Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 5: The Stadium Test

The last day of the clinic, Rainey set up a stadium jumping course for us. She asked the first group to treat it like a real SJ event—which, of course, put the pressure on. Geesh. So I got a little performance anxiety.

I’m afraid to say that Wrong-Way Rickly reared her ugly head, causing a little meltdown in the middle of the course…so we were eliminated.


We were allowed to do the course again, and we finally got it right. But I didn’t ride PC very well, and we had some…interesting…jumps. Rainey told me that he’s athletic and he’s going to try to do it…but I need to be more conscious of having him in front of my leg and balanced.

I got to do the N course w/ Paddy, and even though I *almost* forgot the course again and brought him in VERY crooked to a two jump line, he saved by rear by jumping big, then calmly finished in a nice rhythm. MAN, I love that horse. I love BOTH of my horses!

Overall, what a fantastic experience! I love the camaraderie of the “more experienced” (aka “older) riders. I loved that EVERYONE was there because they loved horses, eventing, and they wanted to get better. I loved that I felt ok about having a marguerite every couple nights. I loved that we had FIVE DAYS of instruction. I love that we could have private lessons that reinforced what we learned in the larger group. And I love that Rainey was so accessible, so knowledgeable, and so “right on” about everything she told us—even when she yelled at us!—and that she taught with a wonderful mix of criticism, praise, and “how to/why we do it”.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Paddy's Third Private

I got to take Paddy out as well on XC earlier in the day for our last lesson. Since we’re getting to know each other, we stuck primarily with N (and some T) fences. Here’s what I learned (other than I have an AWESOME horse!):

I need to support Paddy with my leg; he’s going to do it, but he needs to know I’m there. Steady, light, consistent support.

I can tug and release to get him more “up” before a fence—but don’t over do it, AND don’t add too much leg, otherwise I’m giving him conflicting signals. I can “regroup” Paddy closer to the jump than I can PC.

Because Paddy is so balanced, I feel like I’m going slower than I am. BE AWARE of that.

Day 4: Cross Country Party

Now, we were the LAST GROUP to go….which meant that everyone else got to be on the Marguritaville Express, and we had to work. Sigh. So while the other adult clinic members drank and listened to Abba, Rainey put us through our XC paces.

Rainey started the lesson by telling us she doesn’t like to school XC, mainly because it doesn’t really prepare them for the conditions they’ll be running under—that is, they won’t have their “blood up,” negotiating in the moment, while thinking forward. So after warming up, she had us do a series of fences.

Some horses are ok with schooling fence to fence, and that’s fine; but most are better when on course, where they can be forward, finding their rhythm and balance.

She also says she never schools the big, scary stuff (citing John Williams), because they need the “blood up” to negotiate these. It’s not fair to make them do it w/o that context.

“But what about those of us who need it for OUR confidence?” I asked.

Rainey suggested schooling with a lead horse, or, better yet, foxhunting. Sigh. I wish we had a hunt close by.

We warmed up over some smaller fences, and of course, PC had to be squirrely at the first couple. But once he realized we were going to go over multiple fences, he got SO much better.

Now, I asked to be in the Training group. But DANG these were big fences!

We started out going over the first five jumps of the T course (with perhaps one N jump thrown in), including a very BIG looking table, and a pimple jump. Very exciting! PC rocked He LOVES jumping bigger.

It’s a blessing to have a horse who’s looking for the next jump.

Rainey asked: “Do we want our horses ‘on the bit’ on XC?”

No. It’s harder for them to breathe, and their vision is impaired, since they can only see straight down in front.

I’ve got some things to work on, though! First and foremost is this: I cannot solve ANY problems with speed. I know somewhere in my subconscious, I’m thinking “if we’re fast enough, he can jump anything!” But a good, balanced canter will beat a strung out gallop every time. Good canter = good jump.

Have a plan when you land.

My arms still come up over jumps. I need to keep them lower in XC, and quiet.

Leave him alone before the fence!!!! Three or four strides out, I need to let him jump it. My job is to set him up correctly. His job is to focus on the fence, and if I mess with him, he’s distracted.

Make sure I slip my reins on drops, ditches, and sometimes in water.

Going up a hill, I need to push to get him under me; going down, I need to tug a bit.

If I need to slow my horse, I should sit (half-halt) for an uber second. Otherwise, I’m enabling him to keep going fast.

Make SURE I get off his back between jumps.

Make sure my horse is in front of my leg. Sometimes PC stalls in front of the jump (when he’s behind my leg). I have to remember to use my leg like I was counting: “one! TWO! THREE! He needs increasing encouragement before the jumps, not just a holding leg, esp. when it’s an intimidating looking jump like the trakehner or the coffin.

Look at the terrain! See how the jump fits IN CONTEXT. That means not only where you’re going, but also where you’re coming from. It’s good to know where you’ve been, both in XC and in life!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 3: Stadium Schooling

Isn’t it funny how I’m getting less and less afraid of XC obstacles, but I retain my terror of stadium jumps? Go figure….

Once again, I’m going to have to work on this leg thing. Like Jimmy says, without that anchor, we’re pretty much adrift!!

We started out pretty straight forward, with simple lines—then we got a little complex, taking some jumps at angles, and making some pretty tight turns. We finished off with a triple combination.

PC rocked.

Rainey asked us when a horse jumps his best: The answer is when he’s free jumping. He’s balanced and rarely, if ever, makes a mistake then (or if he does, he can immediately correct it). The less we mess with them, the better they will jump. If I can learn to sit quietly, I’ll help him so much more! That, and use my LEGS before my ARMS/BODY.

Rainey emphasized a constant pace/rhythm. Shoulders up and back before the fence. QUIET. Don’t over jump. Hands up and giving. Legs on and supportive.

Paddy had no lesson today, and I hacked him back in the back—I’d never been there, because N and BN don’t go there. I was almost at the very end of the jumping area when a train went by. And we were about eight feet from the train.

Paddy did a little half rear, wheeled around, and took off. MAN, that horse can GO! I couldn’t decide if I was terrified or having fun….I don’t think Paddy could decide, either! He finally slowed down. So I found out he has a whole ‘nother gear, and that he can be controlled! And he’s a heckuva lotta fun to ride.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Paddy's Second Private

Today we had Paddy do what PC did the first day: Grids. We worked on finding a good pace, then being STILL. I hate to say it, but I think it’s easier to be still on Paddy; he’s VERY smooth. And—I feel a little guilty—but when I didn’t get a good pace, he found it for me IN the grid. What a guy!

Rainey said something very, very nice, something I needed to hear, I think: “Don’t let ANYONE make you feel bad about having such a nice horse. You deserve this horse. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.”

Thanks, Rainey. I needed that!

Day 2: Cross Country Gymnastics

Today we went out to the XC course, but with a twist; Rainey had her “slaves” (those who rode in the PM) place standards around several XC elements so that they could be added to make the horse and rider “think” about what’s coming before, during, and after the element. It’s also a great way to get riders/horses used to more complex combinations before actually attempting them with solid obstacles!

We first did some XC jumps like the banks, ditches, and water, and then we added a pole, then an X, and later a vertical before and after, sometimes at an angle, making us think “turn” as we were landing.

PC was great, but as usual, he was a bit “looky” at the first couple of jumps. Rainey noted that he’s just like that, and I have to be prepared. She also said, just like Jimmy, Kathleen, and others, that moving my upper body or flapping my elbows will NOT help the horse have more power. WHY can’t I learn that?!! How often must I be told before I “get” it?

I used to be better about “heels down”…for some reason, my heels are creeping up. Gulp. Another thing I’ve been told over and over. Rainey suggested I think “toes up”. That might help….

Another thing to remember: don’t “freeze my seat” and tug on the reins. Use my half-halt—which means tense and RELEASE. Also: the half-halt is only effective when your butt’s in the saddle. Dang.

Some horses (uh, like PC) had some trouble making those tight turns. We did it, but it wasn’t fluid and pretty like Winston or Ronan, who are also big horses. Rainey said that you need to teach a horse to bend through his body. Push with the inside leg, giving the horse something to “fill up” the outside rein with; PUSH him into it. Better to kick/push, THEN to take contact. I think that, once again, I’m starting with the reins, and then adding leg….and that simply doesn’t work. I wonder if I should simply take away my reins?? Great quote from Rainey: “Put your brains in your legs!”

If the horse gets behind your leg, you need to recognize this and PUSH into the contact. Try to keep the contact steady (don’t “take” more until you have some energy). Keep the outside hand steady; without control of the outside rein, there’s no control of the outside shoulder, and horses will turn off balance and NOT be ready to jump/be balanced (which was, I think, our problem).

Several riders were told they needed to have “softer hands”….and I recalled the Law clinic! Rainey noted that “soft hands” didn’t really have to do with the hands at all; instead, we get soft hands by being flexible in our elbows and shoulders. GOOD to remember; I think I tend to freeze both. Soft, quiet, flexible rider = soft, quiet, flexible horse.

When we were working in the water, Rainey reminded us that horses lose perspective of pace and distance in water—so WE need to be especially good at establishing AND MAINTAINING a quality canter. The pace before, during, and after the water should be the same…but that probably means we’ll need to help the horse in the water, as well as balance them afterwards. Horses tend to leave early coming out of water. Know that, and prepare accordingly as well.

Something for me to remember over ditches and banks esp: KEEP MY HANDS LOW! Yesterday I was told to raise my hands (in the gymnastics), but that was over flat terrain. When we add challenges like hills and banks, I need to be more supple with my elbows and lower with my hands, because the horse needs his neck to balance with more.

The added gymnastic elements helped us maintain a more organized canter (and let us know clearly when we didn’t have one!!!).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Paddy's First Private

I brought my new horse, My Shamrock Paddy, with me to hack out and get to know—but, since I was here with Rainey (and the essence of Jimmy Wofford!), I opted to take three private lessons the first of which was today.

Rainey is OBVIOUSLY a fine judge of horseflesh, because she loved Paddy.

Here are some things I need to remember as I get to know my new partner:

Paddy is smart; he has this wonderful headset that fakes you into thinking he’s on the bit when he’s not. PUSH, push, push into the bridle. DON’T start by fiddling with the reins, or he’ll get behind my leg. Push into rein. HOLD STEADY w/ outside; be gently, gently wiggling fingers on inside, and pushing with the inside leg at the girth. If I can remember to do all of these things, he’s more likely to come through and not have the “fake” carriage.

I work FAR too hard when I ride….I need to remember that dressage (and riding in general) is simple. The horse moves away from pressure. Give him a place to go—“open the door”, and reward him when he does it by giving with your hand, and even w/ the leg a bit. BE STILL! That’s his reward when he’s good.

Try to end lessons with something the horse is good at. Be thinking “what kind of brain do I want them to have back in the barn?”

After all these years of riding, my legs still aren’t quite right. HEAVY SIGH. But I do think part of my problem is not knowing how to use my lower leg properly. When I ride w/o stirrups or bareback, I tend to use my thigh and knee too much, freeing my lower leg to use when I need it, but it’s pretty floppy the rest of the time. What I need to do is to apply more pressure on the horse right below my knee. ..but not AT the knee. It’s a subtle difference, but a significant one, I think. I watch riders like Will Coleman (and I’ve NEVER seen a picture of him where his leg isn’t spot on), and I wonder HOW they get so consistent. Yes, I know it’s “miles”…but it’s also got to be miles reinforcing the right thing.

Interesting: Rainey said I should be posting up and down; other clinicians say I should be posting forward. Hmmmm. She also said that when I jump, my rear should move towards the back of my saddle….and that’s what I’m trying to do, but when I do it too much, I get in trouble. SIGH. I wonder if I’ll EVER learn to ride quietly and in balance?!?!