Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get your GRRR face on!

While Katchi is in his 2nd week of vacation - I've been enjoying the extra time to re-evaluate and motivate! My private lessons with P Dutty over the past weeks have afforded us extra time to not only work on making me right in the saddle, but right in the head too. When I started taking regular lessons with PD this summer, I enjoyed quite a few good chuckles at myself as I looked around the ring. I would sing (in my head, I hope) "One of these things is not like the others" - ME! Who here doesn't have an Olympic medal (or if I felt more generous... a pinque coat!) - OH OH, ME AGAIN! But the great thing about riding in these small "elite" group lessons is we all have the same level horse and PD expects all of us (uhem, me) to give my prelim horse just as fair a chance to succeed as all those Olympic medalists give their prelim horses. Now, it takes him a bit more work with me (which usually starts something like... "Cherie, stop, stop, stop. Come here."), but he never lowers his performance expectations.

Okay, there might be more than one difference between me and those Olympians, but one big difference is confidence. They reek of confidence. And I'm the other kid in the lesson. It really struck me when PD said to me - after I flubbed a line and then came back around to do it just about perfectly - "the only difference between that good ride and last time's mess, was your confidence." Huh. Same technical skills, same take-off spot - totally different ride. In one I surrendered. In the other I fought with effective aggression. Determination. Commitment. Relentless. Willpower. Purpose. Grit. Go Big or Go Home. That's what Olympians are made of.

Okay, fair enough, the Olympics aren't on my short-term goal list. They're not even on my long-term goal list. But each and every one of us wants to succeed - whether success is the tadpole jumper class or Rolex Kentucky! And we all have the same freakin' mental battles to fight in high pressure situations - and don't tell me that tadpole class isn't high pressure! Have you seen people's faces going into the ring? That's no fun and games.

I watched the 2011 Rolex highlights DVD again last weekend - and there's Jimmy saying it over and over again. The difference between the riders that survive that course and those who don't is their determined focus. They all have the skill to be 4* riders. But its the ones with relentless focus on the ball (or next fence), despite all sorts of craziness (stumbles, over jumps, splashing water, lost reins...) those are the ones who get it done. The rest are stunned and surprised when it falls apart in an instant (don't I know that feeling). Gee, I just heard a repeat of my last talk with PD about upping my game to the next level. I have the skill, feeling, and awareness - and bursts of confidence when I ride damn good. But bursts are only bursts. Consistency is key.

I have to get my "GRRR" face on. When I rode with Mike Huber as a young rider, we used to make good fun of his GRRR face - teeth barred and evil eyes - over every fence... from the biggest World Championship fences to a 12" cross rail, Mike brought his GRRR face to every fence. This is what I need. A GRRR face so intense it scares show jumps into submission and makes trakehners shake in their boots (strike that - shake in their ditch!).

Mike Huber's GRRR face - over a novice fence at the 2010 AECs
(photo from the 9/11/10 USEA Blog, photos by Emily Daily and Leslie Threlkeld).

Interestingly, just recently my office work has taken a venture into looking at some cutting-edge human performance research - including sports psychology. Why do some of the best athletes "choke" under pressure? Why do others nail the most important game in their lives? What can we do to make sure we perform our best when it really counts? Performance is only partially about the trained skill. It's also a whole lot about what's going on (or not going on) in your head. And I have way too much in my head.

I'm sure I'll be writing much more about this in the coming months - I am ridiculously analytical and I'm only just beginning to sort through the research and my thoughts. But, I'll leave you with something to ponder from research out of the University of Hong Kong (Dr. Richard Masters and colleagues).

Think about your riding (you might even replace "movement" with "riding"), and rate the following questions with "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree":

  1. I rarely forget the times when my movements have failed me, however slight the failure.

  2. I'm always trying to figure out why my actions failed.

  3. I reflect about my movement a lot.

  4. I am always trying to think about my movements when I carry them out.

  5. I'm self-conscious about the way I look when I am moving.

  6. I sometimes have the feeling that I'm watching myself move.

  7. I'm aware of the way my mind and body works when I am carrying out a movement.

  8. I'm concerned about my style of moving.

  9. If I see my reflection in a shop window, I will examine my movements [okay, this is a bit unfair to those lucky enough to be riding this winter in an indoor with mirrors!]

  10. I am concerned about what people think about me when I am moving.

If (like me) you strongly agree with most of these questions - you are more likely to be the athlete who will "choke under pressure" rather than be the "go-to player" in high-stakes games. Research shows that, in sports (an athlete with well-trained or developed skills - not beginners), excessive performance self-monitoring is one cause of severely disrupted movements (performance failure). Ah, I hear Jimmy saying, "Cherie, stop critiquing your ride in the middle of it!" Stop considering and start committing. Why is it the harder I try to monitor every little thing to perfection - the worse I get? Psychologists are calling it "Paralysis by Analysis". And I'll call the antedote - "Get your GRRR face on!"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Festivus!

To all our friends and family spread around the world who are celebrating so many things this holiday season - Katchi and I wish you all a "Happy Festivus" (for those who are Seinfeld fans, this should make you smile - to all the rest, we'll just say instead, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas too!).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Katchi & the Colored Poles

It's been a while since I've given a Katchi update, so this post is all about himi! His big news today is that he's been on vacation for 24 hours and hasn't hurt himself yet!

Katchi took a few days off after Kentucky in October, and has been back in work since then. While I've dropped gallops off his schedule, we've been doing quite a few trot set days on the hills trying to keep on a solid fitness base before the ground goes all horrid. But, why does that matter when I have months before the first event of 2012?? Because I only have 1 1/2 months!!! Katchi and I are headed to Aiken for 17 days in February!! Honestly, I never ever thought I'd be able to swing that. But, my work agreed to let me work part days from there, and my mom is flying out from California to go with me, and the new truck is just begging for a road trip, so I couldn't resist!

So, our early winter training has been far from a let-up. In fact, it's been pretty intense, and I think we're both ready for our 2 week vacation. Sometimes the stars align and opportunities you could hardly dream of come along, and when you have a dream and a passion, you have to do everything you can to jump on those opportunities. For the past 5 weeks, I've made the 2 hour drive (each way) up to Phillip Dutton's place for a weekend private (or semi-private) lesson (typically scheduled just before his daughter Olivia gets a PD lesson on her pony!). The first lesson - which consisted of about 45 minutes of cantering "properly" over 12"-18" jumps, with about 1.5 minutes of a walk break - left me in pain for 3 days. Can you imagine the look of shock (horror?) when I (why??) admitted this to perhaps the fittest man in eventing? One day, I'll learn to keep my mouth shut. Smile and fake it, right?

Katchi at his weekend home - True Prospect Farm. Notice the NEW truck in the background?!

So, what have I learned from PD the past few weeks? A lot. Number one is to keep Katchi in front of my leg. But not just in front of my leg - he has to have quick hind legs, sending his energy through his body, and stay malleable throughout. 2 big things we've been working on is for me to soften him between fences (especially straight lines when he tends to lock onto the next fence and check out) by pushing him forward into the bridle rather than trying to soften him with my hands (which, duh, of course, makes him argumentative and drop behind my leg). I think I've only been really successful with it a few times, but wow what a feeling. From there it's amazingly easy to either compress for more strides or lengthen for longer strides - with upward balance and snappy hind legs. The second thing we've been working on is to turn (and when I say turn, these are PD 90-degree in 1.5-2 strides turns) by compressing Katchi back onto his haunches and pushing him around the turn with my inside leg to outside rein (rather than letting him drop his inside should and drag me around the turn, which buries us at the base of the fence).

As hard as these lessons have been, I keep reminding myself that the point of suffering through all this really hard stuff and insisting on absolute perfection is so that the tests in the show ring don't seem nearly so hard any more! And the reality is, it is getting easier. My body knows that, but my mind is still trying to catch on. The "unacceptable" jumps would have been considered "acceptable" just a few months ago. Even when we get there "off", it works out okay if I stay determined. But as we get more proficient, PD raises his expectations. We are not yet satisfied. My skill and Katchi's understanding have developed tons in the past few weeks - and the more those 2 come together, the better prepared mentally I will be to tackle the challenges of 2012. As Jimmy says, "the best defense against nerves is preparation."

This past Sunday, Phillip hosted a mini-clinic. I went up for it, but as most of the riders were lower level, Phillip had me ride in a semi-private lesson with a woman who I've ridden with a few times before in regular lessons. As I've been making all these trips by myself, I don't have any videos of our work, but with the mini-clinic day, I was able to capture video of some other riders working through the various exercises. I'm really sorry I didn't catch any of their names! Katchi and I worked through the same (and more) lines in the video below, with higher fences and higher expectations for a forward, active, malleable pony. The expectations of the lower group was pretty much to stay in canter and find a way to make the turns - which was hard enough!

In the video, you saw the sharp serpentine line with the vertical, oxer (with liverpool), and skinny - we also jumped it as a straight line both directions - I tried to take a picture to show the severity of the angles, but the lighting makes it hard to see. But maybe just seeing the angle at the skinny gives enough of the story.

So, for now, it's 2 weeks off to sleep (making progress), clean my house (done), wash saddle pads and polo wraps (done), organize and sort my life (hum...), and reinvigorate for 2012 (I'm almost very nearly excited, but back to that sleep thing...).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Wofford Gymnastics Clinic


Jimmy Returns for Leap Year Wednesday! Just what we all need to dust off the snow before the spring season starts - bounces, and bounces, and bounces, and a few "low-wide's" too! GYMNASTICS WITH JIM WOFFORD - you can't go wrong!!

Jim is having ankle surgery this month, so he will be out for a few weeks and FRESH when he comes back to us. As he just posted on his own site, "When I do start again, you can expect a superfluity of cavaletti and gymnastics, and an unrelenting emphasis on correct fundamentals. I am firmly convinced that the events we win later in the season have their existence because of the work we will do in Janurary and early Feburary." I predict this will be a VERY GOOD CLINIC with a VERY INSPIRED WOFFORD.

Mark your calendars:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

JIM WOFFORD gymnastics clinic at Baywood Farms in Harwood, MD.

To see what this clinic was like last year - check out my blog entry, White Winter Wofford Wednesday.

Contact me with questions and to save your spot - the clinic is already filling fast!

All information, entry forms, and releases are posted on my webpage calendar.

Auditors welcome ($20 fee, pay at the door).

Directions to Baywood Farms at http://www.baywoodfarms.com/

For more information about Jim and his calendar of other clinics: http://jimwofford.blogspot.com/

Lets hope for a warm and sunny clinic day! See you there!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

War Horse

By now, I'm pretty sure every horse person in America has heard about the Steven Spielberg movie, War Horse, coming out later this month. On Thursday, I was able to go to an advance screening. I cried. A lot. It was awesome. Go see it.

So, while I'm tremendously grateful for the free advance screening passes - I must say that whoever came up with the brilliant idea to invite a bunch of horse people into a downtown Washington DC movie theatre - not brilliant. There is no way I can possibly put into words the experience. Gave my spare ticket to a horse friend, also coming from city job, so we were clean and presentable. We chatted with some great ladies waiting in line. We took our seats. All good. Until the seat next to me was selected by a woman who proceeded to spray me down with "herbal germicide." Now you think I'm kidding, and I thought she was kidding, until she sprayed me down for the 3rd time. I realized this was no joke. She assured me it was "legal" - according to the ATF or the theatre, I'm not sure which. I struggled to remember my work's policy on random drug testing!! Shit. Funny how she felt compelled to spray me down - over and over again - but not her nasty straight-from-the-barn Ariat paddock boots. Horse people.

Now, I already covered that the movie was pretty fantastic. I seriously started crying within the first 5 minutes. You know, the first time the horse and boy met. I'm that easy. As horse movies go, it was wonderful to enjoy a film and not spend the entire time critiquing it over this that and the other thing a horse would NEVER do. But, I have 3 little things that only crazy horse people would notice. Let me see if I can poison you enough to make you a little crazy watching the movie!
1. Wow, what a clean shaven nose you have... always... even after years of war! (Sort of like Lawrence of Arabia with his perfect hair during his entire trek across the desert!)
2. The ventriloquist nose blower. That amazing Hollywood horse could blow his nose without even a flutter of a nostril! Good trick! I definitely need to teach that one to Katchi!
3. Another fun audio trick mis-matched the sound of the hoof-steps to the movement of the horse. As I think about it, I can imagine this would be pretty hard for Hollywood audio folks to do, but it sure stuck out to me! Luckily, I think it only happened a few times, so I didn't have to freak out and run out of the theatre screaming or anything!

On principle, I really hate when people over-relate their own lives to movies. But, I have to say that War Horse, aside from being a great story and tremendous movie, renewed my love for the heart of eventing. While we've all heard how eventing has its roots in the military cavalry - to test the precision, training, and bravery of a cavalry officer and his mount. I guess I've imagined I knew, but never really knew the full spectrum of what that meant. Watching the detail of the war horses attack, I have a new appreciation for eventing and our amazing event horses and riders...
Down into a trench, across, and back up the other side (can you say Sunken Road?)
Over a berm, leap over a narrow trench, out over another berm (can you say Coffin?)
Over a tent, and another and another (bounce, one stride, bounce...)
Huge leaps, quick turns, skinnies... all while galloping at top speed under perfect control.
Sound familiar?
The bravery, honestly, and trust those horses demonstrated is unlike anything I can ever express in words. Yea, I cried in the war scenes too - watching these horses, these flight animals, carry their riders into war... wow. It was amazing. And while it breaks my heart to think of the suffering and loss of horses in so many wars, it makes me love and respect them that much more. I gave Katchi a few extra hugs Friday morning. And I thanked him for all that he does for me. And he said, "ah that's sweet, now where's my damn peppermint?" Some war horse.