Monday, July 30, 2018

pace clinic @ loch moy!

This past weekend, former barn mate Rachael and I hoofed it over to Loch Moy for a pace clinic with A Bit Better Farm's Kelley Williams. I've been looking forward to this clinic for a while, but maybe not for reasons you might expect.

the group is ready and rarin to go!
I've never competed in a recognized event, and our starters around here don't typically time cross country. Which obviously I've taken as an advantage in the past - like opting to walk Charlie through waters first before heading for the flags. It's nice to be able to exploit the "schooling" aspect of starter trials to the fullest!

charlie looking eerie in the pre-dawn light
There's a downside, tho. Namely: it's easy to fall into a trap of not riding a horse forward enough for a level. Even tho the tracks and jumps for each level are in fact designed to be taken at certain speeds. Not riding forward enough can make the jumps more difficult for the horse, and potentially less safe.

Plus, on top of that - and maybe more to the point - Charlie and I have been struggling with forward anyway. Our whole issue at Plantation was that I couldn't get Charlie going forward. Independent of all the jumps, Charlie was napping and sucking back against my leg and refusing to go forward away from the starting gate. A serious issue which devolved into very ugly uncomfortable jumps and ultimately refusals. It was not pretty, and not something I want to relive if I can avoid it.

the frogs were extremely noisy and he had feelings about that
So a pace clinic sounded like the perfect activity. I picked up former barn mate Rachael on the way to Loch Moy (tho sadly her mare Birdie threw a shoe so she brought youngster Cherry instead) for a bright and early ride time of 9am. It meant a very early morning for me haha, but what else is new ;)

lots and lots of feelings about the frog-filled jungle of his pasture lol. damn tho he looks good!
We arrived early enough to settle in (and put Charlie's studs in! it was pretty easy with the fresh stud holes! more on that later!) and get acquainted with our other group mate, who apparently lessons with the clinician somewhat regularly. Which I felt was a good sign. Then we all hopped on and started warming ourselves up on Loch Moy's schooling course.

not really any feelings hangin at the trailer before the lesson tho, just straight chillin <3
Kelley met up with us out in the field on her Kubota and began introductions. Getting to know each of the riders and horses, and walking us through our objectives for the day and ultimately what pace is all about.

We would primarily be working at steeplechase speeds vs cross country speeds. The distinction being: steeplechase tends to be simpler than cross country in that there's less terrain or complicated turns, and the jumps have very inviting faces with the extra brush on top to encourage the horses to jump more cleanly.

So your typical steeplechase speed for a level, say Novice, is faster than the cross country speed at the same level. In other words: Novice steeplechase speeds are around the low end of Training cross country speeds. For me and Charlie, Kelley wanted us to focus on getting the hang of 470mpm.

terrible picture but the only example i have of the style of steeple chase jumps we worked over, the rest were little logs
Our track was pretty simple: 1000m set on a somewhat narrow section of the field, on a slight incline. The far turn was just before the 500m mark, and was honestly pretty challenging bc it was a tight-ish turn going downhill. Turns out the studs were a very good call lol.

The first 500m was fairly smooth and all on rising ground. Each 100m was marked by a small log jump. Then the tricksy turn around before the 500m mark, then coming mostly downhill but on kinda wavy ground before reaching the second turnaround back to the start/finish line. Again with each 100m marked by a small log, so nine logs in all (no log at the start/finish line). I think ideally this kind of track would be more of an oval rather than a straight shot out, tight turnaround to straight shot back. But it worked for our purposes.

overlooking the full gallop field we used for our 1,000m track. you can see some of the little logs in the distance
Kelley started us on the track, one at a time, with no jumps involved, and told us where our minute markers were for our respective speeds. Again my speed was 470mpm, so my first minute was just before the 500m log, ie right in the middle of that tricky turn. My second minute would be after the 900m log but before the start/finish line. Final time should be 2:07.

She also set a flag at what should be our 30sec mark, and that's where she positioned her kubota, and told us to really ride for that first 30 seconds. The idea was that we should be leaving the box (no running starts!) and immediately be going for that pace. Like we might even be aiming for three gears more than we need for a couple strides.

borrowed optimum time watch
Especially with a horse like Charlie, Kelley's thoughts were that I needed to focus on that first 30 seconds more than anything else, and from there I would be able to slow him down as needed. But first he has to GO, dammit!

The repetition in this clinic definitely proved helpful for him, as did the fact that we "left the start box" each time. Going from basically a standstill or walk to a gallop. That's typically not something Charlie's been very happy about (despite, ya know, being a retired race horse) so the practice was great.

Our first loop around the track (with no jumps) we were already 5 seconds down at the first 30sec mark, which per Kelley's instruction would tell me that I was going 10 seconds slow per minute, meaning if I changed nothing, I'd be 20+ seconds over time at the end of our 2min track.
sweaty and tired finishing up, but watching the other horses still go-go-going!
Tho, Charlie being Charlie, the second half of the track going back toward the trailers was much faster, and we made up much of that time by the end. But the second half was also much more unbalanced, what with the downhill and sketchier terrain.

We did it again a second time, really aiming again to be spot on that first 30sec. Which we were! Yay! But then again went way too fast the second half. Imagine Charlie from our first run of the season at Loch Moy: Just bookin it haha. Which I'm not complaining about tho! It's been ages since he's dragged me around like that and it felt reassuring lol.

Tho when Kelley asked me about it, she observed that it didn't necessarily look like I was getting run away with (bc he's a safe and trustworthy horse and I was basically just cruisin with him) but that it maybe wasn't really the proper pace. I admitted that I could have done more to slow him down, and that I would not have been super comfortable jumping from that unbalanced and too-fast pace.

looking back to the water - same water i sat by for the YEH class a couple weeks ago
Which took us to the final portion of the clinic: repeating the same track, focusing on getting that first 30 seconds, but this time with the jumps added in. Kelley wanted us to basically be stepping over the logs out of stride. She said it was very imperative that we be able to soften our hands to the jump - that the horse was in self carriage and using their own eye to adjust on approach.

This worked out pretty well for Charlie - especially on that first up hill portion of the track. Apparently it's pretty common that even when riders can figure out the appropriate timing on the track without jumps, they naturally want to slow down a bit when the jumps are added in. That wasn't a huge issue for me and Charlie, tho we were slightly slower.

charlie refused to be photogenic, but i wanted a picture of this little X into water that he tackled
He did get stronger as he went tho - leaping at one jump and then nearly killing us at the next before I was able to get him wheeled around that tight turn at the far end of the track. Then coming back down toward the finish line we were.... wild and woolly lol. He was jumping the jumps tho and being a good boy. That's what I like!

And actually after we crossed the finish line, Kelley wanted us to keep going and come back up the first half of the track again but this time going over the actual steeplechase jumps (roll tops with brush) instead of the logs. That actually went much better for Charlie bc he still kept coming to the fences but didn't leap at them and actually adjusted and jumped well from an appropriate distance (not too long, not too tight). Good boy!

srsly tho, complete refusal to be pretty
It seems simple just writing it out like this: three spins around a 1,000m course, sometimes with and sometimes without jumps. But it was really useful. Charlie benefited from the repetition, and I finally got that feeling back of having him really pulling me forward to jumps.

Plus I got a pretty good feel for 470mpm. It's faster than we'll need to go on cross country, but it was a useful exercise to feel like even at those speeds I still needed to keep riding him forward and soften to the fences.

I also learned from the clinic that my biggest focus on any cross country course should be establishing our pace in those first 30 seconds, and that once Charlie's in gear I can settled more into "managed maintenance" vs how things went at Plantation where I had to keep pushing and pushing for more.

oooooh but we actually used the stud stuff!!!
Kelley's homework for me has to do with practicing this stuff purposefully on terrain. She said I should use uphills to just gallop on - really letting Charlie go. But for downhills, I need to work on getting himself to be more responsible for self carriage without bolting off to never never land. She wants me to practice cantering down hills such that I can work on pushing my hands forward for a stride or two, without Charlie changing pace.

I had opted to ride in a simple loose ring snaffle for the clinic, rather than my normal elevator with curb chain, since I figured I'd rather us be too forward vs too backed off. Kelley encouraged me to continue schooling in the snaffle, and reserving the elevator for competitions, so that I can really work on getting Charlie out of the habit of wanting to lean on the bit (or, more likely, my habit of not wanting to let go). She thought it was great that I schooled in the hackamore sometimes too, but said she thinks it's harder to get a horse to stop leaning on the noseband vs leaning on the bit, so I should be cautious.

All in all, lots of good stuff to work on there!

little square road studs all the way around. this is obvi a front shoe with the leather pad
After our lesson was done, we took advantage of already being on Loch Moy's schooling course and hopped over a few things. Charlie was pretty sweaty and tired so I kept it to a minimum - just a couple passes over the small ditch. Some cantering through the water. Even jumping a cross rail into the water, which caught Charlie by surprise but he was very good to it. Then one last little N rolltop just to finish with a little height.

Right away tho I could feel a big difference in how Charlie was going to the jumps. We weren't going quite as fast as we had just done in the clinic - but he was holding himself up, covering ground, moving forward to the fences. He didn't even really seem like he wanted to be finished after our last jump!! Purrrrrfect ;)

stud out, plug in
So I liked the lesson a lot. Might actually try to set something up with this trainer again just to keep working on this stuff, since so much of it relates directly to where Charlie and I struggle (like practicing leaving the start gate!). We'll see tho.

Mostly it's just really reassuring to get my horse feeling back to his normal self. And I do think the studs helped. The ground is soft from a lot of rain (soft but in a very good way) and the grass was pretty wet for our early morning ride time. Plus that far end turn was really dicey being a tight downhill turn at a gallop.... But Charlie never slipped!

He actually felt quite confident in his footwork, plus was busting out lead changes left and right and all over the place lol.

charlie and cherry were ridiculously cute together in the trailer too lol
Lots to be happy about for sure. It also seems like exercises that are really easy to reproduce at home. Trainer P has mentioned that one of the fields on our home xc courses is measured out to a certain distance. But really just measuring out a 1,000m loop including each of the 100m marks would allow us to keep practicing. Bonus if we can weave some jumps in haha.

Have you ever done a clinic like this? I guess it's intended to help riders who are planning their conditioning and whatnot for a long format three day event, so that they can get some practice in advance. But honestly even tho that's not on my radar I still got a lot out of it.

Think you'll set up a course for yourself at home to practice? Or do you feel like we covered any issues that you normally have too - like being too slow out of the start gate? Or that adding in jumps slows you down more than you'd expect? Or maybe your issues are the exact opposite? lol..

30 comments:

  1. Yay, sounds like a great clinic! I am definitely not a fan of galloping downhill.

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    1. lol yea agreed, it's not my favorite feeling ever, and apparently not charlie's either!

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  2. Very cool clinic- I think I'd definitely benefit from something like that! I worked on developing a feel for pace on Moe because he and I would always get penalized for going too fast. It was something I always did on my own in a field, though; a clinic with jumps probably would have been more helpful!

    I think foxhunting has helped me the most with getting comfortable jumping at speed- I've noticed that since taking up hunting, I am much less inclined to pick and pull while approaching a jump.

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    1. Yea I can totally see how fox hunting would be so beneficial for both the horse and rider! And yea Charlie like Moe definitely has it in him to go way too fast. But he can also go way too slow. Somewhere in there has got to be a happy medium!

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  3. That sounds like SUCH a good clinic! So glad you were able to go. I'd love to do something like that - certainly haven't had a chance to yet, but I'm hoping that someday!

    I'm also SO GLAD Charlie felt a lot more like his old self! Sounds like some great homework for you and Sir Charles to keep cracking away at :D

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    1. It was super fun - and definitely useful for horses and riders of all experience levels. And yea I’m super relieved Charlie felt more like himself

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  4. Yay! Go Charles! I wondered when I saw him in the snaffle. I bet that did help him get more forward. I'm really interested in the comment about hackamores and leaning, tho!

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    1. Yea I mean Charlie’s jump bridle is giant haha - I avoid all those straps and buckles whenever I don’t think they’re totally necessary. If you look at most of our jumping pics lately it’s all in a snaffle (except our last xc school that we did in the hack).

      Re her comment about leaning, she said she often likes to ride her young horses bitless - actually in a rope halter - to help them figure out their own self carriage without leaning on the bit as a crutch. When I mentioned the hackamore she pointed out that they can still lean on that pressure too - and that she thinks leaning on a noseband is a harder habit to break than leaning on a bit. Overall tho, her point was leaning = bad and as a rider it’s my responsibility to not always give him something to lean on.

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  5. Finding and keeping pace can be tough especially since most of the time it feels like we're going so goddamn fast (especially on the big guys) sounds like a super fun lesson.

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    1. yea definitely. tho charlie doesn't often feel too fast these days haha - except for when he does, in which case he generally *is* lol. it was cool to get a feel for all of those different speeds on an actual measured track with a real live clock that i could check in with in real time. definitely helped give me more of a gauge!

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  6. There's a pace clinic every spring that my coach puts on. I actually find it more valuable than the XC clinics, in a way. It sounds very similar to what you did, except often she'll have is do a couple of rounds at different speeds...say the pace you currently need, then what a level upmost feel like. Last year's really was a lightbulb one and transitioned into our show jump courses too. So fun!

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    1. i definitely remember reading about your experiences with this style of clinic and finding it really interesting! it's definitely insightful to focus just on riding forward in straight lines at a certain speed, jumps be damned. i esp liked how it put the onus of accountability about the jumps on charlie -- it was his job to find them from his stride (even if he didn't do it exactly perfectly) vs relying on me to micromanage ever step. which is nice considering i'm not really the most reliable decision maker in the saddle lol...

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  7. Can I just say OH MY GOD at the courses you have access to!? They are beautiful and I have half a mind to move to the US just so that's what I can train on too.

    Charlie looked awesome and definitely sounds like you got good feedback in relation to how you're managing and schooling him. For what it is worth, I think you're doing an amazing job.

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    1. Aw thanks <3 it’s never easy with these horses is it? But at least most of the time it’s kinda fun lol. And yea we are crazy lucky in this region in terms of access to utopian equestrian facilities and Loch Moy is one of my favorites. It’s worth the drive for sure!

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  8. Yay for a great clinic! I did a similar lesson before my first long format event. We worked on pace for steeple chase and it was so fun and so helpful. Its great to feel the horse power to the jump, and jump it out of stride. I'm glad you learned so much and that clearly Charlie is more than capable. I'm impressed you went 470mpm and weren't nervous. Clearly your blog name is a misnomer :)

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    1. Ha don’t worry the Fraidy cat lives on, always and forever. But damn Charlie is just a good boy, ya know? It took a little while for me to really feel comfortable letting him go all out, but once I knew he would actually stop at some point it’s been fun to practice our gallops out in the fields and trails. So 470 isn’t exactly an unknown speed to us now - but the clinic was fantastic for putting a little more, let’s say refinement into how we went about it. Seeking that consistent pace that doesn’t change up or down hill or toward or away from home. And the jumping out of stride at speed was a great lesson for me to remember how to trust and soften to the jump. Maybe one day we will put it all together in competition haha

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  9. Sounds like a really productive and interesting clinic! Sounds just what you and Charlie needed, and hopefully he feels less stuck now. Plus a good way to get used to using studs!

    Riding at the correct pace is important and so is jumping out of it. I know I always slow down a bit before a fence. My coach and I were discussing it and I've got my orders to go set up some jumps in the big arena at pony club so i can practice and get used to it before we *whispers* move up.

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    1. It really was a great way to start out with the studs! Low pressure but high performance opportunities! And also omg yea that’s really exciting about planning for the move up!! I’ve never really gotten to a level where speed was really that important (bc let’s be real you can get around most of novice in a show jump canter) but with the issues I’ve had with Charlie it’s become glaringly obvious that one MUST take the pace seriously when moving up. Good luck!

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  10. This all sounds SO COOL! I definitely want to find a place to measures out distance and see what we maintain through it, then add jumps. The trouble will be finding something with a minimum of 50m that isn't on a hill of some kind lol!

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    1. Ooooh you totally should!! And I wouldn’t worry too much about it being totally flat - our track was set on a hillside. But then again the hills around Loch Moy are maybe sliiiiiiightly different in stature than the hills around you haha. But even just a couple hundred meters winding gently along a hillside could be useful - it doesn’t have to be a proper complete track. This clinician even just used those little orange flag stakes that the gas and electric company uses for locating pipes or whatever. Simple supplies.

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  11. this lesson sounds AWESOME - thank you so much for sharing!!!! i haven't cared about time in so long and I have no concept of what anything feels like so this is a fantastic idea. When spicy is jumping/galloping I definitely want to do one of these!

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    1. You should!! And honestly the jumping doesn’t even really have to be a part of it. It’s helpful but not 100% necessary esp for the green horse. Of course most of the jumps we did were very small logs anyway - extremely forgiving and mostly just there to get the horse stepping over them out of stride. And to remind the rider to let go and soften haha

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  12. Sounds super positive and helpful! I definitely suffer from not establishing my rhythm right away... and pulling... and going to slow hahahaha. We would probably both benefit from this type of thing.

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    1. Honestly I think any rider could benefit from a lesson like this - regardless of level or interest in jumping. It’s so so so so easy (esp if you do a lot of dressage or arena work) to get caught up in micromanaging the horse’s pace into not covering enough ground. Sometimes I think that’s what Isabel and my downfall was - I wanted her too round and too collected and too much in that bouncy show jump canter but simultaneously wasn’t accurate enough to help her do that AND get to a good distance at the fence. But a clinic like this just focused on riding forward and encouraging the horse to develop his own eye seems like a great way to break that cycle. Balance in everything, right? Lol....

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  13. I love clinics that hone in on specific details. This sounds like it was perfect for you both

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  14. That sounds like a blast. One thing my trainer is insistent on is getting a more forward pace from the get-go so you have something to "whoa" from, rather than realizing (usually too late) that you need more. Glad you and C had a great time!

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  15. In FMF's long format that I did, it was super obvious to me how GREAT the long format was. Mikey and I were very hot/cold on cross country. Some days he settled into a great rhythm, sometimes we were all over the place and in each other's way. We had a steeplechase practice before XC day, so I got a feel for galloping that kind of fence and meeting time, but on the actual day, steeplechase really got us rolling. We settled into that great pace and then when it was time for phase D, he rolled out of the start box and went straight to cruising speed and had a fantastic round. It's not quite the same as the pace clinic, but schooling that kind of gallop and jump out of hand really set us up for a confident and relaxed XC round, like how Charlie schooled after your clinic.

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  16. Right now I'm doing "canter sets" with da Bird -- canter a ~200 M loop around the copse of trees along one side of the near field. It has gentle uphill and gentle downhill in the loop so I can work on terrain. Three loops on each lead, horse maintaining a steady canter rhythm while his wimpy middle aged rider works on position and two-point. We're improving quickly (Turns out the way to get better at riding canter over terrain is To Ride Canter Over Terrain, starting with gentle terrain. Shocker.) Before fall, I aim to graduate to looping the "near field" which is about 800 meters around (gotta measure it and inspect the route for groundhog holes) and has some rolling hills. Goal is to be able to just-plain-canter the thing, without flailing, and then start working on pace. What's really stood out for me with our super-beginner Canter Sets is how much better Bird does on "Hey, son, set back and pick your shoulders up" half halts when we're about to start heading downhill. It is as if he feels my input is useful in this circumstance. :) So, baby steps over here, but heading in the correct direction.

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  17. That sounds like a really positive outing for you guys!

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  18. I know I'm getting to this late but this is so freaking cool - loved hearing about this practice format and what they focused on

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