Adventures at Competition Camp

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“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!”

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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.

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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:

Course

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.

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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

Jumping Courses: Waylon Roberts Clinic April 22, 2012

Amy & Louis on course

Graduate Riding School (visit their Facebook page) hosted yet another fantastic jumping clinic with Waylon Roberts this past weekend. Once again, Waylon drew a crowd – this time despite the occasional snowflake on a cloudy, windy day outdoors (proving the GRS gang can’t be deterred). Almost everyone that rode in the previous clinic was back again and excited to learn more and to build on what was learned previously. Waylon had lots to say about both horses and riders who had improved since his last visit. The ring, barn and horses were prepped to perfection thanks to coach Lauren Cude, her parents and many helpers and riders. And despite the unexpected cold weather, the crowd stayed all day – wrapped in blankets, hot chocolates and coffees and cameras in hand.

The focus of this clinic was jumping courses: especially to prepare some riders for the upcoming show season but also to get some helpful input about riding courses and just to get some more miles on a young or excitable horse for other riders. Mission accomplished! Waylon emphasized straightness, good rhythm and an alert and actively-thinking rider – all solid basics but often hard to put together when jumping a series of fences instead of just one!

The show group rode excellently! Being the first group out, their horses were fresh and took some focused concentration to gain their attention and respect on the aids. For some horses like our dear Lissy and Bella, the goal was to package up their energy and get a round and steady canter rhythm rather than the running, eager rhythm the girls would rather have given their riders in the early brisk morning air. (Great preparation for show day!) With horses like Jack and later Nick, the goal was to get them moving out and forward, freely and ahead of the aids. Like Lauren always says, “Find a rhythm that you feel you can jump a 3′ fence out of!” Waylon wanted to see Jack coming through and forwards, activating his legs (“We want him to have Bella legs!” he said at one point.) – not necessarily “fast” or “speeding up” the rhythm but increasing the tempo of the footfalls. For Jack, increasing the tempo of his legs, getting him to activate his body and energize his rhythm creates a better scenario for success on course; he will be more respectful of the aids (because he’s better prepared to answer more quickly) and he’ll be better prepared to lift himself and his legs over the jumps on a good stride, decreasing the chance of a knock-down.

The courses were the same through the rides, which was helpful to watch as you not only got to ride the course but you got to watch rider after rider repeat the same exercise, ingraining what you learned as the day progressed.

Feeling a little nervous for my ride, I was extremely happy to get the opportunity to watch another rider take my horse into the ring first. Louis is a fairly new horse for me, and also a fairly new “type” of horse than what I’ve been used to in the past few years. Jumping is a fairly new thing for Louis – an older horse who for most of his life has been a beginner hack horse – walk, trot and the occasional cross-rail – put him on the buckle and he’ll go round and round just fine. Since he’s been at GRS, however, Louis has been exposed to the fun world of dressage and jumping (gymnastics, courses, related distances and all that fun stuff). Prone to speeding up and racing when he gets off balance (looking very much like a trotter with his speedy little steps) and still figuring out where his feet go, Louis has taken a little bit of courage (not normally needed) for me to get on and work through both his and my gaps in training. One flaw (made most noticeable by riding Louis) in my riding-instincts is a tendency to buckle forward and clamp up when nervous, two things that I have learned (and learned well) are very counter-productive to riding through a problem on an off-balance horse (or any horse for that matter)!  This goes especially for a horse like Louis since the shifting of my weight forward and a tightening of my hands and legs just escalate every issue with him – putting him further on the forehand and off balance, giving him the bit to plow down onto and getting myself off balance by clamping my legs making me prone to losing my stirrups. Not that we’ve really had many scenarios that ended up like that, but there are moments that begin to feel a little hairy because we’ve taken steps down that road! Not something you want to be thinking about happening during what could be a complicated course in a jumping clinic with a bunch of people watching you, including a well-respected international rider!! Hence the nerves!

What I love about Waylon’s teaching style (not so very different from our coach Lauren’s) is the simplicity with which he teaches. Sit up straight and tall, balance yourself! Long legs, loosen the knee! Hands up, straight line from bit to elbow, no matter where the horse’s head was at (Dixie’s rider had a time getting used to how high her hands had to be for that!). Get a solid reaction from your aids and get it right away – get respect first, be sure to give, then you can soften your aids once you have the respect. Straight lines – on the flat and over fences – pick your line and stick to it, demand it if you have to. Eyes up, bodies back, knees off so the leg can go long and deep into the stirrup, sit tall and make a difference.

So Louis and I got to ride in the last class. After watching the other rides and Louis’ previous ride, I knew what had to get done. I had some things I wanted to be sure I asked, and went in feeling a lot less nervous and actually a little confident! And really, I find by the time you’re stepping into the ring, you just have to shrug your shoulders at the butterflies and smile, because it’s going to be fun whether you have a hairy ride or an easy one, and there’s “no going back now” (or at least, not for me). In the end I could also just say to myself, “you’ve done it before, just do it again”… and off we went. The flat work was geared to get the horses moving off our aids – especially off our leg and seat – Waylon wanted to see horses and riders relying less on the reins and more on the legs and seat to direct the horse. The riders that reverted back to steering off the reins found problems later on course with broken lines and turns to tricky fences. The canter work was where I wanted Waylon’s help as I have yet to be able to pick up Louis’ harder left lead (that being said, I really have only tried it once in my last lesson!). Waylon came down to the end of the ring to give me a hand – he got me to more or less exaggerate my aids, put my inside leg forward and firmly against his barrel, lift up on my inside rein and ask when the trot rhythm felt balanced. Remembering too from my dressage lesson this week how hard it was for me to get my hip forward I tried to also exaggerate my inside hip coming forward (literally picking it up and moving it ahead, which having the leg forward also helped). We picked up the lead on the first try (‘Surprise myself’ moment #1!) The canter exercise was a circle at either end, coming off the track to the quarter line and riding straight. Some riders simply turned their horses to the quarter line. Being a little fearful of what a sharp turn would do to our canter and his balance, I asked Louis (just to see what I’d get) to move more sideways off my leg. ‘Surprise myself’ moment #2 came when he stepped sideways almost immediately and we carried on through the exercise without breaking to trot and with a very good canter.

The jumping went very well! Probably one of my best rides on Louis to date! I felt balanced and in control and Louis felt engaged and listening quite attentively to my aids. We focused on rhythm and straightness, trot or canter (basically whatever we ended up with that was balanced). My goal was just a quiet easy rhythm and straight approaches and straight lines before and after our fences. The course was fairly open, nothing too tight or difficult which was nice for this horse. The first time through the outside line (one of our only related distances) got my nerves back up a little (having had a hairy moment with Louis in a lesson where the distance ended up off, coming in forward and he stopped). But as soon as we landed after the first fence I must have been grinning because we landed very balanced and soft on a nice easy canter and I looked ahead and knew our distance was right and I wouldn’t have to change a thing. ‘Surprise myself’ moment #3.

The courses rode well and for the most part something got better each time around or I at least had a new ‘aha’ moment each round. Just for reference sake, since not everyone that may decide to read this (and has got this far) was at the clinic… I took far too long and drew the course out:

Jumping Course for Waylon Roberts Clinic Apr 22 2012

My aim for Louis was either to keep the balance in the canter if it felt right before or after a fence, or to bring him back to a balanced trot and organize him well before our turns and/or well before the next fence. The nice part about being outside was that there was plenty of room between most of the fences, the corners for the most part did not come up fast and I found only really one tricky spot on course for getting him balanced after a jump.

Fence #1

The warm up was done over fence 1, then added on fence 3 – rolling back to the outside of fence 6 for a long easy approach. We had few issues here, the first round I learned I needed to set him back and organize the trot a little sooner before we needed to start our turn and thereafter we had a nice organized and rhythmic approach to fence 3.

Fence #3

After that we moved to jumping fences 1, 2 and 3, then adding on fences 4 and broken line to 5. The broken line was a tough one for many. Waylon didn’t want to see any slow gradual rounded turns to the second fence he wanted to see a definite change from one line to the next. For some riders this proved a little hairy – some over shot the turn and then made the turn a little too drastic, others like myself didn’t give any warning signals before the turn to get the horses ready and so the turn became a little too harsh on the first try, while others didn’t quite make the turn significant at all and simply rounded off the turn which ended up in some refusals and run-outs or just sloppy approaches and take-off’s. Where you really saw the effects of a straight line approach and a good turn was on the other side of the fence. Riders who miscalculated the turn and turned too early had a shallow corner afterwards, whereas the riders who got straight to the fence could go deep and balanced into their corner. Chelsea and Lissy had this down to a science in the first class!

Fence #4Fence #5

Next we added on the liverpool. The trick to this fence was to stay on the outside line as long as possible and then make the same kind of definite turn (as to the bending line) to the liverpool so the horses got on the line straight. This fence rarely caused problems except for when a rider cut in too early and rounded off their corner or came off the outside with too much gusto and fell in on the forehand after the turn. Louis and I just found the turn afterwards which was tight between the oxer on the outside and the edge of the ring, it was a little hairy the first couple of times until I got him setting himself back a little bit early and got his hind end a little more underneath himself.

Liverpool Jump #6

The in-and-out came after a rather tight approach off the rail and the corner. Louis in his earlier round had a tough time getting straight to this combination and had a couple of run outs from turning too early to the first fence. With that in mind and Waylon’s earlier coaching on the bending line and the line to the liverpool, I tried to make the approach with a definite turn, lots of outside aids and leg on looking ahead down my line. Albeit probably a little easier from his first ride since he’d seen it already, the first time or two through was a little uncertain showing up in the landing side being a little forward and slightly more unbalanced. This was my one trouble spot on course. After the in-and-out that seemed to get him a little charged-up, I had some trouble setting him back. It usually took me to the first corner at the end of the ring to get his canter under control and back down to a trot, then not much room to organize the trot before the turn to the skinny. The first couple shots at the skinny were definitely “hairy” to say the least. We overshot the turn the first time and nearly had a refusal – he stalled pretty good but we got over it. The second time we were still just a little too on the forehand with legs flying a little too erratically to get over it clean so we ended up punching out the rail. (Sorry Waylon! Poor guy had a cast on his leg and this was the furthest fence in the ring!)… After those two times I was figured I needed to set up the in-and-out better so he would land a little less enthusiastically and unbalanced. I tried to stay slightly more upright in my body between and over the second fence, focusing on getting the canter balanced earlier and back to the trot well before the first corner so that I could truly focus on the turn to the skinny and not still be trying to get a good trot as I’m turning to the fence.

Fence 2 of In-and-Out (Fence #8)

In the end we had a few really great rounds with no obvious flaws, other than it wasn’t all done in canter. Waylon was really happy by how steady and rhythmical the rounds went (goal #1) and how straight and connected our turns and lines were (goal #2)… and hopefully there aren’t too many grimaces on my face in the pictures!

Making Faces

By far one of the best rides on Louis I’ve had to date and a great clinic!

Good boy! :)

First-Aid and Wound Care

First-Aid and Wound Care

Keenya’s puncture made me realize how important it is to know more than just basic first-aid. I spent a lot of time research, reading and picking the brains of knowledgeable horse people to ensure we took care of this injury in the best way possible. An unknown accident at a leaser’s barn resulted in this wound (partially healed in the photo). The puncture was longer than an index finger, crossing the spine and descending into the flesh on the other side. The object that punctured him chipped the spinous process of the third sacral vertebrae (right behind the sacrum or point of the hip). The wound abscessed and required vet care after 2 weeks of trying to flush it. The vet flushed the bone chips and cleaned up the abscess and put him on a course of oral-antibiotics as the sensitivity of the wound and it’s location made it hard to clean. After a few days on the antibiotics we were able to start injecting Special Formula into the wound and keep it running clear. Scrubbing with Hibitane and Betadine solutions kept the scab off and the site clean and spraying with a water-alcohol based antiseptic meant there was no creams or gels to attract bacteria. Since caring for this I’ve ordered the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Book of Horses: a Complete Medical Reference Guide for Horses. It takes one nasty one to make you realize your library’s missing a key piece.

Rhythm & Suppleness: Waylon Roberts’ clinic @ GRS

Amy aboard Nick in Waylon Roberts clinic at GRS

Graduate Riding School hosted a clinic Sunday February 19th with Waylon Roberts, an international-level Canadian rider who has competed in Show Jumping and Eventing around the world. My first reactions to Waylon were probably quite common, the first thought being “how old is he?” and the instantaneous second thought being “how did he ever learn so much so fast?”… For so young a person he carries himself with great confidence and charisma – his depth and breadth of knowledge was immediately apparent and his enthusiasm for helping both horses and riders was fantastic to watch.

Waylon’s exercises focused on rhythm and suppleness, getting horses to move forward in front of their rider’s leg and carrying the rider forward through an exercise. Rather than riders being static in the tack, he asked riders to try for more fluidity, moving with the horse, allowing for better movement from the horse through the various exercises, and looking for greater strength and consistency in rider commands.

My ride started off with an exercise in bending and suppleness – the horses in trot and canter were guided through a shallow-loop serpentine of sorts – coming in off the track and looping back to the track, first in one long shallow loop then two. The emphasis was on riders moving with the pattern, not sitting stiff in the tack, but moving about and playing with the feel – using seat and leg to guide the horse to come off the track and change the bend and putting less emphasis on the hand and reins (the upper body staying tall and steadying the ride). The rider’s seat was encouraged to move naturally and swing freely, the inside leg shifting forward to help guide the horse to bend around it and seat and outside leg guiding the horse off the track and encouraging him to move forward into the bend. Then the outside leg was asked to shift forward to create a new bend, inside leg and seat encouraging the horse to step forward from behind and bend around the new ‘inside leg’ (the outside) and head back to the track. The exercise helped with suppleness both in horse and rider – helped ease nerves in the groups and got horses energized and listening to riders, breaking out of the regular warm-up routine.

For Nick, this was obviously an interesting change of events for him, more used to following a track about the ring with the rider aboard more focused on learning to post or finding their balance, we had a few “arguments” (shall we say) to start. At first he was a little perturbed by being asked to move forward with a little* (*a lot) more energy and then being asked to listen carefully since the exercise changed with each pass of the ring. He had quite a few bucks and head shakes to let us all know he was feeling pretty good and full of himself. :) Throughout the warm-up I found it a challenge to keep him forward and engaged while trying to incorporate more and more suggestions from Waylon – letting my seat swing, shifting the legs to encourage the bend and keeping the focus on the seat and legs directing the movement. But one thing Waylon said that stuck with me after the ride was to expect more of the horse in maintaining a rhythm – ask for the energy and rhythm you want and expect the horse to keep to that level rather than always asking and asking and asking for more but not getting quite as much as you want (anyone that’s ridden Nick before should be familiar with that scenario). If an aid to ask for more energy is not working, do not repeat it – he said. So for all of us ‘cluck-ers’, if the first cluck does nothing dramatic to influence the rhythm do not repeat it or you end up desensitizing the horse to the command, rather find another way to get the result you are looking for. One trick Waylon had for us was to use a leg aid in front of the girth toward the shoulder as a way to ‘wake’ them up and a second step to asking for more energy out of our mounts. While I found it tricky, it did get a response. Once Nick was warmed up and we got further on, we found out how well that gas pedal really worked!

Some groups then went onto cavaletti (raised poles) on a twenty-meter circle. Waylon equated this to the horse-equivalent of side-crunches in an abs work-out, the horse moving through the cavaletti on a circle strengthens the muscles, creates suppleness and encourages good rhythm at the canter, getting the horse out in front of the leg and moving with energy from behind. Riders quite often found it difficult to maintain balance on the first few passes and horses worked on getting their striding. What was great to see was that nearly every horse that went through the exercise who struggled to begin with, by the second try (having had time to ‘think about it’), found themselves much improved and more confident. The canter afterwards was much more balanced and coming through from behind, horses were maintaining rhythm and carrying the rider through the exercise (rather than being behind the leg and the rider pushing the horse through the exercise). For the few horses that were a bit more energetic and over-stimulated, the consistency of the exercise worked to calm them and focus their energy. The key to the day was definitely in the design of the exercises which encouraged the horses to flow through each exercise with rhythm and good impulsion and balance. Each exercise was designed to help put the horses out ahead of the rider’s aids, coming through from behind and flowing through the exercises with the intent that further practice would encourage horses to carry themselves and improve their way of going and develop the rider’s tools for creating rhythm, suppleness and balance in their mounts.

After the cavaletti on a circle, next came the grid-work which again focused on carrying forward the idea of rhythm and having the horse in front of the leg and carrying the rider through the exercise. For Nick and I, new to working together, this was quite challenging to begin with, but I found the exercise extremely helpful in all the right ways. Starting out with trot poles we advanced to adding an x directly after (my guess was about 9′ away), asking the horse to come through the trot poles with good energy and step forward over the x with a canter stride (no trotting the x allowed, or you had to do it again, and again). When horses and riders were accomplishing this well a standard one-stride to a vertical was added. Horses were expected to carry through to the vertical with good energy on a steady rhythm, emphasizing straightness with a chute of poles afterwards that every rider had better hit or be forced to repeat the exercise. After this a bounce to another vertical was added, encouraging horses to round and making the need for impulsion and rhythm evermore apparent to the riders who without it found the bounce quite challenging. On the first couple of passes Nick and I found the bounce to be a bit of a challenge, ending in one knocked rail and one good “arm-flapper” of a ride before we got our rhythm figured out. Our group advanced then to a set of about 6 canter poles to an oxer, giving the horses the tools to find a steady forward rhythm to the fence at the end and putting it all together. This was challenging the first couple tries due to the tight 10m corner approach, trying to keep the rhythm out of the corner for Nick and I proved to be difficult but not unmanageable as we found after a try or two. By this time I distinctly remember thinking “It’s almost over” because after a couple weeks with only one time in the saddle and one of those weeks spent on the couch with the flu my body was starting to loudly protest that it was finished and muscles weren’t functioning to the same level as they were at the beginning! :)

Some great points I took away from the day:

  • Always expect a reaction from your aids. (It’s sort of a ‘no-brainer’ on first appearance, but honestly, it’s easy to get a little lax about enforcing that expectation. Especially if you occasionally approach your ride with the mentality of “I’m sitting on a schoolie.” Even a “schoolie” should react to your aids when you apply them correctly, so if you’re asking right but getting no response or less than you wanted, get the response you want!)
  • A good rhythm that puts the horse in front of the riders leg and carries the rider through an exercise allows the rider to focus on straightness and the horse to round and take the obstacles with fluidity and roundness. Rhythm is the key to all the rest.
  • Do not repeat aids that do not elicit a reaction. In Waylon’s words “If the cluck didn’t work the first time, don’t use it again.”
  • If you expect suppleness in your horse you must be supple yourself. (This is just something I thought of as the day went on… How does a stiff position in the tack create suppleness in the horse? We need to be just as fluid and supple with our aids and position if we expect the horse to be fluid and supple in his movements.)
  • Caveletti on a circle = highly entertaining. :)