Thursday, April 28, 2016

4/23 - Stephen Birchall Clinic

We had a super busy and exciting weekend- I rode with Stephen Birchall on Saturday and then Penn made his First Level debut Sunday!

General thoughts from the weekend: I got to look at the videos from both days and do some reflecting. The judge on Sunday pummeled Penn for poor gait quality. I knew it was not good, but when I compared to the quality from Saturday, she was right to pummel us. There was a quality that Penn had Saturday that he did not have Sunday. Could it be he was fresher Saturday? Could it be he was tense in the show indoor? Could it be because I sat the trot in my tests because he was squirrely on Sunday? I'm sure it was all of the above. Stephen definitely got the better quality Penn, and the work was just better. But having a trainer work you through things on a fresh horse will do that.

Anyway, on to the recap!

Penn agreed to his first ear trim with clippers! There's more to shave, but I got the gross long inside hairs out.

I worked Saturday morning, per the usual. BO's daughter has been around the past few weekends, and between the two of us, we can get the horses fed, turned out, stalls cleaned, refill water and hay in about 3 hours. She also rode in the clinic and we hauled over together.

I pulled Penn in from the field when we were done and proceeded to do our pre-horse show clean up before my lesson that afternoon. If I didn't bathe and braid before lesson, I was going to be doing it at 6pm that evening after hauling the horses home from the clinic.

Not amused by a bath when it was still in the 50's.
Not to worry, I only scrubbed his legs down to make his socks gleam.
His body just got a good brushing.

A bathe, braid, and trailer ride later, we were ready to ride!

Ready to show! I mean... clinic!

Stephen was happy that Penn seems to have bulked up a bit since our last lesson (yay! He was looking a little ribby). I told him that we were moving up to first level the next day, hence the braids, so I'd like to work on some of the first level stuff. He said sure, 1-1? I was like, nope, 1-2 ad 1-3. 1-1 is basically T-3 with lengthening trot, and Penn has a very functional leg yield, so we're skipping that one. Stephen was on board with that idea and designed a very effective warm up routine before we ran through 1-3 (I am a total failure at warming up at shows). Afterwards, we picked at the couple things that went wrong that I can easily make up points.

He also solved my squeaky boot problem! Whenever I clean my tack, my boots squeak incessently. It's horrible. He heard the squeaking and was like, "I can fix that!" A fresh application of Belvior Leather Balsam and we were back in business! And my leg was so slippery. I'll have to figure out how to time that so I'm not squeaky, but I'm not slipping around my horse's sides either!

Keep it to 20-25 minutes, with the first 15 min as trot work and a walk break. Make sure to give Penn a couple short breaks so that his muscles have a chance to relax and re-oxygenate properly. Don't go crazy and work him so hard that his muscles are overused before the test.

  • Start the trot on a circle.
  • Go large, use quarter line to wall leg yields to establish a give to the outside rein. Doesn't have to be many steps, just enough to get the idea across.

Going large off the first circle to the right before leg yielding.

  • Ever so slightly, lengthen across the diagonal and repeat the circles and leg yields the other direction.

Circling to the left.

  • Coming off the circle to the left, Stephen had me think about riding the idea of a shoulder in to keep the bend, but don't actually ride one. I know the feeling I had, and I thought I was probably 3 tracking, but the video proved we were not. Interesting!
  • Next, use 1-2 leg yields and lengthenings to warm up those two moves. Repeat a couple times.
  • Cover the 1-3 leg yields both directions after warming up the leg yields. If he gets fussy, skip the second part of the leg yield and go straight. (we only made it through 2-3 full zig zags before we had to dump the zag part)

I wish my 1-3 zig zag was this good on Sunday. It was not!

  • Walk break.
  • Use the 1-3 canter pattern to warm up, but don't over do it. Keep the lengthenings a bit quiet.

  • Review the 1-3 trot work before the 1-3 test: turn right, halt at X, turn left. Stephen nailed me for Penn resting his left hind in the halt. He was square, but resting. He had me ride it a couple times, keeping my left leg a little more active. He said to make sure a grounds person checks my halts at the show in warm up.

Test riding:
Since we were working in a small dressage arena instead of a standard, the 1-3 trot zig zag and canter shallow loops only went just past the quarterline so the steepness was similar to the standard arena.
  • Get the leg yields done, even if it means over flexing the neck to get the steepness.
  • Counter bend slightly in the corner to make the 1-3 leg yields a bit easier.
  • QUIET riding. No overzealous, just easy and quiet.
  • Prompt trot transitions within the gait. DO NOT OVERDO IT.
  • Canter lengthen: show a big change at the beginning, then carefully and quietly bring him back a little early so there is a definite change in the gait, and so it has a better quality.
  • Take the extra time to make the simple change in 1-3 work. More steps is better than a wrong lead. Stephen had me ask for it at the first quarterline, which really helped center the trot work over X.
  • Ride the left lead 15m canter circle at A a little smaller so it ends up the right size- Penn and I tend to drift out on the left circle.

After Test Practice:
  • Trot-halt-trot across the school. Just the notes that I mentioned before (we didn't work this in warm up, but I added it to the warm up notes for me for later!)
  • Stretchy trot: This totally sucked when we rode the test, so Stephen made me revisit it. He really got after me to regulate Penn's tempo with my seat (my usual way is with my shoulders, but that doesn't work so well when Penn is stretching down). After we got the tempo kind of squared away, he got after me to keep the bend. Same idea, with the seat. It took a couple circles to get it right.
  • Free walk: for some reason, this didn't work well for us Saturday, so Stephen had me do several diagonals where I made my elbows/hands follow the motion of the walk to get a better stretch. This was totally weird and I had a very hard time finding the right motion.

He told me to let him know how the show went, so now we're Facebook friends. He did mention that I might want to try Perfect Prep to help Penn level out ("You're not doing it, but everyone else is!"). Penn's canter started out OK, but the more time we spent in it, the faster it spiraled downward (too much tension), and it became very difficult to manage. He stopped responding to changes within the gait and started going with: "I canter and I trot. Half halt in canter means trot, always", and I was losing adjustability. It'll help him just ease into it at shows while we train the adjustability and get some more fitness at home.

My own thoughts:
In addition to all of Stephen's points, I need to get these tests memorized. I had trouble keeping an eye on what I was doing in the small arena and I got a little lost and muddled, which reflected poorly in the practice 1-3 test.

Tomorrow: show day!


  1. Love his shiny boots and the zig zag was lovely!

    1. His boots were SO SHINY! I don't know how he taught all day in them (for two days) because those look like actual dressage boots that I've heard are horrible to walk in. And they stayed so clean! And thank you, I was really happy with that zig zag. I think I'll put a little screen in Penn's stall and be like, "Study!"

  2. His canter is looking so nice!

    1. This one was definitely the highlight of the weekend. He hasn't been very comfortable in canter lately.

  3. I got distracted by the shiny boots. You guys look really good!

  4. You guys are looking great! Ugh wtf how is that judge nailing you for poor gait quality?! Penn's hind legs could be replaced by sewing machines and he'd still be a beautiful mover. I might be slightly biased because I love him and I feel like I'm living vicariously through you since mine is broken but ugh.

    Either way sounds like a great lesson and can't wait for show recap tomorrow!

    1. Oh just wait, there's video of the poor gait quality. His hind legs MIGHT have been replaced with sewing machines. But Stephen is with you- Penn should be getting 7-8 on his gaits. It was a really good lesson! Very helpful.

  5. Looking so good! Love the recap :)

  6. Sounds like an awesome ride! I'm super hopeful that I'll get to ride with Stephen again in a couple months! Also he definitely got better quality out of me and my horse the Saturday we rode with him, then that Sunday we were both tired and exhausted and did not really impress the judge in our first level tests. I plan to give Stephen his own weekends from here out haha