Starting the day with a light and easy workout was a great way to end the week. We worked on partner/ team drills and some more strength training elements. Most of what we did, however, was cardio based such as: high knees on a bench, stair steppers, push ups on a bench, sprint sets with resistance bands, etc.
Today during the warmup with Michael he pulled me over and told me how happy he was that I listened to everything he had told me the day before and was starting to incorporate it already into my warmup and my ride. We immediately jumped into work. Starting with the canter today Michael wanted to see Woo’s pirouette canter first and we asked him to sit in and hold himself up today which he did much better at from the get go. Next he asked to see some of my changes and had me doing a 5 loop serpentine with changes over the centerline. The focus of this was to keep that collected canter and to set the horse up from one inside leg to the other with a straight change in the middle. It was also a challenge of straightness and being able to change on a straight line and then turn. After this was the lines of tempi changes which we did once or twice since Woo was really straight and took the lines easily on the first go. He asked me to count my strides and to make an even line of changes. This meant that I did my 4s four strides after my knee left the letter and I did my 3s six strides after my knee left the letter. This completely amazed me that Michael was able to see the line after doing it once and give me what each of my lines were in strides. (So this is how a professional thinks! 🙂 )
After a small break, we did a little bit of trot work and worked on the same things as the day before just to solidify the idea into my head. Once we went around a few times, Woo was down for the day. He was such a good horse the last day of the clinic and I know he was tired but that he still tried very hard. Lendon mentioned that this entirety of the two weeks had been and uphill climb for me, and I could not agree more. It has been the best two weeks I have ever had and now I have a lot to work on and with when I get back home!!
Today I got the amazing opportunity to ride with Olympian Michael Barisone. During my lesson the first thing that he addressed was my position. He told me that as an upcoming professional rider I should not just ride like one but look like one as well. He asked that I keep my hands together and only make minuscule movements as well as keep my shoulders back so that I leave my chest more open and am able to engage my core and abs more productively.
He then watched me warm up, and told me that as a professional rider he was not going to coach me on the little things. This was different because from the beginning he expected a higher level of quality from me and my riding and was challenging me to step up my game. This was neat in that it made me ride differently in that I had to pay attention to every little detail since no one was going to tell me a little more angle here and little more bend there. I loved it. Another thing that Michael had me focus on doing is counting my strides in the corners to ensure that I go into the corner but not to the point where my horse loses balance in the corner. He called this the German Corner System where you do 5 strides in trot and 4 strides in canter. When doing so you get there horse wrapped around your inside leg and into your outside rein and I found this enables you to better prepare for movements such as tempi lines, shoulder in, and half passes because you start with control of the outside shoulder and you have the horse already stepping up into the outside rein from the inside leg. This created a different feeling of preparation.
After a small walk break we got down to some serious work. Michael really liked my horse, Woo, but he said that he has so much more horse in his gaits that you are not even tapping into yet. He told me to think medium trot but instead to hold him back while keeping him active and pushing to the contact with my seat and leg. This was extremely difficult at first since it was a new side of the gait and it was absolutely huge. It took me a few rounds to get the hang of it and to move with the horse more in sync. After establishing the trot and the throughness, Michael had me take that same trot into the lateral movements and see what I had. It was a completely different horse! Woo had so much more reach and I could feel the hind legs with me in each and every step!
After this was a small walk break and then straight into a little bit of canter work. He asked me to treat the canter like he is not a young horse anymore and to really ask him to sit in and take the weight behind no matter how awkward it felt. Doing so I was able to start getting a few steps of true collected canter where I could feel Woo sit in and carry me in an uphill frame. This was a monumental lesson for me in that I was able to learn so much in a short period of time.
This morning in the workout we just did some dynamic stretching and some strength training drills. Some of the dynamic stretches Mike had us doing were: toy soldiers, which is where you kick your leg out in front as his as it can go with still leaving your leg straight,; karaoke; lunges; squat lunges; jumping jack squats; and sprint sets. This was all designed to stretch our legs and lower back while also working on muscle building and flexibility.
The seminars I attended was with Jane Savoie and Betsy LaBelle. Jane’s lecture was over will power. Now one thing about humans is that under stress we tend to psych ourselves out without even knowing. In our permanent long lasting sub conscious thought there are two things that we need to understand: 1) that it hears and believes everything we say and imagine and tries to make it so ( this could be saying that we can’t do something or that we are afraid of something or even that we will do something knowing we are afraid of it); and 2) that it can’t tell if you are lying — it just believes everything you say. One way to combat the negative thought process and stress is by sheer will power and by the power of positive thinking. Our minds are naturally more adept at attaching to negative emotions because we tend to remember anything bad that happens and it dwells in the back of our minds for awhile. However, just by believing that you can is already a big step in the right direction. Another thing I learned during the seminar is that the brain skips over the word not. So it is important to be careful about what you say. The next step is adding present tense to the positive self talk. Not only saying this to yourself but also imagining it. The images need to be detailed, vivid, involve as many of your 5 senses as possible, have emotions attached, be in a relaxed state yourself and repeat them like a mantra. By doing all of this we can achieve a state known as IPS (Ideal performing state). This is where every rider needs to be in the show ring, and they need to be able to move themselves to this state no matter what has happened. During Betsy’s lecture she talked about what the press was really looking for during the press conferences and then we ran a few simulations of a press conference to get some practice under our belts and a better idea of what to say when you are put under the spot light.
Today we decided to do our lesson in the double bridle just to check and see where Woo was with his comfort in the double and also because today was a lighter day of riding. Normally he is not great in the double because he sucks back away from the contact and behind the leg. One exercise that Lendon gave me to help with this is to start Woo in a training level like frame and work on forwardness and stretching to the contact from the hind end. After this was achieved she asked me to pick him up into a first/ second level frame by asking him to step under with his hind legs and to add some suppleness through his body while still pushing to the bit and staying in front of my leg. Only after this was achieved could we pick him all the way up and focus on just the connection and throughness. All we did once here was check to make sure he stayed in this frame during collected and lateral movements. For me this was a great learning curve because it had been difficult for me to keep him in front and pushing into the contact, but now I have a way that I can address the situation and work on making Woo more comfortable in the double.
Today Lendon gave me an amazing opportunity to work with George Williams, president of the USDF Jr/Yr. George had not seen my horse in 2 years, when I first got him, and I wanted to get George’s input on my warmup and also some new exercises that emphasize suppleness of the horse.
In our lesson George started off with watching how I warm up my horse. We always start off with lateral work in the walk to warm up his body and back. Starting with some leg yields both directions to test the responsiveness off of my leg and to bend him around my leg. Next we go to the shoulder in to test that he isn’t pushing through his outside shoulder but instead stepping the inside hind leg under and through to the outside rein and bending in his body around my inside leg. Then we go to the renver and the half pass to test that he still keeps the suppleness and softness. Moving to a stretchy trot we worked on maintaining a tempo that encourages the horse to step under with the hind legs and work over his back. As soon as this is achieved, you can “test how the horse is on the outside.” This means that the horse is not using the outside shoulder against you, but instead supple through both reins and the hind legs are following the front legs. “The purpose of the suppleness of the inside is to make them responsive to your outside aids,” as George always says. Changing the direction in the trot we worked the responsiveness to the half halt and making sure the outside shoulder never wanted to push out but instead stayed in line as the hind legs tracked up to push the shoulders up. “You are always trying to find a balance between the outside aids and the inside aids.”
What I always love about George is that he works the suppleness first and foremost before any movements. For my horse this is extremely beneficial as he holds some tension through his body. Some exercises that George capitalized on during our lesson was on a twenty meter circle in the canter coming to a trot transition and immediately asking for counter flexion and changing the rein through the circle. The point of this is to get the outside shoulder not pushing out but instead under the control of the outside aids. Once control of the outside is maintained we go all the way around the arena with small voltes at every letter on the long sides. The little smaller circles help the horse to balance and collect more on the seat rather than off of the hands.
Again coming back to the shoulders, another great exercise was to come to a trot on the short side from the canter and in the next corner asking for a leg yield off of the outside leg. You always want to test the suppleness on the outside. “You want to be creative in the way that you surround the horse with your aids.” We then came to the trot and worked the half pass from the centerline to a shoulder in once we got to the wall. George also tested the half pass to a halt using only the outside rein. He also tested the rein back using only one rein from the halt. This is not a test of reactiveness, but instead a test of mobility. “You always have to understand that the half halt is able to be used at all times.”
Starting the morning off right with a little bit of fitness at the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, we worked towards warming up our bodies and focused on some of the key areas that a rider uses such as: the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the calves, the abdominal muscles, and the back. Today’s main focus was legs. Whether that was working stretches in lunges, crab walking, or doing toe touches — each one stretching a specific muscle.
Having a little bit of fun decked out in hot pink, today’s lesson started with a little bit of theory: you have two thoughts of the rubber band theory, as Robert Dover calls it, one is shortening and lengthening the stride and the other is shortening and lengthening the frame. In theory one should be able to shorten the stride and lengthen the frame so that the horse can collect without sucking back, and vice versa you should be able to lengthen the stride and shorten the frame without the horse grabbing the bit and getting long. This is striving for the longitudinal suppleness of the horse without jamming them together but rather asking them to carry themselves by stepping the hind legs underneath and raising the back and shoulders up. “The collection, as Lendon says, should be easy for them and they should want to collect without slowing down or getting tense.” Working Robert’s idea of the rubber band theory Lendon asked me to lengthen his stride and then shorten the stride using only my seat and leg to see how responsive he was. Asking this of the horse allow the horse’s frame and neck to not change while asking instead the body to compress and lengthen. This engages the horse and asks them to use their back as they bring up their abdominal muscles and lower their croup. This engagement creates elasticity throughout the horse’s body that makes them connect from the hind end up and through to both reins. The rubber band exercise also asks the rider to engage their abs as they press the weight of their seat into the saddle and keep the horse cantering or trotting with the calf. The hands and arms should follow the horse’s natural movement without inhibiting and the abs and thighs control the tempo and length of the stride.
After getting him to a place that we liked, Lendon pulled me over and asked me to try something with my changes. She asked me to do something that is labeled a double aid — meaning that when asking for the changes or even the canter from the all you bring the outside leg back and off of the horse without asking them for anything but to accept that your leg is there and then you ask for the change either the stride after that or whenever the horse accepts your leg and softens. This is great because many riders, even though they have the correct timing of the aid, cue a split second late because of the time it takes the brain to process the fact that you want to move your leg. Instead, the double aid already places your leg back so that the only thing you have to do is cue. For the changes you have to be able to nail the change by asking the horse for the change the stride before the suspension in the canter so they change when they are suspended. The same is said for the walk, you ask for the canter of the last beat of the walk so that the first beat of the canter is the outside hind leg. The double aid gives you the chance to tell the horse what it is you are asking for without surprising him and also allows you to ask with the correct timing of the aids.
Since this our sixth day of work in a row we decided to do a shorter more compact lesson -meaning that we keep the lesson short but get to work quicker. During our lesson today we played a bit more with quickness from behind off of only my leg to get Woo more reactive and snappy behind. When working on collection, half steps, and piaffe sometimes our aids can get a little mixed up in the horse’s mind unless we are very clear with how and what we are asking for. Whether this is bringing the leg back more for the piaffe steps or asking the horse to step underneath himself with the leg for a collected walk there has to be a difference. With working the piaffe and half steps you want the horse, as Lendon says, to think that he is the smartest thing on four legs. Otherwise the horse may not like to do it; they have to think that the work they are doing is fun.
Staying off of the circles today and working on more straight lines we work through a bunch of transitions; first just working on the overall suppleness so that we would have no tension when we upped our game and pushed him more upward. The horse should always be between both hands to one degree or another. Staying mostly in trot, we worked on little half halts within the gait and the movements to accentuate the step and bending of his joints. Lendon would always ask me, “Is this the very best trot you’ve got?” To really work this we would do things such as riding three separate should ins on a long side looking mostly at the beginning of the shoulder in to press the horse into the outside rein off of the inside leg and to step the inside hind leg across and underneath the horse. This also plays with the shoulder control making sure that you can always move the shoulders to wherever you want them to be. This is paramount when riding since the shoulders of the horse is like the front of a car — you cannot turn or go anywhere without the front. After gaining the control of the shoulders we went straight into working the half pass starting with just one taking up a full diagonal to working half pass zig zags at the trot. All we were looking for was being able to extend his reach in the half pass or contract it depending on my seat and leg. This is also related to shoulder control, being able to have the horse overreach with the shoulder and open to get the bigger reach.
Taking this new quickness behind into the canter we worked on the changes and being able to do them whenever and wherever so that the recovery time in between the single changes becomes shorter and shorter until we can do tempi lines without even blinking. We have to be able to do changes in all sorts of weird places and be able to think that the horse will do the change if you ask. Whether that be immediately after you pick up a canter, on the short side of the arena, or 5 changes over the centerline on a serpentine. We worked lines of 4s and 3s, and Lendon imparted some wisdom. She said, “the thing about 4s is that there is a long distance in between the changes to fall apart but not enough time to fix it, whereas in the 3s there is not a lot of time for the horse to fall apart. This is what makes the 3s easier than 4s and the 2s easier than 3s, but that the 1s are a whole different ball game entirely.” After the changes we tried our hand at the PSG half pass zig zag. First we just did single half passes with a change right after it and then we went directly into the zig zag. Having trouble with the second half of the zig zag we worked coming up centerline on the left lead then doing a change and half passing from X to M with a change at M. One of the things that was difficult was getting over with enough time to straighten the horse and ask for the change, however, the thing was you have to straighten and ask for a change at the same time so as not to waste a single stride on the line.
This morning started off with the same routine, but with the addition of a new horse to the mix. After turning out all of the ponies and getting Woo ready for his lesson I went out to warm him up. We kept his lesson shorter today after working hard for the past few days and just worked on having the transitions come back and going forward much quicker from the beginning. But most of the lesson was geared toward working the pirouettes. Lendon told me to stop babying him and riding the pirouette on a circle and to instead ride the pirouette from a straight line to greater challenge him. She wanted me instead to ride the pirouette on a star shape in the middle of the arena (which meant to ask for more small steps than in a quarter pirouette but less than a half pirouette). She told me, “I want you to push him to the point where he struggles, but to never let him fail.” Lendon challenged me to start the pirouette with small and tight steps and to then let him go out a bit as he went (because it is easier to let the horse out when they come back too much, but it is much more difficult to compress the horse once they start big).
After taking care of Woo and the other horses after my ride, I headed over to Oded Shimoni’s barn to watch him ride and teach during the afternoon. When we arrived we got to see Robert Dover riding one of his client’s horses and working on the piaffe-passage transition. It was fascinating to watch him work with the mare as he keeps his position no matter what the horse is doing. He also stays in a very open position asking the horse to step underneath and sit while lifting up the shoulders. Oded came out to help Robert in hand and watching the pair of them work was one of the coolest things. Oded had the mare going with a bamboo stick so that she starts to use her reach and meets the bamboo rather than sucking back in the passage, and Robert was asking her to come under and up. After a few minutes, the two of them had the horse piaffing and passaging more on Robert’s aids and honest work over the back and to the connection. Next we watched Robert teach a lesson to a very nice lady and watched them keep a short lesson working mostly on changes; so that when the rider asked the horse to change he did rather than on his own aids. Robert approached some of the exercises by first asking the horse to be more active in his hind legs through some small half steps. Next they worked on collecting the canter with more bend in the hind legs and staying with the rider (not taking over). After that it was time to try the changes and they only worked on the fours since for both the rider and the horse those were a challenge. It was amazing to see how each line Robert fixed little things like the straightness or collection on the line.
Oded rode two horses after Robert’s lesson and both of the mares were beautiful. Watching Oded ride he makes everything look so easy and you almost can not see him making any movement while he rides. Both of the horses he rode he worked on bend and suppleness and each time he changed directions the transition was so smooth. He adds a little bit of haunches in right before changing the bend to accentuate the suppleness in the horse and have them bend through the body. Also on the straight lines he worked on suppleness in their necks by asking little questions to make sure the horse was soft. He would ask a little left bend, then straighten when they gave; then check a little right bend, and straighten again when they gave. It was amazing to watch him work with the horses and I found it funny that each time Oded got off he would just step down since he is so tall. Lol.
After Oded’s we went back to Hampton Green to let Woo go outside and play. I laid down in the field with him and was taking a nap when Woo snuck up and stuck his head over the fence and was snorting. He woke me up and so I went out and started messing with him (stretching his legs, letting him follow me around, and rubbing on him). We stayed until it was dinner time and we tucked all the ponies in