Monday, February 17, 2020

SJ clinic with Sally

It's actually almost exactly one year ago that Charlie and I had our first lesson with the renowned 5* event rider Sally Cousins, who just so happens to be based most of the year on the Route 1 corridor in Pennsylvania.

such a treat to ride in a large bright indoor with dry footing!
Sally is extremely well known throughout this region as a talented and insightful coach and clinician. As such, she maintains a regular teaching schedule at various venues in PA, MD, and even down in SC where she's based during the winters.

Charlie lives fairly close to the Route 1 corridor, so we've been able to get in on Sally's schedule quite a few times over the last year. Including a couple lessons up at Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra facility. And also, now for a second time, show jumping lessons at the small private Kealani Farm in West Grove.

very few straight lines in this course aside from this outside gymnastic 2-to-2
Kealani is drop dead gorgeous - a compact but extremely well thought-out property that maximizes every inch of available space. The overall feeling is one of luxurious proportions, especially in the middle of mud season haha.

I swear it took basically our entire warm up on the flat, and even our first few jumps, to get used to dry predictable footing again LOL!

measured at 32'-32', vertical oxer vertical. measured short, but didn't ride short considering we were in an indoor
Anyway, tho. Due to our mild winter, Charlie and I have stayed in fairly consistent work. Especially with drilling into the technical nitty gritties with resident upper level event rider K lately, I'm feeling better than ever about the quality of Charlie's overall way of going.

You might remember that last year in our first lesson with Sally, she really zeroed in on my inability to corral Charlie's outside shoulder in turns. Well. Ever since then we've been working on it haha!

And I'm pleased to report she didn't breathe a word about "outside aids" during this entire ride. Yessss lol.

Obviously, tho, that's not to say that she didn't find other deficiencies haha.... Hahahaha.

there were two lines that looked like diagonals set on the inside. actually rode in bending lines, scribing the outline of an hourglass
Overall, Charlie was an absolute rock star for this ride. I legit could not be more pleased with how he behaved. He was so squarely plugged into "work mode" that literally every time it was our turn, I could barely pick up my reins before he'd step immediately into canter, and always on the correct lead.

That's..... not a degree of push-button responsiveness I'm used to in this animal haha. And certainly not in any sort of sustainable fashion. And yet, he kept it up the whole ride. Never once soured or sucked back. Just always stepped up and went. Was extremely responsive, and did every single thing I asked, whether I knew I was asking or not haha.

the most cleverest horse through the bounce!
The course was fairly basic: an outside grid set for a 2-to-2 gymnastic. Two inside bending lines both measured for 4. One of which ended in a simple bounce. And a single oxer on the other outside. None of the jumps were particularly large either.

The other three members of my group were regular Sally students, and as such we sorta fell into a well-oiled rhythm. Each rider was quick to take her turn, and nobody had any real issues. So we moved quickly through all the warm up exercises of getting through each individual element, and then each set of lines, before finally finishing with the full course.

it's my impression that charlie dislikes jumps with eyes LOL
Sally's biggest points of feedback to me were:
- Moar canter (obvi)
- Sit up
- Bring him back into shape sooner after each jump

This last point was possibly her biggest issue. I have a habit of letting Charlie spool out into his little "victory gallops" at the conclusion of each go, but Sally said it was time to cut that out. She wanted me bringing him back immediately, asking me what I thought would happen if we jumped a big table but then had to turn immediately to a corner?

So. Ya know. Noted, haha. Charlie will certainly come back after a fence. If I ask him. And... I haven't really been asking at the conclusion of a course. Now I will. Good feedback, thanks lol.

took a few efforts to clean up this bending line but charlie was so good!
Her other overall takeaway was a little less easily actionable. She basically said, in a somewhat abruptly blunt fashion, that I'm not going to be able to do what I want to do with Charlie if I continue to let him travel in his current way of going.

In other words, she said he has a very pleasant way of cantering on along. But that he's very horizontal or level in his way of going (think: nose to tail), bordering at times on being almost downhill. And that this is why we often can find ourselves being a little off in our distances at fences.

We can be a little long here, a little short there, again and again and again. We can be cantering on along very pleasantly in what feels like a good rhythm and impulsion and ground cover and connection, and all the things. But then we get to the jump and it's like, "oooh, now what?" And it's because sometimes we get to the jump with Charlie being just a bit too nose-heavy. Which limits our options in terms of adjustability.

finished with a long straight shot at the oxer (with fox cutouts as filler!!)
This all makes perfect sense to me, conceptually, tho I admit to being a bit frustrated that the commentary came after the lesson was over and I'd explicitly asked for a summary "takeaway" from the day. Like. Ok. So our balance is all wrong. Great. What the ever loving fuck am I supposed to do about it????

It was especially frustrating bc I felt like we've been working so hard on Charlie's canter these last few months, and he feels better today in his adjustability and responsiveness and agility than he's literally ever felt... ever. So like, to hear that it's still not good enough was a bit gut wrenching.


Luckily tho, this was an early win for the year in feeling like my quest for "mentorship" was the right call. Because instead of spiraling into an existential crisis about this feedback, I simply relayed it back to trainer K. Who was like, "Oh ok, that's a good outside perspective. We haven't specifically focused on that element of balance in our canter work, but can begin to bake it in."

Whew! Lol...

So. Yea. It was a really great lesson for a few reasons: Charlie was a star and easily handled every single aspect of this lesson. Plus obvi riding in nice dry footing this time of year is an absolute luxury. It was also a clear demonstration to me that we are, in fact, in a different and improved place of our training from this time last year. Especially vis-a-vis straightness in turning. Hell yes!

The blunt after-the-fact feedback of, "oh by the way you won't meet your goals going the way you are now," sucked more than a little bit of oxygen out of the moment for me.... but again. After checking in with K and a few friends, it's now feeling like more of a well-timed temperature check so that we can start making adjustments now. Theoretically lol.... Hopefully?

In the meantime. You'll find me furiously googling all the forums on how to improve uphill balance in a horse's canter lol. C'mon, Charlie! It's time to tuck that butt and start pushing!


25 comments:

  1. Lol, I see Charlie and Bast are going to be having the same lessons. 😂 Ndz moar uphill balance!

    In all honesty, though. He looks really great in these photos. He looks really even and powerful in his takeoffs!

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    1. he was a very good boy in the lesson <3 would have felt better about the whole thing if it didn't end with such cryptic feedback LOL

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    2. Haha yeah. Maybe she thought you did such a good job with the last feedback, she'd just leave that there and see what you did with it? Idk... haha

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    3. i mean. i could try to convince myself of that haha but.... pretty sure she wasn't really thinking all that far into it rather than just plainly stating her observations. it is a useful observation, too, i just wish it were paired with a bit more of the "how" lol.....

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  2. I love Kealani. Sounds like a good lesson that ended with what could be good feedback if timed better/less cryptic? I had a little of that with a timed comment last lesson that has had me thinking for the last week. Mostly just about, "crap, I don't want to screw up my horse!" but still... (on my end it's more my interpretation because I analyze things to death but heading into 3 weeks w/o lessons, not the best!)

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    1. kealani is so nice - i wish it was closer to home!

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  3. I was reading along, all wow this sounds like a great lesson, then I got to the post-lesson feedback. Wtf, Sally? It would've made a bit more sense to lead with that and give you some tips? Kinda odd...but I'm so glad Trainer K is on board and can help you tune in on that feedback and build on it. And, of course, good boy Charlie for being such a good egg! ;-)

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    1. lol yea it really wasn't quite the feedback i expected. but i'm also trying not to read too much into it and rather use it as another perspective to guide our regular training...or something lol ;)

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  4. I agree with others above that the timing and... harshness? bluntness? of the feedback seems kind of off. Like it's good feedback, and it to me it kind of feels like "Okay, Emma. You and Charlie are doing well at this level and there's not huge issues to fix. It's maybe time to start thinking about the next level and what you need to get there. And the biggest thing in that list is more uphill balance in the canter." I dunno, that's my (super uneducated) keyboard analysis, LOL

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    1. lol yea i mean, that's exactly what she said. our goal is moving up and she said we wouldn't be successful if we didn't fix this issue ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      so ya know. now to fix it!!

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  5. That's definitely some blunt feedback! Sometimes I kind of appreciate that but it can definitely sting. Sounds like a fun clinic for the most part though!!

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    1. blunt for sure lol!! at least it gives us something new to aim for, tho??? maybe??? lol...

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  6. Why does the canter have to be so hard?

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    1. right?? here i was thinking i could just canter the horse and jump the fence... turns out it can be a little more complicated than that!!

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  7. Well, that feedback could have been presented more constructively! So hard when clinicians make an observation but don't follow up with homework or real explanation of their thoughts on fixing the perceived issue. Sounds like Charlie was a rock star though <3

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    1. he was definitely so super super good! really really pleased with how he went for the ride! the rest will come in time, hopefully haha

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  8. I agree with everyone. I wonder if she meant that everything else is there to move up but the canter is the biggest stumbling block. For Carmen and I we work on transitions within the gait on a circle and straight lines: lengthen a few strides and then collect. It really helps with her whither coming up so that her push doesn't throw her onto the forehand. Charlie is a big rangy horse so it's going to be much harder for him to do.

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    1. yea i think transitions will be a big part of it. tho transitions within the gait are something i practice somewhat sparingly, tbh. it's so so so easy for me to slip into the habit of riding charlie behind my leg, and he already kinda wants to be a bit of a slug in trot. so the "collect" part of those transitions can be very counterproductive for us if i'm not careful in doing them well.

      i think instead we might do full transitions - probably finally getting serious about canter-walk haha.... sigh. walk canter walk canter forever and ever amen. ooh and possibly dialing up our counter canter work? we'll see how it goes!

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  9. Oooohhh, looking good! The canter is NEVER good enough. Ever. But at least she didn't sugar coat it, and Trainer K is on top of it?

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    1. oh man, never ever EVER good enough apparently! and yea i mean, good feedback is good feedback no matter how it's delivered, right?

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  10. Yeah IMO if that is how Sally felt she should have had you start working on it DURING the lesson not tell you about it afterwards.

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    1. yea i think that's really the main source of frustration for me. diagnosing a problem isn't the same as solving it -- often i can sorta figure out what our big issues might be, but i rely on the pros to help me work through them. in this case tho i felt a little high and dry LOL

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  11. Yeah, so that's weird she said that after she was done teaching you and not while she could actually help you work on it? Unless maybe it took her that time to put her finger on what wasn't quite right? Either way, glad you were able to talk it over with Trainer K and it sounds like she's on board to help you get that uphill canter going.
    And that isn't to say you haven't worked your tail and improved what you have. Charlie needed that level of fitness you developed to start working into that uphill gait. Just part of the process. Sounds like a great lesson overall though!

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    1. yea definitely a great lesson. and agreed that the work we've been doing is still all to the greater good. nothing happens in a vacuum, right? in thinking more deeply about it, a lot of the turning and whatnot we've been doing lately has maybe focused more on charlie's lateral balance vs his longitudinal balance. and i had a bio-mechanics clinician tell me years ago that you can't really get that nose-to-tail balance figured out UNTIL the horse is better balanced side-to-side. so.... maybe this is actually the most natural next step after all??? lol... we'll see i guess!

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  12. I’ve never had the chance the meet Sally, but everyone says great things about her. I wonder if at the end she was out of time when you asked for the overall takeaway so just blurted it out? Who knows. It’s hard to guess at someone’s intentions. But...you have a great full time team to work with at home and it sounds like K is on board with helping you achieve better uphill balance and reach those goals!

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