Saturday, April 15, 2017

Clinic quirks

Riding in public is always an experience. I know, intellectually, that getting a bit nervous is a sign that the event is important to me. I know that I have to practice being nervous, so I see how my brain sabotages my riding. Then I can think ahead of my brain’s nervous quirks – forwarded is forearmed and all that.  So when Hassler’s announced Susanne von Dietze, a position guru, was coming, I figured who better to help me find my riding quirks?

A short aside for the dressage rail-birds that seem to enjoy finding fault with more accomplished riders and horses—I promise you, no horse or rider is perfect.  Every accomplished rider knows what her and her horse’s weaknesses are. They are actively working to improve those weaknesses every day.  For those who enjoy searching for those faults like they are buried treasure, knock yourself out, but know you are not making divine revelations here. Accomplished riders want to ride better, even more than rail birds want to find holes in other people’s riding. This sport is hard, and riding in public, with all the perfectionism and pressure we idealistic, type-A dressage riders put on ourselves, is even harder.
Back to the clinic - after last weekend’s clinic I’m proud to say two of my quirks are better. I was able to process what she was asking me to do AND remember to half halt most of the time.  My hips didn’t become stiffer than the white man shuffle. Two of my quirks still need work, though. My hands stopped following, particularly in the canter, and my right seat bone disappeared to some foreign land.  As I hoped when I threw my name in the clinic-rider sorting hat, Susanne had exercises to help me with both of those things.

Other than the riding nerves, there’s a whole slew of other performance-anxiety quirks that I tested last weekend.  The time table I created for arrival/braiding/tack/warm up was busy enough to prevent me from fidgeting, but not so crammed I felt rushed. That worked.

I remembered to order video (thank you Carol at Volte Productions!), as I am usually good about my lesson notes the first day, but the second day when I’m not running on adrenaline, I usually forget to get my notes down. That quirk I gave up on fixing, and just remember to order video.

There are, of course, other quirks:
For some reason, despite over 20 years of working in horses, and 12 years after opening my own business, my ability to feel confident in a clinic comes down to one thing – mascara. I’d really like lip gloss too, but no mascara, that will turn me into a completely incompetent rider, I’m sure of it.  Do I wear mascara every day? Of course not, for Pete’s sake, I work in a barn. But on clinic days, it’s essential.

Then there’s my phone. Why, oh why, does the part of my brain that is in charge of keeping track of my cell phone decide to play hide-and-seek when I’m nervous? This used to happen to my keys as well (I was really bad—at one show I had a locksmith come open my truck, only to find my keys were hiding in my jacket pocket. At least I wasn't wearing the jacket while the locksmith was there.), but our new truck has a keypad on the door, so I can just lock the keys in the truck.

Now on to the part you really want to know – what exercises did Ms. von Dietze have that were so helpful for Sling and I?

For my stiff, wall-flower canter hands, she had me ride with both reins in my outside hand. She had me hold my inside arm in front of me as if I were hugging a giant beach ball, then turn my palm away from me, and push forward in the same rhythm of the canter.  This worked like a charm. Suddenly my hands joined the party.  

For my roaming right seat bone, she had me canter left while holding on to the back of the saddle with my right hand.  Again, it worked great. Both exercises gave me a “feel reference” that I could check in with throughout the ride.

She had a couple other exercises that I really liked.  I’ve played with them in lessons and training sessions since then, and found them to be helpful enough to include in my arsenal.  Here are the two I’ve used the most in lessons since the clinic:

Diagonal/straight – in this exercise, I rode Sling out of the corner on a diagonal line. Once all four legs were on the diagonal, I turned him parallel with the long side. Once all four feet were straight on that line, I turned him back on the diagonal, and repeated this cycle until I ran out of room.

This exercise did a great job of putting the responsibility of self-carriage on Sling’s plate, instead of letting me help too much.  As he had to keep changing direction, he figured out quite quickly that he needed to “stay ready” and not let his weight fall on his shoulders. 

5/5/5 – in this exercise, I asked Sling to take 5 steps of walk, 5 steps of trot, and 5 strides of canter.  Note that those were steps, not strides, so things come up really quick. 

This exercise did a fantastic job of getting Sling quicker with his hind legs.  It also got him much more focused on my seat, as I had to use my seat as the primary aid to change the gait. If I used too much leg, it created too much energy, and I couldn’t make the next downward transition happen in time.   

Today I head out to ride in public again, taking horses to a local schooling show to make sure I have their warm-up routines ironed out before we head to our first recognized show in two weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep track of my phone. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sling into Spring

This weekend I break the long winter's training by riding in a public clinic.  I usually don't stay home all winter, but this year I had new staff to train, several short-term horses in training, and a couple of Fl trips, so time got crunched, and here we are, with our first shows weeks away and most of my horses haven't gone off farm since October. So when Hasslers advertised a clinic, I threw my name in the hat.

I’m riding Wendy Adam’s horse, Slingshot, with all of his enthusiasm and antics, in Hassler Dressage’s clinic with Susanne vonDietze.  Which means I’m taking my most goofy, playful, over-reactive mount in front of auditors.   

Sling has been with me since he learned to carry a rider. I, as is my bad habit, fell in love with someone else’s horse, so we worked out an arrangement for him to stay with me long-term.  I rode him in a handful of young horse classes and taught him the basics of showing, or at least I tried to.  In the last few years, for the most part I’ve handed the competition reins over to Paige, Wendy’s daughter, who has earned a wall of ribbons on him.

Sling is a tricky ride.  He always has been, which is in part what I enjoy about him. I would not have been able to develop Sling without taking his personality intoconsideration.

He’s a very emotional horse, and we all know what he’s thinking, both in the barn and under tack. He can go from exuberantly happy to insecure in a matter of strides. His work ethic has always been tied to his fitness level, and he has always learned at his own pace.  Often I feel like I don’t really train Sling.  Rather I discuss dressage, and hope he comes to the right conclusion.

So why did I put this horse in public with a clinician who emphasizes biomechanics and position? Well, although Sling is quite emotional, at this point in his life, he is fairly honest. He has no problem telling me when my timing is off, but as he has matured, his enthusiasm for “the fancy stuff” feels like he’s cheering me on to ride better. 

Here’s hoping he’s not scared of the auditors, and that Ms. Von Dietze finds him as charming as I do.