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...).