Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gallop....GALLOP!!!!!!!! Karen O'Connor on XC Day

Now it was cross country day!!!!!! Unfortunately the lovely weather we had the day before was a fleeting moment bc a tropical storm rolled in on Sunday. It started out ok, misty with a few gentle showers. In order to attempt to to beat the bad part of the storm everyone's lesson time got bumped forward and the plan was to power through the 3 groups (BN, Novice, Training/Prelim) and hope for the best. As long as it wasn't thundering and lightening the clinic was on go and the storm wasn't suppose to arrive until later that afternoon. Karen had another theory lesson at 8 am and talked about riding XC. I have notes and will try to write those down later but the basic gist was there are 3 positions on XC (Galloping, Prepping, and Jumping) with a 4th position for Drop Fences. Ride with a bridge in your reins, and your angles in your body change the speed of your horse (increased angles= go faster, more open angles =slow down) and keep your leg perpendicular to sea level.

(sorry for the large pictures, for some reason Blogger isn't letting me adjust the size today)
The BN group warming up around the bank complex

BN was the first group to go and I was able to watch most of that lesson. She was really into fitness and had the group canter around for 5 minutes without stopping in their various XC positions (she would call out Galloping! Prepping! Galloping!) and the riders had to either speed up or slow down by changing their positions. She did spend a lot of time working on their positions before moving on to banks. A lot of the BN horses or riders were very green so they stuck to fairly simple exercises and worked on jumping off the bank and turning left or right to the verticals she had set up on a bending line after the down bank. After they got that they headed over to the ditch and worked on jumping a ditch and then adding the coop after and making it into a half coffin. I had to leave at that point to go get Joe so I missed the end  and the Training/ Prelim group.

As soon as Joe arrive at the clinic the bottom fell out and it was serious torrential rain falling. The poor Training/Prelim group was still out there riding during the rain and I heard that they stopped when the riders were struggling to stay in their tack (it was at the end of their lesson anyways so they got a lot done) The footing held up really well so the horses were fine but not so much the riders! Our lesson was temporarily postponed bc the weather map was showing the rain stopping around 1:30/2. And sure enough the rain stopped and we were able to have a lovely lesson. 
Gives you an idea how steep the hill was that we had to canter down. Bank complex is to the right just out of the picture

As soon as we all got out there it was time to work on our XC positions. While our horses were warming up at the trot we were practicing our different positions and learning how to balance correctly. We were on the side of a hill so we had to practice going up and down and making sure our horses were balanced. The footing was pretty torn up from the earlier groups and the rain so part of the lesson was being aware of the footing and changing our track to be on better footing. Though all in all I was really surprised how well the footing was holding up. None of the horses slipped going downhill even when we started to canter. We continued to work on our XC positions in the canter and we would stretch up and balance down the hill and close our angles and press down on the withers and gallop up the hill. It was awesome for really finding your balance and I thought to bad I’m not getting a time right now bc this would be a beastly 2pointober time right now!!!!!
This was the bank we dropped off of and did a bending line to a vertical and then circled back to another vertical and back up the bank

After that we went straight into banks and course work. She had us jump down a bank 2/3 stride bending line to a vertical, loop around to another vertical, up the bank, turn right up another bank, 2 strides down a bank landing on a downhill decline and 2 strides to a skinny chevron. Joe was so good until the skinny chevron and I think I froze and he said nope! You're not with me so I won't do it! Karen asked if I was nervous about the skinny and I said yes and she very calmly said channel that nervousness into determination and ride forward to the skinny. So I did. And guess what? WE JUMPED THE SKINNY DOWNHILL JUMP OF DOOM!!!!!! I wish I had it on video b/c it was probably the most nerve racking jump (for me) that we did at the clinic. I'm not a fan of skinnies and downhill jumps when it's been raining but I really had nothing to fear with Joe. He knows where his feet are and isn't going to slip b/c he bolted down a hill or anything. He's to clever to do something stupid like that :) I didn't get the bank complex on video but some nice spectators I guess felt bad for me and took some videos of the next thing we worked on, ditches and water.

So now it was time for ditches!!! We ended up struggling a bit with the ditch and when we started to string together a little coffin exercise I almost fell off. But I was in my trainer's Devecoux that had grippy calfskin leather and omg I get it!!!! I lost my left stirrup and never felt like I was going to fall off b/c my pants were stuck to the leather (and Joe's back is about as wide as a bus so yeah, wasn't going anywhere) and if I ever need a new saddle calfskin might be in my future... (I love you grippy wonderfulness!) But either way we finally got our act together and strung together the coop, trakener, skinny, water, vertical together! I had to overly exaggerate my elbows b/c I kept locking them and thats when Joe would stop. The final question of the day with the vertical in the water and we only had to do it once b/c I remembered to stay soft in my elbows and Joe was like "FINALLY!!!! OK lets do this!!!!!" So many smiles and pats afterwards!!!!!!!

After we were done Karen asked us if we had any questions and I really couldn't think of anything. I was so happy with the clinic as a whole and loved that my weakness were highlighted the entire clinic so I could work on them. My riding was far from perfect but I felt like I progressed and actually improved. I know what I need to work on and felt like I was given tools to do it. I know my overall fitness is at an all time low right now and that makes me a less confident rider. My confidence is related to my fitness and in the past I wouldn't of blinked at the downhill bank to the skinny but right now I'm not there. So this winter needs to be dedication to getting myself back on board so I can give Chimi the ride he deserves and we can come out swinging this spring!!!!!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

He's a 4 Star Horse, but Not in a 4 Star Body- Karen O'Connor

Me with Joe the Wonder Horse!!!!
Finally it was time for my lesson! Joe arrived with minimal dirt around lunch and I quickly sprayed the spots with Green Spot Remover to make him look clean enough. I had Trainer and Trainer's Husband helping me get Joe ready so it took no time at all to head over to the ring. As soon as they were finished dragging and watering the arena (we hadn't had rain in eons) we headed in and Karen asked us about our horses. I told her that my horse was lame and I'm borrowing my trainer's horse who has competed up to Novice but isn't very fit. She looked at him and you could tell she's going "What the hell is this in my arena. It's a giant white blob. Can this thing even get off the ground?" She asked "When was the last time this horse jumped?" I called over to Trainer who said "It's probably been about a year". Karen looks at me and says "You know this is a jumping clinic right?" I replied back "Yes, but this is my only option. I will do what I can but my horse is lame" She sort of nodded her head and went on to the next rider and horse combo.

One of the few moments we looked decent over the poles!

As soon as she went through all the horses and riders to find out about their experience and horse's experience she sent us off to warm up. I was struggling with keeping Joe from tossing his head and being generally pissed at me but somehow we made it through the warm up. After that the first exercise she has us do was canter over 2 poles set 2 strides apart. We had to get 2 perfect strides and then we had to shorten our stride and get 3 in between the poles. OMG this was so hard. I've practiced this exercise plenty of times with Chimi and it's very easy us but not so much with Joe. Not b/c Joe can't do it, I was struggling to keep Joe in a nice canter without getting to tight in my arms which would annoy him so he'd flip his head and charge around (clearly he thought I was an idiot who needed to learn how to ride again, thanks Joe) Finally we got it well enough that Karen deemed it ok for us to continue.

Karen had a gate set up and had everyone canter over the gate which was the first jump in a 5/6 (?) stride line but we had to stop before we jumped the oxer out. When it was my turn Karen calls out "Here he goes, first jump in a year!" and not going to lie I was nervous as hell. The jump wasn't big but I was hoping we would of started with a tiny cross rail instead of a 2'3/2'6" vertical!!!! But I had no reason to be nervous. As we cantered to the jump I kept my leg on and Joe was PERFECT. He was so perfect I almost forgot to stop b/c I was smiling so much and thinking "OMG WE DID IT I DIDN'T DIE JOE YOU ARE AMAZING OH SHIT WE HAVE TO STOP" (very much a run on sentence thoughts going on in my head!)

After that we did various exercises that worked on bending lines and keeping a nice canter through the entire exercise. Sounds easy but it wasn't. There was one girl who I felt really bad for because she had just bought a really nice horse and was struggling to ride him. I caught Karen mumble under her breathe that the horse was to much horse for the rider but she did a good job of helping the kid through the lesson on her very high octane horse. In truth the horse really was to much for the girl and I can only hope that she somehow figures out how to ride him b/c it was not looking good during the lesson.

After everyone jumped around then bending line exercise we moved on to a course. By this point I'm not pissing Joe off as much but I'm still working on keeping a good canter pace without getting to stiff in my elbows. So HARD. I didn't realize how locked in my arms I get until I rode Joe. Chimi obviously ignores me but Joe did not. We had a stop at the 2 stride that was completely my fault but we came around again and I had soft elbows and Joe jumped through it beautifully. After that we were done! 2 plus hours had passed and even though we didn't do any crazy grids or new exercises it was a very successful lesson. Sometimes going back to basics is the best lesson ever because you realize you aren't very good as those basic exercises!!!!!

Joe getting some last minute wisdom from Karen

As we left the arena and everyone was riding high after a very positive lesson Trainer came over with a huge grin on her face. She was so happy with how everything went and it was all pats and hugs for the big white dude. Karen came over and asked us if we had any questions and no one did and then she looked over at Joe and said "That is a 4 star horse, but not in a 4 star body" Trainer and I laughed because it is the perfect way to describe Joe. He is massive and looks clunky if you just see him standing around but he is very sensitive and quite athletic! He is a full Irish Draught (or at least is mostly Irish Draught) and showcases the reason the breed is very successful. I know when Karen first saw him all she could see was a very fat white blob but after the lesson she seemed to really like him. Day 1 was over and we had Cross Country to look forward to the next day with a gigantic storm thinking about rolling in overnight too. But more on that tomorrow!!!!

The Novice group and Karen

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Eventing Has Gotten Harder. Now You Have to Jump Upright Wine Bottles- Karen O'Connor

Karen's lecture- the only 8am one you actually want to attend! Picture Credit Shelley Contin-Hubbs

Saturday morning started early because Karen wanted everyone there for a mandatory 8am lecture. I really enjoyed this b/c so many people sign up for clinics and show up to ride and then immediately leave. I'm of the mindset that if you sign up for the clinic you need to be there and watch the other groups too. You can learn so much from watching the other groups and clinics are not cheap. Why not stay and get as much info as possible? Now I completely understand that sometimes this isn't completely possible, but you should still be there as long as you can.

Her lecture was a preview of her philosophy on riding and gave us an idea on what to expect her to teach in her lesson. I took notes so I'm going to give you the bullet points below. There was so much information that my bullet notes can't do it justice, but it'll give you an idea of what we talked about:

Riders Natural Aides: leg, seat, hands, voice, weight

5 Levels of Pressure applied with aides:
air, hair, skin, muscle, bone

Rider Responsibilities:
1. Direction
2. How fast you want to get there
3. Balance of the horse
4. Rhythm- everything happens in a rhythm, (even a horse eating is in a rhythm)

When Jumping:
1) Assess the shape of the jump (vertical or ascending)
2) what's behind the front face of the jump (is it a hogs back?)
3) What does the jump look like? What do you need to do to keep the horse in front of your leg (I think she meant is the jump scary and going to back your horse off, is it a giant wine bottle or just a simple log?)
4)What is around the jump? (Footing, people, other jumps, basically the environment around the jump)

Horses have to understand what they're doing.

They need to understand:
1) related distances/adjustability exercises
2) Bending Lines
3)Learn how to jump on an angle. They need to be straight but the jump is at an angle
4)Be able to jump skinnies

For the Rider Riding:

Horses have to have ridability. If you can not stop your horse you should not jump

In Dressage the most important part of your position is your seat (not just your butt but your thighs all the way up to your core, it's all part of your seat, if I remembered correctly that's what she said)

In Show Jumping the most important part of your position is your lower leg

Horses have to have impulsion and engagement. Rider needs a stable lower leg so will not interfere with horses needs

Best way to secure your lower leg is to take your stirrups away

3 Positions in Show Jumping:
Half Seat (3 point), Sitting, and 2 point

Shape and Power of horse is what allows the horse to jump clear

Horse has to be submissive by yielding to pressure you apply

3 Ways to Engage your horse:
1)Downward Transitions (within the gait or changing gaits)
2)Circles (it takes engagement to do a small ring figure)
3)Lateral Movements

There are 2 Turns when jumping
1) Point of Turn (the turn before the jump)
2) Departure Turn (the turn after you jump)

If you don't land over the fence with options you don't have balance (I think she was talking about can you send your horse forward, bring them back, do whatever you need to do to get to the next jump safely. If your horse lands and takes off with you you don't have options, you just have a run away horse, so you need to have options but you get them with balance)

Show a horse what they can do, not that they can't (such a great quote from the weekend)

It's the consistency of the contact. Sometimes you'll have a lot of movement in your elbows (THIS was my theme of the weekend, I did not have soft elbows and had to work really hard on keeping them moving so I didn't piss off Joe)

Her lecture was over an hour but it was so engaging that it felt like time flew by. She kept the audience involved and didn't just sit there talking. She kept asking us questions and even opened the floor for any and all questions at the end. Some of those topics ranged from injections, soundness of horses, arena footing, appropriateness of mount for rider.
Riders, auditors, and helpers, all listening to Karen. Pic credit Shelley Contin-Hubbs

Even though I kinda knew the basic gist of everything she said in her lecture it was so helpful putting words to correct riding. It was also helpful just thinking through and understanding the whys for correct riding. I don't know if that sentence makes sense but overall I really liked that she took the time to get everyone on the same page. I learned a lot from her lecture and couldn't wait to get out and ride!!!

Tomorrow I'll talk about the actual riding part!!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Getting Ready for the Karen O'Connor Clinic

This past weekend my local Pony Club hosted a Karen O'Connor clinic and of course I had to sign up!!! I had no idea what to expect but figured it would be a good experience. And it ended up exceeding my expectations and I LOVED it. She is tough, she is direct, but if you listen she really has a lot of great things to say that will make you a better, safer, and more efficient rider. So if the only thing you read of this post is this paragraph; if she's in town go to her clinic!!!!! (Audit or ride, doesn't matter, you'll learn a lot either way)

Chimi being a pain in the ass about soaking his hoof
Leading up to the clinic I was doing my best to work on fitness. With 2Pointober in swing and great healthy eating plans in action I was going to be as ready as possible for the clinic. HAHAHA. Damn it horses. On the Sunday before the clinic I headed down to the barn to feed and notice Chimi didn't look quite right. I stuck him on the lunge line and sure enough he's lame as a ghost. My horse had a damn abscess brewing in his hoof. So back to the barn we went and I started soaking and wrapping his hoof. I quickly texted Trainer b/c we were supposed to have a lesson the next day and I had to cancel. She replied back, "If Chimi's not sound for the clinic you can borrow Joe"

How I felt when she said I could ride Joe
I might of squealed a little bit because Joe is this really cool Irish Draught that Trainer competed through Novice. He's kinda perfect and super adorable but he's been sitting in a field and goes on monthly train rides with Trainer's husband. Basically he's semi retired. I had no idea how intense the Karen O'Connor clinic would be so I was still hoping Chimi's abscess would blow out in the next day or so and be fine. But it was nice knowing that I had a backup in case Chimi didn't blow out the abscess.

Wednesday rolls around and Chimi is SOUND. He'd take a funny step every so often if he was walking across the rocky driveway but other wise he looked pretty good and I was hopeful that all would be well. Thursday morning rolls around and Chimi comes into eat his breakfast completely 3 legged lame. He wouldn't put weight on his foot and was being completely dramatic about it. A quick text to Trainer and said "Look like Joe's going to have to come out of retirement! Chimi's lame again" and she replied "I'll up Joe's grain to 1 cup today, he'll be excited to get more food!" We made plans for me to come over Friday morning to clip him and take a quick ride on him since I've never ridden him before!!!!

Yeah I have no idea. It's creepy and hysterical all at the same time!

My great plan of working on 2pointober and getting fitter was thrown out the window and I didn't even ride the week of the clinic until Friday. After giving Joe a quick Irish clip I hopped on him and found him to be surprisingly sensitive. He responded really well to any leg aide and would move in any direction I sent him in. Ok I thought I can do this. When I asked him to canter he zoomed across the field but I was able to regulate his speed and felt comfortable enough. Trainer had a jump set up and I couldn't decide if I should jump it or not. It wasn't very small but also wasn't to big (2'3/2'6"ish) but I completely chickened out and figured I'd do better tomorrow when I had no other option except to jump!!!! Plus Joe was pretty sweaty and I had to head back home to move Finn to a new barn (His leaser had a really cool opportunity to be a working student for a local dressage trainer and it helps that I'm down to 3 horses for the winter YAY.)

When I got back to the barn Trainer and I made plans on how to get Joe to the clinic and we were ready for tomorrow's 8am mandatory lecture from Karen!!!!! And whatever else Karen would throw our way!!!!!!