Sunday, September 27, 2009

Brian Sabo Clinic Report - Sunday

Much like the previous day, my Sunday wake-up time was a cheerful 6:00. I'd resigned myself to this fact, though, and got up without grumbling too much about internal clocks. I wandered over to say hi to Pandora, toss her some more hay, and refill her water buckets.

I must note that I didn't have to muck her stall all weekend - I guess the stabling fee covered mucking. Score.

We rolled out at about 9:00, much earlier than yesterday, but we wanted to watch everyone else's XC rounds.

Several times over the course of the weekend, if someone was having trouble with leads, Brian said this: "A flying change or a change through the trot does not school them to land on the correct lead, because it's not much more difficult to do. To school for the correct lead, you must bring them to a walk on a straight line, get your correct bend then pick up the canter from the walk." Alternatively, you could walk-halt-reinback-walk-canter, or walk, pirouette away from the inside leg of your desired lead, and then canter. Works remarkably well, from what I saw.

Another common theme was to concentrate on keeping the hind legs moving, not telling the horse to jump. "If you keep the hind legs moving, the horse will figure out when to jump. But if you're telling the horse 'JUMP' whenever you want him to take off, then you can never ever be wrong, because you're not allowing him to learn to figure it out for himself." As long as the hind legs keep pushing, you'll get over the fence eventually.

For this same reason, he prefers several clucks or kisses (to encourage continued forward motion) rather than one big cluck or kiss, or worse yet, a 'HUP!' (which cues the jump). In fact, HUP! is apparently an acronym of a french word that means "I'm a freaking idiot who can't ride."

Did I mention he has a sense of humor? ;-)

While watching the Training-level group, I heard a lot about the 95% rule: if you're jumping a post-and-rail fence followed by a ditch, water, wall, or bank, 95% of the time the horse will come in close to the fence. This affected how you should ride, i.e., don't push your horse for the long spot.

Brian consistently told riders NOT to kick their horse back up into the canter if it drops into a trot on the approach. The legs should say 'keep going,' but you don't want to transition upward. It's part of the whole "maintain" section of the approach that he spoke about before and I explained yesterday. If you keep the trot, you can encourage the hind legs to keep moving in a nice carrying gait - but if you kick them into a canter for the last few strides, they'll be taking long, forehandy strides and it's not a good way to jump a fence.

He also said that he will not move a horse from Training to Prelim until it can canter down a line to a 3'3 square oxer, transition to a trot three strides away, and maintain a perfectly balanced steady trot to and over the fence.

Every time a horse rubbed the fence in front, Brian noted that 85% of front rubs are the rider's fault. (Sometimes I think he made up percentages!) They're caused by riders leaning forward and weighting the front end, thus preventing him from getting his forelegs up in time.

Okay. As for my lesson - it was very good!

From the moment I mounted up, I could tell Pandora had remembered the lessons from the day before. Her canter had a hint of "I want to run away," but not nearly as much as before, and my half-halt was still there. We cantered a big loop around the stadium field, practicing our extension and compression, and she was right there with me. I also worked a bit on my walk-canters on a small circle. It's very hard to get the lightness, but she was trying for me.

Brian began by setting us on a very large circle around the field. First at the trot, then at the canter, he had us practice lengthening and shortening the stride. One lady had been sitting deep in her saddle when trying to compress the canter; he brought us all in to explain why this is a bad idea.

To collect the stride, you need to soften. When jockeys want to slow down at the end of the race, they stand straight up - in other words, a very nearly dressage position, legs straight beneath the body. Sitting deep like that is driving them forward, not lightening.

He then sent us at a small coop for our first fence. He noted that because we weren't practicing over something simple like a cross-rail, this first fence was going to bring out every horse's nature. The carriers would likely drop to a trot, and Pandora would probably want to rush.

Everyone had trouble. Pandora ducked out twice. The first time, I used my crop on the shoulder she ducked out on. Brian promptly informed me that the refusal was my fault for tipping forward, not Pandora's, and he wouldn't let me go on until I used the crop on myself instead!

So, with a few hard taps on my thigh, we came around to try again. I focused very hard on maintaining a tight core, looking up, and keeping my shoulders back. But she ducked out again. It sure didn't seem like it was all my fault - I didn't tip until she pulled me to the side - but I suppose if I would have ridden it perfectly solidly, she wouldn't have been able to duck.

The last time, I rode as firm and strong in my position as I could, and she jumped over it just fine.

We moved on to jumping the "pimple hill" - a little hill with a log at the top. He had us jump a cross-rail about a stride away from the base of the hill, then head up the hill and over. Here, he very strongly emphasized the importance of a solid position. He didn't want us to tip forward at all over the top. As long as we maintained a steady position with supporting leg and did not lean forward, everything would work itself out.

Wonder of wonders, he was right!

It's hard, though. The first time, I concentrated on almost nothing but being strong in my core and keeping my shoulders back.

I still got pulled forward.

After that I must have been extra-sure not to lean, because I didn't end up tipping anymore. I think, to be fair, it's a combination of me and my horse. She tends to pull me forward, even when I am trying my hardest to stay up. That doesn't mean I'm allowed to tip forward - obviously I need to work on it until I never tip. And I will, because it really did make for better fences.

Anyway, she jumped the pimple hill very nicely.

We went on to work on some water stuff and simple logs. We jumped up and down a bank into water, a first for us, but Pandora did it all smooth as butter. Again and again, I found that if I tipped forward, we got a slightly weird jump; if I didn't tip, everything tended to work itself out.

I had started the weekend wanting to jump 'up,' as in more max-sized Novice fences, because I'm tired of jumping tiny stuff. I didn't get that desire at all - most of what we jumped was simple and probably in the 2'3 - 2'9 range, but I realized that it wasn't a big deal. Brian spoke to us a little at the very end, and essentially voiced the same thoughts I was having: "I know some of you wanted to jump big and complicated stuff, and so you might be feeling like you didn't quite get to do what you wanted this weekend. But I promise you that if you take the techniques and things I taught you here and you work on them and apply them to all your riding, it WILL be worth it."

Which is essentially what I came away thinking. No, I didn't get to challenge myself and my horse by jumping big stuff, or trying a big drop into water, or practicing ditches. But I learned how to ride every fence well and was shown again and again how much of a difference it made; I learned how to ride an approach to fences that helps me teach not only come to it in a good stride, but teach my horse how to figure things out; I learned how to school my problems and turn them into strengths.

I would ride with Brian Sabo again in a heartbeat. In fact, I tried to talk him into taking me on as a short-term working student (I was thinking next summer), but unfortunately he doesn't have a permanent barn location - he travels giving clinics. Bummer. Apparently I was about 20 years too late, because once he had a great working student program! Ah, well.

He has a fantastic sense of humor and is extremely educational. He's blunt about it when you screw up, but he's just as quick to praise you when you get something right. He (probably correctly) blames the rider for most of the problems, but if a horse is really acting stupid despite a good ride, he recognizes it immediately.

Overall it was a wonderful weekend, and we told the organizer to give us a call if she has him back again!

I'll make one last post about this with some of my favorite quotes from the clinic.

And, I'm not sure if I mentioned - a friend of the friend I went with brought her video camera and taped our rides. As in, all of them, plus clinician comments, plus interesting moments from other people's rides. I should be getting the video sometime soon, and I am SO excited for it. Of course I will write about all the new insights I get from it!


Albigears said...

I saw Brian when he was teaching one of the certified teacher training courses- my friend was one of the riders. He was great and I've wanted to ride with him since then- it sounds like he has great insight and information.

Thanks for sharing, I learned a lot from your posts. And damn, I need to work on sitting up even more than I thought...

mugwump said...

I love, love, love this.
this: "A flying change or a change through the trot does not school them to land on the correct lead, because it's not much more difficult to do. To school for the correct lead, you must bring them to a walk on a straight line, get your correct bend then pick up the canter from the walk." Alternatively, you could walk-halt-reinback-walk-canter, or walk, pirouette away from the inside leg of your desired lead, and then canter."
This is how we school our cow and reining horses on leads and departures.
This is why we walk into our leads rather than go off from a standstill.
We spin rather than pirouette, but the purpose is the same.

Question? One lady had been sitting deep in her saddle when trying to compress the canter; he brought us all in to explain why this is a bad idea.

To collect the stride, you need to soften.

Could you explain what you do with your seat and legs? I know it will be different from a western seat but I want to think about it.

Anonymous said...

Nice clinic report! Sounds like a productive day. Guess we'll be working on our flying leads through the walk now! Thanks!

Cara said...

Super good post! That's the way good clinics go, you don't always learn what you want to, you learn what you NEED to!

HorsesAndTurbos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HorsesAndTurbos said...

I have to say I've been reading your blog for a while, and while I am not a Pony Clubber (way too old!!), I get quite a bit out of it, particularly the last few blogs.

I've been working on getting Starlette to collect and use her rear and get under herself. So I set up ground poles, and after a warmup, had Starlette trot over the first one, then canter over the second, then drop down to a trot to the next one, then canter over the fourth.

Well, she got all worked up..wanted to canter over all like we had been. I kept half-halting her, and she would go down into the slowest, lightest canter, rounded and under, until she broke into a trot.

We did this until she started anticipating (she's very quick, only took two circuits) then I went back to cantering over. Since she didn't know what to expect, she was light and rounded.

Now I know what that really feels like! Poor her work is really starting!

And we will start our lead change transitions with a walk between...will be interesting!

Thank you for posting all this!

(Oh, I too don't understand the sitting deep sentence either!)


manymisadventures said...

Okay, here's how I can best explain the lightening. Also, this is how *I* understand it - and what I don't know about riding could and probably does fill several large libraries.

When you're driving your horse forward, you're sitting and driving with your seat: that is, your seat bones are pushing forward on the horse's back. This is the 'defensive' position you can see on eventers, especially if they're riding to a spooky XC fence.

This is driving seat. Butt pushing forward, upper body straight, legs maybe a bit in front of you. This picture, while taken OVER the fence rather than IN FRONT of it, shows the 'defensive' position I'm talking about.

Meanwhile, to lighten, you..well...lighten your seat. You stretch your weight up, soften your upper body, your legs are straight under you. I tried tonight and when I do it, I'm almost squeezing with my thighs as I lift my seatbones off the saddle. I'm not taking my butt out of the saddle, just pulling everything up.

You still need leg for impulsion, but you're not driving with your seat.

Does that help? It's hard to explain, and I know there's more depth to the concept that I'm not grasping. But that's where I understand it now.

PS, I'm very glad these posts have been so useful. It's great that the clinic benefits not only me, but people reading my blog too!

Our Horse Curly said...

I wanted to say thank you for this post. My daughter has been more timid in her riding lately because her horse tried to take off with her recently. I asked her to read this post and last night while in the arena she told me that Brian's advice to you truly helped.

And I could see that some of her fear has gone away. Thank you, thank you!

mugwump said...

I get this. It's an interesting seat. I was lightening through my lead changes (didn't know the name) and have blamed it for my horses getting too much air.
Now I have to go ride and play and think.

manymisadventures said...

Curly, you have no idea how happy it makes me that something I wrote managed to make a difference. Please tell your daughter to keep at it! I'm glad to hear she's feeling less scared.

Mugs, lemme know what you figure out. Your training insights are some of my favorite parts of your blog.

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