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.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Lesson on Paddy in Stadium: Building Blocks

Today we were able to build on what we learned yesterday, which was really good for me.

I had a little difficulty getting Paddy forward again—we were doing the related distances in JUST the “normal” striding. Finally, I got him “up”, and I was able to put in two more strides in both lines. I had a chip the first time, and Cathy told me to “fix the chip further back/put the chip in earlier”. I did the next time!

I need to remember to keep my hips back, especially when I jump.

I also need to remember to keep my hands low. For some reason, I want to carry them up. Must be a residual hunter thing.

“Make your body responsible!” On a moving animal, we can’t be still. We need to move WITH the horse.

It’s not about the jump, Karen and Cathy told us: it’s about the quality of contact.

Both instructors encouraged me NOT to react to what I just did, but to keep going. Again, for someone “trained in the autopsy” of student papers, etc., that’s a hard concept to master.

I asked Karen what to do when Paddy raised his head (which he was doing when I was trying to get up collected), and she showed me how to keep a flexible contact with “elastic arms”. “Once he learns that’s what he’s going to get all the time,” she said, “he’ll stop that.” I hope so!

In the accuracy questions, we were encouraged to hold our reins wide. That really helps with Paddy, who DID look at the barrel!

Karen kept telling me to hold my reins “like the tick on the steering wheel”. I didn’t get that image at all until she explained that it was the minor adjustments we make as we drive to keep the car straight. NOW I get it! Cathy called them “Finger aids”. I like that.

Day 3: Stadium Squared

As I’d done yesterday, I woke up early, fed Paddy, made coffee, and went off to watch the prelim plus group at 8 before my own group at 10. Cool and misty, the fog came on little cat’s feet to cover the whole of Holly Hill: you couldn’t see but 10 feet in front of you. Thank GOODNESS we weren’t trying to do cross country today!

I came to the stadium arena to find no one there; I was a bit too early. A lone rider was warming up in the covered arena, so I went to watch her. It was Donna Struke and her lovely horse River Trout, trotting long and low to relax both horse and rider. When they reached the end of the arena, I could only see a misty outline of horse and rider, silhouetted in the mist. The world was blanketed in the heavy mist; I melded into the mist, hearing the rhythmic beat of the horse’s hooves like a heartbeat of the world, and the only other sound in the muffled stillness was the blowing of the horse, who was obviously enjoying the cool weather. It was magical, serene, other-worldly. What a phenomenal way to start the day.

Today the riders started with related distances again, but then moved on to accuracy questions. Karen noted that riders don’t have to trot first, or do an “x” first.

The riders began by cantering the related distances they’d done the day before, and then having a contest, seeing who could get the most strides in a five and seven stride combo. It was pretty impressive; every one of these riders had their horses “in hand” and “up”.

Riders were reminded to have a “long leg with weight in your heel”. “Lower leg stillness is the key to jumping,” Karen quipped.

Direction was emphasized yet again (it is, after all, the first rider responsibility!). Push into the horse’s shoulders to hold the line of direction.

After the related distances, the riders had to “thread the needle”—jumping a series of off-set jumps so that they had only two or three feet straight area to get through all of them.

“These are stupid pet tricks!” Karen shouted. “If you are jumping straight, there’s nothing to it!”

Riders were encouraged to be “more in the middle” of their horses, and to keep their heels down so that the soles of their boots faced the fence. Nice to hear Cathy and Karen admonishing the prelim-plus group for the same things *I* get yelled at for!

“Be soft in the take off” both Cathy and Karen said. That will help us land more balanced, more WITH our horses. But don’t land collapsed; hold with our quads and our core.

After they threaded the needle, they jumped a barrel on its side, and then upright with a skinny rail on the top. VERY impressive. The riders had to control the line of direction, and to lead the horse’s forehand to what (and where) the rider wanted it to go.

“Don’t put your upper body where you want the horse to be!” Karen encouraged. BOY, do I need to tattoo those words in my brain!

More accuracy=more “in the saddle”. I need to think about that.

Cathy encouraged riders to finish downward transitions with their LEGS, and not with their hands. That makes sense; it’s all about the engagement.

One rider complained “you want me to control all my body parts at one time?!”

Karen quipped “They call that coordination!”

“You’re not steering! Remind me never to drive with you!”

“There’s gotta be a push and a steer!”

One of the horses was having a bit of a tizzy, and they put the horse in a micklem bridle. Really interesting. I think I’d like to get one!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Workshop with Max Corcoran: Mad Max RULES!

We were really lucky in that Karen brought her long-time groom, Max Corcoran, who is an absolutely AMAZING horse woman. I wish I could do the Vulcan Mind Meld with her! She and my friend from the “Training Three Day by 2010” list, Stacey Curwood, wrote an excellent article about Max’s experience winning the Three Day Event at Wardeca in 2006 with David’s horse Walk On The Moon.

Today she was teaching us about grooming for the three day event. She’s old school, in that she pulls the horse’s tail—just on the sides, and to about two inches below the crest of the butt. She suggests latex gloves, because they protect your fingers and help with the pulling.

I was lamenting the fact that Paycheck’s tail simply doesn’t grow, and she told me a lot of eventers have that problem: even David’s famous horse Custom Made had a fake tail in competitions. She explained how to attach one (though we didn’t have one to look at). Makes me feel better about PC, about whom Whit Watkins said “tail extensions were invented for this horse!”

She showed us how to do quarter marks: you need a short, stiff bristle brush, and you need to use something relatively sticky like oil based fly spray. She showed us how to make shark’s teeth on the flank, plus how to make checkerboards with the cut off end of a $.49 plastic comb. She also showed us how they made a “USA” quarter mark for the Olympics.

If using a stencil, you simply brush down, put the stencil on, then brush up.

She showed us how to braid using waxed thread:
  1. Braid the length of mane
  2. Sew the end through the bottom of the braid
  3. Make a loop, folding the end over on itself
  4. Roll the loop up to the horse’s neck
  5. Sew through it, loop around to the left, loop around to the right
  6. Tie it off and cut off the end of the thread

The forelock was the same, only you begin by French braiding the top.

She didn’t have quikbraid, but she showed us how spit works, too!

Max provided a wealth of tips that only an insider would know/think about. We complained that the round numbers that must be on a halter get shredded, and she showed us a re-usable one she’d bought. She also said she takes light colored duct tape and wraps it around the halter, writing the number on it.

If a horse gets dusty/dirty at an event, she sprays on some witch hazel and towels the horse off.

When trimming feet and under the face, go WITH the hair.

She trips around the hoof (like a bowel cut). If the horse has white stockings, you can trim the hair to make it whiter, but it also gives them less protection against fungus, etc. She likes Ivory liquid on white legs.

A quick poop remover on white horses: I capful of quicksilver into a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol (for non-white horses, you can use any soap). Spray on, wipe off!

Make sure you use a coat moisturizer after clipping.

Buy some kids no more tangles type sprays for tails. Someone in the audience suggested Afro Sheen, too. Show sheen should ONLY go on tails; NEVER on coats.

You can use witch hazel or Listerine on itchy fungus, rain rot, etc.

Feeding garlic does help keep flies away.

She’s a fan of MTG and Lona’s Linament, a local concoction. Lona made an appearance herself the following day, so I bought some! I asked her if she uses poultice, and she says she hates it. She’ll put Lona’s linament on the legs, then sprinkle baby powder on them and wrap the legs. Not only does it make a paste which stays, it smells good!

She cleans tack with hot water, glycerin soap, and then Lexol. She has used olive oil, too, which I find absolutely cool.

I asked her what was the best part of being a groom for the O’Connors, and she said the travel. She’s been to Greece, to Australia, to England, to Hong Kong! How great is that! Plus, she loves the horses, and Karen is wonderful to work with. No argument there.

My Lesson on Paddy in Stadium: Cowboy Up!

I came to the stadium ring with high hopes, and while we didn’t exactly crash and burn, we had a rather humbling beginning.

Part of that is my own doing, and I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that causes my anxiety. Is it a desire to please? A fear of failure? And to whom am I responsible: the clinicians, my coaches, my horse, my sport, myself?? Not to get all psycho-babble on y’all, but I do think I have this “gotta please everyone” thing going on. I wish I could forget about it!

Cathy kept encouraging me to “study the first rail”, reminiscent of Jimmy Wofford’s admonition to look at the first rail until it disappears between your horse’s ears. I realize I’m STILL looking down far too often…and to compensate, then I look too far up. It’s like looking to where you’re going in dressage rather than looking between the horse’s ears. So many things to remember in so many different contexts!

When I tried to make Paddy work, he would throw his head up. That was frustrating for me, and I think I over-reacted. Karen said he’ll stop when he realizes I have an elastic connection. Let’s hope so!

Once again, I jumped ahead (esp. in trot—I HATE jumping at the trot!). I was encouraged to let the horse’s thrust bend my hip—but “the hip bends first, THEN the hand follows”. That’s important, I think, because I tend to throw my hand when I jump. I need to think about that, then learn to FEEL it.

I’m also doing that standing on my toes thing again—Karen suggested I think about sinking my heels to the point that the soles of my boots faced the jump. I’m trying….

I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t getting Paddy in front of my leg—when we worked on cantering the related distances (first we trotted in, stopped; then trotted in, trotted out, stopped; then we trotted in, cantered out, and stopped; then we cantered in, cantered out, and stopped, this time trying to get more strides—more EVEN strides—between jumps). I could get one distance, but because he was behind my leg, I couldn’t contain the energy to adjust him. Karen could tell I was getting more and more frustrated; she kept saying “Enjoy the journey!”

Finally Karen stopped me and said “I want you to make him GO down that long side—pretend you’re a kid! Scream, yell, kick!”

Well, it worked. I think I scared Karen because I REALLY got going!

Next, she said, “do it again, but this time just lean forward, give with your elbows, and allow”. Once again, Paddy rose to the occasion, and we finally got going.

Once he got going, I could bring him back, and we could actually adjust our distances. What a great feeling! I’m still not in as much control of it as I’d like to be, but it felt GREAT.

After the related distances, we did some “S-curves”, then we did a course. I was a bit worried that I’d “lose” the great energy we’d gotten, but we didn’t; we had a great course. “Look at you!” Karen said at the end. My, did that feel good.

I have to remember NOT to stop my hip before the jump, to keep my legs at the girth, heels down, and the balls of my feet in the stirrup—she said my feet were too deep. Also, I tend to throw my reins away over the jump (esp. if I jump ahead). WORK ON THAT!

Day 2: Stadium and Related Distances

Isn’t the second day always more difficult? Your brain is full, your body sore, and your expectations either much higher or lower depending on Day 1 went? Of course, your horse and you have both had a day to acclimate, so theoretically, we should all be more comfortable. Hmmm….maybe it’s just me.

One of Karen and Cathy’s purposes today was to reinforce that “horses do what we ask them to”…and it’s our job to make sure they are straight (direction), going the right speed, with the right rhythm and balance.

Right off the bat, she told the prelim group that “you won’t coax a prey animal to do ANYTHING”. They need LEADERSHIP. Wow. That’s huge for me. Of course, this goes back to my first experience teaching (I wanted to be Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music…if they loved me, they’d all be good!). Ha. Try THAT with 8th graders….!

But I think I do that with Paddy….I love him, and I think of him as my pet…and I treat him like a pet. Julia Denton and I have discussed this problem, and it IS a problem as you need to ask the horse to step up at the higher levels…..and you can’t really “ask” in the sense of asking your pet… YOU need to tell the horse what to do, and to give him the confidence to do it. Karen and Cathy were adamant that if you can control the hind legs, you can do just about anything…and I’m becoming a believer. As Karen said several times to various riders: “This is NOT a democracy! He needs leadership!”

The second day was going to be mostly about related distances, with some accuracy questions. But, before we began, we worked on some basic moves: like trotting a vertical, then stopping. Later, we trotted a vertical, went back to a trot, then trotted an oxer and stopped. Finally, we trotted in over a vertical then cantered out over the oxer, and then stopped. Simple, right?

Well, it should have been. But somehow, we all find ways to complicate what should be simple.

The instructors added to the complexity: we had to stop after the fences to teach the horses that they need to be asking “what now?” after every fence—they need to be LISTENING to us (as leaders). But stopping was harder than many of us thought, and a stop wasn’t enough; we had to push into the halt so that it was round. Sort of goes back to the “expect more” thing I’ve been struggling with….!

“Don’t just practice what you’re good at” Karen reminded us.

The horse and rider needed to be on the same line (there’s that direction thing again!) or the jumps didn’t turn out well.

Before the riders started work on related distances, Karen quizzed the riders on all the variables that influence the number of strides. Some of the answers are:

  • Length of the horse’s stride
  • Terrain
  • The take off spot
  • The height/width of the fence
  • The speed
  • The impression of the jump the horse has (scary? Busy? Etc.)
  • The line/direction
  • The size of the field/stadium

And so forth. The thing is that related distances are all about lengthening and shortening strides, and that’s something that has to be done in ALL THREE PHASES. So why don’t we work more on it??

Once again, we were reminded that the horse should fold our hips for us; we don’t need a big move. What we need to do is to stay in the horse’s center of gravity.

Karen reprimanded riders for using a crest release—we need to be using the automatic release so that we can keep contact with our horses before, during, and after the jump. The crest release tends to give your horse too much rein, and it puts the rider ahead of the motion. We should follow and allow what the horse needs, and no more.

In stadium, we use two “seats”: two point and light sitting (what Jimmy Wofford calls “light three point”). In two point, our breeches should barely touch the saddle. In three point, our weight is still in our heels, but also in our seatbones and pubic bone. We need to practice BOTH.

If a horse is above the bit, we need contact—but we need to PUSH the horse into contact rather than pull him into it. Once we have impulsion, Karen said, it’s “just cruise control”. I like that—I don’t need to keep fussing.

We should be able to lengthen/shorten in two point.

She asked one rider who just had a rather awkward transition “how often do you ride your horse?” The rider responded about an hour a day. “How many hours are there in a day?” “Twenty-four” said the rider. “If you’re only giving your horse only an hour, shouldn’t you give him your FULL ATTENTION?” Point made!

When a horse says “I can’t do that!” We need to show him that he can—that means WE have to be straight, be in a good rhythm, speed, balance, etc. So the rider responsibilities really do extend into helping the horse learn HE CAN.

Both Cathy and Karen would say “you’re letting him out the front door!”, which means that we’re sending the horse forward, but not into the contact. So instead of building power, we’re letting the horse squirt out between our legs.

A few riders, when they had a bad distance, etc. got what Karen called “the car wreck” look on their faces—I wonder if you can control that?

To get a better canter, she had one participant do canter-walk-canter-walk transitions.

The take off spot is critical to what the horse does before, during, and after the jump. We need to make sure we understand that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Workin' It: My Dressage Lesson with Karen

Karen began the lesson like most clinicians, asking about our experience and our horses, with the caveat that she knew Lindsey, the young woman who shared my lesson (and had apparently found her horse for her). She’s been doing Training level, so I was excited (and a little apprehensive) to be working at that level.

Karen, obviously an excellent judge of horseflesh, thought highly of Paddy, and thought she may have seen him at other clinics/shows

She watched both of us warm up. I tried very hard to make Paddy go FORWARD and to keep him straight and consistent. I was working pretty hard, but he was doing better than we’d been doing in terms of going (bigger spurs help—I don’t have to use them all the time, but they serve as an excellent “reminder”!).

She zeroed in on some things I’ve been working with Bobo and Weslee and Kathleen about: keeping by body more still from the waist up (and NOT leaning back); keeping hands fairly still, and only about as wide as the horse’s mouth/bit; not leaning into my turns; not collapsing, but stretching up; and USING my legs, but also keeping my feet anchored in the stirrups.

She talked about the Rider’s Responsibilities: Direction, Speed, Balance, and Rhythm. She also quizzed us about key terms:

  • Engagement (the horse using his back legs)
  • Contact (a connection with the bit, with energy coming from the back end)
  • Impulsion (a desire to go forward, mitigate by the rider)
  • Resistance (any kind of avoidance)
  • Throughness (energy coming from the hind end and through the back to the bit)
  • Preparation (what we do before transitions, etc.—eventually, it becomes less obvious, but it ALWAYS must be there; it lets the horse know what’s coming)

These are ideas that I understand cognitively, but it’s really hard to KNOW when you’ve got it (or, when you do get it, exactly HOW so that you can replicate it!)

I’m really interested in understanding/feeling “impulsion” and “thoroughness”.

She also talked about the four types of yielding that horses MUST be able to do:

  1. Front End
  2. Hind End
  3. Head Down
  4. Back Up

We work on these via lateral work, transitions (especially downward transitions), both between and within gaits, as well as ring figures. She had us do some of all of these—we did a lot of leg yields at the trot diagonally across the arena, and a lot of transition within the gaits. And, of course, we were doing ring figures the whole time.

We started out at the walk, and when Paddy would “jig”, she told me to “clamp my lower legs against him like I was cracking a lobster claw”. When he walks, I release. He got it very quickly.

When he curls his neck, I’m supposed to keep the connection consistent, which might mean I have to pull back on the reins, mimicking him. He has to learn that he can’t avoid contact.

We worked a lot on transitions within the gait, and I had a somewhat “aha” moment: I DO lean back when I sit (and even when I post, alas!), thinking that somehow, I’m HELPING him (aka “doing it for him”!). But, just like the jumping ahead, I’m actually HINDERING him when I do that….so we worked on my position. I need to bend forward just a tad (or at least FEEL like I’m leaning forward) to help him. She actually had us stop, then clamp with our legs (nothing), then push with our pelvis leaning a bit forward…and we got some GOOD forward motion (and we actually stopped the horses by clamping!).

So part of my homework is to sit a tiny bit forward (and look through the horse’s ears and not lean).

In sitting trot, I kept losing my stirrups! I need to work on that anchor without tightening my legs. It’s so counter-intuitive to tighten your core but relax your butt…!

In our canter work, I learned that if I prepared Paddy (that is, shortened his stride and worked on being more “up”), I had a MUCH better canter transition. ALSO: I need to go WITH him when I ask for the canter depart, not lean forward OR be caught sitting back. THINK AHEAD!

We cantered, working on a slight bend, a good circle, and consistency (which means NOT LEANING BACK), then lengthened on the long side OR in the circle. She encouraged us to “follow” with our hands and push with our hips as we lengthened…then, to shorten, we need to keep moving with our hips, but STOP moving our hands, keeping them still. When I did it correctly, it was AMAZING. It really works!

At the end of the lesson, she noted that Paddy has trained me very well (that is, I have to work hard to get him to go). She said to think of it this way: if we stop at a red light, we don’t get praised; it’s EXPECTED. It’s what we’re supposed to do. The same thing goes for the aids: it’s expected. It’s what the horse is supposed to do—and he’s suppose to do it when we ask him (first time, every time). I need to work on short, rhythmical pressure, but NOT constant! Maybe it’s like the reins: too much, and he protests. But he responds to light aids….

Four Days in Paradise

If you will recall, dear reader, that last time I had a clinic with Karen O’Connor, I had some difficulty pre, post, and during. My competition horse had just been diagnosed with EPM, and I was riding Dylan, who is sweet, willing, and relatively untrained. And we were in the Training group. I learned a lot, but it was incredibly frustrating, too

I was so impressed with Karen, however, that I signed up for a clinic with her at Holly Hill this past year. However, given my very interesting personal life, I called Tracy Hewlett and asked if I could possibly get someone to take my place and then focus on my family situation.

Well, Tracy did me one better: she shifted my clinic entry to this fall, and here I am in a four day clinic with Karen O’Connor, her groom Max Corcoran, and noted rider Cathy Wieschhoff. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!!

While this fall isn’t a whole lot less stressful (I’m still teaching three—four really—grad classes that I’m woefully behind in), my family life is less hectic, plus I’m working hard at bonding with Paddy….so I opted to go for it.

Unlike that last KOC, I had absolutely no difficulty getting to Holly Hill. And this time, the weather was nigh to perfect: 70’s during the day, mid 40’s a night. I left after several commitments on Wednesday, driving half way to Willow Draw, which Janet Book graciously offered as an overnight place. We arrived without incident, and we were able to get up and leave y 7:25 the next morning.

We arrived at Holly Hill just past noon. After unloading Paddy and making sure he had hay and water, I was able to catch the last part of Karen’s lesson. I’m going to write this information up in this post, then make a separate post for my lesson with Paddy….since that’s what I need to concentrate on!

At lunch, I asked Karen what they main thing she noted about the lessons in the am—what was the one thing you found all riders doing/needing to work on? She noted that many riders are “lacking in fundamentals”-that is, the basic rider responsibilities (direction, speed, balance, rhythm). We need to spend more time on these.

I asked her how someone who worked alone much of the time could improve—how they could ask for “more”. She said that this situation is hard—all pros have/have had a LOT of help, because it is so difficult to do things on your own. Most riders, she said, are loathe to leave their “comfort zones”, and as a result, they either don’t push themselves, or they reinforce bad habits. If we’re going to learn, we need to be prepared to do it wrong—even to fail—but to LEARN from that. OUCH. That sounds like the talk I gave at the RNF last year!!

Some great “Karen-isms” from the clinic:

  • Look where you’re going…then go there!
  • You got a whole lotta horse doing a whole lot of what you DON’T want him to….
  • Don’t upset the apple cart! (that means don’t lose the gait or stop)
  • Elbows have to have springs in them
  • My mother told me to be an exclamation point, not a question mark
  • Don’t lean back—you’re shutting the door!
  • And you’re PAYIN’ for this abuse!
  • Keep your hands straight, and your horse will be straight
  • Don’t soothe—you’ve soothed enough! Make him DO IT.
  • It’s all about growing, climbing, reaching
  • Horses that are over at the knee are always good jumpers
  • Don’t push beyond his balance
  • They do what WE ask them to. We’ve got to make sure we’re asking correctly!
  • If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always get (I need to FRAME this one!)
  • We RARELY fall off the horse backwards…DON’T JUMP AHEAD!
  • Don’t practice your bad habits!
  • 100% of your body is chasin’ that chicken!
  • Don’t sit on the horse like you’re sitting on the toilet!
  • Take off balanced—land balanced
  • If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space