“Get out of the way, spectators, I’m performing dressage brilliance here,” she said while flailing her arms and bouncing around on her pony.
Camp began like all camp adventures should: with excitement, nerves and lots of giggling! Yes, even the kind of camp that admits only adults! “Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play,” said Heraclitus, and how true it is!
Day 1, Dressage:
The only thing that kept me from a sleepless night of tossing and turning in anticipation the night before camp was the reassurance of knowing how my coach tends to run things like this! I was pretty well assured that she wouldn’t be set on killing us on day one – day two and three were fair game, but day one, I had figured she would have something planned to set the tone, calm the nerves and get us in the game! And so I slept soundly and awoke excited (perfect way to start my holiday!)
Sure enough, when I arrived we were told we were starting the day off in dressage (oh good); on the lunge line (how bad could a lunge line be?); and I was first (oh damn)!
That’s when some of the nerves started to kick in. I haven’t been on a lunge line since I was a kid. And even then, perhaps only once or twice. In my early days, I started out in a group with another kid running around at the horse’s bit for the first day on the horse and was w/t/c/jump within the first couple months! I can’t recall there being a lunge line involved, well, ever. You just can’t do lunge lessons with 8 kids in an hour class! Ah, the good ol’ days! But I’m always game for
humbling myself trying something new! Reassuring myself all the while that: “Lauren isn’t set out to kill me today! Tomorrow maybe, but today I’m safe!”
Warm up the pony and then lunge line goes on and very quickly my supports come off – lose the stirrups, lose the reins, hold the pommel, lose the pommel! We started out by correcting my seat. Having the tendency to sit behind the motion, back on my seat bones with body angled back, I was told to grip the pommel and keep my pelvis and body angled forward, legs loose and not gripping and to find the rhythm. While my muscles warmed up and loosened this posed a challenge for which the solution was to take the legs off the horse then let them drape back down (repeat as necessary). Once I was getting the rhythm better and my hips were loosened up enough to really start to swing with Jack’s stride I was told to put my arms straight up in the air. “Oh dear, here we go!” Around we went with arms straight up in the air. Take the legs off the horse, let them drape back down (don’t fall off, don’t fall off, don’t fall off). Keep the swing in the seat, follow the rhythm – bigger, bigger, bigger swing. Now do circles with the arms. And then the other way. And then the real challenge, in opposite directions (if you’ve never tried to swing your arms in opposite circles, please try right now and let me know if you accomplish this on the first try, this caused a series of nervous giggles as my brain began to melt with the effort required to manage this!) At this point, Lauren points out “Look how well Jack is moving, because you’re not thinking about going with the rhythm you just are!” And he really was going well, and my seat was naturally doing what it was supposed to do and not resisting staying in balance with the motion. We then tried rotating around to either side as far as I could reach in both directions. Then back to being loose and hanging at my sides.
At some point in here we repeated and Jack got some side reins so I could really feel how he felt as my seat got further in sync with his movement, the bigger the swing my seat allowed the further he stretched down into the contact of the bit and the further he stepped beneath himself. All-in-all, this was a great start to the three-days! There was definitely lots of giggling going on, because well, “if you can’t laugh at yourself, life’s going to seem a whole lot longer than you like!” It was a lot of fun! And a good refresher to how the seat should feel to get my horse coming through my aids!
Day 1, Jumping:
In the afternoon was a jump lesson which I shared with Rebecca aboard Athena. Quick flat warm up, and then onto jumping. The other
girls ladies (Adult camp…oh, yeah I’m an adult!) came in to discuss the proper distancing in a trot-approach gymnastic and then set it up. We had a textbook gymnastic set with 3 trot poles 4 1/2 feet apart, 9 ft to a vertical, 18 ft to another vertical, 21 ft to an oxer. (Since I was warming up while the final jumps were set, the others can correct me if I’m wrong!) This meant warm up for me was to get Jack moving off my leg to be able to cover the distance which is slightly longer and needs impulsion for him, and for Rebecca and Athena to work on collecting her stride since her stride has the tendency to be 18ft not 12ft!
Time to jump! A few times through with just the first vertical to get the horses warmed up (and check we’re not on a ‘disaster’ day for eq, you never know), and then the others went up (all still low around 2′-2’3″). “All okay still? Good, knot your reins!” Here we go again!
Reins get knotted and we’re told, drop them in the trot poles, two-point, arms like airplane wings! From adult camp straight back to the early days! haha! We had a blast! The nice thing about no reins is it keeps the chest up – a bad habit I have been struggling with as I tend to over-bend at the waist – now this usually happens most when I’m seeking more impulsion, but in the past it was the replacement of my release which had disappeared into planting the hands at the withers (not a good habit!) Once that was going well we were allowed to take back our reins, but now we were to cross our stirrups. The trick to jumping without stirrups is to crank your knees up right before the jumps so that once you’re in your two-point and jumping your leg ends up in the right spot and hopefully stays there after all 3 jumps! Really makes for a solid leg!!
Once we’d done that a few times it was time to take back the stirrups and the reins and jump some bigger stuff. Up and up we went. I’m not entirely sure how high we got (mostly memory is just failing me at this point), but it was in the 3′ range for the oxer, I believe. Jack and I did beautifully the first couple of times through, the end result of a morning fixing the seat, and the exercises without stirrups and reins! Fatigue started to catch up to us near the end though and our last couple, while still good, just ended a little messier and haphazard than would have been ideal! (No jumping pictures of me yet, I think Aileen was taking photos of the jumping that day since Lauren was setting fences.)
Day 2, Dressage:
We kicked the second day off with an hour-long semi-private dressage lesson. Brena and Bella and Jack and I were up first. Going into the first ride that day I was thinking to myself “Thank goodness I’m in good shape and not sore today!” That was before I got on my pony. There were some tired, achy muscles that instantly whined in protest the moment I swung my leg over and sat in the saddle!
The goal was to put into practice what we’d worked on the day before with our seat and body position. And my own personal goal was to get a better feel for my outside rein which I have been struggling with lately! We warmed up our ponies and then found ourselves on the circle of death…. or the 20m circle that never ends. Something I’m quite familiar with after a summer full of these lessons! It really does help keep the focus zeroed in on what you’re trying to improve so that you’re not having to worry about where you are in the ring or any other variables that come into play while going large.
You’ll have to bear with me, explaining a dressage ride is quite difficult for me, especially because it’s all just in the early stages of coming together in my head never mind in practice!
As the ride progressed my focus honed in on a few things: maintaining a forward, from-behind rhythm, steady hands, and a swinging seat. In the last few months as I’ve been working on getting Jack to come on the bit, I’ve begun to notice just how much my hands tend to bounce and are just in general way too active (mainly because I am trying too hard, and it’s been a bad, unconscious habit for a very long time to constantly fiddle with reins). So to work on getting a steadier feel and also a stronger outside rein, I was setting my elbows at my sides and just holding quietly and focusing on the rhythm until the forward rhythm was there. This also included letting the reins go long a couple times, letting Jack stretch down to the ground for the bit and slowly bringing him back up without letting him tip onto the forehand or going so fast as to hollow his back. All the while too remembering to keep hips swinging to keep the forward rhythm going even when applying leg and flexing in and out (where I have a habit of freezing my hips in order to apply my aids)…
In the end, after a couple run-along-beside-us moments from Lauren, we had the most beautiful trot going! Jack was positively floating, so light in front and in my hand! It was amazing!! No way to really describe it other than floating! I apparently have some soundless video of this (no pictures unfortunately) so if I end up with some footage I will definitely add it in here! An amazing ride! One of the highlights of my week for sure!!
Day 2, Jumping:
Our jump lesson on Day 2 was not so much about jumping as it was preparation for jumping! Lauren wanted to have us jumping a solid well-ridden course on Day 3, so the best way to prepare was to do it with poles the day before. The focus was on riding the “perfect” course – straight lines, deep into the corners, accuracy, rhythm, and counting strides. “Sounds easy right?” Hahaha! The easiest things in Lauren’s ring are often the hardest things! And that’s a lesson you can learn over and over again!
So we learned our “course” which would include a couple bending lines and a triple, and, on pole day only, an accurate simple change in a specific location along with some tricky corners to navigate. Jack was very into playing this game – because even though he wasn’t that fresh going into the lesson, once we started to “jump” he was totally game! We did pretty well on our rhythm but ran into some trouble with our turns – too much inside rein. I’ve definitely got to work more on that one and getting better at making turning off the outside aides second nature! With the simple change we were doing, Jack and I had it down pretty well at the beginning but kept buggering it up near the end. I wasn’t being clear enough or asking for the trot soon enough and he knew where he was going! So we had a couple solid screw ups in the middle couple rounds before we got that back under control again!
By the end we were all doing pretty well! Riding straight lines, getting better in our corners and keeping a steady rhythm! Ready to jump the next day!
Day 3, Jumping:
We started off our last day with jumping since it would be the harder task for the horses. Jack was fresh and ready to go and while I was battling some nerves as I watched Lauren up the heights on all the jumps from the group before, I knew that once we started jumping my nerves would settle down. At the very least I might have one ugly round and then get over it! We didn’t get to warm up over pieces of the course to make it as close to show-reality as possible. We used our first fence by B to warm up with, and Lauren used a neat trick to battle the nerves. As we kept coming round, the jump got bigger and bigger until it was well over 2’6″-2’9″ we were jumping in our course.
The trick worked well. Once we were warmed up, nothing in the ring looked very big or intimidating anymore! We were ready to give it a go!
I have to say, this part of the camp was my biggest highlight! Jumping courses is something I’ve done many times before, at home, off property and in shows but lately it’s been a battle to get all those pieces back together without all the bad habits I’ve picked up over the years!
So to make my descriptions easier, I’ve created a little course map for your viewing pleasure:
Our first round went without any major mishaps! Managed to amaze myself on that one! We did knock down 5a/5b – just not enough impulsion coming out of the corner and pony not really picking up his feet. But the poles landed safely so we jumped 7a/7b as poles on the ground! Haha, oops! I had it in my mind pretty well what I had to do to keep this course together – both from doing the poles the day before and from the course work we’d been doing in our lessons in the weeks leading up to the camp. I knew a few habits I had to knock! One is letting my brain shut off for anywhere from 3 to 5 strides after a fence (“Oh I survived, PHEW!”), another was dropping my eyes in that process (gotta knock that one if I want to ride cross!), and using the outside aids to steer which I learned from the previous day! So those three things were on my list from the outset and made for a reasonably effective first try!! I had a couple sticky spots, like coming into the triple, and in the corner coming up to the final fence, but for the most part I was on the ball! I definitely had “land, sit up and ride” in my head that day as I’d woken up thinking it (obviously was dreaming about jumping before I woke up that morning!)
Our subsequent rounds got much better. The triple never quite resolved itself, just needed to have more leg coming out of the turn toward it so he’d hit it on a more forward moving stride. And we were having problems making the turn from 6 to 7a/7b which once we widened it out to come more toward the oxer it rode really well as a 3 stride!
By far the best course work I’ve accomplished in a long long long time! Maybe ever!!
Day 3, Dressage:
The final day was Test Day! Riding dressage tests, in other words. Brena and I had Entry Test 2 to ride. To be honest, by this point I was really feeling the fatigue! We warmed up well, I had Jack on a good forward, from-behind stride, but when it came time to sitting and trying to put it all together I’d almost get there and then muscles would give way to fatigue! So we just moved on to the tests. Lauren gave us some pointers for how to warm up – picking up on what parts of the test would be an issue and how to prepare. Jack and I found getting into the corners without knocking Lauren’s little pylons an issue (found myself envying Brena with her pony Bella as they scooted through the pole/pylon gauntlet with seeming ease while I had to really sit up and half the time had an ugly time of getting Jack really square and balanced through the tight square turns – very very good practice though!)
We rode the test three times, each time got progressively more accurate, though fatigue was really starting to catch up to me! Rhythm was an issue I fixed in subsequent rounds as we’d been lagging in the first try. I also made a goof in the first try by letting Jack go on a loose rein free-walk instead of doing the medium walk required, however the loose rein walk gave us a floaty-on-the-bit trot down the center line to our halt! That was pretty amazing to feel! If only my whole test could have been that! (One day!) Our circles were pretty decent but shifted off center from the letters a little which got better as we re-did the test, but not quite perfect. I needed to have hit the letters on the track a little sooner than I was. And our corners did get better as we went though they never quite got perfect – needed to sit up much more and get a better bend with more impulsion coming out of them off my outside aids.
It was a fantastic camp, all-in-all! Great people and the horses were all on their game! Lauren had plenty of confidence boosters as well as challenges to help us all along our paths to better riding! And some really great highlights!
I saw some fantastic improvement in my course riding – much more on the ball and thinking after each fence, better use of my outside aids and using my space well. My equitation on gymnastic day was coming along great!! Jumping without reins and then without stirrups really set up the right feel for when we got them back! Dressage Day 1 on the lunge line also set up for the best dressage moments I have had to date in Day 2 with Jack literally floating around our 20m circle on the bit and tracking up beautifully!
My goals for the camp were to:
- get a better feel in dressage for getting my horse on the bit – which included getting a better feel of a connected, steady outside rein
- put together a course of jumps while staying focused and thinking every stride
I’d say those were definitely nailed!
On to my next goals:
- More adept at putting my horse on the bit (better connection of outside rein and seat)
- More consistent eq when jumping
- Rider level 6
- Compete at first event
- Certification for EC Instructor of Beginners