Friday, September 25, 2009

Brian Sabo Clinic Report - Friday and Saturday

Our trip up to Sisters on Friday afternoon was uneventful. The horses would stay at a barn here, and each day we would haul about 30 minutes to the clinic site, which was over in Redmond.

Stabling was very nice - covered outdoor stalls that open out to big circular runs, maybe 24x24 if they were squares. The footing was sand. Both horses settled in nicely - Pandora looked around for maybe 10 seconds, then promptly drank about half a bucket of water and shoved her face in her hay.

Have I mentioned how much I love her eating and drinking habits? Always steady, always prodigious. I never have to worry about her getting enough water.

We watched Brian giving some dressage lessons. Unfortunately, with intermittent chatting amongst the viewers and the occasional interruption from a phone call or something, it was a bit hard to get the gist of what he was saying. He had a girl working on walk-canters with her Training-level gelding - that's eventing Training, not dressage Training - to help him carry himself more lightly. My glorious moment of the day was to stand in as a traffic cone in one of her corners so she would either quit cutting the corner or run me over. Thankfully, she chose the former.

We got to go check out the clinic site that evening, because Brian needed to watch a local instructor teach for part of maintaining her ICP certification. It was fun. I was a little disappointed because I'd wanted to take the horses for a hack that evening to make up for them standing in a trailer all day, but oh well. At least they had runs to walk around in, and when we returned Pandora sure seemed cheerful.

I tried to sleep in Saturday, I really did. Except, we went to bed at about 9:00, so I ended up waking up against my will at about 6. Sigh.

We got ready slowly, fed the horses, ate some breakfast, then headed over to the clinic.

Pandora was, um, "exuberant." Which in a way is good - she was channeling exactly the kind of attitude that had caused such a terrible jumping lesson about a month ago, which meant I could learn how to fix it. It wasn't quite that she was trying to bolt when we trotted or cantered . . . just that she wanted to go fast, and she really didn't want to listen to my suggestions. Not panicked or rebellious, but anxious - it wasn't a "screw you" sort of attitude, not that I could tell anyway.

The facility was beautiful, by the way. A quite long, wide field with very thoughtfully maintained and constructed XC fences, a dressage arena, and a big wide open grassy area at the very end where the stadium fences were set up.

We all introduced ourselves to the clinician and began by trotting a big circle. On the far side of the circle was four trot poles to a cross-rail. Upon landing, Pandora wanted to scoot. Not majorly, but obviously enough that Brian had a pretty quick idea of what she was like.

The second time I went through, he explained something that - as far as I can tell - effectively showed me how to eliminate her rushing on the landing side of fences. Or at least school it.

"You don't want to tell them that you're afraid of going fast," he said. "You never want to say 'NO' to that, because at some point, you do want them to gallop. What you want to say is, 'Yes I like that, but not right now.'"

So he had me go ahead and bring her back to a good working canter after the fence. THEN I asked her to open up her stride. Then I asked her to come back. Then we extended and compressed again. (He also told everyone to pay attention, because "Sooner or later every horse is going to try this and think this is a good answer, even the ones that want to go slow now.")

I swear I had a totally different horse after that. It was as if whatever anxiety had been causing the rushing just went away. "Okay, boss, you got it." A nice feeling, let me tell you. I mean, she still wanted to "push" at the fences, especially the last few strides, but everything between the fences was much more in-tune.

Also, as we jumped a fence from the trot, turned, transitioned back down to trot, and jumped another fence, he made the very dry observation that when I had a perfectly steady solid leg, a soft following hand, a still upper body and a perfect eye (not for striding, but focused forward and up), she jumped without rushing.

Gee, so if I can just be perfect all the time...

Brian characterized horses two ways: pushers and carriers. Pandora was the only pusher in our group - that is, she has a tendency to want to lengthen and flatten her stride, pushing herself at the fence. A carrier, by contrast, tends to want to shorten and slow the stride, often manifested in a transition to the trot in the last few strides of the fence. A horse's tendency will come out much more strongly when he or she is given something new or challenging, and their tendencies can change over time. Neither is inherently good or bad - you just have to be aware of it, and develop their ability at the opposite end of the spectrum so they're more balanced.

So for Pandora, she needs to be more willing to sit back and flex more in the joints of her hind end. At one point, he had me doing walk-canter-walk-canter transitions on a pretty small circle, and I was amazed at how light she could make the upward transitions. These, along with halting on the approach, turning on the forehand or reinbacking, then trotting forward, really reinstalled my half-halts. He emphasized that the purpose of the halt-correction was NOT to stop a horse from rushing, but to school the half-halt.

One of his biggest things was how you handled your approach to fences. You would come around the turn, expand the stride to generate more forward energy, then half-halt and compress to take however much of that energy you need and transform it into carrying energy. A half halt, as he defined it, takes forward and turns it into carry. How much 'carry' you need varies depending on the nature of the fence - you need more carry for a tall vertical, more push for a fence with a lot of spread like an ascending oxer.

The most important part was that after you half-halt, you must maintain exactly what you have for the last few strides before a fence. If the horse rushes, you don't fight, and you don't say "Okay you're right, let's go!" You resist with your body and hands, saying, "I disagree," but you cannot force the horse to come to the correct conclusion. Only time and a consistent experience going "Hey, I buried myself to that fence, that kind of sucked" will work.

Pandora was very good. I think I have a lot of work to do in terms of maintaining the pace those last few strides, because she wants very much to lengthen. But I have good tools, now.

It was a very long lesson, 2.5 hours in the middle of the HOT day. I definitely did not drink enough water and afterward I was a bit of a shaky grumpy mess until I drank a bunch of watered-down gatorade and ate a sandwich. After that, I was fine.

Pandora and my friend's horse got to just chill out at the trailer. As usual, Pandora drank about a bucket and a half of water, then settled down to munch on her haybag.

It was a very good day. I walked away feeling like Pandora and I were even better partners, more tuned in to each other and what we needed. Brian focused a lot on what I needed to be doing with her - expand, compress, HOLD, HOLD, and he got after me for allowing her to drop her head down after our last fence and sort of fall into a walk. Bad habit. So I started to make her still use herself, canter a circle, and transition nicely downward. She argued at first but gave in, and I admit it felt much nicer.

Only one ride, and already I had learned so much. XC would be the next day, Sunday, and I couldn't wait to see what was in store.


Winter Storm Ranch said...

Can you please explain to me what a half halt is? I am a western rider and not sure what it means....


manymisadventures said...

Boy, what a subject. There are literally whole books on it.

Here's the half-halt as I understand it.

It's a rebalancing.

In some combination, you add leg (more forward energy) and you add contact (to recycle the energy). This 'recycling' helps transfer the weight of the horse towards his back end, because you take the forward and turn it into carry. It's like molding something out of clay...first you add more clay, THEN you do something with it.

If you added leg without rein, the horse would just lengthen and flatten and get more on the forehand. If you add rein without leg, you're not accomplishing much other than slowing them down and shortening the stride.

The key is that the leg adds ACTIVITY. It's really more 'energy' than 'forward' - you want to use leg in downward transitions too, to keep the hind legs active and carrying.

Uh, so, I hope that mini-novel helped. It wasn't all about the half-halt per se, but it's all related.

jenj said...

Misadventures, I'm a long time lurker but first time poster. Thank you for your very thoughtful explanation of your clinic ride! I really understand how Brian was asking you to ride to the fences, and it's very useful to me since my old eventer used to literally bolt to the fences. Thankfully my new guy is a little less enthusiastic, but your explanations give me a lot to work on/with. Thanks!

Meghan said...

Wow, sounds like a good clinic. I'm jealous that you get to take lessons...there is only one trainer in my area who I would trust to work with me and my horse, and she doesn't have liability insurance, so she can't teach at the barn where I board my mare. I'm the kind of person who really does better if I have someone telling me what I'm doing wrong (or right) at any given time, and why this or that is happening and what to do about it. I try not to stress about working on my own, because even though I may not be perfect, I know I won't rush my mare, pull her into a frame or confine her to a tiny circle like many of the local trainers would. And we are improving, I just wish I had my trainer's input sometimes.

Also, let's hear it for mares! I'm so sick of hearing people say "I hate mares. They have so much attitude!" I don't know about you, but I've ridden a lot of geldings that had major attitude. My horse gets anxious sometimes, and has a lot of baggage, but she's smart, sensitive and pretty willing.

SprinklerBandit said...

Thatnks for the summary--it's really well done. I especially liked the part about rushing after the fence. I'll have to try that with my old girl.

manymisadventures said...

I'm glad you guys are finding this useful!

Meghan, I'm not convinced one way or the other. Right now, we happen to have two mares who are fantastic and awesome. I had a gelding who happened to be an ass. I honestly think it depends on the individual horse! Maybe I'm weird, but so far I really don't have a preference for one sex or the other.

I do think it's silly when people stereotype mares, though.

TallDarkAndSpotty said...

Thanks for sharing all the clinic info! I am working on the same half-halt principles with my greenie, just at a far more basic level! I'm trying to get him more balanced and using his body more at he trot, instead of feet flying everywhere falling forward, inside, outside and anywhere as we go! He's learning. I loved your response to the question of what's a half halt, that its re-balancing. And I totally appreciate being able to see someone else working through the same things, but farther along in training. Its just good to remember that all the basic exercises we're doing now, we'll be doing differently later. Funny how simple it is sometimes huh?

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