Monday, November 29, 2010


In the other half of my life - the one where I make money to fund the furry money pit that makes up the horse half of my life... I work in the behavioral and social sciences and have recently been reviewing some work on communications. As I'd rather apply this research to something to benefit my riding, I've been thinking about communication between instructors and riders. In this "science" there is a lot of research about processes to be certain that experts understand what decision makers need and that decision makers understand what experts think they know. Enter the manipulation check (similar to reflective listening) - whereby the listener explains what they've heard the speaker say. This gives the original speaker the opportunity to correct inferences, assumptions, or understandings that might have been manipulated by the listener so that the original intent is not quite preserved. Kind of sounds like what should happen between an instructor and student, doesn't it? (cartoons by Custer Cassidy).

In 2000, I went on an amazing trip to Egypt with my Granny - who was one heck of an awesome traveling companion, until the pasteurized incident. Sitting in a cafe along the beautiful Red Sea, trying to order fruit smoothies with yogurt - my Granny asks the waiter, who speaks NO English, "is the yogurt pasteurized?" He looks at her. She says, louder and slower "PAS-TEUR-IZED" I try to interrupt, but again, even louder and slower... "PAAAASSSS-TEEEEUUURRR-IZED." oh boy. No matter how much louder or slower she was going to get - pasteurized wasn't suddenly going to appear in his lexicon. She was either going to have to use words they might have in common (milk, heat, kill bad things...), or resign to the fact that drink it or not - she was never going to know if the yogurt was pasteurized. So, what does this story have to do with horses? Because every time I hear a screaming instructor, getting louder and slower, I think of my pasteurized Granny! Screaming "ride better" louder and slower is not going to miraculously make me ride better!

A couple years ago, I was working with a dressage instructor who would scream at me - "right seat bone down!" And I would try and try - I would beat myself up during and after lessons, practically in tears - why was I such a failure for not being able to make this simple thing happen? In the midst of this, I read an article in the USDF magazine that said uneven seat bones are often the effect of one overactive (the raised seat bone) leg and one under active leg. Due to several horse-related injuries, my left side is weaker (and lazier). So the more I tried to force down my right seat bone, the higher it got, because in my fight to force it down, I was actually engaging it and making my already over-dominant right leg stronger. I figured out that when I heard "get your right seat bone down", if I would just relax my right leg and activate my left leg, the screaming stopped. This instructor was not wrong in what she saw - but she failed to communicate it to me in a way that facilitated understanding and improved my performance. And I was paying money for this. (Among other things) it was the start of the end of our instructor-student relationship.

After every speech (or lesson), we are taught to ask "any questions?". The answer is almost always "nope, I've got it." Yea, right. Ask them to explain to you exactly what they've learned in the lesson today, and I guarantee you'll find holes. I recently asked a student to relay something I thought ranked up there in difficulty with "what is your name?" But, the student had no answer. Whoa! Really? Seriously? Major communication breakdown! What I thought I'd said to her 100 times apparently didn't get through 100 times. Saying it a different way 1 time was all she needed. Sure am glad I asked that question - finally.

On Saturday, I spent the most wonderful day watching Silva Martin teach. Watching some of the upper level lessons was inspiring, and helped me focus in my own mind where Katchi is headed in his training (and me in my riding). But, I also had an incredible opportunity to watch Silva work with two of my students - Adrianne and Kerry. It was fascinating to hear how she corrected and explained the same things (I think) I've said, but in different words. For a German with an Australian accent - that girl communicates good!! I tell people that Jim Wofford has the most amazing communcation ability - he has a way of saying things so simply. Things you've spent months beating yourself up about suddenly click in your mind, and you start riding like you do in your dreams! And your horse says, geeze, what took you so long to figure that out? When you find an instructor that speaks your language - hold onto them!

And what about our horses? Isn't it the same thing with them? One day we're having a party because the little baby horse finally a managed (a terribly awkward 4 beat) canter! Then some other day down the road, you're asking for engagement from the inside hind, a relaxed topline, and soft connection! To them, you are the expert. Give them time to ask questions. Answer them thoughtfully and constructively. They will reward you 1000 times for it. Just as riding students do for their instructors.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A One-Two Finish at Full Moon Farm

An event season can't end much better than today! If we did such things in eventing, the Golightly gang would be yelling "SCOREBOARD!" to the opposing team all day long!

With Katchi watching the trailer pull out this morning without him (he was SO SO sad and was definitely pouting when I tried to say hello tonight!) - Adrianne and Tori, Kerry and Atticus, and I were off to Full Moon Farm for the last of the flurry of unrecognized-type events of the year. Both ladies were finishing off the season with a move-up; Adrianne to Novice and Kerry to Beginner Novice.

When we arrived, we ran up to show jumping for a quick walk before the first horses came on course - looking at the map to orient ourselves, it hit me - I know this course. Hum, I think, really? Yep, this is the exact same course as Waredaca's October recognized horse trial. Sort of ironic that I got lost TWICE on that course - in the middle of my ride - yet, I take one look at it a month later on paper, and I know it. Can someone shoot me now?

And then the show began with an excellent start for Adrianne in dressage. Kerry was up next - and the devil pony arrived. Not Atticus - but a real devil pony! At least that's what Atticus said. I was trying so hard to help Kerry, but I just couldn't stop laughing - so I abandoned Kerry for a few seconds to catch this video clip. See, it really was a devil pony?! It even had a red bow in its tail - its rider had a matching red bow. Does that mean she kicks too?? I mean seriously, devil-possession aside, is this not the cutest thing ever?!

Anyhow, back to the show - at the risk of spoiling the ending... Adrianne kicked butt, leading her division from start to finish and taking home a pretty blue ribbon and Dover gift certificate! Kerry also kicked (all but one) butt - sitting in 2nd from start to finish and taking home a pretty red ribbon and a Dover gift certificate too!

But the best news was not only that both ladies rode like stars - they learned a lot too!

Adrianne learned:

1. The value of forward: We've been working through some issues with Tori hopping and skipping (and much worse!) mid-course for no apparent reason. Adrianne is really getting the hang of dealing with that FORWARD, and it brought her great success today!

2. The value of sitting back: Almost eating your horse's ears when they take an extra look at the ditch - is no good. I bet Adrianne will never take another ditch for granted!

3. Jumping down hill is easy if you let the horse come all the way to the base of the jump.

Kerry Learned:

1. Atticus is an event horse: This was his second event, and he's figured out this is fun! Which made dressage a bit more challenging as Atticus was already thinking XC! He'll figure it out, but today was tough - and Kerry definitely had her hands full (and that little devil pony did not help!). But, wow, when he hit that XC course - he was a machine! Yea, he's figured this out!

2. Don't pull back going to a jump up hill, especially when the horse is slowing down! I think I was momentarily possessed by that mean little Australian (P Dutty!), because, gee, - there I was yelling at Kerry for just the same thing Phillip yelled at me for exactly a week before! And didn't I feel like a schmuck seeing how blatantly obvious the problem was when you're standing on the ground! Good thing Kerry learned the lesson fast as we were about out of warm-up time!

3. The value of sitting back: I'm detecting a theme here. I guess sometimes you just have to learn it for yourself and then kick yourself a little for being told not to do it in the first place!

Anyhow, it was a great way to end the season - always lots to work on, but also so nice to end the season being really proud of everything you've accomplished over the course of a year!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Katchi and I have been Re-Duttonized. Wow. That about sums up our weekend.

After my really tough show jumping warm-up and round at VA Horse Trials, I was so thankful that Boyd was able to get me going again with a confidence boosting private lesson on Friday. We did some excellent exercises in precision using ground poles and tight turns, combined with gymnastic jumping lines and roll-backs. It was just what I needed to remember that we can jump! Boyd struck just the right balance between getting me going and not wearing us out so we'd be ready for P Dutty!

People say Phillip is quiet - but what he lacks in numbers of words he makes up for 100-times in word choice. He really is exceptional. At the clinic, there were 3 groups (BN - 3 riders; N/T - 2 riders; and Katchi and me in a T/P group with 3 other riders). The three groups were excellently paired in skill, and Phillip found every horse and rider's weaknesses... it happened earlier for some, and later for others... but eventually, we each heard "Come Again." And a few heard "Stop, stop, stop. Come here." I was tremendously impressed with Phillip's ability to create such an individual experience for each horse/rider, despite the group lesson set-up with everyone doing the same lines - yet addressing their own unique needs. He really narrowed in on each horse/rider's strengths and weaknesses and was not satisfied until we really got what he was saying. I was also stunned with his "Jim Wofford-ish" psychic mind reading abilities! More than a couple of times, I found myself sitting on Katchi, thinking "how the hell did he know I was thinking that?!" Not only is he an eventing super hero, he performs jedi mind tricks as well. sheesh.

Click here for more great photos of the clinic by Kasey Mueller!!

Rather than trying to recount all the amazing things Katchi and I learned and did over the past two days, I think I'll just share some of his comments during Saturday afternoon's Q&A (with wine and cheese!) and during the riding sessions - his comments weren't revolutionary. They were grounded in basic horsemanship that works - although he didn't say it, I'll summarize everything he said - "keep it simple, stupid." If you stick with this post to the end - video awaits you!

November 2010 "Phillip-isms"

- Horses at all levels should get a few weeks off each year - even if they don't need it physically, he believes they come back to work mentally refreshed. However, he said each horse will tell you what they need - if you turn them out to pasture for a break, and all they do is stand at the gate waiting for you - put them back to work! And be careful in giving them too much time off so that it takes months to get back a good fitness base - be sure they are exercising themselves in the field while you're not exercising them in the saddle.

- As part of the USET training sessions, Phillip thinks the specialized dressage and show jumping training has been exceptional. However, he said at the higher levels of eventing - dressage specialists have trouble understanding what fitness does to an event horse in an electric environment (like having 25,000 fans in the stadium!). Training at home for big big movement should be done; but at a big event, maybe you can only ask for big movement. With super fit event horses at top events - your first goal probably has to be to calm and soothe - you cannot push a highly fit event horse too hard in an electric environment because they will explode. [From my own eyes at WEG, I was very struck by the difference between the dressage horses and event horses as they left the arena after their tests - almost every dressage horse WALKED out on a free rein despite the crowds going berserk- almost every event horse danced and pranced, lept and bounced, at something between a piaffe and a gallop to relatively quiet applauding crowds. A horse is definitely not a horse.]

- A horse must learn to jump cross country slow before he learns to do it fast. The importance of cross country schooling is to give the horses time to look, understand, think, and learn. On course, adrenaline kicks in and many horses will jump things they haven't really thought about. Eventually, this will catch up to you. Once a solid foundation is formed and the horse moves up the levels - he probably rarely (if ever) needs to school. And the reality is that 4* jumps just can't be schooled - you need to rhythm, adrenaline and flow of the entire course for them to jump right. Woodburn's first XC jump after Rolex in April was on course at Richland Park in August.

- A really well trained horse makes the rider look really good. But the real test of a rider comes when things don't go right - and especially how you train the horse to correct the issue. That's horsemanship. To that end, make every jump count - give the horse every opportunity at every fence to do it right. Pick the right line and the right canter for your horse. A horse that wants to run out left will be turned right "for the rest of his life" - after every fence, after every run out to the left, forever and always until he learns the door to the left is never ever open to him.

- Going fast does not mean the horse is in front of your leg. Running away is a disobedience of its own kind. Many riders do not understand this - they think if they are going fast at a jump, the horse is forward and responsive to the leg - but its not likely true.

- On the danger of long spots: the rider must find a way to train the horse to come in deep to his fences, to rock back onto his haunches, and round over the fences. A horse who continually leaves long will flip over a fence - maybe not today, but someday. As they learn, they may get in deep and stop - but you have to stick with the lesson at every single fence until they learn.

I should have had a notepad with me all weekend to take notes on all of Phillip's clever comments, but this is as good as my memory can do. It really was great stuff & I'm so thankful for the opportunity to have such amazing eyes on the ground helping Katchi and me put our stuff together! And, of course, thanks to my mom for being a great groom and taking the videos below - which will make for excellent winter watching - over and over again! And special thanks to Karen and Amy for putting it all together to let us come play with Phillip - and to Cosequin for BUCKETS AND HATS!
And now the videos...

1) Lesson learned at the coffin: rider pull back, horse no go. rider let go, horse go. Funny that.

2) XC hi-lights! Woo-hoo! We're havin' fun now!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Run Katchi Run Helmet Cam!

This post is coming to you from one state up, Pennsylvania - where it felt like summer today! Lovin' this beautiful weather! I've come up for 3 days at True Prospect Farm for a post-season training camp before Katchi starts a few weeks off. Was able to get a private show jumping lesson with Boyd Martin today, which was fantastic! He immediately narrowed in on some weaknesses in Katchi's training and gave me some good ideas for winter exercises. Tomorrow and Sunday we'll be riding in a clinic with Phillip Dutton - he's moved around and added a lot of fences to his XC course, so I'm excited to try out some of the new challenges since Katchi and I were "duttonized" in summer 2009 (check out the other blog that started it all - Cherie & Katchi Get Duttonized).

BUT - that's not why I'm writing tonight! This post is to share The Run Katchi Run Helmet Cam footage from the Virginia Horse Trials 2 weeks ago. My mom (a HUGE fan of Henny's helmet cams) came along to be my groom (not to mention being the fan club president, chief treat giver, and Katchi's grandma) - and when she heard that Brant Gamma was renting helmet cams for XC - she ran to sign me up! I sort of had mixed feelings about it - but, I am SO glad my mom wanted it so bad, because I LOVE IT! I was worried it might capture foul language and require a "parental advisory" warning on you-tube. But, don't worry -I kept it clean! I was also worried it wouldn't be as "cool" as Henny's camera. But, to me at least, it is! What I didn't realize was how much I would learn from it! XC happens so fast - even at Training level with a time penalty! This has given me an opportunity to take a second look at things - see where and how I lost my lines - see where I wasted precious seconds - and watch Katchi's ears (this is definitely NOT something of interest while riding the course!).

So, here it is - the first ever Run Katchi Run Helmet Cam!! Hope you like! :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

WEG Photo Album

I know, WEG's over, but I want to go back! What a tremendous competition - and every time I hate the sitting trot, I think back to how good eventers have gotten in dressage (no matter what those dressage queens said about us!) - and I sit a few minutes longer! Anyhow, I'm collecting pictures from my WEG travel companions, so thought I'd post a few of my favorites from Kerry's sister Christie. She has one heck of a camera and got some great shots on XC day!

Boyd and Neville coming to the sunken road.


I love Comet! An OTTB you know! I read something last winter, shortly after Becky Holder moved to the orange Georgia clay - Comet got himself so orange that they called him "Courageous Cheeto"!!!

Dirk Schrade (Germany) on Gadget de le Cere

I think I mentioned that the WEG shopping was a bit disappointing - this picture (of me & Kerry) represents all things purchased - except for that $15 plastic glass of wine from a hot dog street vendor cart (I'm still stunned). Ariat saved the shopping! They had some awesome attire at normal prices. And credit to the USEF for my hat - love the TeamUSA gear - still wondering why the fashion designer of that line didn't help our eventers with their jog attire!

I've mentioned to several people that I found one jump on XC that Katchi could jump - #7B. So thought I'd post a picture. It's a ditch. We'll pass on #7A and #7C, but if they could just remove #7A, so I could get a nice line, we'll have a go at #7B. :) It's all about consistent little steps in the direction of big goals, right?!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Katchi brings home 3rd place from Area II Training Championships!

The end of the competition season is always a little bittersweet. So many amazing things have been accomplished, but there is still so much work ahead! I enjoy the winter "off" season for the opportunity to focus on specific improvements without the rigmarole of competing - but its also hard to temporarily say good-bye to all the nerves, adrenaline, goals, tests, unexpected challenges, clean/slick/fit horses, and ribbons that come along with competing! This year, more than others, I'm not quite ready to step into the winter training regime, because I'm having too much fun competing!

This weekend, Katchi went to his final 2010 competition - the Area II Training Level Championships at the Virginia Horse Trials. And he came home with a very pretty yellow neck sash/ribbon! He still hates his winner's circles photos, but my mom and I came up with a way to solve the miserable mistreated pony look - just push his ears forward! Kinda cute, eh?!

Over the course of a horse's education, there are many events you enter for lots of different reasons - exposure to competition commotion; confidence builder on a course you've schooled many times before; exposure to new specifics of basic well-schooled questions; test the trust and relationship between horse and rider on a course never seen before with tough questions; evaluation of readiness to move up.... while all those things are in the back of your mind at a Championships - we enter these sorts of events primarily for one reason: success.

I am absolutely thrilled with so many things about this weekend, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a twinge of disappointment. Third place was good - but second is better and first is best! So, what went wrong? Sports psychology, for one thing. Don't have it mastered yet. After an excellent warm-up, a cascade effect of terribleness started about 30 seconds before I began circling the arena. It's not that any single thing that was so terrible - but I let it all get inside my head - and Katchi fell apart because of it. When we finished, I told Katchi that we'd be lucky to be in last place. You could see the tragedy in his eyes - he knew he let me down. And I knew I let him down too. When scores were posted - we were lucky - we sat in 4th - well ahead of last. But, oh what we could have done had we done what we should have done. Ouch. I just kicked myself again. I keep thinking about Boyd going into dressage at WEG when Neville started to have a breakdown when the crowd (small and reserved as it was) went wild just 17 seconds before he had to be in the arena. Silva said that Boyd just about freaked out - 17 seconds to defuse a live animal bomb for the biggest moment of you life! But he didn't freak out - he kept his head in the game; he rode; and Neville flourished. I could take a few lessons from that.

Overall, I couldn't have been happier with Katchi on XC. It was a much harder course than I expected based on what I saw at the spring HT - it was definitely a championship course! We still have some work to do to improve the fluency of our "conversations" on course - especially those involving downhill turns to skinnies. But what a difference in Katchi's confidence and trust in me compared to earlier this year! And we finished just one second over optimum time - which is definitely going in the right direction. The division leader after dressage, Kim Severson, had a stop on XC, so those of us trailing her without other incident, happily moved up a place. Katchi sat in 3rd going into show jumping on Sunday.

I am extremely grateful that Katchi decided to give me his first double clear show jumping round at Training level at this particular event. I am, however, not grateful for the warm-up. I came as close as I have in ages to falling off Katchi when he landed between the front and back rails of the warm-up oxer - both rails still in the cups, and us stuck in the middle. What on earth makes a horse do that?! And then it got worse - I jumped the X and vertical a couple more times to get him going again, and came back to the oxer - he did it again!!! HOLY SHIT! And I was just about out of warm-up time. I scrambled for a plan - Katchi and I were losing confidence fast and he had to relearn how to jump oxers - and fast! My mom raced to put down the oxer to about 2 feet - I went round and round, trotting and cantering it until I had about 30 seconds until it was our go. That was the best I could do - I had to ride the horse I had at that moment.

So into the big indoor coliseum we went - Katchi had never seen such a thing, and I was so thrilled with his professionalism. Unfortunately, we had two more incidents of perfect striding, close my leg, nothing, vomit - but thankfully they were over verticals, and by the skin of his hooves, Katchi left the poles in the cups. I don't know how. It wasn't our prettiest round, but I was thankful for the score. I'm not satisfied with how we kept our 3rd place, but I'm happy that we did! And, it's probably good to be humbled before the winter break - I wouldn't want to be lulled into thinking we have nothing to practice over these next cold months!