Sunday, February 3, 2013

Words from the Captain

As I've been trying to recreate the amazing feel Mark Phillips helped me establish in Katchi, I wanted to be sure to share his two big themes in my lessons - for as simple as they were, they made a tremendous difference in the quality of Katchi's work.  This is what has always struck me about Mark's teaching of our high performance horses and riders - they may be 4 star horses, but their lessons unfailingly focus on the basic connection, feel, and quality.  When the foundation is solid, the upper level movements flow effortlessly. When the foundation isn't there, it will always be a fight.  I also really appreciate Mark's teaching style in that he explains his assessment of your major challenges, how he advises you to address them, and then leaves you to feel, act, and feel again with validation and reminders as needed.  He does not over-teach, but he is adamant in his expectations.  With Katchi, I had two major challenges to correct:

1) Katchi must be responsive to a whisper from my leg.  On an intensity scale of 1 to 10, I must be committed to ride Katchi off a whispering 1 leg aid.  And any time Katchi doesn't jump to the whisper, he gets a 10 ... and he darn well better gallop off!  And then we go back to riding the whisper.  

2) The rules of life for Katchi are simple: he must move with energy flowing through his back to a light reaching even connection, without leaning on me for support (as Mark said, I am not allowed to be Katchi's walking stick!).  We spent a lot of time warming up in the walk, pushing Katchi's energy up through his back into an even connection (the evenness is definitely our biggest challenge).  It was a wonderful opportunity to feel the change I can make in the quality of his movement by using a light leg, receiving hand, and encouraging seat to move Katchi off the leg, bend his body, and engage his hind legs.  By the end of our second lesson, Katchi felt like he had the movement of a floating warmblood - it was fantastic!  I'm trying to remember that feel over and over and over in my head in hopes that I can replicate it without Mark's encouraging words of "THANK you" "su-per" "perfect" and "now you're riding" to let me know I'm on the right track!

I pulled a few video clips from our second lesson into the below video - my favorite part of the video comes at the end when Katchi got a little cuddle from Mark, and managed to sneak in a good nose-push to show Mark just how much he did not appreciate the level of work he was just made to do without a walking stick!! So much for good manners for the Captain.

This past week, Kerry also had outstanding lessons with both Mark Phillips and Jennie Brannigan.  The theme in all Kerry's lessons was the importance of keeping Atticus engaged without getting quick, long, and stiff.  While the theme wasn't news to us, it was fantastic to see 2 different expert instructors pinpoint solutions and give Kerry some new tools.  So often in the competition year, you get caught up getting from one event to the next without having much opportunity to take a step back and really reinvent your riding and your horse's way of going.  I think this trip to Aiken did just that for Kerry. Below is a clip from Kerry's lesson with Jennie on Thursday - she really nailed it here, and to quote Mark Phillips, "Super Riding!".

Katchi & his cats.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Aiken Adventure

Our Aiken adventure is keeping us busy running from lesson to lesson and watching out for the cats!  Katchi doesn't know it yet, but he's losing his best friend tomorrow as Kerry and Atticus head back to Maryland. Atticus, on the other hand, will probably be thrilled for the rest and relaxation of home!

The big thrill of the week was having the good fortune to train with Captain Mark Phillips!  Katchi and I were able to do two dressage lessons with him that were fantastic!  I've watched many of Mark's lessons with the high performance riders, and I had high hopes for what I might learn from him - I was not disappointed!  He has a tremendous eye for the subtlety of feel, and I was thrilled with the extravagant movement Mark was able to help me bring out in Katchi.  He even sat on Katchi a few minutes - what fun to watch!!!

After watching my lesson on Tuesday, Kerry scrambled and was able to sneak into a jumping lesson with Mark the following day - it was equally as impressive!  Again, his eye for the rider's feel proved tremendous and he made a few tiny changes with Kerry and Atticus that had a hugely positive effect.  It was so much fun to watch and learn!

Kerry & Atticus (far left) in lesson with Mark Phillips.

In between horse lessons, there has been no shortage of entertainment  at the cat farm...

Katchi enjoying ring-side seating of a good old fashioned cat fight!  

The breakfast line at the Aiken cat farm.