Thursday, November 29, 2012

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 Pictures were provided courtesy of Millbrook Farms and Becca Tolman.