Monday, November 21, 2016

11/15 Day 1: To Hell With Second Level

Penn and I went on a grand adventure down to VA to take 3 lessons with a GP rider with all the things I'm looking for in a new/additional coach (GP rider, multiple horses to GP, FEI students, a very successful record of bringing young horses to the FEI levels). I don't want to name names since I never asked if I could put her name on here, so I am going to call her GP Trainer. I made our lesson plans almost a month ago, got my vacation time approved at work, and then waited excitedly for the time to come to make the drive!

Mom went with me (as usual for non-weekend things), and after a five hour drive, we arrived at GP Trainer's gorgeous farm. Everything is very thoughtfully laid out and well organized, and there are very nice amenities. I love it. Mom and I spent more than our fair share of time oogling the barn and property. It is also super expensive to board there- training board only.

I arrived much later than I wanted to (poor planning and poor time addition. Seriously, I promise I was a math major), but her Barn Manager helped me unload and settled us in, just in time for me to head to the rather grand indoor for our first lesson.

The grand indoor. With very fancy, expensive, soft, no dust footing.
Seriously, there's a sign that says if your horse pees in there, there's a $50 fine.
Mom was my photographer... So things are a little crooked!

We went over a couple basics about Penn and I, and she asked me to move around so she could have a look at us. I warned her that Penn recently had an SI problem, but seemed ok now.

One of her first comments was about how useless Penn's current trot "frame" was. There wasn't a lot going for it (thanks time off for really not helping). She said it's fine for training/first level, but that is not our end goal. She stressed riding him like he was an FEI horse, so that when (and if of course) he got there, it wouldn't be a shock to his system.

GP Trainer: So you're working towards second level... to show when?
Me: We were supposed to ride it in a couple weeks, but I couldn't get into the show. So sometime next year.
GP Trainer: You have your second level scores?
Me: Yupp.
GP Trainer: Let me tell you about my philosophy of Second level... Second level is where hopes and dreams go to die. I think one of the hardest jumps is from First to Second. To be truly good at Second level, you are usually ready for Third. You've been to Second already, skip straight to Third.
Me: I did want to try and get a Dover medal...
GP Trainer: We'll get some tin foil and make you one.
Me: I wanted to finish my Second Level Rider Award?
GP Trainer: Just one more ride then, make it count.

It made me laugh. We went on to talk about flying changes vs counter canter, and in her experience, the horse has to have some idea of flying changes prior to Second level work. If you're going to ride 2-3 and really make the counter canter strong and perfect for it, the horse better have a good idea of flying changes first, otherwise you're in for a world of hurt when you try to train them for Third. She was not surprised at the difficulty we had teaching Mikey- almost 10 years of vacillating between disciplines and not insisting on them, then we blew his mind asking him to do them after strengthening his counter canter. That made me feel a bit better about basically completely failing at teaching Mikey changes (and good about my decision to teach Penn changes now and having them be on my terms from the start).

So that basically set the theme for the week- an end goal of Third for the spring, not Second (I will be riding a couple Second level tests, I'm not making an entire level skip!).

The first step in making that happen: Penn needs a more uphill balance with more sit. He's not badly put together, but he is built a hair downhill and we're fighting that for the most part. First thing in doing that? I need to sit up. A lot. And tuck my butt under me. As soon as I did that, he was immediately freer in his shoulder at the trot... and of course I lost some of my roundness and connection because it's hard and he's weak in his lower back.

She had me show her the canter, which was a complete hot mess disaster. She immediately got after me to sit up, tuck my butt under me, and lift my feet ever so slightly off the irons because I tend to pinch my knee which lets me hover above him. Then something curious: don't worry about the connection right now in the canter. His answer to connection is falling on the forehand. We need to teach him to sit down and carry himself. He doesn't have to be connected, but he should always feel like if I were to focus on it, he would be there. If that's not the case, abandon the exercise and focus on connection for a little while and then come back to the exercise. (so we're not throwing it away entirely and teaching him bad things)

She made an excellent comparison for me, which is better to build strength: a single 100lb dead lift, or 100 reps with a 5lb weight? Obviously the reps are what builds strength, and you get more in with the 5lb weight. Apply the same to half halts: do more tiny half halts than the huge ones I was trying to do.

Then she had another good visualization for me, because I continued to struggle to sit up and under myself: Pretend every stride is like jumping down the head of the lake. Bam, instant sit up and under!

(Notice a trend? She's a master at visualizations for the rider.)

The next exercise she had me do was in canter: ride a 20m circle (or that general idea in her arena that was much bigger than 20m wide), and at each point on the circle (North, South, East, West), ride a 10m circle. And sit up. And don't hold him up. And don't catch him or save him- let him make a bunch of small mistakes and fall all over himself. Teach him to sit in this exercise. Patience. Endless patience. If he breaks, no worries, just reset him back to canter and go again.

And slowly the canter got steadier and less hot mess, and as long as I held myself up, he held himself up. She got after me to not fall forward into his collapse- keep sitting up and encouraging the sit. For as much as she told me not to help him, he did a very good job holding himself up with much less breaking than I thought he would have.

She also gave me a quick tip about timing the aid for walk-canter (and maybe everyone else already knows this, but it really worked for me): put my outside leg in position, and cue for canter as the inside front leg steps forward. It was the "step ahead" focus I needed, because I was always late when I focused on the hind legs.

Here's some video that Mom got in our canter work (and managed to hook together clips into a single file on my phone?!)



I asked about bend at the end of our lesson, since we seemed to ignore it and it's something I've struggled with so far. GP Trainer basically said that judges will pick at bend at these lower levels, but not to worry about it just yet- we have other issues, but we can look at shoulder in and half pass the next day (spoiler, guess what failed us? bend!)

After lesson, I took Penn out to hand graze while he dried, and got a couple more pics of the farm.

Grazing after a long day- trailer ride and lesson!
Hay barn and the exerciser/hot walker type thing.
Outdoor ring with fluffy footing too.

As it got dark, I put Penn in his stall and  of course snapped a pic or two.

Stall front. These are huge stalls - 12x14.
Begin Penn's fascination with the window. He was in love.
Mom and I were both really liked GP Trainer. She seems to not sweat the small things, focuses on the big picture/end goal, and has endless patience for the horse to learn and get stronger. Day 1 was a bit of a shock as Penn and I got a feel for the barn, for GP Trainer, and then for the work she was having us do. Next Post, day 2!

24 comments:

  1. Although I'm not anywhere near this level (and probably won't be for 264627 years) I really love reading your lesson recaps, and this one was especially awesome. Can't wait to read about your next lesson!

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    1. You'll get there! Just gotta file all the info away for later :)

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  2. Ahhh this is SO exciting, I love the visuals you shared, too!

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    1. I was (and still am) super excited about it all too! She had such great visuals.

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  3. I got way too excited to see this recep! I'm glad things went well and can't wait to hear more. :)

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    1. Haha, I was jumping up and down before we got there so... overexcitement is ok!

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  4. i love a trainer who can break things down visually like that - such an important skill for imparting that kind of knowledge!!

    also that circle exercise looks intense AF. but the moments where Penn gets it look phenomenal! can't wait to read about the rest of the lessons!

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    1. I'm fairly sure I've heard all these things before... yet the way she had me visualize, they actually stuck like glue. That exercise is very intense, but as we did it, it didn't feel overly intense because it wasn't mentally taxing.

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  5. Man that looks hard!! Sounds really productive though! Cant wait to hear more...that facility is gorgeous.

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    1. It was difficult, but doable. Lesson was very productive! I got a bunch of pictures of the farm, but none of them do it justice!

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  6. Man I'm super jealous! You guys look wonderful :)

    And I'm going to have to nitpick at her lifting weights comparison. Low level weights with many reps are good for toning, not building muscle. High weight with small number of reps (think 5 x 5s) are much better for building muscle.

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    1. The idea is that reps build muscle instead of maxing out in one go. Keeping the rep weight low enough that you have the energy to continue effective work. If you're not working, you're not dowing anything helpful.

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  7. This is a very exciting update! Good on you for seeking additional help out! I like the sounds of this trainer and I'm looking forward to reading the rest

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    1. Thanks! I've known it was time to seek out additional help, it just took some time to arrange. I like her too!

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  8. Oh man, you guys look fantastic! What a super lesson... I WANNA RIDE WITH HER!!!!

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    1. Come visit, or go to WEF! She'll be there ;-P

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  9. Excitement!! I can't wait to read about the next lesson!

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    1. I'm still working on writing it, it should be out soon!

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  10. Oh man I have a massive girl crush on her. So glad she sounds as awesome in person as I've always hoped.

    Btw YAY YOU for setting big goals and aiming at third. That is super cool.

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    1. Definitely just as awesome in person. She's got an excellent team at her barn and it's all very welcoming.
      I was aiming for third by the end of next year... so this is moving up the time line a bit!

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  11. Love this! You and Penn look great, and that arena is amazing.

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    1. Thanks! I wanted to steal the arena. Maybe I can just steal footing one scoop at a time?

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  12. This sounds like such a great lesson! I really enjoyed reading your lesson recap :)

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