Sunday, February 23, 2014

Words to Live By

"Remember, it's always better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than the top of one you don't. Be productive and patient. And realize that patience is not about waiting, but the ability to keep a good attitude while working hard for what you believe in."

Excerpted from the following article:

Frisco Bay three months prior to his sixth birthday, earning a 72.4% on First Level Test 3, and a 70.767% on our First Level Freestyle, only my second time showing a Freestyle, and I made it myself. I will never regret taking the long, slow, often heartbreaking path of developing my own horses.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kathleen Raine Clinic

Frisco and I travelled up to the always warm and welcoming Millbrook Farms for a clinic with Kathleen Raine this past weekend. Kathleen's record speaks for itself. She has a track record of developing horses from 3 years onward to the International level, multiple times. I am very grateful to the Lawrences' for their generosity in allowing me to steal a ride spot from one of their horses, so I could have the chance to get input from a woman rider, who develops her own horses from start to finish, and has done so with repeated success.
Kathleen brought many exercises to develop each horse as best suited its temperament and the rider's strengths. Her ability to quickly assess what was working and what was not will be a source of inspiration to me as a coach. That is one of the trickiest things to teaching other is much easier to sit in the saddle and feel what the horse is saying, but to be able to stay firmly on the ground and help the rider figure it out for herself, and get the horse to respond correctly, is a skill I know I have to continue to develop.
One of the more inspiring aspects of watching other riders in this clinic was seeing three separate Adult Amateurs working towards Grand Prix on their horses, all horses they have brought along themselves from the beginning, with the help of the Lawrences' as coaches. Gary does not ride the horses for them except on occasion, in extenuating circumstances, such as a broken ankle! This is a testament to the willingness of the riders to work very hard, and be very committed; as well as a testament to the coaching skills of their trainers. This gang at Millbrook is the real deal.

As for specific exercises, the best way I can describe Kathleen's methods is: keep the horse thinking, moving, bending(especially bending!!), and make it be responsible for its own balance. She never raised her voice, she remained calm but insistent, her standards were high, she was planning your next move before you finished the last, and she used a variety of ways to achieve the same results, dependent on the horse. Another major challenge as a coach is being able to not only see that something is not going to work before it happens, but to especially be able to get that information across to the rider before it is too late. Kathleen has amazing foresight, no doubt born out of her depth of experience. Also, the corrections she suggests are always fair and effective, and the horses not only accepted them, but, learned from them. With one horse who was trying to negotiate how much he would sit, she used voltes, standing in the middle, tapping him behind to help the rider quicken his hind legs. His piaffe and passage went from propping in front to nicely elevated with this exercise. Another horse avoided the sitting in a different way, more pushing through the bridle. With this horse, she asked the rider to do repeated transitions from walk to piaffe and from reinback to piaffe. This work not only improved the piaffe, but also the passage. With the tempi changes, she stressed the collection, the acceptance of bend, the response to the aids, and the clarity of the aids from the riders. As a result, each horse became straighter on the line, with more expression. One young horse, who had shown Training level last show season, was easily working Third level. She used counter canter to introduce the flying changes, and with such a skilled and experienced rider aboard, he offered them easily and calmly. With every horse, and every rider, she stressed the importance of bend, even taking the issue to unconventional levels with my horse who loves to use his big broad shoulders to balance, rather than his hind end.

With Frisco, my usual "behind the leg" problems were nonexistant. First of all, he loves the footing at Millbrook. It is basic washed granite sand, only a couple inches, on top of a firm clay base. No bells and whistles, just basic, straightforward footing. He loves that, and its why I spend much of our training days on the trails in the desert because that is very similar footing: red clay base with a thin layer of red native sand. Firm, consistent, natural. Secondly, Kathleen kept Frisco way too busy mentally for him to get lazy. If anything, by the end of each 45 minute session, he has more energy, not less. She quickly honed in on our weakness: bend. Frisco is W I D E. I struggle to get and keep him between leg and rein. Kathleen made it clear: he has to do it, not me. I get caught in the mommy trap-this is the horse I raised from literally a glass vial. I still baby him too much, and try too hard to support him. That is physically impossible. If I put my inside leg and inside flexing rein on, he'd better bend, and not just a little, a lot. If I put my outside upper leg on, he'd better turn, and not just a little, but a lot. She had me literally take his head to the inside with the inside rein, and, tap him repeatedly on the outside shoulder, if he did not respond to my quiet aids. It was this element of surprise that convinced him to give me a better response. The fact that I took away that outside rein so he could not lean into it with his outside shoulder, and gave him little sharp kicks with my inside lower leg so he could not push his rib cage into it for support, and used a leading inside rein to bring his nose to the inside, and used the whip to tap his shoulder when he did try to lean out...took him off guard. This is all "young horse learning to bend and turn 101" frankly. Here is where showing can get in the way of training. I definitely wouldn't want a judge to watch this process! Or anyone else for that matter. But I have to go there, in training, daily, especially with a horse who naturally has a challenging nature, and has the kind of body that is not easy to rebalance to my ease of use. Mary Wanless says it's a cruel irony that the way to being a good rider is to make your horse easy to ride. Trying to always use subtle, classical aids is a nice goal, but, it is not always effective, especially on this type of horse.  It was remarkable how balanced the 10 meter circles became after this work. Far from drilling movements, we were retraining him to be responsible for his own balance, and, reminding him there are consequences for ignoring polite aids. Not unexpectedly, the lateral work greatly improved through this process. During moments of correction, it will not look pretty, but, pretty is as pretty does, and dragging me sideways with his shoulders, trailing his haunches, is not a pretty leg yield. Better to have a couple of corrections to remind him to remain engaged, as the end result, down the road, will be a horse that listens to subtle corrections because he knows if he doesn't, the big correction will shortly follow. When I can ride any movement with complete influence over each body part and he waits for me rather than boring through with some "trick" he thinks he knows, that will be pretty! This clinic with Kathleen brought home to me the German tradition of fair, but consequent, aids, none too soon.
Thankfully Jan offered to video my second ride. You will see a few correcting moments. For the sake of not boring people I spliced the 45 minute ride down to about 15 minutes and tried to include the more salient aspects of it, showing some corrections, and, their results. And yes, if it looked like we were working our butts off for 15 minutes, it does mean we were actually working that hard for 45! Better eat your Wheaties, if you want to ride with this clinician. Hopefully it is helpful to you. Here is the video link:
And here are some clips from the video: