Friday, 13 February 2015

Lucinda Green 2015

Wow, I'm unbelievably knackered. I have completely hit the wall and am barely able to raise the energy to move my fingers to write this blog, let alone go lock the chooks up or yell at my kids when they get out of bed!

What a great clinic! Yet again, Lucinda showed what a world-class trainer she is and made 21 riders very happy Vegemites at Canberra for two days. I am still a little amazed more people aren't beating down my door to go to her clinic since she is pretty much a game-changer for all of us. We are now, if we choose to forge ahead with her somewhat simple yet seriously effective method of training cross country, on the path to have the cleverest and most confident cross country horses around. And I, for one, will be forging!

Lucinda works on a pretty straightforward principle; it's the rider's job to get the horse to within 3 or 4 strides of the jump on a good line, at the right pace and in balance, then it's the horse's job to pick the take-off spot and jump the jump. Sounds easy? It actually is. When you leave your bloody horse's mouth alone on approach to the jump and train it to be in front of your leg and obedient to the bit. That's the hard part, I guess!

Organising a clinic is not a picnic, and I put in a shitload of work to make sure it ran smoothly, that the riders who had paid a comparative fortune to attend got the most bang for their buck, and that Lucinda was well looked-after. With a lot of help from my amazing husband, I think we ticked all three boxes. In return, I met some great people from as far away as the Hunter Valley, Melbourne and Sydney. Less than half the participants were from the Canberra region - says a lot about Lucinda's reputation outside Canberra.

The groups all had different issues to work on which was really great for those watching. The baby horses had trouble with line and go. The Intro/Prelim horses (like Annie) had problems with their riders! The Prelim horses worked on finesse and the PreNov/1* group had the most problems of all! It's so interesting what the first day of Lucinda's clinic (nominally called showjumping but really a skills session to set you up for the next day) shows up, especially regarding the gaps in training and especially in the horses moving up the grades. A lot of the more experienced or senior horses had real confidence issues, problems with stop and go, problems with the connection they had or didn't have with their rider. Fascinating.

Lucinda dealt with every combination individually, giving every single person and horse the time and attention to work through whatever was the core issue. She is a big believer in giving a horse time to work out the problem of the obstacle you're asking him to jump - learning to 'read' it. As she says, you can't give a paperback to a young child and expect them to speed read it in the way a teenager might. Slowing things down, coming back to trot if necessary (and the PreNov horses showed just how big a jump you can get over with ease from a trot!), and giving the horse enough rein to stretch its neck out and READ the jump, are all things she really hammered. It worked a treat too, with horses that had previously looked harassed or even scared looking comfortable and like schoolmasters.

Amongst all the excitement, Annie and I had our lessons and I couldn't be more over the moon about that horse. She really showed her potential over the clinic and Lucinda was effusive about her too, which of course makes me even prouder! Annie is starting to look like a grown up horse now, building a little topline, getting more confident, using her back and core a bit more. She tried so hard to go where I pointed her, reading those jumps as quickly as she could and just trusting that my hand will always allow her to look but my legs will always give her the answer if she questions!

She was just super and Lucinda had us jumping down the PreNov water, over the Prelim jumps and feeling like we could do anything. Such a great feeling on a new young horse! Such a great advertisement for the Irish Sporthorse (got lots of enquiries about her breeding), a breed Lucinda knows a great deal about.

Annie bravely leaping out over the barrels.

And putting an enormous leap back in!

Totally lost my knitting but tried to keep Annie in my 'tube' of legs.

She never really got the hang of just jumping normally over the barrels.

But I did get better at riding it!

But look at us stylin' over the prelim ditch to house!

And the second time over was even better. I'm over-releasing but she jumps so powerfully I get thrown back in the saddle so I think I feel I need to throw the reins away to make sure I don't catch her mouth. Need to work on that!

There was a lovely horse and rider from the Hunter - a very conflicted thoroughbred and his rider who had been together for four years and had only just been able to come out without the horse getting so dangerous, rearing and bucking, that he had to be simply led back to the float. There was a lot of confusion in the horse and Lucinda was convinced Andrew Mclean would be of great benefit. I talked at length with his wonderful rider (who could, coincidentally, sit anything!) and described the basics of learning theory to him. He sounded really interested and I hope he can get somewhere with his talented horse. After four years, he deserves it!

It was through talking with guys like that, and Lucinda too, that I am reminded how lucky, DAMN lucky, I am to have grown up with the Mcleans and their approach to horse training. It is second nature to me to train my horse to stand, to be clipped, to load and float well, to not swing its head around or stuff around when tied up, to lead easily without charging off in front or dragging along behind, to be saddled without biting, the put its head down to receive the bit or have the halter taken off, to stand to be mounted and not just walk off as I'm getting on.... Forget the riding stuff, I am amazed how many people seem to just assume their horse will be either well-behaved/quiet or it won't with no input from them. I am damn lucky to be in a position to know to train that stuff and to know how important it is. It's a lot of work but it's bloody worth it - especially when I have to deal with other people's poorly-trained horses and I realise how easy mine are in comparison. Easy? No, just drilled!

Anyway, enough of the soapbox! The clinic was simply brilliant and it was, again, an unbelievable pleasure to be breathing the same air as Lucinda Green. I still have to pinch myself when I see her there the first morning I pick her up - it's like seeing Meryl Streep or Glenn Close. She's RIGHT THERE! LUCINDA FREAKING GREEN! You know that feeling, right?

Next comp, Canberra in 2 weeks. I'm going to take Lucinda's advice and bring Annie on nice and slow. She's a big girl and needs time to harden and fill out and I want to avoid injuring her. Lucinda thinks if I can nurse her through the next two or three years, she'll be coming out guns blazing by 7 or 8 years old. And Lucinda said, Annie will take me as far as I want to go. It also turns out, Lucinda is a bit fan of barefoot, but also quite in awe of those who do it. She just doesn't see how it's possible. I'm guessing that's a common view in the elite equestrian world. I wonder if anyone's ever competed at WEG barefoot before.....Annie get your guns!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Wallaby Hill Feb 2015 - Annie's first outing

Wow - what a great weekend! Not just the riding, though that was great. But the event itself. It really has to rate as the friendliest, most picturesque and well-organised events on the calendar. Or, as a very seasoned volunteer told me, "The one they spend the most money on." She has a point.

So, we arrived with half an hour to plait up and hop on. Not the best way to kick off, but the plaits got done and off we sauntered to the dressage. Annie was quite distracted - she was looking at EVERYTHING - but not at all stressed. It was the nicest change to be sitting on a horse that wasn't losing its little mind and leaping and cavorting about. She even pulled out a fairly nice test, considering. I got tense just before we went in, so Annie did too. Not ideal, but a pretty common mistake. We got a very respectable 62.7% for a horse that resembled a camel for most of the test!

Showjumping followed very quickly on my dressage but I actually got to walk the course for the first time in about a year! It was a pretty straightforward course, as it always is (should be?) at this level. I was slightly concerned about the atmosphere for young Annie - it's quite an arena, with spectators along one side and dense bush along the other. Lots to look at!

Annie pulled out a very green but clear round and I was very proud of her. Looking at the couple of pics of us jumping on GeoSnap I am appalled at my position. It looks like I've gone back to throwing myself forward on her neck as she hesitates when she's looking at the jump. I should be sitting up and being defensive. Lucinda Green will beat that out of me tomorrow, I'm sure!

I put young Annie away with lots of hay and water to hang out in her yard while I sucked down a delicious steak sandwich (with the lot) and fanged it over to my arena to start a long 4.5 hour stint of dressage judging. I can honestly say, though, it was one of the most enjoyable sessions of dressage I have judged in the longest time. I had a great penciller who was funny and experienced and the quality of combinations I judged was quite astounding. Even the lowest score was around 52% and the highest was a fabulous pair who got over 80% - that's an average of 8 per movement. It was a very good way to spend the afternoon. Even got a TimTam or two for my troubles.

It was pretty hot on the Saturday, but cooled down overnight (not too cold, mind, just nice) and we were all putting jumpers on when the sun went down. I got a surprise, and very welcome, invite for dinner at some lovely friends' truck and, after a great BBQ, a cold beer and a chat, we slumped off to bed at a very rowdy 11pm! I even got to have a shower. I can't tell you how good that felt after such a hot day sitting in the car!

Sunday dawned even hotter. It topped 30 degrees by 11am and that's seriously hot for the Southern Highlands. The cross country was riding well, though, and Annie had no real problems. She never feels like she's thinking about stopping, or even slowing that much. I have decided to keep my gear very simple on her - a PeeWee bit and plain cavesson noseband for cross country, no spurs, no whip, just heels and a bit of a click to encourage her. I feel like she's quite sensitive, underneath all that heft, and she's slowly relaxing and getting comfortable with me. So, while it can feel a bit risky going out on course without a backup to your aids other than a big pony club kick, it seems to be paying off.

Annie just ate it up. We had to trot some bits (the changes from grass to sawdust to black sand to dirt were very offputting to Annie!), including the little bank, just to give her time to see things. But she can sure gallop and was jumping out of her stride pretty well by the last half of the course. Intro is great because there are really little or no technical elements to the jumps and the horses can learn to jump out of their stride a bit before they have to start working out the jumps too quickly.

We came in clear and under time, a result I haven't managed since I had Assegai. It wasn't pretty - she still jumps very greenly, launching herself over the jump and pushing me hard back in the saddle, but she jumped very willingly and boldly. I was stoked.

The only downside? I was so excited when I got over the finish I leapt off without unclipping my vest and promptly blew the canister. At least I know it works, right? But then I couldn't figure out how to deflate it so I just had to struggle out of it and carry it back to the float like a blow-up doll. Everyone looked at me with sympathy. I couldn't figure out if they were thinking, poor love she must have had a fall, or, stupid idiot didn't unclip her vest.....

All in all, a smashing start to our partnership together and Annie was just a pleasure to take out. I got lots of compliments about her so I mustn't be the only one who likes Annie Pannie. :)

Coming up, the much-anticipated Lucinda Green clinic. Will keep you posted!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Manu Clinic Part II - at long last

Well, I needed a week to really think about the last lesson I had with Manu. It was an intense hour, in the end, with some highs and lows. We started as with the first lesson, really locking my hands onto the base of Annie's neck and providing stability and rewarding correct head carriage and softness in the contact.

In short, it didn't work well this time. Annie was coming round but getting very heavy, leaning on my hands and exhausting me. I kept telling Manu she was heavy and she finally asked if I wanted her to hop on to feel what was happening. She hopped on (and looked tiny!) and I noticed a couple of differences in what Manu was telling me to do versus what she was actually doing. What she was doing was definitely working so I wanted to understand and imitate!

Essentially, to me, Manu's hands weren't still as much as she was asking. And her aids were given in much quicker succession than I was giving them. So, when Annie pulled or resisted the bit, Manu brought her hands back and off Annie's neck a little (not massive movement, mind, but definitely not just still), slowing her. Then, as Annie obeyed and lightened, Manu would immediately release her fingers and push her forward, not taking a few seconds to push her on like I did.

In a few minutes, Annie was traveling forward round and soft. So I hopped on and started doing what Manu had done. Needless to say, it wasn't what Manu actually wanted and we had our first true miscommunication in years and years! It wasn't bad, just that I felt that Annie was feeling a bit trapped or restricted by the theoretical hands vs the freedom and relaxation offered by the actual hands. If that makes sense.

The lesson wasn't helped by the bloody peanut gallery of helpful souls who felt the need to chuck in their two cents' worth. As much as I find it hard not to comment myself in other peoples' lessons, I do get pissed off when spectators feel fine with giving me advice when the coach I actually paid for and want to hear from is RIGHT THERE. Nuff said.

I rode Annie again a couple of days after this lesson and started experimenting with some hand positions and found that Annie still got tense and resistant against a short rein and tight hold. When I sat up and let the rein out, Annie would round and blow and move forward really nicely. In fact, she would even do some lovely round transitions! So, I thought I would just keep doing what worked. We'll see if that works, anyway. It's a lot easier, to be honest.

Next post - Wallaby Hill! Our first event.  :)

Monday, 2 February 2015

Manu Clinic I of 2015 - Day One

It's been a weird week of weather around Canberra! More like autumn or spring than the height of summer! Mild days with a cool wind and downright cold nights! I've even had a rug on Annie and Jedi overnight....darn climate change.

The first day of Manu's clinic was supposed to be a rare jumping lesson with Manu but my lovely lesson-mate (not a seasoned jumper, by any means!) didn't have an appropriate horse to ride so we decided to just make it a dressage lesson after all. Turns out to have been a really good idea.

The main issue I've had with Annie has been her head position and bit acceptance. A lot of the bit acceptance has improved, but she still wants to throw her head up at the first change in anything - speed, gait, direction, length of stride. Manu had two very important things to work on for the whole of our lesson. Warning, we didn't make it out of trot!

The first thing Manu wanted me to focus on was the length of Annie's stride in walk. Her walk is big and long, naturally, but she is really too big and long right now and this unbalances her, causing her to raise her head to balance. Because I've been fighting that rather than fixing the length of her stride, tension has established its nasty self and cemented a hollow way of going.

So, lesson one, creeping. Lots and lots of creeping walk. I'll come back to that.

The second big focus was my hands. Manu wanted me to shorten my reins and put my hands down at the base of Annie's crest, essentially cementing them there. I have quite a range of motion in that position - opening my fingers, right up to cocking my wrist down and even putting my little fingers inside the reins to shorten my reins quickly. So, the idea is to provide a real anchor for Annie to work off and a consistency of contact despite her head tossing.

The creeping walk is literally, at least to begin with, as slow and short as I can get Annie to go. Manu didn't want me to pull or move my hands. The idea was to, instead, pretend I'm lifting a bag of feed, switching on my core rather than using my back to pull back. Additionally, when Annie slowed and creeped I released with my fingers to reward her, then closed them when she inevitably got faster at the release of bit pressure.

After about 15 minutes, Annie was doing a very nice creep and had dropped her head, rounding and blowing with relaxation. Manu had me 'dream' longer strides (Annie can be a bit reactive to my legs) every time Annie dropped her head and soon she was doing a lovely 'gooey' medium walk. Time to trot.

There was a lot of tension initially as Annie trotted. Lots of head chucking, trying to run through my reins and really resisting the creeping trot. It was obviously very hard for her as she almost groaned with effort! Every time she got a bit too extreme with the head tossing and resisting I brought her back to the creeping walk by lifting my bag of feed. Then, when she dropped her head and relaxed, asked her to trot. Soon enough, she was wanting to reach down and out, blowing, really swinging through the back and working properly.

Manu had me coming up the centreline and using indirect turns to move her across to the outside track, similar to a leg yield but from the rein rather than the leg. It has the benefit of encouraging straightness and really solidifying the indirect turn. Annie was smashing it (Manu did several of her famous and very cute 'yey's). Got all proud.

Frankly, Annie wasn't the only one absolutely stuffed at the end of this lesson. The hand position does mean I'm leaning more forward than I'd like and using my core to slow and stop is quite hard! I thought I had a good core but, as with all things, there's always room for improvement! I was concerned with my body position as I've been working so hard on NOT leaning forward for so long, but Manu said two good things: 1. My position is a lot better than I seem to think. 2. I'm not riding a Grand Prix horse so I can't ride like a Grand Prix rider! Yet. :)

Annie got a lot of compliments from my mates at the clinic and I'm really looking forward to this year with her. Her hooves coped great with the arena (woodchip and mulch) but she's still very sensitive over anything with rocks, meaning her soles have a lot of building up to do.

Day II installment tomorrow!