Monday, January 10, 2011

Pony Club Prep Clinic

I rode in an upper level prep clinic this weekend with Jen Verharen, a Pony Club national examiner. Though it was miserably cold (come on, weather, we're in Oregon, not north Idaho!), the weekend was quite the success and I absolutely loved working with Jen. She is one of the highest-quality clinicians I have ridden with in recent times - extremely thorough, has a great eye for what horse and rider need, super friendly, and really dedicated to helping Pony Clubbers through the rating process. I've got videos and maybe some pictures, so I'll see what I can get uploaded.

Upper level preps are designed to help PCers make the jump from club-level ratings (D1 through C2) to the national ratings (C3 through A). The certification process for examiners is more extensive, the expectations of candidates are a lot higher, and I know in the past (maybe still?) Pony Club has sometimes had issues with kids coming to their first national test at C3 being unprepared for the rigor of a national rating. Thus, prep clinics! You ride with a national examiner, get traditional clinic-type feedback focused on the progress you need to make to prepare for your rating, and you're able to ask questions about how you compare to the rating standard on that particular day.

We rode twice each day, and we had a wonderful goal-setting discussion with Jen on Saturday evening. More on that later. I am a C3 candidate: this means I am expected to have an independent and very secure seat, confidence and control on the flat, over fences, and on XC, proficiency at relating my flatwork to the dressage training scale while discussing it, a developing training ability, and so on. The test is basically equivalent to Training-level eventing, an in fact one requirement is that we ride the USEA Training Test A.

Other requirements include the switch rides, in which you must show confidence, control, and free forward movement on another candidate's horse. You also have to jump another candidate's horse over a 3' course, and evaluate your rides. The courses you jump on your own horse are 3'3, plus you jump through a grid set at 3' with no stirrups.

So that's the context of the prep clinic. McKinna was, as one would expect, a rock star.

Saturday Dressage: Jen had two big pieces of feedback. One, I am a very effective and tactful rider, so now I need to develop my position to be more "elegant." This involves stretching my legs longer downward (thus stretching those darned tight hips!) and sitting taller without the slight forward tip I tend to get. No comments about my elbows though, huzzah! The second piece was about McKinna, who was kind of "sticking" in her transitions both up and down. She sort of flows along nicely, then braces and stops the energy for just a second when I ask for a transition before she complies.

We addressed both of these at once: I got to drop my stirrups, and also make McKinna much quicker through the transitions, keep her prompt and that energy shooting straight through. I was skeptical, and a little concerned...I have worked so hard to get and maintain relaxation from McKinna that I really didn't want to throw it away by getting her worked up about snappy transitions. Still, I went ahead with what Jen said, and in the end it worked out marvelously. After sorting out an initial 5-10 minutes of McKinna getting a little anxious and tense, I learned how to relax my hips and sort of squoosh myself into her while still sitting tall, and McKinna responded by keeping her energy forward and free through the transitions without becoming tense. Cool stuff.

Saturday Jumping: this was alll about me, because my pony is basically perfect. Essentially, my lower leg has gotten WEAK, and I let McKinna talk me into not using it because she tends to rush if I have it on snugly. My orders were to get that leg out in front of me a bit more and keep that calf on! I was able to make a huge improvement once Jen showed me what she meant. I think I have just let it slip now that I'm not as strong as I was over the summer, and I needed a reminder of what exactly to do. She said it was much much better, I just needed to keep practicing so it was a natural and easy thing.

We also jumped through the 3'ish grid with no stirrups. OW, OW, OW. The landings are not soft! It is difficult to keep your legs up in jumping position with no stirrups, not to mention keeping your calf on! It is hard to keep the upper body tall with strong core! Again, I made improvement, and McKinna was a total gem about cruising straight through the grid without a care in the world, but man. I clearly have some core and leg strengthening to do. Too bad the superfit Stacey isn't close enough to whip me into shape ;-)

Sunday Dressage: switch rides! Also, we had a little trouble with relaxation at the beginning, and Jen noted that McKinna tends to lock up in her poll before anywhere else. She often does it very subtly, but it leads to the rest of her body stiffening too. We worked briefly on small wrist movements to encourage her to let go in the poll, which resulted in relaxation elsewhere too. One more tidbit of information.

Anyway, the switch riding was very educational. I rode a big, slow, somewhat stiff warmblood gelding (exactly the type I knew I needed to practice, which Jen confirmed!) the first time. He did not want ANYTHING to do with softening! Eventually I discovered that I had to really use my outside aids, keeping him turning, to get the hind end to come up underneath him and once I got him there I could soften and he would soften back. He had gorgeous gaits. The second horse, a really really nice TB gelding, was further along (his rider is going for her B, the next step above C3) and I guess I just didn't know what to do with a horse with that much training! I did some leg yields back and forth to encourage him to keep his outside shoulder under control, and cantered some smaller circles focusing on turning off the outside shoulder. I had to shorten up my reins to really get him working.

Jen's feedback: my rides were fine for C3 level, and I need to just keep working on riding tons of horses so that I can be a little quicker to pick up what I need to do on them and a little more assertive in the saddle about what I am doing. She said my analysis of my rides was very good.

McKinna's switch rides, incidentally, were pretty good too. It was really nice to see other people having positive, soft rides on her! Not 100%, but still pretty darn nice. It's nice to know I won't ruin someone else's C3 by having the impossible horse to ride...

Sunday Jumping: coursework. All the horses and riders were, in a nutshell, totally wiped out and not on their top game - me and McKinna included! We hit that point where she kind of scooted around instead of really reaching out in her canter, I couldn't see a distance to save my life, I couldn't seem to keep my leg on, and it just didn't work out so well. Because she is a rock star we had no stops or anything silly, just not-the-prettiest courses. Still, if my position had been solid, it would have been an adequate ride for C3, and we jumped around the 3'-3'3 height with no issues. It's nice to know that even on our worst, exhausted days we can still make it around a course looking reasonable, but it was definite confirmation that I need to work on my strength. It is early in the season for all of us, so I think horses and riders just aren't quite up to this level of intensity yet. We'll be there by the next prep clinic.

The overall takeaway: we're on the right track! I really need to work on my overall strength, mainly my core and my ability to keep my leg on. Jen said she would really like to see McKinna more accepting of the leg by the next time she sees me, which will be in April at the next prep clinic I'm riding in. She says we are an excellent pair and we're working on all the right stuff. 

That being said, I'm already working on the fitness stuff. One of my classes this term is yoga (oh yes!) and oh my goodness, I almost died today. I must be really out of shape, because I swear it wasn't that hard a few years ago! Lots of plank to side-angle pose, high leg lunges (LOTS of those) and warrior pose. And more plank. So this will be good for me! I'm thinking of taking another yoga and/or a martial art PE class in the Spring. We'll see...

I'll talk more about the goal-setting session we did soon, which ties in nicely to my own goals, which I've finally mostly ironed out! About time since we're already almost halfway through January, eh?

Pony got a WELL-deserved day off today. I poked my head in tonight and saw that she managed to get herself thoroughly muddy again. Oh well. I went for my first real ride on the young horse I'm working with! We longed, I leaned on the saddle a bit, mounted up, and off we went. I had a ground helper with a longe whip to swish, because obviously the mare doesn't know about leg signals yet, and it was a great success. She was very calm, willing, not wigged out by my legs at all, and while not as forward as I'd like she wasn't horribly slow either. A very successful first real ride, in my book!


Leah Fry said...

I prefer Pilates or a mixture of Pilates and yoga to straight yoga. I got out of the exercise habit for awhile, so I have my work cut out for me as well.

Cool you are working with a young horse now.

Heidi said...

Oh my, don't you LOVE Jen??!! She comes to my barn in WA once a month through the fall/winter off season to give dressage lessons. She always makes me feel so good about my horse and I get tons of ideas for what to work on before she comes again. If you ever have the opportunity to lesson with her and not just PC prep, do it!

Good job, it sounds like you are on track for the C3!

manymisadventures said...

Leah Fry - I have an old (as in, on VHS!) Pilates video that I still use sometimes, and I do like it. I was thinking of picking up a few yoga and Pilates DVDs that I can do later in the week, since I only have yoga class M/W.

Heidi, she is AMAZING and I adore her. I am going to try to get her down here to teach my club, possibly in the late spring, summer, or fall. She is a little more expensive than our usual clinicians but I think she is totally worth it and I'd love to have the other kids down here get a chance to ride with her.

Alanna said...

I enjoyed reading about your prep clinic. Sounds very cool!

Checkmark115 said...

Wow so jealous!I was in pony club but hten college happened and now I'm too old (I think) to go back. I only aceived C2 and right before my C3 I broke my arm so I never went. I had no idea there were switch rides. Sounds like you had a good weekend, good luck , whenever it is you take your test :)

manymisadventures said...

Checkmark, you're likely still eligible to ride in Pony Club - as long as you were a member before your 21st year (which I'm assuming you were, since it was before college!) you are allowed to be in PC up until age 25. They recently extended the age limit.

Being an older member has its own challenges (I joined for the first time at 18), but if you really do want to rejoin and go for your C3, you should look into it!

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