Saturday, August 15, 2009

It's All About the Canter!

It can be hot in TX, but we were lucky; a breeze wafted through the trees, and for at least part of the day, the clouds covered the sun. The groups today were going to work on stadium jumping.

In typical Nick Larkin fashion, each group began with "Righty-Oh. Tell me what you've done and where you're trying to go."

Nick watched the first group, the preliminary group, warm up, and while watching each rider, he makes the following observations:

"Keep his poll up--follow with your hands"
"Get your hands out of your lap"
"Don't let your horse sit on the outside rein; lengthen and shorten"
"The vertebra in your back still move, right? You're moving like a dead worm! You're still breathing, right?"
"Half-halt, then send him forward"

And so forth. Nick's good at honing in on what each rider is doing to hinder his/her horse's performance. He started everyone trotting over an X rail, then had them take a single rail.

"Don't land into your knee!" he told several participants. "Put your leg forward, and ride into it. Keep your stirrup leather perpendicular to the ground. Keep riding over the fence; don't shut down and expect your horse to do it!"

He noted that several people were riding with a flat--or "boring"-- canter. "Don't let your canter get boring!" That became a refrain for several riders. When their canter was too flat, he'd call out "BOAR-ing!" and the rider would work to make the canter more "bouncey". "Keep riding the hind end!" "More jazz!!"

Several riders had "too much fold" in their body/hips over the fence, given the size of the fences (and this would be a problem for ALL the riders in all the groups). "If you're folding too much, think drop fence: sit up, and put your legs slightly forward until you get to the fence. The riders who tried this really DID fold less. I need to try this, because I'm a huge folder!

After folks had warmed up over singles, he set out a course with a lot of turns, and had each rider do it. After they did, he would ask them "how did that go?" Most of the advanced riders were able to articulate what went wrong/right, but I noticed that the less practiced riders weren't often able to do so. I guess that's what miles will do for you: help to realize what you do well/poorly. First step is to recognize that you have a problem, right?

As he worked with each rider, he noted that often things get worse before they get better--so don't worry about exaggerating something and letting it be not quite right as you try to correct things.

A couple riders were "under-riding" their horses--the horses were "not on the aids". I got a tiny bit of what that felt like in my lesson with Weslee last week. Paddy was protesting how I was asking him to back up--but when Weslee did it, he was perfect. She explained that I wasn't keeping him on the aids. She merely collected her reins WITHOUT pulling, then closed her fingers, creating slightly more contact, while closing her legs. So I guess I was OVER riding before (just like when I kick rather than squeeze and he shuts down!). He likes to respond ON THE AIDS. Into the bridle. I need to learn that feel more.

Nick used the following metaphor: "When your car is coasting, it's harder to steer. Same with a horse not on the aids."

He told one of the riders "be careful of saying 'I trust you' to your horse. Yes, you need to trust them, but you need to ride them like they stop."

Several riders were told to release at the take off--and then Nick asked "just where is the take off spot?" Several riders tried to answer, but Nick finally told us that the take off spot is the stride BEFORE the jump. That's where we need to help the horse NOT by leaning forward, but by following with our hands, and later our shoulders.

One horse in particular was having trouble with a "boring" canter, and then after the course, he looked like he was going to sleep. Nick commented: "I see he's got his screen saver up."

"Don't saw on his mouth!" Nick yelled to one rider. "Use the half halt while you're pushing him. Take, take, give, while pushing."

Several of the Novice folks were approaching the fences too quickly, but without enough energy. Nick made the following comment: "Imagine you're sprinting to a vertical. What will you do right before the jump? That's right--you'll have to regroup a few steps before the fence if you're running flat out." His point was that horses who were flat/running were going to scramble before the fence. Horses who were coming to the fence with a springy, energized canter would be able to negotiate it from that canter.

Nick once again spent time talking about the three types of fences:

Vertical (has height, but no spread)
Oxer (has height and spread)
Ditch (has spread but no height)

The canter needs to be appropriate for the fence. Verticals need a very upright oval type canter, very "up" and collected. Oxers need a more round canter, with a bit more forward, but still up. Ditches need a more flat canter so horses can launch.

Some schooling tips: If a horse runs out to the right, make him turn around to the left and take it again. If a horse stops, go up to the fence and either make him take it from a standstill, or almost take it (lowering head prepping to jump). Make the punishment harder than just jumping--then jumping will be the easiest choice. But when making a correction, the rider needs to be convincing; not "it would be nice if you would jump" but "get over it NOW!"

Sometimes when a horse had a problem it was obviously the rider's fault. "But his job is to get you over, no matter what."

The outside rein is to control the pace; the inside rein softens/controls the bend. "What makes an aid an aid is that there's a give on it" Nick said. Dang, I need to remember that!

Other things to remember:

Keep elbows relaxed, soft
Keep shoulders back

Julia Denton, my ATC team leader, came to watch the last half of the clinic--she and her horse Winston will be doing their first Training Combined test tomorrow. Good luck to her!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fall that Foreshadowing?

I enjoyed working with Nick Larkin so much this spring at Greenwood that, when I heard he was coming to Roadrunner Farm, I jumped (ha) at the chance to work with him again. Karen LeKashmand and Jan Micchie went the extra mile for me, since I had mentioned I might bring two horses, then realized I could only ride one well....they are the salt of the earth. Good folks.

Because it's still summer (though summer is waning, alas), I was able to leave Friday after several delays (re-packing the trailer after un-packing from the Greenwood schooling, making sure kids were ok for the weekend, etc.). Donna was kind enough to let me borrow her Stackhouse again, the only saddle I've ridden in that fits Paddy, and when I picked it up, I realized I was on the "high road" to Argyle...the one that goes through East J. Nowhere, with no cell service, and no one to help you if you have a flat at night (see KOC clinic blog!). But it was day time, I have new tires, and I was feeling lucky. So on I went, even indulging myself by stopping in Dickens, for fuel and the BEST BBQ in TX (thanks to Donna for the heads up on that one!).

I got to Roadrunner w/o trouble, other than driving through some pretty narrow almost city streets, and I was greeted by Jan and Karen, along with Kelli and Keith. And Kelli was sporting a LOVELY tummy, one that will come to fruition in December....Congratulations, Keith and Kelli!!!

Paddy settled in well, I was able to park my trailer by Jan's lovely house and hook up, and I even got to go our w/ Nick and Jan, Keith, Kelli, and Karen for dinner.

At dinner, while we talked about horses we loved, who were special, etc., someone mentioned horses with really short ears, and Nick talked about "the X factor" in TBs. According to Nick, TBs with big hearts (literally) like Secretariat, Man O' War, have that tendency from their X chromosome. Ear size is also determined by the X chromosome. So horses with smaller ears are more likely to have a big heart.

Sigh. Almost all of my horses have large ears.

When I got back to the trailer that evening, I made up some goals for this clinic:

1. Work on my partnership with Paddy--building trust on both sides
2. BE QUIET and effective
3. Be secure in my seat--that means heels DOWN, let ON
4. Think after the jump!

Here's to a great clinic!