Monday, January 19, 2009

Clinic Report, Part II

After a nice long break with lunch and a business meeting, it was time to tack up again.

All went smoothly. We began warming up over trot poles, which went fine after the first trip through in which Pandora tripped over every single one ;-)

We built up slowly, just doing small courses of ground rails, then small x-rails. The clinician used the best phrase I've ever heard to get me to fix my problem: "It's like the Wonder Bra - you lift and separate!"

Which is PERFECT for my problem. I tend to hunch forward; if I remember to bring my shoulders up and back, I duck forward with my whole body. If I remember to sit up, I round my back and hunch my shoulders. When I remember this visual, it does both, and it really helped me fix my position. With this and consistently remembering my elbows (just visualizing the crop behind my back does the trick!), I felt a big improvement in my ability to stay out of Pandora's way.

At the end, she just started moving the fences up. They don't look big in the video (they're awfully tall standards) but our last fence measured at around 2'9". Which isn't big, but - considering I'd been treating her as a green horse and never jumped higher than an X - was quite fun. Obviously the clinician was able to see something in her, because she just casually started bringing the fences up and told me to canter in and just jump them.

I had a BLAST.

Here's the short video. Excuse the total lack of sound - it was the easiest option.

I was positively giddy. Which is silly - I knew she could jump. Her previous owner (not the one I bought her from) was jumping her at Novice height before the meltdown. I guess I just didn't think that she'd feel athletic. Over that last fence, she really rounded her back, sucked her knees up high, and gave me a real jump. Her ears perked up, her stride opened up, and I could just feel her going "FINALLY, we jump something real!"

In light of this, I think I am shifting my plans with her to cover a longer period of time. I am starting to believe that she's more suitable for me than I originally thought. My mom suggests that I plan to keep her for at least a year, and I think that's reasonable. We're improving fast now that I'm taking her to all of the Pony Club lessons and clinics - and competition season is starting up, so I'll hopefully be going to the Show Jumping Rally, the Dressage Rally, and the Eventing Rally. There's also an Eventing Camp the week before the Inavale HT, which would be awesome. By the time we hit July, Pandora and I will have put in a lot of miles together!

I'm not relaxing my training schedule, though. I know that if I'm not paying attention, June will pop up before I even realize it, and I'll be unprepared for the Horse Trials. But, I am relaxing a little and taking a view of her more as My Horse.

I know most of you probably thought this would happen anyway! I think I was so caught on the idea of her being a project horse that I just didn't stop and think about the possibility of her being a great horse for me, you know? So we'll see where things take us. Nothing is set in stone, but after that clinic, I'm excited to see where we end up.

PS: I learned so much at the ABC retreat this weekend. I will write up a full report ASAP, or by the end of the week, whichever ends up fitting into my schedule better ;)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Clinic Report, Part I

I took Pandora to a Pony Club clinic yesterday. I had a fantastic time and made some excellent progress with Pandora. To give you an idea of how happy I was at the end of the day (while Pandora was less than impressed with how much work she'd had to do), here is a visual aid:

Here's the way the day went (and it was a long day: thus, a long post).

Two riders in each session. One flatwork session before lunch, one over-fences session after lunch. About an hour for each ride. More than Pandora's used to in one day, but with a long several-hour break for hay, water, and relaxing in between, she was fine.

First off - I really, really liked the clinician. She clicked with me, and from what I could tell, a lot of other riders too. She listened to what I told her about what I was working on, combined it with what she saw, and put us to doing exercises that would help.

Key: she fixed me before she expected me to fix my horse.

She was big into body awareness, and she helped me fix the consistent problems I have - without me having to tell her what they are. I tend to lean forward, especially over fences; when I try to keep my chest up, I round my shoulders and roach my back, but when I try to keep my back flat, I duck my whole upper body down. I also ride without enough bend in my elbows. She fixed all of this at once by using one of those time-honored pony club 'punishments': the good old crop-behind-the-back exercise.

We didn't get any good pictures, but basically the crop goes between your back and your elbows. Your arms are thus pulled quite a ways back, forcing a bend in your elbows (and making me grateful I had long reins, cause damn, it was hard to reach the reins from there!). It's pretty easy to remember to sit up when you're contorted like that.

It didn't hurt, but it sure made me aware of how much I tend to slouch forward when I ride. Here's a picture of the middle of the crop-riding process (notice she also had us riding without stirrups - the horror!):

You can see in this picture that I'm still a little forward and rounded with my shoulders. It doesn't feel like it looks, and that's the problem: when I was riding like this, it sure felt like I had my shoulders opened and back. Not until I increased the motion until it felt ridiculous did she tell me that I was, in fact, correct. This is why eyes on the ground are important.

She later used the single best mental image I've ever heard to help me fix the derivatives of this problem over fences. Gotta save it for later, though.

Throughout all of this, we stayed on a large circle doing lots and lots of transitions while working on our body position. And you know what? When I sit up and keep my leg on, Pandora's transitions get a lot better. She leans on her forehand. A lot. So this is important, because her transitions usually involve diving to the forehand, not pushing with her hind end. The instructor used "forward into the walk" (from a trot) to help us retain the feeling of forward movement even in a downward transition.

Very cool. By the end, I was getting much better trot-canter transitions than usual, and our walk/trot and trot/walk transitions were just awesome.

Oh, and she also had us do the "bicycle exercise" to get the feel of the sitting trot, which I won't explain to you until I can show you. I never thought a riding exercise could take more careful balance and coordination than the sitting trot...but boy, was I wrong. I was laughing so hard (at myself) during this exercise that I could hardly breathe. I felt absolutely ridiculous. Unfortunately none of it was captured on video, but I promise that the next time I ride, I'll have my mom film some trot-bicycle-exercise for your enjoyment.

Then, break for lunch and other lessons and so on. Pandora got to hang out in a nice comfortable stall with plenty of hay and water.

She looked pretty sleepy.

Then it was time to tack up for round 2. She was not particularly enthusiastic about being tacked up again ;-) But she tolerates me and my Unreasonable Demands.

I'd like to get this up tonight, but I just don't have time to go over the second half of the day - so you can have this part now, and I'll post the second bit (including video of our awesome last fences) in a day or two!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Knowledge Gaps

Our Pony Club is getting ready to do Quiz Rally, which is exactly what it sounds like: a competition based on horse knowledge. There's several sections, many based on oral answers but also on practical demonstration, object identification/comparison, and a group section where everyone can confer to come up with an answer.

We had our first meeting today to do a quick rundown of subjects and figure out what areas we need to cover. Everyone ended up with several topics to study, which we'll then present to the rest of the group. I tried to steer towards areas that interest me, so here's mine.

  • Rally rules for Eventing and Polocrosse (equipment, fence heights, elimination rules, team sizes, etc)
  • Communicable diseases (symptoms, ways of transmission, long-term effects)
  • Bits/misc tack (effect, fit, what is allowed at what level of Pony Club)
We went through some sample questions, and I was surprised at how many gaps there are in my knowledge. I know almost nothing about diseases, for example. I know Rhino is an important vaccine for pregnant mares; I know Strangles is nasty and very contagious, but rarely fatal; I know EEE and WEE (eastern/western equine encephalitis) have neurological symptoms....but I really don't know the specifics of each, like how to recognize and treat them or their vectors.

I know the different cheekpieces and mouthpieces of snaffle bits, but I don't know how to properly attach a pelham.

I know next to nothing about poisonous plants.

I can recognize bad leg conformation, but I have trouble giving specifics, like differentiating over at the knee and back at the knee.

I know what the farrier tools are and generally what order they're used in, but I didn't know how to describe a pair of pincers.

I'm still confused about laminitis and founder, though I know the basics.

And I sure as heck don't know much about foxhunting! Some of the sample questions included definitions for "brush," "covert," "view-halloo," and "whippers-in." (Those would be "the tail of the fox," "a place where the fox resides such as forest or brush," "a call made to alert the hunt that the fox has been sighted," and "staff members of the hunt who assist the huntsman in managing the hounds.")

So I'm actually really looking forward to the weekly study sessions we have planned for Quiz Rally. There's some things I need to learn!

As far as I can tell, most people have these knowledge gaps: areas of horse knowledge that you know you should know, but somehow or another you just don't. Sometimes it's things that don't matter so much, like which order a farrier's tools are used in. Sometimes it's things that you really should know, like local poisonous plants and how to identify them.

I'm finding that Pony Club is a good resource for all these little holes, because you're forced to acquire that knowledge in order to rate up -- not to mention everyone is willing to teach you what you need to know.

Do you guys have the same sort of thing I do, areas that you just don't know enough about? Could you be put in a situation tomorrow where that knowledge could make a difference? And where's your nearest horse encyclopedia? ;-)
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