Friday, December 29, 2017

12/2-3/2017 Clinic with GP Trainer

First of all, OMG the stress. Give your clinic organizers a big hug for all that they do to make sure you have a good experience, get the times you need/want, and pay as little as possible. It's hard work and very stressful. I was so stressed about the clinic that I stopped being able to sleep and I wore myself down until I got some kind of coughing disease before the clinic and the cough lasted well after, and since my immune system was so worn down, I got shingles after. Fun fact: If you've had chicken pox, you can get shingles at ANY AGE, especially in times of very high stress. I'm 30 and the doc that diagnosed me didn't bat an eye at my age. Go get your shingles vaccine.

It might have felt like this cat was nomming my back.
I am STILL riding out the pain even though the rash is well past it's contagious stage.

Added to the stress was an outbreak of EHV-1 at a barn on the other side of our major city- I was suddenly asking for vaccine records, where horses are currently located, and where they have been in the recent past. Luckily, it seems the outbreak was contained to just the one farm and only stopped one of our riders from coming.

I was given a lot of freedom for this clinic: I was able to take deposits and became an admin of the farm Facebook page so I could properly promote the clinic and answer questions. I made the schedule, contacted everyone to confirm times, etc. Exhausting.

Going into day 1 of the clinic, we had 2 openings on Sunday. One of the ladies who previously didn't want to do back to back clinics messaged me that morning and asked if the two spots were still available, and if so, was it possible to get a ride in between them so she could take both. I said absolutely, and was able to move around some of the more flexible riders to get the slots filled. In the end, we filled the 20 spots and had levels Training-PSG (and only half of the spots were training level- a huge deal for this area since we're mostly lower level riders). I only had one cancellation for the weekend- it was someone under mandatory quarantine for EHV so that was A-OK.

Overall, there was a lot to learn over the weekend and the clinic covered a lot of ground. Everyone seemed to have a good time and got a lot out of it, especially the lower level riders.

I got a lot out of the PSG horse's lesson. The horse was an above average mover of average build, but not extremely fancy, and he had Penn's 4-beat tendencies at the canter (it was a lot of, that horse can do it! So can Penn!). The horse and rider are confirmed at PSG, so their lesson consisted of more nuanced things that would make PSG even better, and help them move up to I1. Unfortunately I missed the technical discussion of the pirouette- GP Trainer got up and walked over to the middle of the ring to demonstrate something for it, so I couldn't hear her well, and one of the auditors decided to talk to me at that point.
  • Prep for Canter pirouettes: Collected canter. Apply the half halt, but press both legs into the horse at the canter for several strides while not allowing them to move faster or take bigger strides. The horse should gain lift. (this apply the leg was a theme for several riders)
  • Canter pirouettes: Do not touch the inside rein. It's there because it has to be. GP Trainer made the rider hold her reins in the outside hand, canter down the diagonal, collect, and bring the shoulders around to do the half pirouette. OMG it was lovely, and the best one they did all lesson. The horse sat and made a very tidy small circle with his hind feet and did that nice lifting with his front end (GP Trainer's comment on a good pirouette: "They look fun, but they don't feel good. Good ones feel like a boat capsizing.")
  • Canter zig zags: Once at PSG, never end a canter half pass without shifting the shoulders into the new half pass angle, even if you don't intend to school the next half pass. At PSG and after, you will never end a half pass without a change or going into another. Aka, half pass, straighten for a stride, then shift the shoulders to the new half pass direction without changing the lead, ask for the new lead and move off immediately into the new half pass at the same time.
  • More canter zig zags: Don't go for broke sideways in the half passes. Pay more attention to balance, quality, and accuracy. Only the very tippy top horses can move incredible distances sideways in the zig zags (Valegro quality)- the rest are just extremely balanced. Barely go sideways when you start out- nothing crazy. GP Trainer: "When my students move up to GP, there are so many things to worry about in the zig zag that I tell them, 'I want to see on your test: 6, needs bend.' on the zig zag at your first year of GP. You have to worry about the count, the changes, and staying in balance on top of everything else in the test. Let bend go."
  • This rider was struggling with the half pass, but with those few tips, she managed to do 4 half passes and changes down the centerline of our 25m by 45m indoor. She only did 2-3 steps sideways in each direction, but they were of very nice quality.
Other lessons included: one woman cantering her horse for the first time, another one finally getting more than two hurried unbalanced canter steps, and another covered 2nd level and canter walk transitions.

There were several green baby horses, and one teenage 3rd/4th level horse that had excessive attitude. I lump all of these together because they worked on the same things: The rider is allowed to tap you with the whip, ask you to trot, flop around, etc. GP Trainer phrased it as, "When you have young, athletic horses, tell them they're wonderful but also 'poke the bear'. Lightly tap them with the whip 20 times for no reason (do not beat them- literally, lightly touch them). Flop around. Ride poorly. These exercises set them up to take pressure later without having a meltdown." If you don't do those things, you end up with fit, young, athletic things that are now teenagers- basically the 3rd/4th level horse's problem.

Penn's version of teenage nonsense.

The horse would have tantrums over just trotting and cantering around- he'd slam on the brakes and threaten to rear. GP Trainer stressed that you absolutely cannot get emotional when he does that. She didn't think he would make good on his threat, which allowed her to take this approach to fixing it: Do not take his bait of a fight. Just keep adding leg with light/no contact on the inside rein (aka the door out). Tap him incessantly with the whip. WAIT HIM OUT. If he goes to back up, change to asking him to back up. It's not so fun when it's not his idea. Give him every opportunity to move forward out of it, and when he does, just go back to what you were doing like nothing ever happened. Zero emotion. Praise him when he's good and when he tries (inside rein forward and scratch him, vocal praise). Recognize he's doing a good job, and don't just keep working him until he thinks he needs to retaliate to get a break.

In two rides, they had his stopping down to a minimum that his rider hadn't seen in well over a year. He was willing to try instead of resorting to a tantrum. He simply had to trot and canter on the bit and be straight. Over the last year or so, his rider started compensating for his nonsense by riding him crooked and pulling the inside rein. GP Trainer told her no, ride him straight. He must go straight. Yes, you're picking the fight, but he's not going to be successful at 2nd and above if he is not straight. His rider almost said, "But straight doesn't work for him," but caught herself just in time, lol. He tried everything to avoid being straight- stopping at the trot, and doing tempi changes at the canter. GP Trainer just stressed to wait him out, and praise him when he's good.

We got to ride outside on Saturday!

Ok, on to my lessons! Auditing was fascinating, but I got a lot out of my lessons too. You get the brief recap so I can get this out sooner rather than later:

  • Congrats! You have the 3rd level version of what we've been working on! Horses tend to have something that they revert to when the bar is raised, and they do it throughout their training life. We had the first level version, now we have the third level version. Penn wants to be long flat and scrambly. It's his go-to thing.
  • Roll my wrists to help stop Penn from leaning on the hand. Be more sloppy to test his self carriage. Test him much more often.
  • Penn needs to be rounder- I let him sneak too far above the bit/in front of the vertical, especially at the canter.
  • Sit down and back more. (as usual)
  • Work 10m circles in canter and carry an excessively long whip- gently tap Penn's tail with the lash to encourage him to drop his hind end down in the circles (it worked!).
  • Walk, canter 3 steps, walk. This is SO HARD. It doesn't work if I throw myself at him in the transition (he won't pick up the canter at all), and he can't shuffle into the canter. He also doesn't have time to drop down either. Do this until he starts lifting his own head.
  • Turn walk, canter 3 steps, walk into cantering the short side, or a portion of the long side.
  • Obviously the flying changes went to shit, he's not strong enough to do them out of that much collection. Do them off the 10m circle into the new direction- placement on a line is irrelevant (this is where our huge outdoor is helpful).
  • Do not let him run off when I ask for a flying change- that will only teach him to bolt through them and we'll be in real trouble when it comes to more than one change. If he fails to change and surges at all, stop immediately. This isn't about the change, it's being able to change in the collection. If he does give a change, 10m circle right away to set him back on his hind end.
A short clip from lesson, 10m circle to change to 10m circle:

Riding has basically been misery since the clinic- self carriage is so hard and it's so frustrating. I've given up on changes until I see GP Trainer in January because I don't want to mess them up and in the end, it's a strength issue. Plus the last time I tried one he almost bucked me off (I was on his neck flailing). There's a lot of riding the struggle bus happening and I am attempting to embrace the suck... because I'm having trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel where he can do all the canter work for 3-3, and do the changes without hopping.

One thing that has gotten a lot better? The TOH and the start of a walk pirouette. Combining what I learned about canter pirouettes in this clinic with identifying the inside hind at the walk and actively using the inside leg in the TOH has made the TOH right a bit better (it's still a struggle), but it created almost a half walk pirouette left. I don't get after Penn quite enough and he ends up getting stuck at the 2/3rds mark, so I try to keep them to a quarter turn. But he stopped crossing the hind legs and just lifts them up an down in rhythm, it's very cool! All is lost if you pull the inside rein.


  1. Dressage is hard! It's encouraging (for some reason that I can't explain) that the struggle continues up into the higher levels. As a lower level rider I guess it's just nice to know that the things I'm facing aren't just because my horse can't do the thing and more because she's trying to find an easier option :)

    1. It's always encouraging to know you're not the only one who is struggling, it's partly why I try to post stuff like this.

  2. This post is AWESOME!!! Saving. Lots of good info here that applies to me and Hampy. And hang in there with this 3rd level - aiming for PSG/4th - it's another rather crappy transition period.

    1. Yay, I'm glad you found it helpful! I mostly wanted to file it all away for when Penn is ready for it... if he ever is. Everything is just so damn hard. I feel like it's always going to be crappy!

  3. Both your auditing notes and notes from your ride are so awesome. Much/all is above anything I'll do, but I still find it fascinating.

    Walk, canter 3 steps, walk sounds super hard!!! Oi vey.

    YUCK to the shingles; I hear nothing but horror stories about it! I have had several young friends get it and even one freakazoid friend who got it as a youngster before she got chicken pox?! She detailed the hows and whys of getting it for a college virology course.

    And LOL at Penn's shenanigans. I can't help but note how freaking graceful he is while being a total goon. Dressage horse shenanigans are so pretty.