Clinic Recap: USDF Instructor Workshop

Screenshots until I compile all the video

Saturday TC and I participated in a different kind of clinic as demo riders. The ‘clinic’ was actually an instructor workshop, as a learning opportunity for instructors working towards their USDF certification at that level. The format then, was a little different. I rode, and received feedback from the participant, who then received feedback from the clinician on her lesson plan, how she gave me direction, etc. Basically it ended up being a free lesson for us and an excellent chance to get us off-property in a relaxed (though effing cold and blustery) atmosphere. Win-win!

Once TC realized the horses in the giant outdoor mirrors weren’t going to eat him, he quickly relaxed into the work. Overall the crowd, clinician, and his owner (plus myself) were all thrilled with him and highly complimentary- everyone wanted to sneak him onto their trailers and take him home. Not bad for a barrel-racing bred paint pony. And I admit, I’m a little proud of him- the way his body has changed in the last couple months has been pretty impressive.

For me, I felt like they were less impressed. I had to engage my thick-skin mode and soak it up as a learning opportunity, since in order to educate the participant’s eye, all of my flaws were described in detail. The highlights include:

  • I sit left. Very left, all the time. How does this help the horse, who also is heavy on the left? None. It helps none.
  • I ride like a chicken- I need to keep my elbows close by my side
  • I collapse my right side
  • I balance myself on my stirrups
  • I brace my legs into downward transitions
  • I hollow my lower back
  • I lift my shoulders and get tense in my upper body
  • I need to open my hip flexors and get my legs back

In order to fix a couple of my offending traits, a few things were proposed:

  • Take my stirrups away – it’s hard to be crooked/lean without stirrups
  • Do lunge lessons
  • Get stronger in my core
  • Teach me the breathe
  • Get that sweet pony a different rider (just kidding)

I also left with some exercises to set us up for success- and mostly this was focused around working on getting that left shoulder lighter (which of course would help if I didn’t constantly try to grind it into the dirt with my weight). We need to work on turns-on-the-forehand, since his lack of education around this was a low point in our lesson. We can also do a tear-drop type exercise to pick up the left lead canter while he’s in my outside (right) rein. Similarly, leg yielding in and out by closing my outside leg and encouraging him again to weight the outside rein.

Overall, I came away with some new opinions about myself as a rider, but feel determined to improve from the experience. I learned what TC is like in a new environment, and am so pleased that he stepped up to the plate. It gives me confidence that more outings are definitely going to be in our future!

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Two Years

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A friend sent me this over the weekend. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Foster and I’s last outing, a clinic where we aimed to get around our first Training level showjumping course.

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While it wasn’t without its blips, I’m still pretty effing proud of having at least done this with Fosterpants, despite nearly peeing my pants in the process. (Two one-stride combinations, max height/width fences, and a horse without a motor- I shudder to think of it still!)

firstoxer

This was also the one of the few clinics I did with Foster, and I think I learned more from it than any other clinic I’ve done before- those lessons still stick with me today.

Because this makes me happy, I will reuse it for eternity

Because this makes me happy, I will reuse it for eternity

Part of me is also a little sad that the only “competition” I’ve done between now and then is the little GaG CT I did with Smitty back in October. Of course when it comes to horses there is no such thing as plans written in ink, but somehow I imagined having done just a bit more over the last 24 months. How on earth have I kept this blog going otherwise?

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Still, one day I hope to get back there, jumping all the things, even if I have to convince myself not to be a total weenie in the process.

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It’s all about the journey, right?

A time when I had bigger balls. Kind of. Actually I remember being terrified walking that course.

Phillip Dutton Clinic Recap

So, I’m a little late on this, but between the AEC’s, and first outings with the baby pony, it’s been a busy time.

Earlier last month, my friend A participated in a clinic with Phillip Dutton. The clinic was broken into a showjumping day, and a cross country day, and so I chose to come audit the showjumping and see what wisdom the man himself would impart. First impressions confirmed that Phillip is a relatively soft spoken individual, but I was surprised to see him really get after riders, no matter age or experience, if they weren’t getting it done. During breaks he very kindly acquiesced to answering all of our questions and recalling his time in Rio just a week before.

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As for the clinic, I watched levels from Beginner Novice up through Preliminary, and each set did basically the same exercise with subtle variations for height involved.

The Warmup
After reviewing their challenged and making introductions with P Dutty, each set of riders had an identical warmup. Trotting on a large (30 meterish) circle, alternating between really collecting and lengthening the gait, following by leg yields on/off the centerline. Then they would canter and again collect and lengthen, getting up in two-point position while lengthening and going for a bit of a hand gallop.

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The Exercises
All groups but the prelim group then hopped over a little cross rail a couple times, cantering away on landing. Then the fence was raised to a vertical and the work began. The main exercise revolved around a 3 fence combination featuring a straight line to a bending line. Phillip demanded a thinking rider, and asked the participants to put in 5 strides between each fence, and come back and do the same in 4 strides. The bending line caused riders the most problems, and he advised to use your line as well as the pace to set the horse up for the correct number of strides between fences. He also was adamant that the rider not make corrections right before the fence, but that they prepare and stick to a plan and be quick on their feet mentally.

After each group successfully did the entire line, they then had the work on adjustability within the line, doing 4 strides to a 5 stride line, and then the reverse. Again, planning your line and having a rideable horse made a huge difference in how successful each pair was.

Eventually Phillip added in the small corner you can see in the arena, creating a bending line, to a straight line, to a bending line again. Again, each rider was made to vary the number of strides they fit between each element, now with the addition of a skinny fence for accuracy. At that point, the horses were extremely adjustable and most handled it without a fuss.

The Wrap Up
To finish off the day, each pair was asked to try their forward, coming stride through a one-stride combination. The fences were set at a solid height, often at the level above what each rider was competing at. The riders I spoke to were pumped with this accomplishment, and you can see how it would apply to the next day, which was cross country.

Final Thoughts
Overall, it was obvious that Phillip is a seasoned pro, as any mishaps were waved off and no matter the size, age, or level of the riders, they were made to come again and do it right. Sometimes this required multiple attempts, but Phillip would press and demand accuracy of each pair. What surprised me the most was that his expectations did not decrease for the lower levels, and riders who had learned to gallop just the week before were nonetheless asked to make the forward pace happen between fences. Based on his amazing save on the Rio cross country course, I would propose that his demands of the participants are nothing compared to what he demands of himself. Each student was pushed slightly outside of their comfort zone and as a result, grew as a combination throughout the day.

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Bobby Costello XC Clinic Recap

It’s no secret that I’m a fangirl of Bobby- if you’ve met him, you’d know why. The guy knows his stuff, is funny as all get out, and somehow inserts both serious knowledge drops and biting humor into every lesson. Or in this case, clinic.

So when my friend Ali decided to participate in a January clinic in Southern Pines, I was immediately on board as groom. I was stoked to pick up new tidbits and more than happy to return the favor of videoing, since Ali filmed my lesson with Bobby last summer.

Any memories of a warm summer day when we had last been there quickly were replaced but what could, by North Carolina terms, be called the blizzard that started as soon as we rolled up. The snow was coming down at a hellish pace, but when we saw the first group of riders hacking to the cross country field, we started up our toe warmers (and donned every layer of clothing on hand) and prayed for the best.

Spectator selfie- trying to stay warm!

Spectator selfie- trying to stay warm! PC: A

Thanks to the elements, it was occasionally hard to hear everything being said, but here are three key takeaways from the day.

First – shoulders over hips- do NOT get ahead of the motion.
In cross country, where terrain is often part of the question, it’s important to sit back and allow the horse the balance to do his job. Also, the adoption of a more defensive position can make for a safer ride and being with or slightly behind the motion can channel a nervous horse more easily. I loved the visual of “shoulders over hips” as you can immediately see it in other riders as well as use it as an alignment cue for yourself in the saddle.

Break down the elements.
With every group, whether Beginner Novice or Prelim, he started combinations or exercises with the most simple approach, and then added elements from there. Each session started with working on the gallop position, and then over a small vertical, before moving onto the day’s work. For the bowl combination, first riders went through just the bowl, followed by adding in a small vertical, and then putting together the vertical, bowl, and hanging log to finish off. Bobby was great for instilling confidence in both horse and rider by taking this approach to combinations.

Push outside the comfort zone.
You don’t learn anything new by not trying anything new. Bobby asked each pair about any weaknesses or sticking points. And if a rider said their horse was ditchy, that didn’t mean they avoided ditches. It just meant that they got a little bit more vocal support as they worked on it, or for each group there was an advanced rider that they could follow on the heels of to get through the exercise (an awesome feature!). Watching each rider overcome their cross country demons made for a fun day where each horse and rider combination walked away better than they came.

Following the clinic we found the one place open in Southern Pines for Sunday lunch and swapped stories as we thawed and congratulated Ali on her first proper outing since “retiring” Baron two years ago. Looking forward to tagging along with her for her private lesson with BC next month!

Tami Batts Clinic Recap

Saturday I spent the day about an hour away, where USDF gold medalist and “S” judge Tami Batts was giving a dressage clinic at her own Fellowship Farm. I won’t lie, one of my primary reasons for making the trip was to spend the day with an old friend and meet her new Trakehner mare, Rea. Besides investing in my dressage education, the clinic also gave me the opportunity to try out my “fixed” camera- which was wonderful and means that I finally have new [dressage] media!

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Unlike the Janet Foy/Chris Hicky clinic I audited a few months prior, Tami spent somewhat less time on theory and put more emphasis on each horse and rider combination’s effectiveness of training. She would also check in with the audience every so often to discuss how we thought the pair would score in an actual test, either for that movement or in the Collective scores, and then work with the pair on how to improve those scores, which was really insightful for those of us watching it happen.

Rea and N in action

Rea and N in action

From each session, I gleaned bits of knowledge that I thought could be applied to most horses, or that specifically could help my own horse. Sometimes this involved the rider’s position or approach:

  • For the canter to trot downward transition (and I quote): Put your crotch in the saddle and sit up!
  • In the half-pass, the inside leg is the smart leg- it keeps the horse bent and keeps the ribcage lifted
I developed a girl crush on this mare

I developed a girl crush on this mare

Or how to warm up a horse:

  • Think of the warmup like lunging, just getting the trot out
  • Get the horse moving forward until all the steps have push/engagement/bounce from behind

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Sometimes it involved telling when a horse needed correcting or was likely to struggle:

  • Ear tilting can indicated a dropped ribcage on that side
  • A horse that travels faster in one direction is probably falling-in in that direction
  • Confirmationally speaking, a horse with a dip in front of her shoulders can be harder to connect from neck to shoulder

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But most of all the feedback centered on how or when to ride certain movements:

  • Use haunches-in to help you bend
  • Use both leg aids together once quickly to prepare the horse for walk-canter
  • When you feel the horse brace you need to relax for a moment
  • For the half-pass, if the haunches tend to lead, try riding 3 shoulder-in steps, followed by 2 strides of half-pass

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With each session, the horse and rider pair improved remarkably. Tami as a clinician and instructor was very positive with her feedback, but kept her expectations high, which left each rider feeling confident and having accomplished something by the end of their ride. It was a great day spent with a great friend, and a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow dressage addicts as well!

There goes my money

If you didn’t catch it in yesterday’s post, I have been considering a clinic as part of our summer of training. And not just a little clinic- a 3 day clinic, dressage, showjumping, and cross country, with the head of the Canadian Olympic Eventing Team- Clayton Fredericks.

This being officially the biggest (read: most expensive) thing I have done with Foster since our recognized show last year. No big deal. (Read: It’s a big freaking deal!)

So of course I went youtube stalking on his previous clinics to see what to expect. What was immediately obvious is that the man loves him some canter poles. You know who doesn’t like canter poles? Foster. So, that’s one item we will be working on between now and the end of July. We started out with 5 on the ground (which I thought was soft versus Clayton’s 8), and took a few attempts to get through without leaping and flailing.

I also set up the ‘box’ angled fences as seen in his clinic report on Eventing Nation.

Credit: Eventing Nation

Credit: Eventing Nation

In reality, I probably set the placement poles a little close to the 2′ vertical, but Foster went through in both directions without fuss.

Since the theme of the day was apparently footwork and technicality, I also took him through the thread-the-needle exercise as seen on Evention:

Although instead of 4 verticals set one stride apart, I used 3 set 2 strides apart. Obviously this was too easy for Foster, and he went through it with nary a waver. Next time they’ll be one strides, buddy.

Take-away from our little jump school? Skinnies- no problem. Angled fences- no problem. But canter poles? Well, we’ve got work to do.

No problem- almost 2 months to prepare!

Janet Foy and Chris Hickey Clinic Recap: Second – Fourth and Overall Impressions

Phew, how are you guys handling the information overload? Today’s post starts with the Second level rides, which was most interesting to me as this is what we are (were) working towards this year. Because of that, I took some rather shoddy video of Janet critiquing this pair as they rode part of Second level test 1.


(excuse my video skills, was trying to watch and listen at the same time!)

Second Level

  • At this level, collection is expected to “come and go” slightly
  • When the test was rewritten, Janet advocated for less counter-canter in the second level tests as she thought it was counter-productive for those schooling changes
    • She feels the current test therefore has too much counter canter
  • The short sides of the arena are the only place where the judge can see overall balance/collection/etc
Eliza demonstrates the Extended trot

Eliza demonstrates the Extended trot for Third level

Third Level

  • The primary goal of the half pass is forward, the secondary is sideways
  • The half pass should have more bend than a 10 meter circle
Another Raleigh trainer rides in the Fourth level demo

Another Raleigh trainer rides in the Fourth level demo

Fourth Level

  • In walk or canter pirouette, the haunches should be in the direction of the bend
  • Flying changes are the most “personal” of movements for a horse/rider pair, and so are most difficult to replicate for a strange rider
    • This because each rider is built differently- for instance she compared her leg length to Chris’s, which are about 6 inches longer. Her cue for the change will be in a very specific place, so if Chris asked for a change on her horse the horse might overreact due to not being used to feeling the leg ‘there’. If she got on Chris’s horse, the horse would likely ignore her aid for the change because her leg couldn’t reach where the horse is expecting that cue.

First level Friesian

Interesting Tid-Bits

  • In Europe, judges at the CDI level are only paid a per-diem fee of roughly ~$150, but nothing else, so judging is really out of a passion for the sport
  • The German language has much better verbage for dressage, whereas they have a single word for a concept, in English we sometimes need whole sentences to describe it. Takeaway? Germans just speak dressage better than us.
  • The change of diagonal (HXF or MXK) in intro builds the foundation for flying changes, as it tests the straightness of the horse
  • Most tests are written for the judge at C, so in tests where there are multiple judges C tends to be the highest score
    • Judging at ‘H’ is referred to the Hellhole, since judge’s can only see the horse’s ass (her words, not mine)
    • Judges at E and B typically give the lowest scores because they can see the most sins
  • Do not, under any circumstances, retire from the arena without the judge’s permission. Not only is it bad sportsmanship, but the judge can (and Janet Foy will) give you a zero for the test (which at a recognized show is a big deal since the scores stay with you forever) and the judge can also opt to give you 0’s for every other ride (even on other horses)
    • It doesn’t matter if it is a local show or a Selection Trials, good sportsmanship matters.

Congratulations to you if you made it through all that! 8 hours of dressage clinic left us all a little brain dead, but eager to hop on our own horses and apply some of the new found knowledge.

Last Thoughts
My overall impression was that each horse was extremely well schooled in the level it was representing. With the exception of the Friesian, all horses were warmbloods of varying quality. A couple were built downhill, a couple flat-crouped, and a couple that were just absolutely drool worthy. The riders also in general were very well turned out and for the most part had nice equitation, but some had holes in their position that definitely reflected in their rides. Seeing some of these imperfections made me think that perhaps a dressage clinic of this caliber might be something that Foster and I could do in the future, and will definitely be something I would consider going forward.

For certain, each rider left the arena having been improved in some shape or form, and the auditors left being a little more schooled in understanding scoring and the execution of movements at each level.

Janet Foy and Debbie McDonald Clinic Recap: Overall comments, Training and First

Or should I say, the Janet Foy and Chris Hickey Clinic. Unbeknownst to us, Debbie experienced severe vertigo before getting on the plane and was banned from flying, so Chris Hickey (formerly of Hilltop Farm – a la Riverman, Don Principe etc) filled in for her. Certainly it was a dissapointment that Debbie could not be there, but that didn’t mean the day wasn’t exceptionally informational nonetheless.

The clinic was structured around each level, progressing from Training level to Grand Prix with two riders demoing part of their level’s test or movements. Janet spoke mostly from a judge’s point of view, providing scores and their justification as the riders went through the test elements, followed by Chris working on each pair’s weaknesses for a short time.

Because the clinic was so darn long (8:30am – 4pm) there was just too much to capture in one post. So today, let’s look at the more general feedback and Training and First level demos.

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General:

  • Janet describes a “red line” for her, where at scores of 5 and 6 there are more problems than good, and where that starts to affect the overall scores of submission, gaits, etc.
  • Horses tend to like the right leg better than the left, and therefore be more submissive in that direction
  • Watch out for “jelly belly”, or the rider absorbing too much of the motion of the horse in their torso
  • The horse MUST be in front of the leg
    • Send the horse forward and back to confirm being in front of the leg
    • Also test how quickly the horse responds to the forward request (sounds familiar to me!)
  • For the horse that evades a more forward trot by cantering, don’t bring them back to the trot, instead send them forward at the canter, so the horse does not learn the escape being forward
  • True dressage is when things look easy, and the relationship is symbiotic
Training Horse checks out the crowd

Training Horse checks out the crowd

Training:

  • Stretchy trot: The nose should be between the shoulder and the knee, but not any lower, else the horse be on the forehand
  • Use the geometry of the tests to fix the horse’s problems, often being accurate allows the horse to better be on the aids
  • Even at this level, corners should be obvious, not part of the 20m circles
  • Straightness down the long sides is really represented by shoulder-fore (so the shoulders are in front of the hips)
This lovely creature rode in the First level demo

This lovely creature appeared in the First level demo

First Level

  • Even in the working trot, a lengthening should always be accessible at any moment
  • Don’t bother lengthening the frame in a trot lengthening until the weight is properly on the hind end
  • The canter is truly balanced when it is “10 meter circle-able”, or that the rider could complete a 10 meter circle at any time without the horse losing balance
  • The canter should be 50% pushing power and 50% carrying

Tomorrow, Second thru Fourth level and my overall impressions from the day!

Dreaming of jumping

2 weeks isn’t the longest amount of time we’ve gone without jumping by any stretch of the imagination, but still, with the impending show season looming in front of us, it seems like we will never have a chance to prepare.

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Yesterday we got 2 inches of snow (I’m sure those up north are snickering right now) and expecting (supposedly) another 8-12 inches in the next couple days.

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It’s enough that our outdoor arena, which was already under water from the melted ice, will be unusable for some time.

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Some time as in, until spring.

onestridePlease, spring, hurry. We need you.

 

Winter Weather and a mini Dressage Lesson Recap

Winter weather has officially hit North Carolina (and seemingly a lot of other places too), so obviously, pretty much everything that can be closed is closed. And of course the problem with living in a house on a hill is that when said hill ices over, you’re pretty much stuck anyways. So if you want to find me, I’ll be in my sweatpants working from home the next couple days.

The upside to all this is that everytime I look outside I think of this…

 

… and therefore sing all four parts to my husband, complete with cheesy railroad noises. I like to think I’m adorable, but I’m probably just hurting my chances on getting that next blog post out of him. Whatevs snow snow Snow SNOW SNOW!!!

Before the ice storm hit, I was able to squeeze in a dressage lesson and discuss  the feedback from the clinic. Foster had a couple days off after the clinic, then a long stretchy session to work out any kinks, so even though I hadn’t dressaged yet since the clinic, it was still helpful.

clinic canter

Basically the lesson was a repeat of lessons before in that there was a lot of emphasis on transitions within and between gaits, lateral work in the form of shoulder and haunches in, and more work on our lengthenings. Foster’s still figuring these out to some degree, and part of how he is dealing with the added ‘pressure’ of the lengthening is to curl under, so I’m learning how to get his poll up and keep him going, or for now, come back to the walk then try again.

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One of the most aggravating parts of my test was getting that 5.5 on the free walk, and so we worked on getting him to really take the extra stretch without rooting. Part of solving this problem includes my moving my hands towards his mouth (i.e, pushing my elbows to the fence!) so that he has even more ‘place’ to go. So obviously this is a feeling that I need to get the hang of in order to get the most out of my horse! Funny how habits transcend disciplines!