Thursday, September 26, 2013

Intensive Training

As pretty much everyone knows, I’m very committed to my education as a rider.  I fit in lessons as often as my schedule and budget allow. But like everyone, I always want more, so over the winter, I decided to turn my dream into a plan. I wanted an intensive time of lessons.  The obstacles, of course, were time and money.  

Linda was fully behind me, as it would give me intensive training time to prepare Secret for Sport Horse Nationals.  So that gave me a concrete timeline, instead of that elusive “as soon as ___(fill in the blank with whatever we choose to limit ourselves with)_____” that allows us to postpone of our dreams– the timeline was August or September, 2013.  I contacted Jann, who does the scheduling for Scott, in January to get on the calendar. This was well before I had sorted out the funds, but I had time.

Linda was willing to support Secret’s bill, but if I was going to do this, I really wanted 2 lessons a day.  I wanted to really make the most of it. 

I put my jumping saddle on the market and ear-marked those funds for “Ange’s training trip,” but honestly, my jump saddle wasn’t much, so it didn’t bring in much 

Then, in May, a former student’s family, Alexa, Dawn and Dave Derr (who, after spending the winter in WIT, moved on to Lendon Grey’s capable guidance for her emerging FEI career), handed me an envelope. The front of it said “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. ~ Benjamin Franklin.” Inside was a note that Dawn had looked into a way to start an online fund for my continuing education, but the choices were pretty varied in benefits/limitations, so they hoped that the enclosed money would be a jump start to my continuing education fund.  I was completely speechless I opened the card. Wow.

With these three sources, I had about 2/3 of what I needed to pay the Hassler bill, not counting travel time and lost wages.  Then, in mid July, I received an e-mail from the American Morgan Horse Institute, asking for a photo to include in a press release she was writing about the 2013 van Shaik Scholarship winners.  I had applied in late 2012 for training with Eclipse, but he had retired in January, and I had forgotten all about it.  Apparently the letter announcing I was a scholarship recipient had been lost in the mail.  I now had enough money to fund my trip, I just needed a Morgan to spend it on.

First I called Liz, who owns Rocky, a talented Morgan I had backed for Ensign’s Grace Farm several years ago and continue to train for Liz, who bought him at 4, to see if she’d mind if I took him to Hasslers for 2 weeks.  She readily agreed.  Then I contacted the AMHI Scholarship chair to make sure I could use the funds for Rocky instead of Eclipse, to which they agreed. So we were set.

To make sure my trip was the best it could be, when Catherine Haddad came to teach at our farm in August, I asked her to lunge me. When I was a working student, I quickly realized if I took a lesson on a horse, that horse went better. If I took a seat/lunge lesson, ALL of my horses went better.  She worked on my balance, which made my aids more independent.  I spent the next week riding at least one horse a day without stirrups.  I was going to be READY.

I had a total of 16 lessons in two four-day blocks. The plan was to take Venus and Sling on day one, then take Rocky and Secret for the remainder of that week.  That Saturday we’d come home. The following Tuesday Rocky and Secret would join me back at Hasslers.  Rocky would go home on Thursday, and Ember would have his first off-farm outing on Friday along with Secret’s final ride. 

I rearranged my lesson schedule, prepped Maddy to help with some of the at-home training rides so my evening work at home would alternate between teaching one evening, riding the next, and packed the trailer and headed out.

In my first lessons, Scott and I discussed my half halt.  In my lesson with Catherine 2 weeks before, she had asked me to lift Venus’ shoulders with my seat, and I wanted Scott’s help in clarifying how exactly to do that. I told him I felt like my half halt activated my mounts’ hind legs and increased back swing, but didn’t necessarily bring them taller and more rolling in their shoulders.  This became the theme of the trip. Defining, refining, and tweaking my seat so it becomes an invisible tool to create a harmonious ride.

I took crazy notes after almost every lesson (I think I missed one), and here’s some clips from the notes:

Clearly change my body language from the warm up set to the work set.

In lateral work, I can bring up one shoulder at a time. I cannot bring up both shoulders. Mix up lateral work with half-halt lines to get both shoulders supple and up.

Quick transitions and larger transitions within the gait are good for bringing shoulders up. Smooth transitions, both between and within the gait, are better for supple toplines and swinging backs.

When using my seat to make the horse more uphill - think of a pulsing push for my lower back into my hand. Don't just fall in love with activity, make sure I feel a change in the balance. If I half halt and the shoulders don't come up, leave the collection and set it up again. The activity has to lift the shoulders, unless I'm only working for activity, in which case my seat should behave differently.

When using my back more to create a collection, be careful not to fall behind the vertical with my shoulders. If I do, it makes my lower back stiff and not following as well.

If I'm worried that I don't have the shoulders up enough, length the stride a few steps. That will tell me. If shoulders are down, the horse will quicken instead of lengthen.

When I feel something tight, move in and out of it. Kind of like a rusty hinge, loosen it with movement. Don’t sit on the tight exercise.

When something feels good, figure out what I can make better.  Work on the individual parts, then go back to the whole. For example – in pirouettes, sometimes school hind legs, sometimes school bend, sometimes the shoulders, then go back and ride a technical pirouette.

Ride every change for the accessibility of the back that I need for tempi changes. Prepare the new side, then ride to change. When I can ride loud in the change and quiet right after, she's ready for tempi changes. Not before.

After I came home, I had that momentary can-I-do-this-without-Scott’s-help panic, but after watching my rides in the mirror, I was really happy with the picture I was seeing.  Overall, I found I was quieter as a rider. I was able to make changes with my seat that I would previously have made with my rein or leg.  Which, of course, meant smoother, more supple horses. 

I also found I had developed a bit more confidence in my tools.  I wasn’t worrying that my aids would work, or were they the correct ones for this moment.  I was just putting them on and reading the horse’s responses. 

Secret came home with taller shoulders in the trot, and smoother, relaxed flying changes. Rocky came home with a much better canter balance and rhythm.  Of the at-home horses, Venus benefited the most.  Between my pre-lesson with Catherine and the improvements in my half-halt, I now feel  more confident to compress and expand her powerful canter.  And it paid off – I took her to a schooling show September 14, and I have struggled with show nerves with her since about forever. On the 14th, I wasn’t nervous, and therefore neither was Venus.  We went in, did our thing, and earned our highest score at 3rd level ever – a 66.97% with 8’s on extended trot, extended walk and gaits.   

Of course, you ask, since Secret was prepping for Sport Horse Nationals, how did she do? She did well, and I’ll tell you all about it in my next blog.