Monday, 29 September 2014

Another Mclean Clinic - an epiphany....a hard one, but a good one

So, another Mcleans clinic for the history books. This time, both Andrew and Manuela were in attendance and it was such a great couple of days. What a difference it makes having the clinic over a long weekend in spring. Lots of people turned up to hear Andrew's lecture and watch his demonstration with a young horse that pulls back. And it was a good vibe, as always.

My lessons were pretty all over the place and, as I am a firm believer that confusion and disappointment are the great drivers of positive change, I'm going to chalk this clinic up to being a bloody Lamborghini for positive change! The first lesson with Andrew on Jedi was bloody awful. I didn't really have enough time to warm up. Andrew was running late because his plane was late so I thought I had ten more minutes than I did. Ah, well, my bad.

Jedi started very tense and didn't really get better. He was at his worst with his head tossing, pig-rooting, tail-swishing and rushing the jumps. He is really not usually like this and I was disappointed. Andrew, quite rightly, told me I shouldn't be jumping him higher than the piddly jumps he had set up and that, frankly, I was not suited to hot horses. I ride too heavily for sensitive Jedi and am really pissing him off. Sigh. Not that I didn't always know that in the back of my mind but it was a hard thing to hear, especially when he was misbehaving to a far greater degree than normal.

That being said, Andrew and I go back almost 30 years, so he wasn't just being an arsehole. He knows I appreciate honesty and I really think he's right. We worked on me having a more forward seat to be more balanced and subtle, allowing him to round rather than hollow under my weight. Things improved marginally, but it was a pretty crappy lesson. I was on the phone to my two best horse sales contacts within 15 minutes of the end of the lesson letting them know Jedi was up for sale.

Rose was pretty tense to start with Manu, but that soon dissipated as we worked on straightness (equal cheekpieces) and getting a slow walk. Lots of halting and even stepping back as she has a tendency to get strong and haul me around! Manu commented on my seat too, asking me to lean forward more. I was astounded - I reckon my whole riding life I've been told to 'sit up' and 'sit back' as I always had a tendency to be too forward. Now, I've over-compensated (probably from riding crazy Tux and now slightly nutty Jedi), and my posture is too defensive. This causes my seat/pelvis to literally drive down against the wither and into both horses' shoulders, creating soreness and discomfort.

As I started leaning forward (at least, that's what it felt like - I was really only sitting upright!), Rose's demeanour changed and she was less chargey and more rhythmic. It was quite counter-intuitive and will obviously take me ages to learn.

The other really great tool I picked up this time was the 'time-out box'. Manu has been experimenting with halting the horse, holding contact with hand and leg (neutral) for 5 seconds (the same amount of time in a halt/salute or halt at C) before letting the horse stand with the reins on the buckle. The horse is not allowed to move its legs out of this 'box' but may do anything else it likes - chewing, head-shaking, stretching forward, blowing). This opportunity to stretch and relax seems to make a huge difference and, after 15 seconds or so, the horse is ready to move on again. Best results are obtained if you do it in the same place everytime.

The major difference between doing this and, say, walking on a loose rein, is that walking on a long rein is an actual movement in dressage, something that must be trained. It is not really possible to relax the horse by walking on a long rein when it is also something the horse must do at a march, on a contact. I really like this idea and it seemed to have great results with both horses.

We never got out of walk in that first lesson with Manu on Rose! But it was a pretty great foundation.

I was lucky to get another privated with Manu the following day after someone had to cancel. I rode Jedi first as he is usually the most exhausting - not this time! He was practically dopey! I was almost disappointed as I wanted Manu to see him when he is tense. He did turn it on a bit later so she was able to see, but I think she knew what I was saying and could see his adrenalisation.

Leaning forward was one key and I worked on that. The second was active walk into slow trot for 8 steps, back to active walk. I also didn't take a dressage whip. This 20 min repetition of walk to slow trot, gradually developing from a dribbling sitting trot to a good working trot, rising, was genius.

Manu had me do a lot of a particular exercise involving strong indirect turns to the outside. These start when the horse is no longer straight or concentrating. The sequence goes, inside knee pushes in to the horse, followed by the inside hand locking against the wither - pressing the inside rein into the horse's neck. The horse should step out with the outside front leg ie open that leg. If not, the outside rein is opened wide to help the horse get the message. The key is not to release that inside rein, maintaining flexion to the inside. Once the horse steps out, all aids go back to neutral to reward the horse.

After some repetitions of this exercise, both horses started to round, lift through the back, swing across the hindquarter and go 'gooey', as Manu says. It can be repeated as often as you like and seems to really focus them on the rider.

We had a great lesson and I was really grateful I had that opportunity with Manu. I feel a lot less useless!

Rose's second lesson was really a duplication of Jedi's lesson, but Rose has a lot less strength and balance. She also pulls like a train when she wants so we had some serious halting and stepping back to do! I had been having trouble leg-yielding to the left on Rose - she would run, get stressed and toss her head. So, Manu had me slow down, then if Rose got heavy at all during the yield I would ask her to step back a step or two, then immediately push her into leg yield. After a few repetitions she was really quite good.

So, that's another exhausting clinic full of learning and sweating! Lots to work on and Jedi is now officially for sale. We'll be doing Canberra and Lynton Horse Trials in the coming two weeks, hopefully with a respectable dressage score to kick us off. I'm really aiming for calmness and 50%! Like always.....keep you posted!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Spring has sprung!

Well it has certainly been an eventful few weeks in Barefooteventer-land. After the appalling dressage at Harden, I decided to take Jedi to a local dressage club event with Rose, the newly broken in Irish Sport Horse. Rose has just received her very own WOW saddle and looks rather fetching in it, if she does say so herself!

We had a middling day. The sun was bright and the mood was pretty jolly, but Jedi was very hot again and, after about an hour of riding, still pulled off a tense test. Much improved on Harden (we scored about 58.5% and finished 5th), but still very frustrating and worrying. I was convinced I was doing something really awful and was creating yet another Tux.

Rose was truly wonderful, however, just to confuse me even more! Considering she'd been ridden about 20 times ever, she was such a gem and coped really well in the noisy atmosphere. This was her second time in a dressage arena, even! So, she did a lovely test for 57.5% with a 7 for paces and scored herself a red ribbon to boot.

Needless to say, it was a very thoughtful drive home with the two of them as I kept going over my riding, my training, Jedi's reactivity and so on. I decided to simply cut all of Jedi's food out (which is incredibly hard to do - just try it!) and let him just eat grass for a bit. I reasoned I could quickly rule out diet if his behaviour stayed the same, even if he lost a bit of weight while that happened.

Imagine my relief when, only 5 days later, I had the calmest ride I'd had in literally months. He was almost lazy! The one thing that I'd truly managed to eliminate was the lucerne/meadow hay that he'd had for the whole of winter. We'd bought the big bales from a local guy and didn't know they were half lucerne til they arrived. I wasn't happy about it but didn't think it would be too detrimental.

How wrong I was! The horses had literally finished it up the weekend of the dressage comp and were eating only grass and hard feed (Micrbeet, lucerne chaff, Equilibrium and for Jedi, some Gastrocoat). I added Hygain Ice to the mix with no ill-effects. Now he's really quite lazy and calm. The relief is unbelievable. I'm even looking forward to our next event now I feel less likely I'll be thrown off!
We have two new additions to Dragonwood now - call it a bit of a window shopping moment gone awry! I went out to look at a lovely-looking broodmare called Heidi, and somehow ended up with Heidi AND her yearling by Ballycastle Cruisin' called Pocket. He's just a bit cute:

 So, there's lots happening in the next month. In a couple of weeks Andrew and Manu Mclean are coming up for a clinic. Hoping to take both Rose and Jedi for some lessons. I'm needing some serious help with trot/canter transitions on both of them. Jumping with Andrew is always pretty fun!

It's also time to complete young Timmy's foundation training and back him. He's three now and I'm quite excited about his prospects. He's growing into a really super young pony with very uphill paces and a real presence about him. Everyone asks 'who's that?' when they come to visit. He'll be up for sale in a few months, especially after I take him to Alastair Mclean's clinic in November. That being said, he's so lovely to have around, I won't be in any hurry to sell him!
Timmy in the rain
I'm also off to Albury at the end of September to judge at the NSW Pony Club Eventing Champs which will be so much fun. It's always such an honour to be asked to judge at junior events. These guys are the future of our sport and I welcome the opportunity to give them positive feedback when I can.

Then it's Canberra Horse Trials the first weekend of October, followed by Lynton - the NSW Eventing Champs two weeks later. This will be my first time competing at Lynton and I'm very keen to give it a redhot go.

All systems go for summer....bring it on!