jumper can’t jump out of a turn—he needs the long, straight run. Same thing for lengthenings. Once we’re straight, follow with our hands INTO THE CONTACT and push. I was losing my impulsion at X, so Karen told me to push like I was going to go outside the arena…then right before the letter, say to him “ooops, I changed my mind!” then almost stop….and then say “ooops, I changed my mind again—we’re going forward”. Otherwise, I anticipate, and guess what? He does, too!

EVERYTHING in riding has preparation. We prepare for the long side in the short side. We prepare for the corner with more engagement. And so forth.

All horses have a tendency to drop contact, esp. in the walk…..when Mandiba would drop contact, Karen would GROWL at him and be VERY aggressive with her seat and hands. Eventually, he preferred the contact, and accepted it willingly at the walk.

Several times during the day, Karen used the expression that the contact should feel like a fish at the end of a line (and not an empty bobbin!). At least five pounds in each hand!

RE: elbows as a driving aid: for more movement, have more spring in our elbows. She had several riders exaggerate “rowing” with their elbows (and seats), then stop…and the difference was profound.

Karen remarked that I had a lot of weight in my upper body (sigh. Everyone here seems to be lithe little teens!), and I had to make sure it didn’t work against Paddy moving forward. Once again, she commented that my posting sent my hips forward, but not my shoulders….I need a 45 (another time she said 60) degree bend in my hips, then go forward and up, not JUST forward. Also, when Paddy sticks his face out, I need to push him into the contact—so once again, it’s LEG, not HAND. (Hand is steady here). When I don’t lean forward, the horse gets a negative drive. The body, then, largely determines how “forward” the horse will be. WHY, then, do I see so many dressage riders almost leaning back to go forward? I need to remember to ask her about that.

Big horses often need “convincing” to be light in our hands…at first, they are heavy in our hands…then, we push hands up the crest for a second. If he lightens, go with that (with re-connection from time to time); if not, start again. So consistent strength must precede being light (but connected) in our hands.

Interesting: Horses will lower their neck in a downward transition if they are connected.

Several times Karen used the image of “closing our thighs”, making the saddle go up and down (this was during a sitting trot). I like that image, but I worry about tightening too much. I’ll have to work on that.

For medium canter, we’re following with our hands. To collect, we move our hands up the crest just a smidge and hold the hands steady while still moving our hips (only this time, more up and down).

To one rider, she talked about how moving the hips forward was a driving aid, but moving them back (and this is the muscle behind the seatbones), it’s an engaging aid. “We help the horse lift his shoulders with our saddle and our hips”.

Karen talked a lot about “finger aids”….the small “adjustments” we make while keeping our contact consistent.

We “speak” to horses with our bodies. We need to try to understand NOT what we meant, but what they “hear”/feel. We teach them to move away from pressure….so the leg yield is one of the best, basic tools that provide the base for more complex movements. We need to get good at coordinating our seat and hands so that horse is STRAIGHT, and so that horse’s gait is consistent. We push with an inside leg to a blocking outside rein—so the horse needs to move INTO it. We set the tone for other movements by the quality of our leg yields. Guess what I’m going to practice more at home?

It’s not about what we did…it’s about what the horse felt/thought we did. So when I was correcting Paddy once, she said “that was mean!” (too much spur!). It’s not that Karen thought I was mean; she was voicing what Paddy was likely to have thought. Point taken—it’s like Julia’s admonition: NO DRAMA!

I like that Karen throws in personal stories: she said when she broke her shoulder last year, she had to re-learn how to follow with her elbows so that her riding was effective. Once again, we’re reminded that riding is a perpetual process

“A half-halt is NOT pulling on the reins!” Karen said. Instead, it’s the closing of the thigh that brings the horse’s back up and engages the legs under him, pushing him into contact, in to an “unyielding hand”.

“Don’t teach your horse to ignore you!” Karen admonished to someone who was pushing with her seat but had locked elbows. The horse, receiving mixed signals, simply chose to ignore one (in this case, the “whoa” rein). “Don’t make your horse think ‘Ah, gee, why’d *I* get the dope-on-a-rope?’”

Some of the riders talked about making their horses come “through”. “’Through’ is a long process. Be happy with a few steps at first. Then expect more. But you’ll always have to come back to those steps”.

She asked several of the riders with pony tails to “make your pony tail longer in the back!”.

Some of the younger horses had “intermittent organization” and small attention spans. For them, Karen said, we need to think about what we need to pay attention to, because THEY will pay attention to what WE pay attention to. So, if a horse is tossing her head or going behind the bit, MOVE HER along, and she’ll think about her back end.

What’s the best way to engage a horse? Back up. One of the participants had a young horse who’d never backed up, and Karen spent some time working with her, asking the rider NOT to pull back on the reins, but to keep her hand “unyielding” and to slap rhythmically with her legs (from her hip). (“going forward into resistance.”) The horse can’t go forward, so she goes back and is rewarded. Once the horse figured it out, it was great to see. “Backing up is a trust issue. They can’t see where they’re going, so they have to trust you.”

We need to look where we’re going…but not TOO far ahead! Look to the middle of the long side—then GO THERE.

Several riders were admonished for too wide hands (one of the observers said “it’s a disease!”). Bobo would be proud; Karen said that our hands should be no wider than our bit.

We “whoa” by closing our thighs. So it really IS a half halt…I need to figure out what I’ve been doing. I think I tighten by butt…not sure about “closing the thighs”.

She had several riders go ten steps at driving walk, then ten steps doing nothing. Same for trot and canter. It was really impressive to “see” the difference in these riders!

“Amateur riders” Karen said, “often give too soon or too much once they get contact, thus throwing it all away.” We need to be elastic in our contact, and elasticity comes from the elbows.

For the lengthening, we’re posting “cantle to pommel”

When our elbows are back, there’s more pressure on the corners of the horse’s mouth….”it’s a heavy fish!” Ultimately, contact must be part of the horse’s mouth.

She described the difference in “real” contact and not contact as “holding a gas pump and then clicking it on”.

Some of the riders came from hunter backgrounds, and Karen expressed great admiration for them. “It’s incredibly difficult to be still, have the same pace, and to make it look easy all around a course.” Eventers could take a lesson from them in stadium. But we also need to go from on the forehand to VERY uphill in cross country, so dressage is vital for eventers. Riders who are nervous can fix the nervousness with the knowledge of (and ability to produce) better balance.

A blocking hand results in a curled neck (ala Paddy!); elastic hands allow you to help the horse put his feet underneath him. In cross country, the body should be behind the legs except in long gallops.

When a horse is walking forward, his poll comes up. Don’t let the nose lower in the turn…keep it up and elastically connected! Thigh pressure helps to keep horse “up” and collected at a slower speed. Close thigh, grab saddle, relax into saddle, all while keeping bit in the corner of the mouth. The torso goes up and down like a jack hammer.

“It’s the different between dancing, and dancing on a crowded dance floor”.

The rider’s butt isn’t curled under. It’s not force out by a sway back. It’s down and IN the saddle, behind the seat bones, moving the horse’s back.

Horses want to work, they want to have purposeful lives, says Karen. We need to help them understand what we want so that everyone is happy. Never forget that YOU are the leader. You need to be clear in your communication, and you need to be consistent. Horses speak the truth….they tell us what we told them to do!

Some gems that were too good not to write down:

“That’s not a halt! That doesn’t look like a halt even a little bit!”
“Be part of the solution, not part of the problem!”
“To get a horse to walk forward on contact, make it the path of least resistance.”
“Horses really do what we tell them!”
“Multiply the motion in the saddle to unlock the back”
“He needs more convincing…he’s a bit of a brute!”
“You’re back to fishing with a bobbin!”
“Go bigger! You’re about to FEEL it!”
“Aids have volume! Turn it up!”
“Horses reward good rides”
“Horses yield to pressure. If you give them conflicting aids, conflicting pressure…it’s a pressure cooker!”
“If you feel like a broken record, it’s called RIDING!”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Karen and David O'Connor Clinic at Holly Hill: Getting Here

Getting here
Once again, it’s a long way to anyplace from Lubbock…but Holly Hill is a particularly long drive. Thankfully, it’s almost all highway, which is nice (albeit boring), so if anything bad happens, I won’t be stranded like I was coming to Road Runner Farm a few years ago.

That said, things still happen. I planned ahead with TWO bags of coastal, one of alfalfa, knowing that Paddy will be hungry since he’s usually glued to his round bale. I guess that was a good thing!

As I was tooling down 84 just between Slatin and Snyder, I felt a big “BUMP” and heard something disturbing. “Shit!” I thought. “I just bought a new tire, and I have a blow out!” It felt like it was the trailer, so I pulled over very carefully—but as I did, I saw hay flying everywhere in the rear view mirror. The tailgate fell down, and one of the hay bags flew out, went under the wheel, and EXPLODED all over the road. I was able to back up/walk to it, and the bag was shredded, and all I could salvage was about a flake of coastal (it was LITERALLY scattered for a mile!), which I gave to Paddy.

Then, on 20 after Dallas/before Longview, something happened…road work, an accident, SOMETHING….and we sat for about 45 minutes.

So we didn’t get in until after dark (NOT our plan!), but I was able to get situated pretty quickly. Paddy is a trooper!!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Day 4: Cross Country/Putting It All Together

Karen and Cathy gave us a XC lecture the night before so that they wouldn’t have to waste time doing it for every group.

“Cross country is a continuation of what we’ve been doing: it’s all about the rider’s responsibilities, knowing how to jump different kinds of jumps, and being able to adjust your horse’s stride to be appropriate.”

The rider uses three positions in XC: the “cruising” or galloping position, the preparation or “balancing” position, and the jumping position.

In the galloping position, there are three points of contact:

  1. Your foot is further in the stirrup iron
  2. Your knees are pushed into the knee rolls
  3. Your reins are in a single bridge just above the horse’s withers.

How “scruntched” you are in your galloping position depends on how fast you’re going, if you have hills, etc.

EVERY jump needs preparation! Horses need to “load the hock” to be able to jump well.

How far from the jump do we prepare? Depends on how long it takes your horse to come back/get into balance. If it’s MORE time, start earlier! Twelve or more strides out.

Here is what we need to be doing before each jump:
  1. Let go of the bridge
  2. Raise the center of gravity by “opening the sail”
  3. Slightly raise hands—but still just above the withers
  4. IF NECESSARY, if your horse isn’t coming back, you may have to use leverage to get your horse to come back to you.

The jumping position is a “C”: you “hide your belly button behind your belt”.

Don’t forget to ROW, to ride forward to the jumps.