Friday, March 19, 2010

Beezie Madden vs The Rest of Us

Goal No. 7 from Denny Emerson: "Strive to look and ride like Beezie Madden over fences! OK, just a joke. But it’s not entirely a joke because correct technique is learnable through practice. Find some photographs of jumping riders whose style you admire, cut them out and study them. Place photos of yourself next to these role model photos, and study the differences. Study the “physics” of jumping, the lines and angles."

I had the chance to meet Denny for the first time at last year's USEA Convention. What a riot! And what a horseman! I sure hope I have the chance to ride with him sometime in my life, even just once - I know he won't disappoint! So, what Denny says - I'll do! I won't subject pictures of my students or friends to this little game (but I sure hope you guys join in!), but Denny's Goal No. 8 is "Expand the emotional trait of courage." So...

Photo #1: ME!

One thing I'm really proud of over the last few years is my lower leg. I always felt like I struggled with it as a young rider, and I'm really pleased with my strength recently. It's clear in this picture that my stirrups are too long - a consequence of not having enough room in the knee of the saddle to shorten them. Am anxious to start getting competition pictures in the new saddle! I'm also a rein creeper - I think they could easily be 5 inches longer, which I know Katchi would appreciate.

Photo #2: Obviously, Beezie

Wow! Denny's right. She looks great. She's making the fence look like it's the easiest thing in the world - and it must be nearly 6 feet tall!

Photo #3: Me, again.

I chose to post this picture, because it shows exactly where I ain't Beezie (reins and stirrup length aside)- it's really in the butt! In fairness to me, if Katchi would just tuck his knees up, his body jumped a 5 foot fence! I sorta wanted to jump the 3 foot fence. But Beezie didn't get swallowed by her saddle over the 5 foot fence. This is how Katchi jumps. And we're a team, so I've got to figure out how to stay with him.

Photo #4: Beezie, again.

Clearly, this is what Jim Wofford means when he says I need to stay up over my knees in the air. Her lower leg is perfect, her hands are soft, she's in perfect balance over the center of the horse, and her horse loves her for it! Denny's right - the angles and lines are fascinating. The physics of her jump is amazing. And "technique is learnable" - right?!

So, how do your pictures stack up against Beezie??

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Looking at the World through a Black Eye

I'm not really in love with the way the world looks through a black-eye. Maybe when I smacked my face into Katchi's neck it jolted me into some other world. I'm hoping the time change tonight will launch me back into my real reality.

The first part of today's blog has the subtitle, You Just Can't Make This Shit Up.

Starting yesterday, my eye and face started to make real progress in healing. I can just about smile and laugh without wanting to cry. And the dimple on my left cheek has almost returned. Of course, I'm also turning this lovely shade of sick yellow - I look like I was attacked by (among other things) a yellow blemish concealer stick. In the midst of this, I keep finding my way into the most unreal scenarios. On Thursday, my work sent me to a conference at the Georgetown University campus. I've never been on campus before, and their maps were less than stellar. As I was trying to find my way to my conference, I stumbled on some other conference-type looking people, so I ventured to ask if they could help with some directions. As I headed off, I noticed a large sign announcing their conference's topic: International Prevention of Violence Against Women. If it hadn't hurt so much the second I smiled, I probably would have burst out laughing. Seriously?! Really?!

And then tonight, I had to call 911. I saw a car being broken into. So, I did my civic duty and called the po-po on that thug! Then I had to be interviewed by the cops. The first thing out of my mouth was - I have a horse - as I pointed to my eye and tried to smile. Seriously?? Really?!

You just can't make this shit up.

The next subtitle is: In Case of Emergency...

Please exit through the emergency exits located at the sides and rear of the aircraft, er, I mean horse trailer.

When I bought my new horse trailer, I fell in love with the extra large escape doors. They are so huge, a stall guard fits perfectly across them. I love them because when they are open, they make the trailer so bright and inviting for tentative horses. I also love them, because in case of an emergency where the trailer's back door may be inaccessible, I could feasibly actually get the horses out through the side escape doors. I did not, however, count on my horse learning how to open his door! SHIT! For the last 4 trailer rides, here are the incident reports:

1. After about 2 hours driving back from Phillip Dutton's place, about 20 minutes from home, I come around a corner of an exit ramp and I see Katchi's door flapping. I quickly find someplace to pull over, and run back to the trailer. Katchi's eyes were HUGE! I said, "what did you do?!" and closed the door for an uneventful return home. I blamed myself. I must not have closed the door properly.
2. Next day. Drive out for clinic with Boyd Martin. Arrive and go to open Katchi's side door. It's locked!! What the heck!? I go in through another door and find horse slobber all over the door latch, and sure enough, it's locked. Ha ha. How funny - after deciding an open door wasn't so fun, he locked it this time!
3. Driving out for the Combined Test last Sunday. On Washington Beltway. Guy pulls up next to me, honks, and points to the trailer. Panic. Look back - that S.O.B. Katchi's door is open again! Luckily managed to safely pull over ON THE BELTWAY and Adrianne, who was riding with me, ran back to the trailer, closed and locked the door. Before we headed back home, we duct taped it - because duct tape fixes everything. No further incident.
4. Coming back from lesson with Silva today. Rain, rain, rain. Duct tape apparently got wet and came loose. Just coming off the VERY SCARY (especially in wind and rain) Bay Bridge. Look back - the freaking door is open again! Are you kidding!? KATCHI! Luckily a closed weigh station provide sanction to re-duct tape and lock the door. This is no good.

Thinking about it, honestly, I think that crazy horse of mine is doing this on purpose, because he knows it will make me come visit him!!! I honestly believe that. I feel like a mom yelling at the kids, "don't make me pull this car over!" - but they just keep on misbehavin'.

And the final subtitle is: New Saddles and Skills with Silva

Today was a Silva Martin day. In explaining my pretty face, I told Silva that "HE happened to me" (pointing to Katchi), and funny enough, she didn't ask to ride him again today!

This past week has been really frustrating with Katchi. He's lost a lot of weight in the past few weeks as we haven't sorted out the right type/volume of feed for him at his new home. He's a horse who changes dramatically in his back and shoulders when he loses weight. And his dressage saddle just isn't fitting at all. This past week, I've been having a really hard time getting him to relax his back, neck and jaw. Of course, there are so many variables - lack of turn-out, different dressage work frame, saddle, my anger for my busted face, new feed..... I'm working to address all of these issues, but, regardless of anything else, it's clear that my saddle just doesn't fit him. I've had that saddle since I was about 16 - yep, that's over 15 years! And I love that saddle. Can I even ride dressage in another saddle? I mean, I KNOW that saddle and it KNOWS me! It's like home to me. Okay, yea, I'm being dramatic. And, I know when I get in a new and improved model, I won't look back for a second. Is there such a thing as a saddle slut? I guess having one saddle for over 15 years makes me pretty loyal, and I certainly got my money's worth. Would it be weird to have a bake sale at my barn to pay for my new saddle?!

I learned quite a bit from Silva today, and practically speaking it was a very useful lesson. But, I was frustrated. I felt like we couldn't do the things we really should have been doing, because Katchi just didn't feel good - pain, starving, I don't know. But, nonetheless, I have several new tools in my toolkit which should really help me in my competition warm-up, because, regardless of the reason, he felt quite a bit like he does to me at shows. So, I will write this down so I can look back at it before the shows and hopefully remember the lessons of today!
- Resist being suckered into thinking that Katchi has to unlock before he goes forward. If anything, send him forward first.
- Forget about the locked jaw. I can't fix it in my hands. Instead, stretch and coil him in trot and canter. Bigger and smaller strides, neck down a few inches then back up - then play with the bend. Rather than getting stuck being tense against each other, softly and slowly move in all directions together until the tension lessens.
- Leg yield from center line to quarter line, catch him with the outside, then into medium trot. (What a great exercise & especially with a full wall of mirrors facing us!)

Also today, my friend and student, Debi, took her first lesson with Silva. I help Debi with her jumping, and, when it goes well, she gets a cheshire cat grin across her face! She had that grin when she finished her lesson today, and I hope it lasts her days and days! She deserves it!

Okay - I think that covers it. My videos from today are ready for viewing, and I've got saddles to look at on the internet. I really do have my own personal furry money pit, don't I?

P.S. - Courtney King Dye's accident is being felt even way up here in Maryland - Silva borrowed my helmet today when she hopped on another horse.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Shiner & A Blue Ribbon

Katchi gave me two things this weekend: A black eye on Saturday; A blue ribbon on Sunday. I prefer the blue ribbon.

The black eye came with a fat face too. From the moment I saw Katchi in his stall on Saturday, I could tell that he had his jerk-face on. He really had it on while he was in the cross-ties being tacked up. Smartly, I thought better of my original riding plan, and went to get my longe line. To my surprise, he was pretty good. So, I hopped up - onto a ticking bomb! I walked around a few minutes, and decided to put him back on the longe. He went bananas. The barn owner came out, and we had a discussion about Katchi's feed while he was doing his race horse impression on a 20 meter longe circle. Katchi has lost a lot of weight in the past couple of weeks, after his move to his new barn and new grain, so we're trying to sort out some options. After two days of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, I suggested we should keep looking for the right feed balance. Katchi settled a bit, so I got back on to at least ride once through my dressage test for Sunday's show. After a bit of work, he felt pretty good, and reasonably relaxed - so I started my test pattern (Training Test A). I finished the first circle, and was pushing for Silva's big trot, getting ready for the diagonal lengthening. The next thing I new, my face was full of black horse mane and it hurt. He had spooked and stopped dead - putting some serious holes into the arena footing! Maybe because of all of my work for Silva on my core strength - I wasn't unseated at all. Just slammed right into his neck. Or, perhaps, if I had more core strength I could have sat the 60-to-0 in .1 seconds braking power. Or maybe not. Determined to ride through my test, I re-grouped (which included vocalizing several bad words and sufficiently checking my face for signs of blood) and started the test again. When I got back into the barn and checked out my face - wow. It was already fat. Very fat. So glad that I keep a healthy supply of ice packs in my trailer!

So - then it was Sunday, and Katchi and I were entered in a Combined Test today. I wasn't entirely sure if I should jump, but I figured I'd at least get through that stupid dressage test for a pre-recognized event status check. Overnight, my eye went black. My face had gotten fatter. This wasn't exactly what I had in mind for our first show of the season. After a bit of painful posting trot in the warm-up, I felt pretty okay. We put in a decent dressage test - not up to Silva's standard, but it was okay. Here's what I learned about the new Training Test A -
1. I LOVE that you get to walk right after the stretching trot circle instead of canter.
2. Katchi is not ready to lengthen in the canter to the right.
3. The 15m right canter circle is still tough for us - have got to figure out how to get his outside to come around to the right.
4. All my work on changing lead across the diagonal is paying off because that movement flowed like butter!
5. The hardest move in the entire test for us is the next to last - down from the canter at K and immediately turn up the center line - wow. It came up so fast and we were no-where near the center line until probably 1/2 way to X. Somewhat reminiscent of a drunk driver I suspect.

Show jumping went pretty okay - I was most proud that Katchi jumped through both in-out combinations perfectly. Since I started eventing him at the end of 2008, almost every one-stride... we get two. And every two-stride, we get three. It sucks. But today he was spot on! Not everything was pretty, but there was more good than bad. And, thanks to my former student and good friend, Amanda, who was in town visiting from Tennessee - I have a "game tape" of today to spend the next week over-analyzing and tormenting myself with!

Afterwards, Katchi and I joined up with a couple of my students and friends who came out to enjoy the beautiful day. We went for a little trail ride and found both the water jump and ditch free of snow! As our first HT date is creeping closer and closer, I am so relieved to have gotten our feet wet and hopped over a horse death-trap (aka ditch). And it was such great fun to hang out with such fun people and horses IN THE SUN!

And at the end of it all - I got to adorn my shiner with a blue ribbon! Really glad Katchi redeemed himself at least a little. Okay, time for more ice for the face. Sorry, no pictures of the black eye and fat face - some things are private, ya know!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

30 Days till CDCTA; 48 Days till Rolex

Despite the lingering snow mounds, spring is in the air! Katchi is 30 days away from his first Horse Trial of the season - CDCTA. I've never been there, so I'm really looking forward to checking out a new place. One of my goals for this year is to get to as many new courses as possible. It's tempting to keep hitting the same venues over and over again - I know the terrain, the portable fences are like old friends in new spots, and even Katchi says "oh yes, it's this place again." Sticking with the familiar has its purpose - but this year, I want Katchi to see everything (at Training level!). I think that will make the move up to Prelim much easier. But, for the time being - I'm focused on 30 days left! With a day off a week, that's about 25 practice rides left. 25 chances to get everything sorted out. Only 25 rides left and there's still snow on the ground!

Meanwhile, it's 48 days till Rolex! And they've started posting entries (okay, well 6 entries doesn't exactly give us a lot to talk about, but somehow, I'm sure there will be more to come soon). They've also posted a video to get everyone excited! I'm pretty sure this was the opener to NBC's coverage last year. But, it's worth the 2 minutes to watch, if you need a little motivation (check out Phillip riding in his blue saddle!).

And, finally, as I'm trying to focus my own training, it's been hard this week with what feels like an endless stream of terrible news for some top riders. We all know that bad things can happen while sitting on a horse, but we wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world. Here are a few links to keep updated on the status of our injured heroes.

Robert Dover is reporting on the beautiful Dressage rider, Courtney King-Dye, who is currently in a coma, after falling from a horse:

Dressage News is also carrying information on Courtney:

In the eventing world, there were a number of falls at Pine Top on Sunday.
Karen O'Connor and Rebecca Lee suffered concussions, but both sound to be fine.

Sinead Halpin is posting information on Rebecca Howard, who despite multiple broken ribs, both clavicles fractured in several places, and a mild punctured lung, seems to be making great progress in her recovery.

Not much is being said about Jan Bynny, who suffered a head injury, but Eventing Nation has posted information as released by the family:

I'm so appreciative of the folks taking the time to keep the eventing and dressage fans updated on the status of our injured riders. Fingers and hooves crossed for speedy and full recoveries for all.

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!