Thursday, May 25, 2017

David O'Connor Clinic @ Waredaca

Two summers ago, Austen, Allison and I met up as a group for the first time to audit David O'Connor's Expert Jumping Day Clinic at Waredaca Farm

Not only was that day meaningful as the blossoming of a great friendship with those two lovely ladies, but I also learned a hella lot from the clinic. Like, so much good stuff. Seriously. So I didn't hesitate to jump at the opportunity to audit DOC at Waredaca again earlier this week. 

we got there early enough to watch (and jump crew for) a private with DOC and a local 2* rider. this was COOL. the biggest difference between this very experienced and advanced pair and the later groups (all training level or below) was the degree to which she could adjust the canter - particularly in compression. with this fence in particular, she faced it from a halt on a straight line - then cantered forward in an uber-compressed and collected bouncy canter to spring over.
DOC has clearly taught these lessons many, MANY times. His formulaic approach, lectures and exercises are very well practiced. Meaning - this clinic was almost identical to what I watched two years ago. And yet, my insights and takeaways have only increased with repetition. 

Plus, I heard it all anew this time now that I see things from Charlie's perspective vs Isabel's. 

My myriad notes from the day are documented below for posterity and future reference. However, I didn't note the stuff that was covered in the last DOC recap unless there was more detail to add this time around. So if you haven't read that previous post, I strongly recommend you do so now for context

introductions!
For me, a major takeaway was DOC's assertion that: The more disciplined you are the more your horse will like you, the calmer your horse will be.

In essence: there are rules to the game. But you have to tell the horse the rules. Otherwise things get really hard really quick. DOC hates when riders don't tell the horse what to do, then horse does something "wrong" and the rider gets mad. You have to tell the horse what to do. Always.

Like, "I'm going to trot over foot prints. I'm not just going to trot. I'm going to trot over those foot prints." That level of specificity, exactness. 

Even hacking on the buckle through fields. The rider must make the decision themselves to tell the horse where to go. The more the rider makes that decision, the calmer the horse will be bc he knows what to expect.

With OTTBs especially, from the beginning of their lives they are taught to give 110%. But we don't really want that. We maybe want 80%. We have to show them that. Give them boundaries. Give them rules. And then they think "Oh that was easy!" and will grow calmer over time.

i made a friend!
Anyway, basically everything boils down to DOC's four main rider responsibilities: Direction; Speed; Rhythm & Balance (quality of canter); and Timing. But predominantly, it was those first two that he drove home the most in this clinic. 

See the above about the exactness he calls for in even telling the horse where to put his feet. He said to be in a place where you feel like you're on a set of railroad tracks - including over the fence. That's direction. As Janet Foy would say, "Line of Travel is Sacred."

For speed, DOC keeps it real simple. Forward, average, slower: three different canters to play with. Not even talking "collection," just different canters. When you have these canters you've got something to work with.

He says that some people will say balance is most important thing. But if you're not pointed at the fence (direction), then what? And if you go 700m/s (speed) to a bounce I don't care how balanced you are, there's going to be a problem.

note our water bottles co-opted to stand in for "cone" duty lol
DOC's preferred exercise for establishing Direction & Speed is the same as last time: trotting and cantering around a circle as a group with two poles spaced about four strides apart, tho they're not exactly measured. 

Riders must RIDE exactly tho, creating a well-defined track around the entire circle, not just in between the two poles. And with the horse's head and neck straight in front. No bending. (As with last time, DOC was adamant that too many riders over-bend their horses to the inside when really they should be using more outside aids, almost to the hint of counter bend).

In describing the point of this exercises, DOC said that the problem riders have with courses is that everything happens so fast. We can do individual exercises and it all works. But then we put it all together and things fall apart. Why? People end up losing the things they know how to do. Bc things are happening too fast in their head.

i basically loved that bay on the left. so floaty. much ground cover.
But at this level we must make it simple, make it basic. If you can get that part correct then you can make it more complicated. What line am I on? How fast do I want to jump that fence? How quickly can you react to changes? If the horse is moving left or right how quickly are you reacting or fixing? If you can't do that you can't move on.

We should want reproduceable efforts, boring efforts. Do a line in 6. In 5. In 7. But boring. Every time. It takes a process of thinking this way - it's not just that "it works or it doesn't work." We must be able to reproduce the same ride again and again.

So DOC says to take discipline from the above poles on a circle exercise and extend it to everything you do. Straight line to the fence. Straight line after the fence. How wide should this line be? The width of a horse. Only one track where ever you go. Land in same canter you jump from.

How can you jump 8 fences on a line and in rhythm if you can't jump one? If you think about it you can fix it. But you've got to fix it. Otherwise courses become tougher. Pay attention to these details until they become instant.

red circle added for illustrative purposes
He moved the riders to a single vertical jumped on a straight line, and drew a circle drawn in the footing on the landing side of the fence (see pic above). Land in the circle.

He asked riders to count out loud in ascending order as they approached the fence. In a nice monotone, not getting high pitched. Voice should be more boring even as you get closer. Even if you're falling off (lol). This was especially true for the horses who were rushing fences.

If you're counting to the fence - notice what number you're on when the horse started rushing. Next time see if the horse starts rushing a little later. If he's not rushing til closer and closer to the fence you're helping to fix it. Keep practicing, telling the horse, "Hey. You don't need to run." But we also don't need to slow down if they're not running.

land in the circle!
If the horse is going 7,000 mph you need to be 1mph. Be in the zone. Gotta make sure that you stay the same stay the same stay the same bc you gotta teach him that it's ok. Every now and then you're going to have a really bad fence but that's ok bc you just come back and do it again. The rider must be responsible for telling the horse what speed to go.

Don't go slow and allow to speed up. Speed up and then slow down on the way to the fence. Then the horse realizes that it doesn't need to run, and then you can stay the same. Riders should not be looking to expand off the fence, you want to compress. Especially as you go up the levels (see the caption on the first photo of the 2* rider).

seriously tho, this dog was super cool haha
Another major tenet DOC wanted riders thinking about was the "WHAT" of their ride. If there was a problem, what was the problem? What are you trying to accomplish? Once you've identified the "what" (maybe it's that the horse is drifting, or was going to fast or slow -- see again, direction & speed), riders could then get into the HOW of correcting it. 

He says that everyone gets so lost in the "Hows" - all the "more leg" and "half halt outside" and "sit up" ideas etc etc, that they forget to fully identify the "Whats" first. But again, while you're at low fences, it really must be this simple.

also DOC was pretty much obsessed with this mare, and after commenting on her a couple times, finally encouraged the rider to breed her to some nice warmblood stallion. 
And it doesn't have to be dressagey mumbo jumbo. Go faster and go slower. Be straight. Help the horse to understand the jump not just run at fences. It's not going to all go away in one day. But it's a thought process for the rider, practicing this exactness so that it becomes ingrained habit. 

Tell the horse what to do, and tell the horse when they are doing well. 

Sounds so simple, right?

31 comments:

  1. I love it! That exacitude (I made a word up but oh well) is something I've been practicing a LOT in my own dressage journey, and teaching endlessly of late to my students. It is so important, and makes such big changes!

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    1. SUCH big changes!! i focused almost exclusively on "riding on footsteps" last night instead of wrestling with my horse about his speed or balance. and guess what? those other facets came more naturally when we had more direction. goooooooo figure! ha

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  2. I love this: "For me, a major takeaway was DOC's assertion that: The more disciplined you are the more your horse will like you, the calmer your horse will be. " I have lived this and it's amzing how it works even if they are arguing with you about it!

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    1. yea definitely! i'm a big believer in discipline and in being very very clear with the horse about what i want from it, and rewarding that. but... i also believe in letting the horse figure some things out for themselves - and especially in developing a horse that will not be overly reliant on my in situations where i'm guaranteed to make mistakes (like jumping cross country). these lectures from DOC really helped me to better refine my understand for how to walk that balance, so it was really really useful to hear him explain it further.

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  3. Ha yes at it's core, horsemanship is very simple. The ability to see through the complicated present to that simple core is the trick, I think.

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    1. agreed 10,000%

      it's amazing to me how much the above, from an olympic eventer, jives with things that olympic dressage rider like Janet Foy say. or things that my local horsemanship pro says. at it's most fundamental, horsemanship is very very simple. which makes it virtually impossible for the overthinkers like me, haha

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  4. I really enjoy how they break it down into very very simple components (which adult riders like ourselves have the tendency to over complicate). I also like the advice on discipline. I'm too much of a pushover; we're definitely going to have to work on that one

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    1. yea i mean his perspective on discipline is so interesting too bc he strongly believes that horses are happier with discipline. they're happier knowing that, "If P, then Q." happier with clear, well-defined expectations. that certainly makes it easier to be more careful and conscientious in our communications with the horse!

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    2. In learning theory this is known as contingent outcomes. X results in y. Non contingent punishment (i dont know why i got whacked because it isnt consistent) and non contingent rewards (i dont know why you rewarded me so i will try heaps of things to get it right) lead to poorer learning outcomes and anxious animals.

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  5. Interesting stuff, I know when TrT discussed why I fall apart in lessons it was slightly different. Not that I am losing everything I know but that I'm trying to apply everything we worked at on level 11 (vastly improved) rather than trying to cruise around at level 5 (slightly improved) aka I try too fucking hard all the time.

    And on a funny side note, sometimes I would hack Carlos on the buckle around the property and let him choose where to go (after years and years of working together. I did not trust him to take me on adventures in the beginning) Those rides and where we ended up were hilarious!

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    1. ha yea, the 'try too hard' thing is so real and i can totally see how that would present in the same way.

      also omg, if i had let isabel choose our own adventure... well. we would undoubtedly have ended up at food. lol

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    2. Mmmm so tasty! One time we ended up in this really big ditch and we just stood there forever.

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    3. why does that not surprise me?!? i feel like charlie would do that. take us to some new odd place and just kinda shrug and be like, "well i guess we live here now."

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  6. I love this! I tend to agree that the horses will be calmer if they can trust in our leadership and undersaddle that translates to clear and consistent boundaries! Right foot goes here left foot goes there and go exactly this pace, etc. I look forward to using these when Phoebe gets back (marking lines in the arena and MAKING myself ride the same line on repeat/same number of strides between two poles.....)

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    1. it's honestly amazing to me what a difference being so purposeful in our riding can make on the horse!

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  7. This is actually a lovely break-down of the clinic! Thank you for sharing so many points of the day with us!! I especially took to heart the comments re: the basic points in every ride such as the direction and speed. Solidifies what I have been working on with Annie, altho I need to be more of a leader when we working on the direction aspect of things!

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    1. glad it's useful! i really appreciated how basic and fundamental DOC kept things - like again and again, he just wanted simple, boring consistency. i've been playing around with the 'direction' thing, with the 'riding my horse over foot prints" idea and it's so amazing to me how when i ride for that specifically, the other things that i had been wrestling with charlie about (speed, balance) actually click into place all on their own. craaaaazy haha

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  8. Sounds like a great clinic, thanks for sharing!

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    1. glad you enjoyed the read - he's a pretty fabulous instructor!

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  9. Sounds like a great clinic, thanks for sharing!

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  10. It sounds so simple. I need to do all these things. How can I do all these things? How are these all things I didn't know I needed to do until just now? I wish DOC would come to Cali.

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    1. i know, right? like he makes it sound so simple but in such a way that is totally ground breaking for me. and i literally watched this exact same clinic last year and still managed to glean new insights this time around. he's fantastic - if he ever does make it to your coast, definitely find a way to audit!

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  11. This is so reaffirming to read right now. My coach has been trying hard to teach me to stop overusing my inside rein. Apparently I have been distorting Savvy when all along she could have been straight if I had better outside aids. This has equaled square exercises with inside hand on my head boot camp. And you know what? Savvy can turn beautiful 90 degree turns with just my outside leg while staying very straight and all my 'help' with inside rein was just making a crooked mess. And Direction!! This is why I had no trouble cantering the xc course yet I am too scared to go for a trail ride! That lack of direction both my horse and I feel trying to just wander around the back field is the culprit!

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    1. yes yes yes to all the above. i actually only really wrote a fraction of what DOC had to say about overuse of the inside rein - he went so far as to do a little demo of what happens to a crop when you pull one end in - the other end *pings* out. he really felt very strongly about straightness - and for all the reasons you write above.

      the direction thing is pretty incredible too - and i know exactly what you mean about a trail ride being harder than an xc course in some ways. it's that 'well-defined' path that we all benefit from. but it turns out we can make our own path with enough focus!

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  12. The biggest thing Trainer calls me out for time and again is being too loose with Gem. Not giving her enough direction and then holding her to it. I tend to benmire "walk. Ok that's fine walk crooked" but that's is really not the right thing. I've noticed how much calmer Gem has gotten since I've been more of a leader. Thank you for writing this up. So much to think on.

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    1. it's definitely a lot of food for thought. my trainers have taken me to task similarly to what you write above. one put it in words that really stuck with me: "don't confuse softness with effectiveness." bc often i think i'm being 'nice' or 'soft' with the horse, but i'm actually muddying the waters and making it harder for the horse to understand. rather, it's more important that i'm effective in communicating to the horse, and true softness can come after that. definitely a different way of thinking... but it makes sense!

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  13. I enjoyed this recap a LOT. I sometimes feel really uneducated when things get technical and tend to disengage when I can't relate so the basic straightforward nature of this clinic was prefect. I can attest that taking leadership in making discrete and specific requests is 100% true. I've noticed that Quest is much happier when I am specific and give her the space to rise to the occasion to succeed.

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    1. yea you're definitely not alone in disengaging when it kinda.... gets beyond a certain level of granularity. i remember as a kid reading riding books, and it would be like, 'to canter, use your inside leg like so, and outside hand thusly, with inside seat bone as well. but also your outside leg as such, and inside hand forthwith - plus outside seat bone, of course.' and... all i could really understand was "ok use all the things, apparently."

      stuff like that doesn't necessarily help me figure it out, so i kinda really appreciated especially that DOC focused so much on the WHAT. in my above example, the WHAT is to canter. that's it. canter. the HOW is secondary and he says we get way too caught up in the weeds of it. which... yea i agree lol.

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  14. This is fascinating to read. I don't know anything about jumping but I still took away some food for thought.

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    1. definitely fascinating! and my favorite part about this is that it really isn't just about jumping. that's actually kinda half the point: it's all flat work, always. and if you get the flat work part done well, the jumps will take care of themselves.

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  15. I really want to go audit one of his clinics now. I love this. I read it three times through. So much of it responds with me.

    Thank you for taking the time to write it up!

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