Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Motivational Photo

I decided to post this photo as motivation for myself to finish writing about the David O'Connor clinic!

Friday, June 3, 2011

David O'Connor Clinic- Showjumping Exercises

*Sorry for incoherency or editing mistakes. Very long post! Took me forever to write.

Day 2 dawned bright and early because I had the great fortune of being in the first group. This made my weekend much better because it was still cool outside when my group rode! 

Day 2 focused on the basics, and in hindsight, it set us up perfectly for the next two days. We didn't do complicated exercises or jump great heights, but that was actually great. First of all, it boosted my confidence and allowed me to think about David's principles during the lesson instead of worrying about jump height or difficulty. Second, it was a nice breather for Tiamo because he ended the session barely sweating and full of energy. He worked extremely hard and did a lot of jumping the next two days so this was a needed "break". 

We started the lesson trotting and cantering over two poles. David explained that everything that happened over the two poles was exactly what happens on course in stadium or cross country, but a mistake over the poles does not have the same consequences as making the same mistake at a 4ft vertical or solid cross country jump. From the beginning, David wanted us thinking and learning for ourselves. He said he sees too many trainers talking in too much detail about everything, and their students never really learn to ride through problems on their own. I think I fall into this trap. I wait for people to tell me to do something instead of reacting; my brain is often too slow to respond or even doesn't recognize my mistakes.

So this is how he breaks things down:

There are 4 things the rider is responsible for and can control (in this order): direction, speed, rhythm, and balance. We mainly focused on speed and direction, but rhythm was a topic that popped up as well, especially for me. 

He wanted us to think in a 2-step process- 1)What? 2)How? 

The answers to the What? were in relation to speed and direction. Speed up or slow down? Turn wider or cut in? 

Riders need to think What? before going into the How? 

I fell into the trap and illustrated the need for this teaching tool (i.e. thinking What? first) when Tiamo cantered over the first pole but trotted out. He asked me what happened, and I replied that I needed more leg. This is one of David's biggest pet peeves! "More leg for what? Bigger stride, more collection? More leg for what? Your legs can do a lot of things! Everyone always replies more leg, or I needed to half halt. Two most common answers. But then nothing ever changes when they say that's what they are going to do". He wanted us to think simpler in terms of speed and direction. So as I came around the next time he asked what I was going to do. "Speed up!" I said. Ti broke to trot. The next time around he stood in my path, and I had to go around him. Ti kept cantering. "So what did you really need to change?". And I realized I had needed to change direction. 

So this opened up his next point about 3 situations in riding:

1. Rider does not recognize problem
2. Rider recognizes problem
3. Rider recognizes problem, tries to fix it, and horse doesn't respond

There are two scenarios in #2. Sometimes the rider recognizes the problem but doesn't do anything about it, or the rider recognizes the problem and fixes it.

#3 is a training issue with the horse.

And I say recognize "problem", but it also relates to knowing how to replicate a good ride. You have to recognize how you got that good ride to replicate it!

Next, we moved on to warming up over a vertical on a circle. We did that well a few times, and David had me shorten my stirrups one hole. We transitioned into jumping the vertical and then a forward/"competition length" 5 strides to another vertical. David wanted us knowing and reacting to what was going to happen as we were a couple of strides from the first vertical. "What is the point of knowing the distances?" he asked. To know how to adjust. (And depending on the distance, you can obviously do a different number of strides. He said people can really start getting different numbers on distances longer than 4 or 5 stride). If you come into the jump and realize you're going to be short, then you either need to land and really press on or hold for the extra stride. The decision should be made before the first jump, not a stride or two into the line.

So David would call out "What are you going to do?" as we came up to the first. and we had to reply speed up, slow down, or stay the same. 

David's groups kind of got the short end of the stick when it came to Saturday. We were in the covered arena which apparently Karen hates; she always teaches in the outdoor arena. However, sometime before our lesson, a worker had left the sprinkler system on too long in the covered arena, flooding it. He had messed up some other times as well and was fired on the spot. The arena was still very deep and slippery in most areas though. 

After the 5-stride exercise, David decided we were going to crash Karen's group. This situation was so funny, and I was literally just laughing out loud at the insanity of 10 riders sharing an average sized arena, all jumping. Karen yelling and threatening. David quietly communicating with his hand signals that he explained he uses with all his riders at events. He said he never uses his voice unless the rider is next to him. 

We did a forward 5 stride to a 2 stride. This was pretty uneventful. Tiamo was good, not much to say about it.

We moved onto a 4-stride. David told me to count upward 8 strides from the jump. He said it's not so much a rhythm exercise as it is a mind exercise. The rider can recognize their "pushing" mistake when their voice goes up "5, 6, 7, 8! ) I've been told to count before, but David was unique in the fact that he told me to start counting farther out and not end on numbers like 4 before the fence. He said there is more of a sense of urgency when ending on 4, and I needed to stay relaxed and waiting in the last strides.

Next, David told us about the "jumping into the circle" exercise. It's simple but really helpful. "Jumping into the circle" entailed David drawing a circle on the middle of the landing side of the jump. It basically helps the rider stay straight and plan their line better, especially on a bending like we were doing. And it was surprising to realize that you probably aren't jumping as straight and centered as you thought. Everyone jumped off to the left or right of the circle at least a couple of times. 

We used the "jumping into the circle" while riding a 7? (can't remember) bending line, and it helped us go straight and then turn (and be straighter) to the second jump.

And that was it! Simple but fun and very important building blocks for the 3rd and 4th days.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

David O'Connor Clinic-Dressage

Dana and I set off for Holly Hill on Thursday morning. It was a 6 hour drive, but it was uneventful and fun. And we enjoyed telling everyone about the Middle Eastern man we met at the gas station who told his grandfather bred horses and killed anyone who wouldn't give away or sell their horse to him. He was serious. After he said that and walked around to the other side of the trailer, Dana made me leap into the truck so we could drive away real fast. She said we looked like lot lizards (i.e. prostitutes). I was the navigator and got us kind of lost at one point as were trying to find AR-29. Dana just kept driving. I was kind of freaking out, and her words were "We're going south which is the direction we needed to be going. If we hit the ocean, we know we went too far". 

I had a 45 minute semiprivate dressage lesson in the afternoon on Friday. After watching 3-4 groups before me, I definitely noticed some common themes. David wanted to see the ability to transition within the gait, and he especially wanted to see the forward part in the lower level groups. I saw at least 2 other people from my jumping group ride, and they did the same transitions within the gait but also added changes of direction and lateral work at the end. I was very excited to see David using leg yield against the rail as a exercise. I had done it before but recently read an older Jimmy Wofford article where he talked about it, and I schooled it at home during the days leading up the clinic. 

David asked me about my past experience, and I told him about how I had competed a couple of times at Training, and Tiamo went Prelim with Allison. And I also mentioned that we had gone Novice five times because of some setbacks, mainly the EPM. He asked me if he had any vices or problems, and I wasn't very prepared with an answer and couldn't think of much. I'm honestly not sure what my biggest issue is, but I ended up telling him I needed to get Ti more on my aids and in front of my leg so he isn't either being lazy or carting me around.

Tiamo was excellent, and he was super responsive from the beginning. After watching us warm up, David had us do transitions within the trot on a 20m circle. He had set up cones for everyone to go through to really guide us to make perfectly round circles. One of the first things he asked me to do was really put some effort into posting higher and slower when we collected the trot. We then did the same at the canter, and he pointed out that I allowing Ti to fall in on my right leg. He also asked me to put my weight in the outside stirrup, push my inside hip forward, and bring my inside shoulder back. When we moved onto to some lateral work, it became more apparent why he had been asking me do that. 

I have always had problems with my left shoulder wanting me to more forward, and my right shoulder back. It's not that I don't work on it because I think about it every day, but I realized today how awkward it feels to me when my shoulders are truly even and straight.

Anyway, we started doing the leg yield against the rail, and Tiamo and I were doing pretty great to begin with. David stopped me twice, and it got even better after both. First he stopped me to talk to me about moving my hips from side to side. Leg yielding on the rail off my left leg, I would put my weight left to right, left to right on my seat bones. When my weight went into my right seat bone, my left leg naturally pressed against his side. Then I naturally released my leg when I moved my weight back left. It was something I had never heard before, and Ti really started moving off my leg even better afterward! 

He had me halt again after I started leg yielding on the diagonal to talk about my shoulders. He told me it was much easier for me going to the right because my shoulders naturally turn to the right, but when I was going to the left and thinking about bringing my left shoulder back, I was finally just straight! I had to really concentrate on it to make my left shoulder come back. Fixing my shoulders and using the left-right weight shift helped me get Ti really crossing over and moving over off my leg beautifully. I was barely using my reins as an aid at all. He was very light and just going off my seat and legs. 

My homework is to do some thinking about my left shoulder and ride bareback, if possible, to get a better idea of how his back moves underneath. He said it can help a lot with understanding how to use to my seat better as well as my hip placement and weighting.