Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Game Tapes & Stretch Zones

When I think of game tapes, I think of a passionate football coach whose marriage nearly breaks up because he spends half the night (every night) in the basement watching old game films so he can beat the rival team the next week. I think I have the same addiction, but luckily, my cat isn't threatening to divorce me over it. Besides all the big boy games (Rolex, Badminton and Burghley), I must have thousands of hours of my own game tapes - and lesson tapes. When I was a young rider (quite a few years back), we probably owned the first portable VHS camcorder in the entire state of Texas - you should hear my parents' panting into the microphone while trying to lug that enormous piece of machinery across a cross country course to get the next jump on film! During "snowmageddon" I watched an old tape of my first Prelim horse, Decker - we'd been going prelim for a while and were just knocking at the door for a great 3 phases. My mom spent 5 minutes chasing me around the XC course (large piece of machinery in tow) telling everyone nearby how hard I had worked and how much I wanted this win (yea, I was in first heading out of the start box). At the second to last jump on XC, after a clear round up till then, we got eliminated at the water jump - that Decker hated the water jump. At a very innocent age of 15, after suffering my three refusals, I quietly asked the jump judge if I could walk Decker through the novice water crossing before dismounting for the long walk home. The sudden silence from my ever supportive mom was deafening. It was heartbreaking even so many many years later. But, watching that game tape reminded me that even way back then, I've had good sense as a trainer. Things didn't always go perfect - but I always looked for a positive experience out of it - despite the tears. And, oh, there were tears.

This week has been filled with new game tapes. My great friend Laura accompanied me on the trek to True Prospect Farm on Sunday for another lesson with Silva Martin (Laura is an architect and I've been dying for her to see Phillip's beautiful facility). As if working with that fabulous Australian, Phillip, last summer during his camp wasn't enough, being introduced to Silva was, without a doubt, worth the cost of the admission ticket! Katchi is rockin' and rollin' in his dressage! And, thanks to Laura, I have the video to prove it! I've watched it at least 100 times already. Silva really is amazing at knowing just the right balance between allowing strength to develop (in horse and rider!) while still pushing towards the next level of training and skill. I think that's a harder balance to strike than most people realize. In the most recent USDF magazine, there's a report on a clinic with Jan Brink (Swedish Olympian) who talks about a "comfort zone", "stretch zone" and "panic zone". I think as riders and trainers, we hear a lot about stepping outside your "comfort zone" (into the "stretch zone"), which is where the training and learning takes place, but I think, especially as eventers, we forget that dressage has a "panic zone" for horses. And, especially as eventers, that can be extremely detrimental to our horses' minds, trust and confidence. Silva has that all figured out, and Katchi loves her for it!

It was a double-whammy of Martins for Katchi and me this week! After our Silva day in PA on Sunday, we headed back out to Serra Valley in Mt. Airy, MD for a Monday jumping clinic with Boyd Martin. I've watched Boyd teach quite a bit, but this was my first time riding with him - as Silva left us on Sunday she said "don't fall off tomorrow, he always loses one!". Well, it wasn't me! :) But, as the competition season is quickly approaching, I was thrilled to have Boyd take us into the "stretch zone" with our jumping on Monday. Nothing was too big, but the lines were tough. And he wanted us to learn to adjust our strides in bending lines by getting very comfortable with moving the line in/out as needed. Katchi was a jerk in the beginning. No one wants to be embarrassed at a clinic. I was embarrassed. But as the fences got bigger, he got better. A rider mom came up to me afterwards and said, "I think he really likes the bigger jumps." Hum. You know, I think she was right. Phillip told me something along those lines last summer, but I'm still in "baby the little green horse" mode. Ugh, I can hear Jim Wofford now - stop riding the horse of last week! Maybe Katchi does need the rails to go up a bit. If I can just learn to stay with his enormous jump, we might have a hope! Below is a picture of Boyd telling us how our spectacular crashing through a bounce all started 3 jumps before; meanwhile his "squire" picked up the carnage of standards and poles that had been a bounce of 18" verticals a moment before. 18". jeeze.

The other great thing about Monday was that my wonderful student and friend, Adrianne, came along and rode in her first "big name trainer" clinic! What an amazing opportunity to learn what Boyd Martin has to say to help my student! I read an article a few months ago about how Lendon Grey makes aspiring instructors teach riders more experienced than themselves - wow! Now that's an amazing idea - why has no-one else ever thought about that before?! I felt a bit like that in watching Boyd work with my student, and I was especially thrilled to learn that we saw much of the same things. Adrianne definitely hit her "stretch zone", but she never hit the "panic zone" - although her horse, Tori, as Adrianne kept saying, was sure she'd gone to hell (partly because Boyd had the heated indoor arena temperature at about 120 degrees!).

One final note related to game tapes - The Rolex Kentucky website is posting "blogs" from 4 featured riders in the lead-up to the April 4-star. In Part 2 about Leslie Law (written by the wife part of the Leslie and Lesley Law pair), she has a great commentary about auditing (she's pretty pissed about the lack of it, actually!). Here are a few of the best lines:

"Watching is something that has been lost on the majority of my generation of Riders and the ones behind me I think. They’d rather be at the food tent or looking up their photos then running out between their rides to watch how Karen or Buck show jumps even if its only at the training level.... I get constant calls for people wanting to take dressage lessons from Leslie and sometimes I have to turn people away as there just isn’t enough hours in the day, yet as he rode 5 dressage tests in the top two this past weekend not a sole was there to watch. If you are willing to spend $100 on a lesson why not spend 5 minutes of your time on a free one?"

Last fall, I got up at about 3 AM to drive up to Phillip Dutton's place to watch Mark Phillips work with our team riders (IN DRESSAGE!), just before they headed out to Burghley. Beck Holder started at 6 AM, and I arrived shortly after they started. When they say these sessions are "open to the public", it was amazing to me that I was THE PUBLIC. Just me; I was it. Nate Chambers came out for a few hours on his day off from working for Phillip. Becky finished her ride, took care of a few other horses and then spent the rest of the day sitting with me - watching. Jan Bynny, on crutches with a broken foot, watched for several hours, including watching Phillip ride both her horses with Mark. How often do we get a chance like that to watch such masters at work? Where was everyone? Yes, I realize, most of us have jobs - it took one of my precious few vacation days to get there myself. But, I am quite certain that one day of auditing earned me at least a few extra points on my next dressage test - and if nothing else, it sure as heck inspired me! Oh, and it was free!!

I generally try to keep these blog entries as short and interesting as possible - this one got a bit out of hand! The next one should be a report on our combined test this Sunday - going to try out the new dressage tests! Lets hope for starting off the season right with a pretty blue ribbon!


  1. I really enjoy following your adventures with Katchi! Thanks for the informative updates. I totally agree about "watching" to learn; as a beginner, I try to watch at least 1 of my fellow boarder's lessons a week; I always leave with some piece of wisdom! Good luck this spring!

  2. Hi Shane - I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog. I'm having great fun writing it. A HUGE thanks for the "good luck" - it never hurts to have a little! One thing about wisdom and horses - it's not always about what you want to do, sometimes it's about what you DON'T want to do! :)