Sunday, January 03, 2010

2 Riding Clinics

Jumping, December 13:

On Sunday, December 13th I participated in a jumping clinic with Lynn Coates-Holmes. Lynn in an upper-level event rider, she is also one of the trainers from whom my trainer takes instruction. Because I haven’t been riding nearly as much as I should be, I was pretty nervous about the clinic. I didn’t really know what to expect from Lynn (I had heard of her, but had never met her), what to expect from Ruby, nor what to expect from myself. I was also worried that the jumping exercises or courses might be a bit beyond my current level of competence. I was riding with my friend Marilyn who rides pretty much everyday and who takes a lot of clinics with her horse Finn. Marilyn has also been at this longer and more consistently than I have and is probably a bit above me in ability level. The other rider in our time slot was Lisa, another rider who is an eventing veteran, so I really worried about being the dunce of the group. Green horse, green rider, not much experience, poor fitness, poor confidence in ability, inferiority complex, etc., so as usual, I came into the experience a bit of a wreck.

Lynn had us warm up on our own, so we all did some walk, trot and canter in both directions, with some figures thrown in here and there. Lynn did not direct this part, but did throw in a comment here and there. One thing she said to me as I was cantering around in 2-point which both thrilled and astonished me was, “nice, soft hands”. I feel like my hands are really not that great, at least not on the flat. It is one of the things I’m currently struggling with. But I think in the 2-point and cantering around, I’m not “messing” as much with my horse and more just allowing her to go forward and really balance herself, so my hands probably are much softer in this scenario. This is something I have to keep in mind more and see how I can translate it more to flat work when I’m not in jumping position.

After having us warm up over a little cross-rail, Lynn then started setting up a gymnastic. I believe the gymnastic ended up being a three-element obstacle – jump, land, jump, one stride, jump. After we had been through this a couple of times, she started adding additional jumps on to a course for us, each new jump requiring a bending line or a roll-back (which is a tight turn reversing direction), making the full course rather twisty and complicated, when all was said-and-done. It really required the rider and horse to be on their game, in good communication, have a good sense for pace, position, balance and approach to each jump. So, the course ended up consisting of: the 3-jump gymnastic, bending line (4 or 5 strides) to another jump, change direction across the diagonal, over a jump, bending line (5 strides) to a panel jump, roll-back to a jump, 3-or-4-stride bending line to an in-and-out (jump in, two strides, jump out) with a roll-back to a “skinny” (a very narrow jump, so you have to be pretty accurate).

I was pretty pleased with Ruby and with myself as we managed to handle this course quite well, I think. Lynn was very positive about my position in general, she thought that I had a nice, open frame, a good leg, and (when I was concentrating enough) a good, following hand. I held a bit too much over a couple of jumps at the beginning of the session, but once Lynn pointed this out and when I could keep it in my head to let go, it did not remain a problem for me. Two areas where it became clear that I need to improve are: fitness (no surprise there) – I was fizzling out towards the end of each jump course and so my riding through the fences near the end of the course was not nearly as good as the ones at the beginning. And the second area that needs significant improvement is pace moderation. I need to better be able to recognize when our pace needs adjustment (usually when more “forward” is needed) as I don’t always realize it in the right moment. I’m finding that when it does dawn on me, I am usually too close to a jump and thus in a zone where you don’t want to interfere with your horse. I ran into this issue a couple of times at competitions this Summer, so I do know that it’s something that I need to work on, but I think it is also something that will come naturally with more experience. Lynn, also loved Ruby, she commented a number of times about how great she is, how cute a jumper, how honest and how willing, so I was really thrilled to hear that. I always like to hear that a professional event rider who I respect really likes my horse. I told her that she would see Alison competing Ruby around Aiken this season.

Dressage, December 21:

The second clinic that I participated in was an individual Dressage lesson with Pat Spettel. I was worried about this clinic because (again) I haven’t been riding a lot over the past couple of months, and our Dressage is the first thing to fall apart when I’m not riding consistently. I was concerned because Dressage is not my strong suit in the best of times and because it was an hour-long private lesson. No breaks when the instructor needs to concentrate on someone else in the class, it was to be pure, unadulterated, un-filtered and constant attention – ACK! There are so many things that I despise about myself with my Dressage work, my balance isn’t great, my hands aren’t soft or elastic, my legs tend to creep out ahead of me (this is partially a fight for my position with my current saddle), my aids are not clear or distinct. I don’t always know what I’m doing really and I feel that Ruby suffers for it. I also very often let myself become frustrated and anxious about my crummy performance in this area which just makes everything worse all around.

Pat started by having me ride around a bit while she watched so that she could see how bad it really was. It wasn’t too good, let me tell you. Once she had seen enough, she decided to take everything back to basics. I had told her a bit about Ruby’s experience, my experience, what our challenges are and some of the things that have frustrated me over the past months. I emphasized the problems I’ve been having with bending, particularly to the right, but also that very often “forward” is a big problem. However, that Ruby can be a different horse, sometimes I feel like I’m kicking constantly to get any kind of forward out of her, and sometimes it’s like riding a firecracker, I just never know what horse I’m going to have. Well, Pat decided that it was all related, but wanted me to forget about bending for now. The bottom line, she felt, was that Ruby was not respecting my leg (which is really the same issue for both forward and lateral movement) and that I was not being clear or distinct enough with my aids and was not following up immediately or properly with a touch of the whip when my leg was not being respected. Additionally (and perhaps more importantly), I very often was not giving her a chance to respond, but was just nagging her constantly with my leg to the point that she almost had no choice but to ignore it. I was also holding far too much and not really allowing the forward that I was asking for to happen. Basically, I’m a mess. Poor Ruby.

So, Pat had me work on lateral movement. Sidepass on a circle, distinctly asking for sideways, and then asking for forward. She worked on my actually knowing when I really wanted a movement away from my leg and when I was asking for forward and being very clear about each. When asked, and if there was no response, an immediate follow-up with a tap of the whip just behind the girth was required, and knowing when this was needed and timing this correctly in coordination with the leg aid.

Some of the big take-aways for me were:

* Don’t nag with the leg, ask and be done. If the leg aid is not responded to, follow immediately with a tap of the whip -- horse learns to respond to the leg immediately, eventually the idea is that the whip will not be necessary and should respond to the barest of leg cues.

* Know specifically what I’m asking for. Do I want a more lateral movement or am I looking for forward? Be clear and distinct and don’t over-ask.

* If it’s getting all muddled and the horse is not responding, or I’m having trouble being clear, bring it back down and do some sidepass at the walk. Get the horse listening to the leg again.

* Coming around a corner, hold the bend with the inside hand, but then RELEASE and allow the forward.

* From the waist up, ride from upper arms / pectorals, not my hands and wrists. Feel as if my pectorals are attached to the horse’s. Keep my elbows bent and my arms beside my sides. Thumbs up.

* Inside hip should be slightly forward. More so when tracking to the left than to the right with Ruby (because of her particular balance issues).

* You never want your horse to think that you don’t own their hind leg. In other words, you must always have control over exactly where each back leg is, where it is being placed and how it is responding.

For the entire hour we only worked at the walk and trot, but we were still soaked in sweat when it was done (it was hard work!) I feel like I got a lot out of the session and wish that I could have a few follow-up sessions with Pat to solidify what I learned to ensure that I’m on the right track. I’m kicking myself for not having taken an earlier clinic that was offered with her back in November. I guess I was too chicken or something.

I found both clinics to be extremely insightful and productive. I came away with a lot of very great and practical feedback that I feel will add immediate enhancement to my riding. I wish I could say that I have more clinics in the immediate future to look forward to, but Ruby will be down in Aiken, SC (as of this coming weekend) for the next few months. Alison will be training her for these months and will also be competing her for the season down there. She is starting her off at the level I had been riding at this past season and then will hopefully bump her up in level so that she will be ready if I’m ever ready to move up this Summer.

During this time Ruby will be getting great training, but my riding will be taking a bit of a back-seat. I’m hoping to concentrate on some other things while she’s away. I think that I’m going to join the “Y”, I would like to take some spinning and yoga classes. I would like to do some walking & running and I’m planning to take Tig back to obedience school. So, hopefully this period will be as productive for me as it is for Ruby. I then plan to go back down to Aiken at the end of March for Alison’s Adult Eventing Camp. Since Ruby will be down there waiting for me, I’ll be able to ride her at the various cross-country courses, the galloping track and do all the other intensive stuff with her that are planned for that week. I also intend to finish the week off by riding in a sanctioned event down there (well, it’s actually in Georgia, but close enough).

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