Thursday, November 29, 2012

News Flash-Frisco Earns High Praise and Scores from Hilda Gurney

On the heels of attending the Through the Levels Symposium, driving north into rain/slush/ice/snow, Frisco and I drove south to the beautiful Cooper Ranch for the Las Vegas Fall Fling. We had a great time, and Frisco was on his p's and q's. Hilda was pleased with the direction of the training, complimenting Frisco's work ethic and connection, and felt the rider was helping her horse out. That is always nice to hear from a respected judge, who has been successul in literally every facet of our sport. Our lowest score was a 71.2%, and we earned a 77.725% on the USEF Young Horse Test, video link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piVeVbg6VB4&feature=plcp
The last time I showed Frisco under Hilda Gurney was at his very first show, in Arizona, as a 3 year old. Our scores were 55% from her at that time. This is quite the improvement. I was happy to show her the old tests, and to let her know that I appreciated the firm remarks, because they had helped me improve my riding and training. As I discussed in my post regarding my experience with Lois Yukins at the the Region 5 Championship show, I believe the judges try hard to give us valuable information, and it is up to us as riders to try to use that information to improve. While you cannot ride to the judge, you absolutely should take it seriously when you hear comments that go to incorrect training or fundamental problems. Every horse has a bad day, a big spook, whatever. How you handle it is more important in the big picture. Rather than choosing to "take my ball and go home", refusing to ever show again under the judges who gave me the harshest criticism, I chose instead to really dig deep and find a way to make improvements in my training methods. You  have to stay really  humble when training horses. While it is important to be consistent and trust in the training, you also need to know when to recognize information that is crucial to your development and not take it personally. The judges really do want to see good rides, so it is up to us to make sure our horses are confident and correctly developed for the level at which we compete. I'm so glad I chose to take my medicine and learn from my tough rides, rather than being insular, which is so easy to do when you only train with one person. We need to stretch ourselves in order to grow. If we aren't growing, we are dying.
 


Through the Levels Symposium with Debbie McDonald and Janet Foy

On the weekend of November 10th and 11th, riders and auditors braved the snowy, slushy, rainy and icy(all in the same 24 hour period!) roads to attend a fabulous symposium organized and hosted by the wonderful Lawrence family at Millbrook Farms in Fairfield, Utah. Riders came from all parts of Utah, and other western states. Auditors came even farther. Demonstration riders were chosen from applications that were received in the prior months. Frisco and I were lucky enough to be chosen to demonstrate Training level concepts.
I was thrilled to get feedback from Debbie and Janet. Janet provided a perspective from the judge's booth, while Debbie provided perspective from the trainer and coach. Both were supportive but demanding, funny, and engaging. They covered a tremendous amount of territory in this symposium and I was very glad I got the DVDs because between having to get my horse ready, and then put him away, plus needing to leave early on Sunday to avoid trailering in the dark, I certainly did not want to miss one bit of information.
This post will highlight information I gained that pertained to my own horse, and I'll write a separate article in the future that encompasses information from the entire symposium.
Frisco has been finding his "go button" lately, so I wound up with a far more exuberant horse than I normally have on this weekend. He is also still growing, at 4 years, and is turning out to be a slower maturer than I'd originally anticipated, so he deals with balance issues. Sometimes the canter is better, other times, the trot is better. Right now, the canter is unbalanced. Frisco also is very easy to bring "round", and both Debbie and Janet wanted to see him stretch out to my hand more, and they even encouraged me to let him be a little bit above or in front of the bit as often as possible. One exercise that was particularly useful for helping Frisco reach out for the bit was to counterflex and then give, riding him forward to that place, and repeating. It was really interesting to see how much longer his neck looked in the video after doing this for several circles.
Debbie wanted to see Frisco a little more in front of my leg, and pointed out that it is his job to take me, not the other way around. She wanted me to use frequent transitions to help him balance in the canter, and to be sure not to ask for too much bend. Janet pointed out that you can only have as much bend as you have balance, and overbending can very often put the horse onto the outside shoulder. Tracking right, I need to pay particular attention to this issue.
On the second day, the format was a 20 minute warmup followed by riding through Training level test 3. It was a tough act to follow, riding after Alison Child and World Games. Woody is a bit of a superstar, and is very naturally uphill, not dealing with the same balance issues Frisco is dealing with at the moment. Frisco was going against my hand a good bit, and, being a little bit naughty. Debbie helped me work through this with a lot of transitions, and using counterflexion before asking for the canter depart. She feels this helps the rider gain control over the outside shoulder when the rider may not be getting the response to the inside leg that is needed. For my position, she wanted me to stay much more plugged into the saddle, and be stronger with my core, so that Frisco could not pull me out of the tack. She wanted me to keep my shoulder blades more together. Also, when he runs through the outside shoulder(usually onto the left shoulder), I need to straighten and ride forward in order to avoid crossing my left rein. I discovered that I was keeping my left hand a bit too high, so by lowering it, it acted more like a side rein to stop that shoulder from falling. I need to continue to get a better, more correct response to my right leg. This is an ongoing process and not something that was going to get fixed in a day. Both Debbie & Janet wanted to see me show off Frisco's trot a bit more, that it is the highlight of the work right now. I was pleased to see that with the instruction I received, Frisco's neck was longer, the contact got more correct, and his trot gained expression. Neither Debbie nor Janet were expecting Frisco to be able to get through the test very well after our difficult warmup, but Frisco does know his job, and was I think frankly relieved to get to do something he knew exactly how to do, so he pulled out all the stops for me and we aced it, even with the somewhat hectic canter work. He might have an attitude, and he does get frustrated when he doesn't understand, but once he gets it, he always brings his A game. I love this horse!!!  I tallied up the scores and we would have earned a 71.842 on that ride had this been a real show. Janet discussed bloodlines briefly, addressing the concerns about Frisco's fussiness and sensitivity...she feels his lines can often be very tricky in the beginning, but handled well, they can be really good horses later on in their careers. I will continue to put myself out there, trying to gain all the advice I can to better develop my youngster.
I am really grateful for the opportunity this weekend provided. The facility was beautiful, the Lawrence family was extremely accomodating and took excellent care of the riders and auditors, and I think everyone had a great time and learned a lot. If you were unable to attend, I highly recommend purchasing the DVDs at www.prophoto.bz. Pictures were provided courtesy of Millbrook Farms and Becca Tolman.



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Half the failures in life arise from pulling in the horse as he is leaping."

I learned something from my four year old horse today. I am supposed to be the teacher here, and yet anyone who has ever taught anything to anyone knows full well that the teacher learns as much from the student as the student learns from the teacher. Frisco is still learning to be straighter, better aligned, and more balanced. He is young. This problem generally reveals itself when tracking right. He leaves his shoulders left. I am very careful not to fall into the trap most people fall into, which is to bring the right leg back in a vain attempt to get the haunches to move more to the outside. If I want right bend, I have to keep the correct right bend position and not fall victim to his lack of alignment. Eventually he will balance himself under me and straighten himself out, with repeated corrections every ride, every day, for a lifetime. That said, he still often gets on the forehand to the right even though I am careful to keep the correct right bend position. Today, it hit me like a truck, how I could better help him. We all like to think we have great hands, don't we? We know we aren't supposed to pull back, and yet, we do. That is human nature. I try very hard not to ever pull back with any horse, but especially mine, because his poll is so flexible and his neck shortens easily. But I realized today, when he gets out of alignment, and those shoulders start getting left to the left :) because he isn't engaged enough with his right hind leg, I exacerbate the problem with my hands. I DO pull back, whether I want to admit it or not. For some reason, I decided to put my hands markedly forward today, and voila. He was able to find his balance and get back into alignmment. I absolutely WAS pulling in my horse just as he was attempting to make the leap...even though I knew better. How many times have you been absolutely convinced you were doing all you could to help the situation, only to realize later that you were doing one crucial thing that was constantly causing you to paddle upstream? By shortening his neck in an attempt to achieve a better alignment, I was causing him to tip further onto the forehand, making it even more difficult for him to regain his alignment. I was thinking too much about the front of my horse, and not enough about allowing him the space to balance himself with his own neck, and just keeping the hind leg active. What is that zen saying? Do not forget what you already know??? I was instantly reminded of this sage advice below today, when my horse went from somersaulting over his forehand into a nice, uphill, 10 meter trot circle, just because I simply gave him the space to get it done. We have to learn from our horses, we have to learn to read them and understand what works and what does not. Nothing you read in books is useful, if you are not able to also read your horse and make the necessary adjustments, and respond to the feedback your horse is giving you. As Alfredo Hernandez said when asked what books he recommended: "My book has a mane, a tail, and four legs. You need to learn to read your horse."

Half the failures in life arise from pulling in the horse as he is leaping. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another Great Clinic with Alfredo!

Frisco and I have now participated in three clinics with Alfredo Hernandez at the lovely Kimball Ranch in Heber City, organized by Stephanie Brown-Beamer. Since bringing Frisco back to work after his summer vacation, I have struggled to regain access to his back. I was pleased that Alfredo instantly picked up on the missing engagement, not so much of his hind leg, but behind the saddle. Frisco is a well developed, strapping, strong horse. But he is still a young horse, and his back, his bridge, still has to be built up just like any other horse. Both days, Alfredo worked the piaffe with Frisco in hand, and we also worked the passage in hand. We had worked piaffe a little bit last time, and in the first clinic, we worked passage with me in the saddle. But the goal of doing both in hand this time was to help remind Frisco to engage his body, and to use his core muscles more correctly. He has a nice way of using his hind leg, however he can look more engaged than he actually is. But I could feel it, the lack of access to the hind leg and the lack of connection to my seat. In the piaffe work, Frisco offered some attempts at diagonal pairing and was quickly and hugely rewarded each time. Recall that last time, Frisco only lowered and quickened behind, but never offered the diagonal pairing with a front leg. This is how Alfredo works...only a few steps for now with big rewards, so he knows what we want and will try to offer it sooner, and more clearly, next time. I cannot work the piaffe and passage in hand alone yet, but Alfredo gave me an excellent exercise to do at home. He wants me to do walk to halt to walk transitions in hand, and when Frisco halts, I am to use the whip to encourage him to step deeper underneath and completely square. A few times, Frisco offered it very correctly and was hugely rewarded. I am to work on this a little bit every single day. We did quite a bit of in hand work both days. On the second day, under saddle, I finally felt that connection to my seat that had been missing, and I felt a greatly improved balance. It was enlightening to see how much taller Frisco looked when he was fully engaged and pushing off the bit. This improved balance in hand helped the balance under saddle, and that is really the premise of Alfredo's work.
Just to highlight that there is nothing new under the sun, Alfredo continued to stress inside leg to outside rein connection. He never wanted two reins used in the half halt or the transitions, only outside rein. But that only works if the inside leg is correctly used, and the horse is correctly responding to these aids. When Frisco tuned me out, he said to wait it out, that he would eventually give me a response, but to never sacrifice the classical principles out of impatience or frustration, even if I have booming voice telling me to get it done!!  This experience gave me a humbling reminder of how my students feel from time to time when I am asking them to do something, and they know they can't get it done. Alfredo also wants me to make sure Frisco works with a longer neck, that I work with a lower hand, that I constantly push him forward to the bit, but that I use only my body in the half halts(where have I heard this before?!). And in pushing him forward to the bit, he is never allowed to run or quicken the tempo, so I am to use many half halts, again with my body, to teach him that my leg does not mean go faster. It means engage your hind legs, and my half halt means engage your core and lift your thoracic sling. Every stride: engage hind legs followed immediately by engage core and lift thoracic sling. This is how you build that bridge, every stride, every ride.
In the lateral work in hand, Alfredo was very pleased to see that Frisco was now much  more forward thinking in all his reactions(this is also true in the saddle), but he still felt Frisco was being lazy behind, and tending to over position his neck. So he actually had me shorten the side reins quite a bit, and, hold the whip a bit lower. He wanted me to make bigger, sharper corrections, and be less "nagging" with my use of the whip to control the haunches. And he wanted me to half halt either back towards the shoulder when Frisco lost the body angle by overbending the neck, or, half halt up and tap the wither with the whip when Frisco tried to bear down into my hand. These corrections paid major dividends when on the second day we were able to take many careful, correct steps laterally, in both directions, with only the weight of the rein in my hand. He continued to stress that I never allow Frisco to step out behind with his inside leg when halting from this work. He does it with both hind legs so Alfredo feels it is more an issue of laziness behind, rather than any particular weakness. A seemingly tiny detail, but hugely important in Frisco's overall understanding as a dressage horse, was noted on the first day. When taking the first step laterally, Frisco stepped first with the front leg. Alfredo wants him to step first with the hind leg. Just pointing it out to me, bringing it to my awareness, seemed to be enough to make it happen. It reminded me to focus much more on the hind leg in the work, so that when I asked him to step over, I directed my intent towards his inside hind leg. Once again, this proves that the horse rarely makes mistakes, and the fault can usually be found with the rider. It is only natural for a horse to make the first move with the front leg, but correctly set up in a system of aids, he can and will make the first move with his hind leg. That does not take talent, on the part of the horse or the rider. That just takes attention to detail. Dressage is a sport in which you can succeed if you pay attention to the small things. Yes it helps to have a horse that is extremely talented. But even the plainest of horses, so long as it is sound, can be greatly improved by careful and correct training that never lets any detail slide.
I once again leave my experience with Alfredo inspired and energized. If you have the opportunity to ride with Alfredo, you absolutely should. Even one clinic is very helpful, but you can gain the most by working with him consistently. Each clinic builds upon the information from the last.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

CCEC Fall Dressage Schooling Show


SCWDressage organized the CCEC Fall Dressage Shooling Show, held this past Saturday, October 20th. We had gorgeous weather. Everything ran smoothly and on time, thanks to our judge Stephanie Brown-Beamer, and our volunteers. In fact I had a dire shortage of volunteers, so we ran on a skeleton crew of Lava Bluffs Equestrian Center boarders, with Heidi serving as our scribe, Brenda helping me rake the arena edges the day before as well as with setup and scoring, and Sarah helping me with morning setup and afternoon takedown. So not only did Lava Bluffs and the Gardners provide our stunning setting for the show, but it was their clients who made the show happen. Our community owes a lot to Ryon and Holly to make it possible for Color Country Equestrian Club have a Dressage program. We had fun prizes for class placements rather than ribbons, and thanks to Adams Horse and Pet Supplies(link to them via the icon on the right side of my blog), we had amazing High Point prizes! Pictured here are two such winners, Hannah Hymas on the left, and Chelsea Mackert on the right, with their coach, Rosemary Gunter. Hannah was the Jr/YR High Point, and Chelsea was the Western Dressage High Point. Vintage High Point went to SCWDressage's own Sarah Glidden, and Open High Point went to Arlene Cunningham. In addition, a "Most Inspirational Horse" award was given to Becky Sue Moore and Theo-San, her 32 year old OTTB. Pictured below is a group of riders goofing off with the class prizes. Full results for the show may be found here: http://www.colorcountryequestrianclub.com/index.html
Left to Right: Mia, Hannah, Stephanie, Stacy, Sarah, Bella, Theo, Rosemary, Becky, Brenda, Chelsea, and Pipsqueak

Through the Levels Symposium with Debbie McDonald and Janet Foy

I am over the moon excited to announce that Frisco and I have been chosen as a demonstration pair for this symposium, taking place November 10th and 11th and Millbrook Farms! We will be one of two pairs demonstrating movements and concepts at Training Level. Details about the symposium can be found on Millbrook Farms' website: http://millbrookfarms.com/media/Symposium_One_Page_Ad_Version_1.pdf

Sunday, October 21, 2012

2012 GAIG/USDF Region 5 Championships, Heber City, UT

Frisco and I headed up to Heber City the first weekend in October to participate in the Regional Championships. The setting was beautiful, with the Wasatch mountains framing the outdoor rings, and the weather was bright and crisp. Frisco had only been back under saddle for six weeks, after having a seven week summer vacation turned out on grass. Our last show was in May, so, we were a little bit rusty compared to some of the other pairs, who had been showing through the summer. Down in Dixie, show season is fall through spring. I may show Frisco through the summer in 2013 in order to avoid this issue next year. It is a disadvantage, when the championship show is always in the fall.
Our Training level Championship class was on Friday, and normally, that would be a good thing for Frisco. He has been fairly laid back in the past, but he seems to now understand that shows mean it's time to bring your A game. So, he was a little more exuberant than I'd expected, and I probably could have planned 45 minute warmups vs. 35 minute warmups. That said, it was going to be a long weekend with six classes for the show and I didn't want to put too much stress on his legs and soft tissue. So on Friday, I had far more horse than I typically have, and, he was rather spooky. We managed to still get decent scores, a 61.4 on the warmup class and 63.7 on the championship class. We placed 5th in the championship, not bad in light of the spooking and utter lack of a half halt! The judge in the warmup test(61.7) commented that the miscommunications needed to be sorted out before getting to the show. That will be a major theme in our training for the next year. That is essentially life with a developing young horse, really...establishing reliable communication. At home, I generally have way more whoa than go, but at shows, it is the opposite, which makes it difficult to prepare for. In the end, the resolve is the same: he has to learn to be ON my aids, not behind them, and not getting ahead of me.
Saturday was a much better day in terms of submission. Frisco was a lot more attentive and I felt our rides went really well. However, the judge did not quite agree. Our scores were not bad at all, with a 64.2 on the Training Test 3 and a 68.2 on the USEF 4 Yr Old Test, but I sure thought that Training level test was going to be a better score. After watching the video, in comparison to some rides in the previous show season, I do think there are judges who would have scored it quite a bit higher. In fact on Friday, this same judge scored our ride over 5% lower than the other judge in the championship class. At an International show, this kind of scoring differential would result in a judging committee meeting. She had a bone to pick with me, and that was this: my horse is naturally very easily brought "round" in front. He has three fingers of space in the throatlatch, which  makes his poll extremely flexible. And even though he has a super shape and set to his neck, it is rather short. This particular judge was absolutely adamant that I not "cheat" to make him look round, and to make sure he was developing the necessary topline strength by not letting him settle behind the bit no matter how hard he tried. She wanted him honestly stretching for my hand in all the work, and she wanted me to make absolutely sure that when I employed the half halt, I did so in such a way as to not shorten his neck and discourage his desire to reach for my hand. While I felt somewhat picked on in this respect, and that she possibly focused on this to the exclusion of recognizing some of the more positive aspects of the work, in the end, the judge is always right. I resolved that I would figure out how to get a half halt without shortening my horse's neck. On Sunday, the videos revealed a MARKED improvement of Frisco's uphill balance, particularly in the trot work. I believe that we learn the most from our disappointments and failures. We certainly didn't fail, but my disappointment stung enough to light a fire under me. I have folded this experience into my training with Frisco since then, and he is gradually getting stronger in the topline and improving his uphill balance, day by day. This will take time, but now is the time...Frisco can't get by on his good looks any longer, the work has to be very correct, and I place extreme value on the learning experience this day provided.
Sunday was the highlight, and despite Frisco getting a little over eager and getting ahead of me, I made one hundred percent sure my half halts did not suppress his forward desire or his reach to the bridle. You can see in the video that there are times when he still cheats and settles behind the bit, but overall, the balance was much improved, and I received 8s from both judges for rider seat and position. Frisco earned a 70.4 on Training Test 3 for a championship qualifying score for 2013. He also earned a 70.6 on the USEF 4 Yr Old Test. Frisco was repeatedly complimented for his work ethic and willingness to please by all four judges who saw him on Saturday and Sunday. In fact one friend of mine who saw one such comment said "you should frame that!". This alone was an enormous victory over the problems encountered on Friday. Everyone has their own philosophies, but as I said earlier, we learn most from our failings. Frisco's mother was also very spooky. I handled the problem wrong when she was young, and as a result, she spent a lifetime not sure whether to be more concerned about the boogy men in the corners, or about my lack of tact in handling her fear. I vowed to never make that mistake again, and so with Frisco, who can be very spooky just like his mother, I have always just completely ignored the spook, ridden him forward, and put him back to work. By not overreacting to his fears, I help Frisco overcome them. He realizes that if I am not scared, there is probably no reason for him to be either. By Sunday, he was walking by the 20 foot tall tractor like it was not there, and when a new judge's tent appeared where there had previously not been one, he strode past it with boldness, like he fully expected it to be there. I have to take pride in the things well done, and this is one thing I am proud of...I now know how to teach a young horse to be brave and confident. This is a success that was born of failure.
Here are links to the videos from Sunday:
http://youtu.be/AZNf9b01-bs
http://youtu.be/4-4iLyVWEv4
Many thanks to my friend Brenda for travelling to the show with me. While she and Poetic Justice did qualify, she chose to focus on her training rather than going to a show. It was great to have the moral support, and a dedicated video person and polo wrap remover, and also an emergency fly spray retriever!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Fix it in hand and it will not be a problem under saddle."-Latest Gleanings from Alfredo Hernandez

Frisco and I made a mad dash to Heber City Thursday and Friday to have a couple of rides with our favorite clinician, Alfredo Hernandez. I learn so much, whether during my own sessions, or while watching other rides. I have been working diligently on my in hand work with Frisco, and when Alfredo asked to see it, I was expecting lots of praise for my good work. It was not to be. His standards are exacting. He did tell me to take it as a compliment that he pushes me so much for excellence, and that eased the sting of realizing we still had much to improve upon. Frisco and I have definitely made improvements, but, I was failing to notice two very critical things. The first one involved Frisco's use of the hind leg. Every time I asked Frisco to halt after a turn on the forehand, he would fail to bring his inside hind leg underneath. He did it both directions. I was so happy that he was moving in the right direction, that I failed to notice that he did not finish underneath himself. That is critical to his future as a dressage horse. The hind leg can never trail. Fix it in hand, Alfredo insists, and it will never be a problem under saddle. He had me tap the hind leg until Frisco was square and underneath behind. At first, he did not understand, but it didn't take long for him to figure out he had to stay underneath. The corrections had the pleasant bonus of making him much quicker behind as well. I could smell the piaffe ;)

There was another problem, which I had noticed, but wasn't sure what do to correct nor did I understand the implications of it. Whenever I would ask Frisco to turn on the forehand, and then halt at the wall, Frisco would bulge through the outside shoulder and take over, essentially running to the wall. He is a clever boy and knows that there is a release of mental pressure, and sometimes a peppermint, when he gets to that wall. Who could blame him? Bonus points are in order for intelligence. But I didn't own the exercise. And with any horse, but especially with a horse as confident as Frisco, that's a serious concern. It is a submission issue. Alfredo did not want me to be so obsessed with getting to the wall. After a couple of attempts, I quickly realized it was more Frisco who was obsessed with getting to the wall, than I. I stopped and told Alfredo...this is the problem I am having in the leg yields. His response: "I am not surprised!". Fix it in hand and it will not be a problem under saddle. In order to fix it, Alfredo wanted me to continue with the turn on the forehand until I owned each step to the wall. If Frisco took over, I was to immediately require him to continue turning. This greatly frustrated Frisco. He likes to be taught his tricks like a good Labrador retriever and then get his cookie and his release. Having to continue to remain on the aids and give me ownership of the exercise was Frisco's challenge for the clinic, and it surfaced in nearly everything we did, whether in hand or under saddle. There were fireworks. Alfredo is a genius at getting to the root issue, finding the one thing that is interfering with all the work, and making it the priority.

A new layer to the turns on the forehand were added for us this time. Alfredo wanted them to be twenty meters. Frisco and I seem to prefer to do that on the volte. He said that is fine if I want to train a bullfighting horse, but a dressage horse has to cover ground. He really wanted me to allow Frisco to cover ground in these turns on the forehand, no less than twenty meters for us. That meant I had to take much longer strides, as did my horse.

Alfredo addressed the piaffe with Frisco both days, having me at his head. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see that Frisco did not try very much to go past me even as he got excited or confused. A few times he did, but, he accepted my corrections and remained on the spot whenever I asked him to. I was also very pleased to see Frisco get much quicker behind. There was not a discernably correct piaffe this time, but the hind legs did what they were supposed to, and the front legs will come. Frisco played around with ideas, offering more of a Spanish walk effort in front, which I only corrected if he got too close to me. But he sat(boy can he sit!), and he quickened behind. Just think, if Frisco understands what to do with his body now, how easy is his life going to be ten years from now? He'll have been experimenting with the piaffe for years. It will not be a mystery to him. I'm so fortunate to have this opportunity to prepare my horse for the future, even as I improve our work for today.

We went on to some work under saddle, after working with in hand for quite a long time, both days. My horse isn't super motivated to work and go forward, but after having to do so  much in hand work that focuses very  much on the lateral work, he was THRILLED to go forward. Whoever said that lateral work kills impulsion hasn't had the pleasure of learning Alfredo's in hand techniques. I had plenty of energy that simply needed to be channelled and moulded. That was a very enlightening and empowering realization for me. But Alfredo did not let Frisco off the hook. Back to the turns on the forehand covering 20 meter circles. Oh boy. Did I mention the fireworks??? To the right track, no sweat. But to the left, his strong side, to ask a very dominant horse to yield his power to me...that was a different story altogether. Alfredo said that the creator of the shoulder in was an absolute genius. With the inside hind leg correctly underneath the center of  mass and thus fully under the influence of and at the will of the rider, the horse cannot rear, he cannot buck, he cannot come above the bridle...he is yours. Frisco is no shrinking violet and I will have to earn my stripes. I was near tears on day one. We never really got it through. On day two, after many escapades, temper tantrums and explosions, by gosh, he yielded me his left hind and maintained the forward reach to my outside rein. A few steps. A few times. Three times Alfredo made me check again, to be sure, and we passed the test. Whew. We did it. I was very sore Saturday, but, I did it. I HAD to do it. He said to expect compliance for a couple more rides, but to also expect a final challenge on this issue. It is asking a lot to ask such a stable, balanced, and strong minded horse to yield all his power to me. This is a horse that levades as play. He is very stable, and very powerful. I do appreciate the gravity of what he is giving me. But if I am not worthy of receiving that power, and handling it with respect and appreciation, then I am not worthy of this amazingly talented creature. I owned the ride at last. Stripes earned.

There were other gleanings from the clinic, watching others and also tidbits from my rides:
~The inside rein is for decoration. I use too much inside rein, ask for too much inside positioning on a circle. His neck  needs to be very straight. I know this, and work hard on it-just ask my students, I am yammering at them all the time for this-but nonetheless, he needed to be even straighter in the positioning.
~In the one tempi's, don't school two tempi's as preparation to working the one tempi's. The one tempi's are their own movement altogether. He had one rider put the reins in one hand. The horse must be absolutely straight, there is no time for changing the bend. By putting the reins in one hand, it takes away the ability of the rider to interfere at all in front, and allows her to focus on getting a quicker reaction behind, riding the horse straight into the bridle.
~In the pirouettes, many riders focus so much on the response to the outside leg that they forget to manage the inside bend. You may have to move the whip to the inside hand from time to time to make sure the inside shoulder does not drop, and cause a loss of bend.
~Even a master can demonstrate humility. One rider really struggles to keep her big guy connected in the transitions. Alfredo rode him this time. After a couple of canter transitions, he stopped and said "WOW you do a good job with this horse!". You could not wipe the grin off that rider's face for hours...to have her struggles acknowledged in such a way was very kind of Alfredo.

I cannot wait until the next clinic...I will be counting down the days to six weeks from now. Many thanks to Stephanie Brown-Beamer for organizing these clinics, and to Alfredo, who is in great demand, and has now been tapped by the Spanish Riding School as a guest instructor. We so appreciate that he comes to Utah for us.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"I Can Smell the Piaffe"~June 2012 Clinic with Alfredo Hernandez

Frisco Bay at Four Years, Developing the Passage

“I can smell the piaffe.”…If you imagine these words spoken in  a heavy Spanish accent, and in the most lighthearted and joking way, you will have an insight into the kind of fun but educational time you will have if you ride with Alfredo Hernandez, a renowned piaffe/passage clinician. If you think we are talking about putting tricks on horses, you will be sadly mistaken. Alfredo just might be the REAL horse whisperer. His timing is impeccable, and his read of both horses and people is like nothing I have witnessed. He is the perfect mix of confidence in his abilities, ability to admit he is always learning new things, silliness to balance the seriousness, self-deprecating humor, and earnest desire to help the rider achieve her goals.

I took my four year old Westfalen gelding, Frisco Bay(Fidertanz x Conquistador) to a clinic with Alfredo at the beautiful Kimball Ranch in Heber City, Utah, organized by Stephanie Brown-Beamer of Hampton Dressage. You might wonder why someone would ride a 4 yr old in a clinic with a trainer who specializes in the Grand Prix movements. Alfredo loves to work with young horses, before they think this is work, before they have any preconceived notions, and before unhelpful patterns are set. He plays with it, introduces the concepts, in a careful way, so the youngsters finish with a new understanding of how to carry themselves. He tailors his expectations to the horse and rider, and very quickly assesses what will come easily to the horse, and what may not. He uses his techniques to give the horse confidence and tools to try the things that may come harder.

My goals for this clinic were to learn in hand methods that will help my horse be more responsive to my aids both on the ground and under saddle, and to have the concepts of piaffe and passage introduced to him now, so that he just gradually learns a more enhanced balance, engagement and self- carriage. I came away with many tools and learned several in hand techniques. It will, however, take me many years to improve my technique and timing, and my read of the horse. It was invaluable to have Alfredo show me some very small but very significant “tells” my body was giving my horse. Something as simple as asking the horse to move off can be surprisingly difficult when your horse is also your pet and you really don’t want them to leave you. Every time I asked him to move off, I very subtly yielded my own position to him, and yet I wonder why he always pushes towards me with his shoulders. Alfredo put his hand on my shoulder and stopped me from doing that, and Frisco instantly yielded.  There are many little positional things Alfredo gives his students that help them gain more leadership with their horses. A cardinal rule, for example, is to never let the horse pass your shoulder, and if you have a ground person, the rider has the utmost responsibility to never let the horse pass the ground person. This is one of the keys to developing the half halt, because once they learn they can’t pass you, they learn how to half halt themselves, and it puts them in a much more uphill balance. If they can half halt themselves, they become easier to half halt under saddle. Some important concepts I learned for handling the horses in hand are as follows:

a.       If you want your horse to back up, and they are not cooperating, a tap on the cannon bone with the toe of your boot is extremely effective. Just step towards your horse and they learn quickly to get out of your way if your boot’s toe meets their cannon bone a time or two. My guy is a giant Chocolate lab and I had him stepping out of my way like a ballet dancer.

b.      “Close the door”. The horse is never to pass your shoulder. You need to have your shoulders perpendicular to the horse’s shoulders. He is also never to lean into you. Alfredo believes a horse that pushes into its handler is more dangerous than a horse that kicks.

c.       Never use the whip on the horse’s shoulders. If he pushes past, use the toe on cannon bone technique, or, a push with your hand on the horse’s face to turn him away from you.

d.      When asking the horse to move off, the horse moves first, and then you go with him. This was the biggest struggle for me, having raised my own horse, who as I said earlier is more like a big dog.  I, like any “mom”, try to do everything for him, including providing too much “help” to get him to move. I learned that my “lazy” horse is actually not lazy at all, he is extremely responsive and light, when I teach him to carry himself, and then, LET him carry himself. Alfredo said this is a very hard concept for women. Not to open a can of worms here, but, he said he has met the most powerful of women, but when it comes to their “babies”, they always struggle to be as direct as a man can be. Horses really need for us to be direct with them. That is how they treat each other.

Alfredo taught me how to have my horse turn on the shoulders in hand, and then under saddle. The turn on the shoulders is a way to use leverage to gain the horse’s respect. If you control the head and the hips, you control the horse. He also showed other riders how to then turn it into a turn on the haunches with reverse bend, and I will introduce this to Frisco in time. This work transfers to the saddle, making the horse lighter to the bending and moving aids.

But this clinic was not all about in hand work. Alfredo had excellent exercises for us to use under saddle. With my horse, he had me do many trot to walk to trot transitions. He said this is how you teach the half halt. He wants the horses learning to reach into the contact from the beginning, and learning to stay connected in transitions from the beginning. “No fluffy reins!!” he would say. Actually he was saying no floppy reins, but the accent makes it sound like he is saying fluffy, and frankly, I think it is a much more picturesque way of saying it! One of the most effective exercises he used with my horse was having me ride his neck longer and lower, and then gradually bringing him up into the highest degree of balance he was capable of achieving at this stage. Surprisingly, it was a much higher degree of balance than I expected. I made the mistake of simply raising my hands the first time he asked me to bring Frisco up. He said that won’t help my horse bend the hind legs and lift the shoulders; that you have to squeeze the lower legs, push with the seat, and “Bend the L-bones”-another lost in translation moment. He is saying “elbows” but again, I think his way of saying it is much more illustrative. Alfredo believes that horses should either work with a long stretched neck, or, as close to the balance they need for Grand Prix as they are capable at that stage. What matters is the length of time you expect this balance. With a young horse, obviously, less steps in this balance is better. However, he feels too many people let their horses dwell on the forehand far too long, and then wonder why their horses struggle to achieve the balance necessary for the upper level work later. He also said he has never had trouble teaching a horse to stretch, but, many struggle to learn to stay uphill, so he feels we focus too much on having horses work with a long, low neck when this is usually not the hard part for them. I have actually struggled to teach my horse, who is rather short necked and upright, to stretch. But the genius of Alfredo’s approach was that Frisco OFFERED to stretch after being required to work in a more connected, uphill way. In my desire to get my horse to stretch, I have spent far too much time letting him travel on the forehand in a semi stretch, often with fluffy reins, begging him to stretch, but it isn’t honest, because it is not a stretch to my hand. Frisco reached beautifully for my hand after the lowering/raising exercise. Alfredo also strongly believes it is best to have a few very good steps than to have a hundred mediocre steps. He had every horse take many walk breaks, on a free rein. He believes many injuries in horses can be avoided by working very correctly for very short periods of time, punctuated by many breaks on a long rein. He also spends a great deal of time in walk exercises.

Some other important exercises Alfredo had riders do included leg yielding corner to corner in walk, then adding transitions between walk and trot, maintaining the leg yield. He also had riders leg yield in canter from the centerline to the rail and transition to trot. It was remarkable how this exercise improved the balance and cadence in the subsequent trot. With horses that had a tendency to come behind the vertical, he had the riders push the horse over tempo, then, bring it back using only inside leg and outside rein. He said to never use two reins to bring the horse back. He uses haunches in on a circle and leg yield with the nose to the inside on a circle(he says haunches out but that is simply a lost in translation way of saying what he wants) to loosen the horse behind the saddle. Another leg yield exercise he uses is to leg yield corner to corner in walk or trot, but increase the crossover so you reach the rail sooner than the corner, and immediately ride haunches in once reaching the track.

Alfredo had some other key concepts. He said when a horse loses the rhythm or resists, for example when working the piaffe, the very last thing you should do is trot out of it, give away the contact and let the horse go forward. He believes  you are then teaching the horse to resist the piaffe. He prefers to continue working the piaffe, finding the right way to communicate what you want from the horse. Then, HALT. Or, walk out of the piaffe. He said he thinks it is a major mistake, when training piaffe, to ever trot out of it. No test requires that. Teach them the right way from the beginning. Also, be sure that when working the piaffe, the horse is taking many more walk steps than piaffe steps, to avoid overuse injuries. He also greatly prefers a rider do the wrong thing, and make mistakes, than to do nothing at all. He was very insistent that all riders PUSH to the contact, and never take the hands back to gain the contact. The reins must stay short, unless you are purposely riding free walk or lengthening  the neck. He wants riders to pay more attention to changing the horse’s balance right from the beginning, get them off the forehand early and often. When struggling with a movement, he said to pick one aspect of the movement that is missing, and work only on that. Once that has become easy for the horse, then add another element. When giving the reins for free walk, never throw the reins away, always have the horse gradually take the rein down, so that the horse learns manners. If you throw away the reins the horse learns to snatch them. Lastly, he feels that when riding a horse with baggage in a show situation, it is best to ride for safe scores than to try to make a training point with your horse in the arena.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of my learning experience. Alfredo is warm, funny, and will do all he can to give the horse and the rider the tools they need to achieve what he is asking. He believes that is our job as trainers, to give the student and the horse the tools they need to do the job and he works very hard to achieve this no matter the talent or level of the horse and rider pair. This was my first clinic with Alfredo, but it will not be my last, and it is clear why he is much sought after, by beginners and Olympians alike. Thank you Alfredo! And thank you Stephanie for organizing clinics with him regularly, in little ole Utah.


Below are some clips spliced from video of the trot and canter work after the in hand work, but before the passage work. Notice the vastly improved balance as compared to photos on this blog from earlier in the year.
The improved canter balance after the lowering/raising the neck exercise in trot
Lowering and raising the neck in trot to improve balance and adjustability


Here is a link to video from the passage work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFK0w_8rKhA&list=HL1341776704&feature=mh_lolz
The music is Pa' Bailar by Bajafondo.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Lessons from a 4 Year Old...or...Horses, They Keep You Humble

Frisco Bay at a clinic with Kamila DuPont in Las Vegas, March 2012

It hit me, at 5:00am this morning. I was lying in bed, awakened as usual by my cat and/or husband, I'm not really sure which. I finally figured it out. After having already gone to six recognized shows since November, and having travelled back and forth to Canada for the last three years, my usually pretty confident traveller had a complete come-apart at a "simple" schooling show. A few weeks ago, I took Frisco to the Utah Summer Games Dressage show in Cedar City. I had him entered in First Level Test 1. He got to travel up the day before the show with his favorite barn buddy, Beau Dazzler. I've never seen two happier clams standing in a trailer than those two; they are peas and carrots. All went very smoothly unloading and setting up, both horses were very calm and settled in quickly. I tacked up Frisco first, and we began sauntering off towards the indoor arena to school. We got about half way there, and Daz whinnied. My easy going 16.1 hand Chocolate Lab turned into the tasmanian devil instantly. He was airborn. I was flying a 1400 lb kite, just trying not to get in his way. Now, since the show, I had been blaming the problem on the fact that he heard his friend whinny, and was absolutely convinced he had to return instantly to the barn. But he's gone to other shows with other horses. He went to two shows with Brendijs, his next door neighbor in the barn. Even with Brendijs whinnying constantly, he completely ignored him and focused on me. So I have been mystified. I don't know if I was dreaming about it or what, maybe he telepathically sent me a picture(some people say horses can do that). My eyes flew open. I knew instantly why he panicked. The picture in my mind was of the open, barren, expansiveness of the Diamond Z arena in Cedar City, with NOT A SINGLE OTHER HORSE IN SIGHT.  Only his friend, back at the barn, also completely alone, calling for him. There were a few horses already there, but, they were inside the indoor already, and Frisco could not see or hear them. It wasn't so much that Daz called for him, it was the utter alone-ness he felt. There were no other horses. Anywhere. As far as he knew, we had landed on the moon. Frisco is the most social horse I have ever known, and I mean an 11 on a scale of 1-10. He has never met a stranger: horse, human, canine, feline or otherwise...all are potential new BFF's. That is why my pony panicked. He looks to me for assurance in most situations, but, he does not like it when he can't see other horses. Whenever I take him on a trail ride and we lose sight of the barn, he goes from a trail nag to one hot number instantly. He is rideable, but it is exciting to say the least.  Lesson number one: when taking a highly social horse to a new venue, make certain there are plenty of other horses around for him to see.
I did go back to the barn, carefully, slowly...and got Daz. I led both horses back to the indoor arena. By this time, Frisco was on high alert and jumping at everything. Gone was his quiet demeanor. But we got there, inch by inch(thank heavens Daz is a pro and was very quiet). I tied Daz to the tie post outside the arena while I rode my horse. So here comes lesson number two, and this one came to me right away, the next day after the show really.  Frisco has never worked in this kind of arena before. He doesn't love indoor arenas to begin with. But this one dark. It has bleachers on one side, and corrals on the other, that smell of cows(it's used mostly for cowhorse events). It also has steele support beams coming down from ceiling to ground every 20 feet or so, alongside the arena rails. That means anything behind those beams is unseen, until the horse gets closer to the beam. Now, I've already said this...my horse is a very easy traveller. We show up at a new place, I tack up, hop on, and away we go, no sweat. He might be excitable, but, he always goes where I want and does what I want him to. I never lunge him. I don't usually even have to lead him around and show him things. BUT...and this was my critical error...I failed to take into account how truly scarred he was from the experience of walking out into that moonscape and seeing not a single horse. I just thought he was upset about leaving his buddy, and, so long as his buddy was right there, he was going to be fine. Fresh, but, fine. Big mistake. I rode for quite a while, but, it was useless, he was only getting more upset. So I finally had to dismount and ask to borrow someone's lunge line and lunge whip. As soon as I pointed him off to the left on the lunge line, all the tension dropped off of him like water off a duck's back. I could barely keep him in the canter. See, Frisco has been doing this-"lunging for respect"-since he was about four months old. By reducing my demands of him down to something so basic as a little bit of work on the line, he was able to take the memory of this very laid back exercise and superimpose it onto what so far had been a very nerve-wracking experience, and he let loose the tension. After he worked a bit on the line, I hand walked him around the entire arena. He was looking, but, okay. So, I got back on. We walked, trotted, and cantered one lap each direction, even down at the scary end. He was a little bit nervous, but, on the aids and quiet, so, I stopped with that. The next day, show day, I could barely keep him going in the warmup, which was outside, with other horses. Back to my usual Chocolate Lab. But once back in the indoor, the memory of the day before came to the forefront for him, and it took me until the second canter of our test to get him finally on  my aids. I am relieved that I did get him on my aids, even though it took nearly the whole test. After he was done, we stood outside the arena with the other horses and just watched for ten minutes or so. All is well that end's well.
Lesson Number Two: Never take your horse for granted, LISTEN to him or her, they do communicate if we take the time to listen. If they are telling you they are nervous, no matter how much you think you can talk them out of it, if it is a new situation, listen to their concerns. Deal with it slowly, and, you might just have to lunge or handwalk your horse to show them a new environment, even if they have been the most brave horse in the world at other locations. I failed to recognize that Frisco was telling me very clearly that he was not happy about that arena. The reason didn't matter. So what if it may have been exacerbated by a completely unconnected prior event that caused him to be more excitable than usual? I didn't listen to my horse.  These lessons might not seem to have much to do with Dressage; at first blush they are more about horsemanship. But the Dressage-specific epiphany that came to me after this experience is this. No matter how upset your horse is, find a way to get him "on the aids", get him to ackowledge you in some way, even if it's a small, brief acknowledgement. Then release immediately, and, ask again. Some how, some way. So it does not matter if you are trying to wrangle a panicked four year old, or, trying to get your horse to jump through cleanly in the flying change from right to left. Get the horse acknowledging even the smallest of requests first, and build on that. Fix the little things that aren't going well so that your horse has confidence in and respect for you. Stay in right canter until he "gives" you his left shoulder. Check 10, 20, 100 times while riding right canter if your horse will answer your left suppling aids. Always praise even the smallest acknowledgement. If you have gotten a "yes" from those small requests time after time, then you can be assured that the flying change will be there when you are ready. Even a panicked four year old can teach an old "horse" new "tricks"! We just never stop learning.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kamila DuPont Clinic


Frisco and I participated in a clinic with accomplished Grand Prix Dressage rider Kamila DuPont March 10th and 11th. Kamila trained Frisco's maternal grandsire, the Holsteiner stallion Conquistador, to Grand Prix. I was very excited for her to see a grandson of Conquistador's. Kamila gave a great clinic. Her approach is very considerate of the horse. My favorite quote of hers was "The horse will tell you when you can add a conflicting aid". She repeated it into the camera for me so I would not forget!! When riding a young horse, there is a fine line. Frisco is quite mature in his ability to understand subtle aids. And yet, he is still young. Kamila wanted me to be a little more clear about my aids. She felt that at his age, she, from the ground should be able to tell exactly what I am asking for, or the aid is not clear enough for him. She was not asking me to make him dull to subtle aids, she just wanted me to be more specific with the positioning of my legs/seatbones/weight aids, and more specific also with the rein pressure. Frisco, when tense, has a tendency to try to hop into canter and get stuck behind the aids. He does it in such a way that it is hard to correct, because when he does it, it is clear that he is just trying to anticipate what I want and offer it up. As Irene Hill used to tell me...when the horse does the wrong thing out of anticipation, it is because they are trying to offer what they know to you. How can you ever be unhappy with your horse for that? But the clarity Kamila brought to the situation was this: if I am 100% crystal clear with exactly what I want, Frisco will eventually learn that it is about the aids, not the movements. Frisco will stop anticipating, and start waiting for the aids, when he realizes that I am going to present them in a very specific way, and the same way every time. I was not prepared for how quickly this new-found confidence in the aids would affect Frisco. The difference in our rides in the subsequent weeks since that clinic is night and day. Frisco has a lot of self-condfidence, and, he is a good little trooper about always trying to do what I want. But, the confidence he now has in what the aids mean is amazing. Our recent rides have achieved a new level of communication and dialogue.
To further explain our clinic lessons, Kamila wanted me to have a crystal clear picture in my mind of the canter that I wanted, and then keep that picture during the entire time we cantered. She wanted me to be much more quick to correct him when he anticipated and offered the wrong thing, not in a "you were a bad pony" sort of way, but rather a "here, let me make this more clear for you" sort of way. The way to do that was to always use the same aids every time. So, if I have more pressure on the outside rein, that means we are trotting, whether we were just in canter and I now want trot, or we are in trot and I want him to keep trotting. I must keep my seat, legs, weight, and reins in the trot position if I am to expect him to keep trotting. Any fuzziness on my part would simply be an invitation to him to offer something else. Therefore, if I am cantering, and I want to straighten him or balance him or adjust his alignment and I need to be able to use the outside rein to do this, I must first make certain that all of my aids very clearly are still saying "we are definitely, without question, cantering". Only then can I apply just enough outside rein to accomplish the job, and only so much as his stage of work at that moment can tolerate for him to understand that this conflicting aid does not actually mean trot, but rather means that I want him to make the circle smaller or straighten up his alignment. It is up to me to make my horse confident in the task, confident in the meaning of the aids, and to be crystal clear at all times.  "The horse will tell you when you can add a conflicting aid."  Thanks for that gem, Kamila!! We had a great time and I look forward to future opportunities to ride with her. Thank you Dow for helping me haul down to Las Vegas, and for taking pictures of us, and to Brenda for videoing on Saturday.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders."

Frisco Bay-Las Vegas Winter  Fling 2012 Open High Point
I had a bad show, let's call a spade a spade. I can blame it on hormones-both mine and the horses'-but in reality, I let negative thoughts clutter my mind. I let it cause me to fail to ride well enough to fully sooth the emotions of my clients' horses well enough to put in good performances. I didn't do a bad job. I didn't do any harm to their educations, but I sure didn't present them in their best light. Or myself. Call it a case of serious spring fever if you'd like, but, how I handled it was always up to me. I let doubt and insecurity seep in and cloud my mental clarity. I tried to cover this up by attempting to be overly ebullient, overly vocal about my opinions, no doubt offending certain people in the process. I can play the victim, but in the end, that was my choice, I chose to succumb to the negativity. Yes, there were other things on my mind that contributed greatly to my failure to keep my mind clear. But, that's just  more excuses. I rode off course, not once, but four times. Granted, one off course was strategic, due to a wrong lead, so I chose to circle back in the interest of training a not-quite-four-year-old, and make sure he knew clearly which lead he was supposed to take, and also to erase the bad memory of a correction, with the good memory of praise, to help him remember the right way in the future. But the other three times?? Completely unlike me. I haven't ridden off course in probably five years. I've ridden seven tests in a day, with no reader, and not ridden off course. I never use a reader, and discourage my clients also from using a reader. I didn't ride effectively enough to get my horses through and engaged. The negativity that I was feeling about a number of things no doubt was sensed by my horses. They might could have let go of their excitement, had I been more centered in my thoughts.
Just as I was putting a few sugar cubes into my pocket before I mounted up Frisco Bay for our final ride of the weekend(and shortly after having had a very near emotional breakdown), I happened to read the box top of my can of breath mints. "To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders." This quote helped me turn the Titanic around within inches of running into that iceberg. I was on course for the worst show weekend I've probably ever experienced. This quote, by Chuang Tzu, saved the day and salvaged the weekend for me. When I got on Frisco, I could tell: he was tired and tight. He was not his usual freely moving self. He was, for lack of a better word, sticky. But it was all physical. Mentally, he was game, willing, the rock I needed at that moment in time. Doubt, and concern for his tired state, started to creep in again. Was I going to blow an opportunity to earn a Regionals qualifying score under a good judge? Was I going to let the whole weekend be a complete bust? I repeated that quote to myself over and over again during the warmup, and kept my attitude towards my amazingly good-minded youngster positive and light. As we entered the show arena and Frisco didn't puff up like he normally does, doubt once again crept in. Once again, I pushed it aside, and trotted up centerline, having faith in my horse. While he was too tired to demonstrate his full capacity, Frisco Bay, son of Charisma, keeper of my heartstrings, did not put a foot wrong for six minutes. I kept my mind clear, and thus, my aids to him were clear and I was able to let him hear my breathing, something that is an integral part of our normal training, something I'd failed to do on all previous rides that weekend. I'd been holding my breath all weekend. No wonder I couldn't think. My wise decision the day before to take an off course and regroup on that canter depart paid big dividends. I even settled my mind enough to try to work on the balance in his canter work, versus just following whatever movement he offers, which is what I typically do with him, due to his current age and stage of training.
We did it. We staged an upset, came from behind. We won the Open High Point award, and qualified for the Regional Championships. We needed a 68.000%. We earned a 68.000%. Did anything change? Did the things that were bothering me suddenly go away in a split second? Did my horse suddenly wake up, decide to not be tired and get freer in his movement? No. But, my attitude changed. I made a decision, in that instant, to take back the reins, to put that ship back on course, to take responsibility for the things that were under my control. Those things that bothered me are still bothering me, but I will deal with them. And I now have absolute, irrefutable proof that how I respond to adversity is far more important than the actual adverse condition itself. I could not have done it without the love and support of my husband, Dow, and my friend, Brenda, but in the end, it was always up to me. They can't do it for me. Still your mind, friends, and the universe will surrender itself to you, whatever your goals and dreams.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chop Wood, Carry Water

This is a famous Zen story, and I excerpt it here from the book "Zen Mind, Zen Horse", by Allan J. Hamilton, MD.
"In a famous Zen story, a pupil approaches a great teacher and asks what activities he should undertake in order to reach 'satori', or enlightenment.
The old Zen master answers: 'Chop wood and carry water.'
After ten years of faithfully carrying out these duties, the frustrated pupil returns and tells his master, 'I've done as you asked. I have chopped wood and carried water for ten years, but still I have not attained enlightenment! What should I do now, O Sage One?'
The master answers, 'Continue to chop wood and carry water, my son.'
The pupil faithfully returns to his duties. Another ten years pass. During that decade, the student matures and reaches satori. He returns to see his old master wearing a simple smile on his face.
'Master,' he says, 'I have reached satori, and now I am an enlightened being. What should I do now?'
The master answers, 'Continue to chop wood and carry water then, O Enlightened One.' The pupil bows deeply and retires to his wood and water."
You see, dressage(horsemanship, good riding, et al) is not a destination. It is a journey. It is day in and day out of chopping wood and carrying water. Just because riders like Steffen Peters and Edward Gal have achieved greatness at the highest levels of dressage competition does not mean that each and every day they don't have to go out and start each horse from the beginning. They start with rhythm, relaxation, and connection. They build on those qualities to develop impulsion, suppleness, straightness and collection. Every day. Every ride. Every half halt. If you go out and run your horse through all of its tricks every day and never chop your wood and carry your water first, you will very quickly have a sore, bored, tight, clever horse who knows how to do only enough to end the ride as soon as possible. Take the time it takes, skip no steps. Neither should you languish...there is no such thing as perfection, so don't stifle your horse's enthusiasm and playfulness with demands of robotic perfection. But if you go out every single ride and make sure your horse's muscles are supple and loose, and that it  moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bridle, you will be well on your way to achieving satori. Namaste, my friends.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011 Summary on the Horses & Riders of SCWDressage

Frisco Bay at the Halloween CCEC Schooling show
This winter has been the mildest-and driest-many in this area have seen in a very long time. It's been great for training horses, though probably not so great for those running cows on BLM land. I'd like to take a minute to update what everyone has been up to, and of course brag a little on my gals and horses.

Brenda Whiteley and Cookie(Poetic Justice) have had a banner year for 2011, and it was both of their first show season competing in recognized Dressage competition. Cookie accomplished all the following from the age of just over 3.5 through the fall of her 4 yr old year. Though Brenda had made a transition to Dressage from the Hunter/Jumper world several years ago, she had previously only competed at the local schooling show level. Even in 2010, she only entered in the "Opportunity" classes at the recognized shows. So, what follows is a laundry list of this pair's phenomenal achievements for 2011:
 ~CHAMPION-USDF All-Breeds/American Warmblood Registry-Open Training Level
~Reserve Champion-Las Vegas Chapter-CDS-Amateur Training Level
 ~Champion-Color Country Equestrian Club Vintage Training Level
~Reserve Champion-Color Country Equestrian Club Vintage First Level
~Qualified-and participated-USDF Regional Championships-Training Level
~Qualified-and participated-CDS Regional Adult Amateur Championships
~USDF Horse Performance Certificate-Training Level
~USDF Rider Achievement Award-Training Level
~Represented the Las Vegas Chapter at the CDS Adult Amateur Clinic series with Donna Richardson.
~Two Vintage High Point awards
~Brass plates from CDS for both Brenda at I and Training and First levels
~Cookie, with me aboard, also earned an Open High Point award, Reserve Champion with LVC-CDS at First level, and assisted me in completing my Rider Achievement Award at First level.
This young mare is a bright star and a pleasure to train. I'm honored to be a part of this team.

 Karen Martz and Tanner have continued to develop their bond. They have become the seasoned pair in our barn to ride out with if you want to go on a trail ride. Of course, Karen uses all that she learns in her dressage lessons to complement her horsemanship skills, keeping her safe on the trails. They competed in our local schooling show series as well as participated in all three of the clinics SCWDressage organized. In the last couple of months, Karen and Tanner have reached a new level in their connection and throughness, and we are looking forward to the 2012 schooling shows with great anticipation. Tanner has been schooling much of the First level work in his training sessions with me, and has gone from being a totally unbendable mack truck four years ago to a soft, supple, sensitive big boy. As my very first full training client, Karen deserves great respect for her dedication and committment to becoming an educated and responsible horsewoman.

Sarah Glidden has had a trying year. While I have continued to ride & train her horse, Daz(Beau Dazzler, she has spent little time in the saddle. She took an unplanned dismount in April, which resulted in two compressed vertebrae. That needed a few months to heal, but before she could really get back in the saddle, it came to light that her family needed her help in a very big way. Her year old grandaughter was diagnosed in July with delayed myelation. This is a very serious disease, not unlike cerebral palsy, that causes developmental delay and will be a life long challenge for little Avery. Fortunately, Sarah was able to take a leave of absence from work and head to Park City to help with all the physical therapy that was required. Avery has a long road ahead of her, but I am so glad Sarah was able to go and be a part of the education and therapy process. Sarah has bravely faced many heartbreaks and challenges in her life, and is an inspiration to me. I am humbled to be able to help her keep her horse. He makes her happy, and that makes me happy. I did compete Daz in the local schooling show series, and he finished the year as the Open Second level Champion. I also competed him at one recognized show early in the year, at First level. He was a very good boy, earning me yet another CDS brass plate for scores above 60%. He is schooling everything in Third level, and of course is now helping Sarah regain her saddle-fitness.

Jenny Campos has moved to southern California! After some trying personal times and much soul-searching, she decided to take a year for herself. She was born and raised in southern Utah, and this time in California is a wonderful opportunity for her to grow, and hopefully blossom. She did compete at four recognized shows in the 2011 season at First level, and did very well with her first season. She finished with scores as high as 68%. I have kept her amazing Latvian Warmblood gelding, Brendijs, going in full training. Jenny has decided to sell Brendijs, so I have spent the last few months since returning from Canada getting him fit, strong, and bringing him up the levels a bit. He has very easily handled the work, moving rapidly from Second level into Fourth level. I competed him at the Las Vegas Fall Fling in Fourth level test 1, and we earned excellent scores, particularly considering it was both of our debut at the level. We brought home a 66.7 and 67.4. I'm pretty happy with that, and plan to continue to show him until the perfect home can be found for him. He'd make a wonderful schoolmaster, but also is talented enough for a new professional to get some experience at the medium levels. I have him schooling everything in Prix St. Georges. Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise...maybe he and I will make an FEI debut in the spring???!!! While I miss having Jenny at the barn, I wish her much happiness in life and hope California treats her well.

Barbara Repta, the owner of Bergdalen Marit, has moved back to Park City with her husband. She made the brave but agonizing decision to discontinue riding in light of the progression of dementia. "Petunia" has moved to Las Vegas and is being leased by Samantha Slinkard, a very talented young lady. I feel this pair is the perfect match, and while I know Barb misses her pony, Petunia is in very good hands with Samantha.

SCWDressage welcomes a new addition to the gang, in Mariellyn Berry. She owns a really nice AQHA gelding named PKS Sugar("Skeeter"). He has been in full training with Ryon Gardner, who owns Lava Bluffs. Mariellyn has her sights set on Western Dressage, a rapidly growing discipline. Mariellyn is a delight to work with, has become a wonderful friend to me, and I look forward to seeing this pair compete in the upcoming schooling shows, where we will add the new Western Dressage tests to the lineup.

I competed my kiddo, Frisco Bay, in his first two shows in November. He is a travelling pro already, having gone to Canada for the past three summers. At 3.5, he was the youngest horse entered in the Arizona Dressage Association's Fall Fiesta. He was also the youngest horse entered at the Las Vegas Fall Fling. We showed at Training level tests 2 & 3 at these two shows. Our path has been a little bumpy, with scores ranging widely! Our first test of his career, in Scottsdale, resulted in a 50% and a near-elimination after repeated disobediences. He just could not understand why he had to be by himself in that ring, when all the other horses were next door in the warmup ring. Twice I had to bring him to a complete halt in order to avoid an unplanned exit of the arena! Can you say "effective use of the outside rein?!" Frisco gradually got the hang of his job, gained some cofidence, and we eventually edged our scores up to 64%. I'm wondering if that was the widest percentage swing of the show?! Our next show went significantly better, with Frisco having a lot of confidence in his job, and making a big step up in his scores. He earned 69's on both tests on Saturday, and our final test of 2011, at the Las Vegas show, resulted in a 70%. My first ever 70% in recognized competition. On a 3 year old. At only his second show. Frisco has earned one score needed to qualify for the Regional Championships, in the Open division, which requires a 68%. I hope he continues to progress, and gains consistency and confidence. I plan to show him at least a couple more times at the Las Vegas shows this winter and spring. Frisco and I were the Open Intro Champions for our local schooling show series for 2011. By the way, I must mention I really like the new addition to the Intro tests...test C is a very well designed test, perfect for youngsters and timid riders.

SCWDressage organized three clinics and two schooling shows in 2011. Our clinicians were Blondie Brimhall, Trisha Kerwin, & Stephanie Brown-Beamer. These ladies also judged all three of the schooling shows in 2011, allowing riders who had participated in the clinics to get feedback on their progress from these wonderful instructor/judges. I can't thank Ryon and Holly Gardner, owners of Lava Bluffs Equestrian Center, enough, for their support of my efforts. And Color Country Equestrian Club provides a great opportunity for the local dressage community to gain much-needed experience in dressage shows without having to break the bank. I also can't do any of this without the love and support of my wonderful husband, Dow. He made oatmeal for me every morning in Scottsdale...and took me out to dinner every night. I am grateful to all those who make all this possible for me, and look forward to another great year in 2012.