Wednesday, March 23, 2016

3-21-2016 Stephen Birchall Clinic

Stephen Birchall came to DT's barn Sunday and Monday this week for a clinic. I've heard great things about him from Austen (here, here, and here) and Emma, so I jumped at the chance to ride with him.

Standing so quietly!

We did our little intro schpeel: Penn was just broke to ride last year and I got him last August. I've been showing him all winter and we're scoring in the mid 60's at Training Level and I'd like to move him up to First in April. I have issues with him bouncing off the contact and bending left.

The first thing Stephen did was commend me for dressing neatly and nicely for lesson. I think George Morris would be proud, if he was a dressage rider.

Stephen had me trot for like a circle, then stopped me and asked me to put up my stirrups one hole on each side. He wanted my leg to have a bit more contact with Penn's side to make it easier to bend him, and he wanted my heel down and didn't like how much I was reaching for the iron. I didn't notice much difference in leg length (they're still long!) but I did have a much easier time getting my leg on at the right time.

One of the things he had to continually remind me of was to keep my thumbs up (sorry!!! bad habits) and he took away my whip (not that I use it often, but I always carry it because I'll need it the one time I don't!). It was easier to keep my thumbs up without it, so maybe I'll ride without it for a while.

Warming up, we did a lot of walk/trot transitions on a figure 8. He said he thought Penn's bend left issue would be a lot worse from how I described it, because he didn't see a whole lot of issues. Some yes, but not horrible. He had me squeeze and release my inside rein as a reminder to go with my inside leg to outside rein. Not a take and release, but a squeeze the hand and release. Something clicked in Penn's brain and he was like, "Ohhhh, you mean supple and bend? Sure!" He had me pay extra attention to the pace of the walk and trot- Penn was in turbo mode on Monday since he was at a different barn and I think that was partially why Stephen took away my whip. In posting trot, he had me even out my posting and make it steadier, which translated well for Penn. All of these things will translate so well when I take him back to my winter dressage series- I have some good ammo for Penn's turbo mode and counterbend tendencies.

He had us do some shoulder in at trot and was very pleased. He made me watch in the mirrors for my angle and reminded me that the three track isn't much angle. It was really neat to be able to watch in the mirrors! Maybe we can talk BO into getting some at home!

We moved on to canter, and he had me do the same suppling motion from the trot- squeeze and release the inside rein, and reminded me that if I take the inside rein, I need to give the outside (something that Trainer and DT reminded me of too!). He had me stick to a circle then go straight ahead in shoulder fore. Why hadn't that ever occurred to me? I did it all the time with Mikey. He suggested shoulder fore to combat Penn's tendency to hit the straight line and splat down the longside. As soon as I got a smidge of angle, Penn had A TON of hop in the canter. And it was easy to get it to happen once Penn realized what I was asking.

After looking at the canter, he wanted to have a look at the leg yields. This is the first time ever that I didn't do one in walk first- we skipped straight to trot. He had me shoulder in down the long wall, turn up centerline and leg yield to the wall (in whichever direction would let us keep tracking the same way). The leg yields to the right were perfect. He praised me for waiting for Penn to sort himself out on centerline and then asking for the leg yield (thank you DT for making me do that!). The ones to the left were also good, but they don't have the same fluid motion that the right does. He does weird tripping/front foot dragging in them. Maybe because he was spooking at the people sitting in that corner? Who knows.

He had me do a couple thinking medium trots on the diagonal. From Mikey, I have a tendency to keep pushing down the diagonal or else it all fizzles out. After the first one that I pushed Penn through, he would chime in with plenty/support/maintain after the first few steps and then have me make the gait bigger on the next diagonal.

We finished with Penn learning to walk-canter-walk. I told him that I hadn't taught them to Penn yet, and that I sucked at the canter-walk ones to begin with. He said to make sure I don't collapse my shoulders or lose the straightness of the horse in them. Which, durrrr, that makes total sense. I totally don't remember how I taught Mikey to walk-canter. I feel like I just kicked harder? Not the best way to teach Penn. He had me prep by my putting my outside leg on to let Penn know something was going to happen. Penn promptly shifted his hindquarters in (Stephen loved Penn's response even though it's not what we were looking for, he just loved how responsive Penn is to the leg). He also had me collect the walk A LOT. Something else that has dropped out of my head.

The first transition was a little inverted (totally A-OK with that though), but I had the right lead canter after a step or two of trot. Coming back to walk wasn't the greatest. Cued again for canter and Penn lifted up and right into canter! Wahoo! That was definitely our most successful one. The rest were a step or two of trot into the canter. The downwards ended up being the problem. We tried a smaller and smaller circle into the walk, so he had me leg yield out and pick up the canter on the leg yield, canter a circle, then go straight down the long wall. At B he had me do a 10m circle as best I could, and in the step before getting back to the wall, ask for walk NOW. Penn dropped right into walk! He said to work on the downward transition using the wall to back Penn off since horses don't usually want to run into the wall.

Overall Stephen said:
  • He loved Penn. He's a more thoroughbred type that is slightly croup high (I did measure him with a stick last week, it's true by about a half inch... sad face), so I'll have to work extra hard to get him to engage his hind end and bend his hocks and stifles to combat that. He loved that Penn tried so hard and responded to very light cues and worked so well off the leg. He asked if I hauled in and remarked what a great brain Penn has considering he's green and in a strange barn on a very windy day. I said he's been that way since I got him- at home or away, inside or outside, in the ring or on the trails, that I essentially have the exact same horse in all of those places, and that I lucked out when I got him. "Damn girl, he has good feet too! You did get lucky!" might have been uttered :-) Haha!
  • Since Penn is a thoroughbred type, he warned me to keep up with Penn's nutrition and feed program and don't be afraid to throw food at him. He's in good weight now, but as the work gets harder to keep an eye on it. Stephen's thoroughbred types eat a ton to build the muscle for dressage work. I told him no worries, I had an OTTB before Penn that we threw food at like no tomorrow and he was still on the thinner side- he worked it all off for his 3rd level work.
  • Penn is very capable of doing second level work right now, but I need to focus on building his strength for it. Every week, build a little bit more.
  • He complimented me on having a great seat and position and how I sit so quietly on Penn- thank you Mikey! With a horse as sensitive to cues as Penn, I have to ride very quietly. He reminded me about my thumbs and to do a bit more sitting up through my shoulders to keep encouraging sit and lift from Penn.

I put together a video that is made up of 5 video clips from my lesson. Mom was my videographer using my phone, and I told her she didn't have unlimited space, so some of the better movements were missed. And at one point she managed to bring up my cat pictures and turn my phone off... At a break she asked me what she did, and Stephen had a good laugh about my cat pictures, haha. The clips hit the following points (in order):
  • Shoulder in left
  • Shoulder in right
  • Suppling the right lead canter and shoulder fore in canter
  • Lengthening trots
  • Walk-Canter-Walk transitions (the canter-walk in this video is probably the best one I've ever done).

I had a really good time riding with Stephen. He is fun and hilarious! DT is planning on having him out frequently. I asked her to let me know when he's coming back because I'd like to ride at least once, if not twice.

Penn looked like a little kid all dressed to play in the snow in his shipping boots, hood and blanket, and head bumper, haha. My mom had me take a couple pics of him and send them to her... and I think the one with his tongue out is going to end up on the fridge... hahaha!
Derp face and oh so adorable face.

I rode outside last night, sans whip, paying attention to my thumbs and working the squeeze inside rein when I lost Penn's attention. I put him on the 3 loop serpentine and did a bunch of walk trot transitions. There's something about the thumbs up that really helps (go figure, proper equitation helps!). I kept my stirrups at the shorter hole and finally felt it- I felt like my knees were up in my eyeballs, but I found it easier to get my leg on my horse. Of course they were right where Stephen put them, haha. I got some fabulous trot and canter work on the serpentine, and I took that trot to the trot poles since they were still up. Penn was SUPER through them- up and lofty. Until he decided there was something to spook at to the outside and the poles were hard and so he jumped out of them, haha. I made him go back through twice more (and make it to the end). I never expected to have to keep him in them- not only are there blocks at the end of the poles, but when Hawk and I set them up, we changed a jump grid to cavalettis and left the standards outside the poles, so it's basically a chute. Oh well, Penn was really super last night so after 25 min of work he got to quit!


  1. Those pictures are too cute!!! It sounds like a fun lesson.

  2. These clinics with him sound sooooo amazing! Lots of great stuff to work on in there!

  3. What a great ride and it's always fun to get such excellent feedback. :-) Happy for you.

  4. what an awesome lesson - i really love how holistic stephen is in his approach to the horse and training. nothing is beneath his observation lol. sounds like he had great feedback for you guys too - Penn looks fantastic and game in the video. now if only we could tackle the walk-canter-walk half as well haha

    1. Penn was so game to do anything. I love that he's usually like that, especially if I ride him fairly and properly. Steal that exercise he had me do!

  5. Wow, what a super lesson/clinic! Glad you got so much help from it!

    1. It really helped! Such simple tweaks and a refresher of what I used to know. I can't wait to ride with him again!

  6. Sounds like an awesome lesson! You guys look so good in the videos. And that last picture is so cute!

    1. Thanks! I'm hoping to have everything polished up even better for the next show. It'll be the last time we ride training level! I love those last pictures. He's so photogenic and expressive!

  7. Love this! Stephen raved about how good of a rider you are, and I am not surprised. :) I told him about Mikey, and how he and Pig were the TB twinsies.

    1. Haha! Well wow! One of the ladies that watched the clinic said Stephen was really really happy with me/Penn. Did you see him again since I've seen him?

    2. Nah. My friend was his WS over the winter. We were on the phone.

    3. Ah! Ok, haha. Well still really cool! I can't wait for him to come back up here.