Monday, April 19, 2010

A barn in limbo

Well, it has happened again.  Once again, SFD is looking for a home base. 

We have been here before. McKinley Hunt, our last home, came with an awesome landlord, Sue Brown.  Shortly after we moved in, Sue decided to retire and build a house in NM.  The sale of McKinley prompted our move to Red Bridge, which, by and large, has worked out very well. That is, until now. 

As most everyone knows, our landlord passed away in late December.  His widow and son-in-law have been doing a great job of keeping the place up, but she just doesn’t want to live in that big house without her husband. I can’t say as I blame her.  So Red Bridge is on the market.

As of now, we don’t have a deadline, but I’d rather be pro-active than re-active.   I’ve been running numbers, comparing available facilities, making my pro-and-con lists.   Each move has given us better facilities than our last home, and I expect nothing less this time.  Red Bridge has some wonderful strengths, and we’d like our next home to have those strengths, plus a bit more.

The shopping list gets clearer with each move.  We need:
                An indoor and an outdoor
                Larger, better ventilated stalls
                Not too far from my main-line clients
                Heated bathroom, preferably with a shower (I can live without this, but I REALLY like not crunching with sweat if I have to do something after my rides)
                A variety in sizes and topography in turnout (some small, flat spaces for the hotter horses, a hilly pasture for weak-stifles
                A place to hack out and do conditioning
                An apartment for my most-awesome-groom, Lynn
                Be priced so I don’t have to charge an arm and a leg for board

The I-wish-I could-have-everything  list includes automatic waters in pastures and easy stall watering, logical tack room-laundry-grooming area set-up, and is designed so we never need a wheelbarrow or hose, but I think that will have to wait.

So that has been my last week or so, talking to people about facilities, looking at spreadsheets, comparing facilities.

On the horse front, the rehabs are coming along really well. Colonel, the old guy who survived a nasty puncture wound and subsequent hock surgery, is beating the odds and coming back.  Venus started light work this week (YEA!!! YEA!!! YEA!!!), and the therapeutic ultrasound has worked miracles in the thickness of her injured tummy muscle.

The competition horses are knocking my socks off.  Adding hill work in the springtime always makes horses more forward, but Eclipse and Secret have really benefited.  Both of them had all of the technical stuff for their levels, just needed a bit more fitness.  The hills gave them uphill, suspended fitness.  When I ride, it feels  like I’m bouncing on a kid’s jolly ball, and I grin as much as a 4-year-old.  Eclipse came through a tough workout Friday with more gas in the tank – a marked improvement from last year. 

We have another spring schooler at Red Bridge this weekend, then Sunday we hit our first recognized show.  I’ll post pics next week.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Michael Klimke clinic March 2010, part 2

This is the second part of a two-part post -- check out the previous post for  the first part of it.

Which he did, but not until he had valiantly tried to correct my hands and seat enough that she would reach forward and downward.  As an instructor, I understand why he took that approach, and in my stiff-and-stressed-out state, my seat and hands gave him lots of areas to correct. 

The more he corrected, the deeper I tried to sit, the stiffer my back got, and the more frustrated his tone got. Once I heard the frustration in his voice, my favorite “I’m nervous so I think I’ll ride badly habits” showed up.  You know, those pet bad habits that lie dormant for months and months until you are lulled into thinking you have finally banished them, only to find that once you get nervous, they pop right back up.  

For me, when I’m nervous, the neuropathways between my brain and my right side shut down. 

This time it started with my hand position.  No matter what I told my right hand to do, it didn’t do it.  Instead it did all sorts of random things, things I would never ask it to do.  Really, would any self-respecting dressage rider ride with her right hand nearly touching her thigh?  I know I didn’t tell my right hand to do that, especially not in front of Klimke and 80 auditors.  But sure enough, that’s where my right hand kept drifting.  I’d tell my right hand to come back up, and two strides later, like some rebellious teenager, it’d go sneaking down to my thigh again.

Then there was my right leg.  On a normal day, my right leg is my weaker leg. I know I’m riding well when my right thigh is slightly more tired than my left one. Which thankfully, is more often than not.  But I wasn’t riding well, so my right leg didn’t even join me on the horse.  I might as well have been wearing a prosthetic.  My calf wouldn’t stay connected to Secret sides, no matter how hard I tried.  The more I pushed my knee down, the more my calf would pop off and slide forward.

Then my inner critic kicked in.  Every time Klimke tried to improve my position, my inner critic destroyed it.  By 15 minutes into the lesson, I went from being on top of the world for being selected for this clinic, to feeling like the weakest dressage rider in the clinic, to feeling like the weakest dressage rider ever.   

While I’m beating myself up, Klimke decided to try using transitions within and between the gait to get Secret more through her topline.  She reacted by getting tighter in front of the saddle, doing a very effective impression of a chess piece.  I could practically hear her thinking, “Aunt Ange, this isn’t what we usually do, but if this is what you want, well, ok...”

Klimke, being German, was not one to mince words.  He made it clear what he thought—“Your hands and your seat are not good enough.”  This, of course, got my inner voice screaming, “Well that advice doesn’t really help, does it???” But I kept smiling and riding, hoping my thoughts didn’t show too clearly.

Once we got to the canter work, things improved.  Secret has an amazing canter, naturally very uphill and balanced, and my canter seat is better than my trot seat. As the work improved, I was able to gain control of my right hand and leg, and began to think maybe I was letting Secret show everyone how awesome she is. We worked on the canter-walk-canter transition, and it improved significantly by the end of the ride.

But by day two, Secret was tired of my stiff back and the different training approach. She came into the ring tight and fussy, and seemed determined to stay that way.   Klimke kept changing exercises in a vain attempt to get us to settle.

But nothing really worked.  I tried to ride all bent lines in shoulder fore. I tried riding the lines straighter.  I tried a lighter seat.  I tried a stronger seat.  Klimke kept stopping the lesson to talk, which I quickly learned is Klimke-ease for “this isn’t working at all.”  My mind was going 100 miles an hour, between “c’mon Secret, please” and “Ange, friggin’ ride better,” and “Can we try something else? Like tennis?”  But nothing worked. 

We had one shining medium trot mid way through the ride, but when we got to counter canter, she was through with all of us. 

Klimke started the counter canter work with Friday’s exercise. Secret did the same as she had done on Friday—counter canter nicely to the corner, then swap leads (cleanly, I must say).  So he had me bring her to walk, then counter canter again.  And she swapped leads again.  And again. And again.  And again.  The movie “Groundhogs Day” was playing right there at Riveredge West.  My inner voice was screaming, “enough already!”  Secret kept getting more and more tense.

After what seemed like hours, Klimke finally simplified the exercise enough that we could at least end on counter canter instead of an un-cued flying change.  At the end, he patted her on the neck and said he hoped he hadn’t messed up her canter. 

Then Scott Hassler picked up the microphone and said “I want to commend Ange on her composure and tact.”  And with that, my red-headed-bad-ass facade cracked.  I cried.

Yes, me. 

I wanted the ground to open and eat me alive. 

But of course it didn’t.  I survived.  We watched a few more rides, then packed up and headed home. 

After the clinic I was in a funk. 

I looked at the still photos, and I really didn’t look that bad, but that didn’t help. I watched the video snippet on the Internet, and Secret looked good, but that didn’t help either. I couldn’t get past Klimke labeling my seat and hands “not good enough.”  I was second-guessing my aids, picking my seat apart, and generally feeling sorry for myself. 

With all of this negative mental baggage, I continued to pretty much ride for crap until I saw Scott for a lesson two weeks later. By then, my trainer-ego was battered from my unending self-flagellation.  But Scott had watched the same lessons, and he saw tough training sessions, not embarrassingly ineffective riding.  His words helped me put it in perspective.  In typical Scott fashion, he ended it with “You be you.” 

He is right.  I am me, and these hands and seat are my tools, tools that have a track record of serving me well.  That weekend, I was not at my best.  That weekend aside, my tools have brought a lot of horses up the levels, many who lacked the natural Warmblood balance and looseness.  Heck, several weren’t even born with clean gaits.  But somehow my “not good enough” hands and seat taught them how to become solid competition horses with piles of year-end awards.

So what did I get out of the clinic?  I don’t ride well when my world is crumbling, but then who does?  And my daily track record of riding well, using and re-using and re-using all of the lessons I have learned, trumps one weekend of riding poorly in front of a big-name expert. 

And Venus?  Now, seven weeks after her accident, we are pretty sure Venus will return to a dressage career.

The Honda, though, will forever wear the mark of my horrible week.

The Michael Klimke Clinic, March 2010, Part 1

The short version -- I was not the rider Secret needed me to be during the Michael Klimke clinic in March 2010.  And the clinic had different, unexpected lessons to teach.

The long version —it all started two weeks before the clinic, with Venus, my spicy-red-hot mare.  She handled our snowbound February fairly well until she came into season.  Hormones tend to tighten her back and shorten her attention span, but since she hadn’t been able to roll and buck, she was particularly tight and distracted.  On Sunday, I decided to let her run it off in the indoor arena.  I pulled the barricade across the doorway, hung hopefully-scary stuff on it, and let her loose.

Yeah, that was a bad idea.

She bucked one 20-m circle, trotted up to the barricade, stopped, and jumped it from a standstill.

Well, there’s a reason Venus is not a show jumper.  

On the way over, she shattered the barricade with her left stifle, twisted as she almost fell, scrambled back up, passaged through the snow up to Eclipse’s stall, spun around, and double-barreled the stone wall by his door.  She, of course, was quite lame and swollen from this wild escapade.  When she failed my The Three Day Rule (Simple soft tissue strains resolve quite nicely with three days off and a little anti inflammatories.  If things don’t resolve in that time frame, I call the vet.), I began to worry and scheduled a lameness appointment the following Tuesday. 

But Venus had other plans.

By Tuesday, she was beyond bored, and she started munching on straw. Combine that with sudden inactivity, Venus was working on a bit of constipation, which became the priority.

I didn’t want to go to New Bolton unless Venus looked like a surgical candidate, which she did not, so Dr. Crowley, the-most-amazing-vet-ever, and Leslie, her faithful sidekick, rigged an IV set-up in Venus’s stall.  I spent Tuesday night changing bags and making sure the IV was running freely.  Around midnight, Venus rewarded me with a beautiful pile of poo. 

Wednesday morning’s rectal exam showed a clear colon (which, for anyone who has dealt with an impaction, is really quite fast for it to resolve), so I started the slow process of reintroducing food.  Thanks to Carol’s help, I managed to go home and take a nap in the evening, then was back to the barn Wednesday night to give her small hay feedings every 2 hours.

So this takes us to Thursday, the day we leave for Klimke.  After sleeping on the cold barn floor for two nights, I’m tired, stiff, and worried.

Then, to add insult to injury, I backed my truck into my I-love-this-car-and-will-drive-it-until-it-drops Honda.

Just great.

So with all that baggage, Secret and I headed down to Maryland to ride for one of my idols.  Between rides, I ran back up to PA to check on Venus, and bounced between worrying about impaction colic and worrying she had damaged herself beyond a dressage career. 

Shocker, I didn’t ride well.  Not either day.

Day one began with Klimke asking about Secret’s breeding.  When I said Friesian Arabian cross, his eyebrows shot up and his jaw dropped (really, I have it on video).  My stomach sank.

We started with Klimke’s “forward, down over the back” warm up.  This works great on 90% of horses.  But then there’s Secret.  Given her breeding, her tight shoulders and big neck don’t take kindly to that plan.  Lateral work early in the ride loosens her quite effectively.  I know better than to argue with a clinician, so of course I did what he directed, expecting him to see her reaction and adjust the exercise accordingly.