Friday, October 12, 2018

showdown at the kennett corral

Way back in 2014 when I first got serious about eventing in general and my training with Isabel in particular, I started catching the occasional lesson with local 4* pro Dan. A couple of my barn mates at the time had worked for him, so he was coming out semi regularly to teach them.

The lessons suited me well (fun fact: one of my earliest ever blog posts recapped my second lesson with him haha) and so I got into a weekly habit with them once Dan returned from Aiken in the spring of 2015.

yet another wet rainy morning in the maryland jungle....
Over time, I began to see these lessons as critical to my and Isabel's education as eventers. I had a lot to learn, and each ride offered plenty of red meat. At that time, it felt like I had the perfect combination of trainers to meet each of my and Isabel's varied needs - as explained in greater detail in this post.

We kept it up through 2016, until it became clear that Isabel would not continue on as my partner in competitions. So the lessons ended, except for the occasional trip up to Dan's farm in Kennett Square to ride one of his horses.

grooming this wet horse proved futile so we mostly just hung out eatin hay waiting for our chariot to arrive
My hope had been to get back into the program once Charlie really got going.... but logistically that hasn't proved to be the case. Neither my previous or current barn allows outside trainers except in special clinic situations. And those are extremely challenging to schedule, it turns out.

That leaves us with traveling up to Dan's farm for lessons. Which we managed to do exactly once last summer haha. And wow was it worth it. We didn't even end up jumping in that lesson, just dug into the flat work a la Dan Style. But it proved to be a breakthrough ride for Charlie, and I've been working on exactly those same teachings ever since.

tfw you try to look at least semi respectable for your big lesson, but your horse drenches you splashing through the paddock mud puddles....
And, naturally, I've been itching to get back there ever since too. Finally, the stars aligned and former barn mate Rachael and I made the pilgrimage to Hermitage Farm!

As might be expected, Dan's requirements for the flat work really haven't changed much over the years. He continues to want to see riders start with a very round slow purposeful walk. "Walking at almost Halt," he calls it. The idea is to feel like you're placing each foot purposefully, so slow it almost feels a little disjointed. All with the horse continuing to push into the contact.

Dan says that beginning with this very slow but purposeful rhythm is necessary before you can add more forward pace -- otherwise the horse will just lose his balance in the forward. THIS, he says, is how you build the strength to carry that balance.

"who, me? i would never be careless about these giant clodhoppers tho! must have been some other bronto ;)"
From this, we moved into a similarly purposeful trot. My feeling for that slow pushing trot was a little off - Dan wanted it slower still - but we were pretty close. We stayed mostly on a 20-30m circle, and finished the trot work with a little leg yielding.

Dan's instruction for Charlie was to be really clear that neither our rhythm nor my contact should change in the leg yield. Apparently I throw the contact away a little bit, and let Charlie start running.

diagram of the grid in its final form: all cavaletti except for the two wide oxers with fill
For canter, I got maybe the biggest insights for our flatwork homework (aside from, ya know, maybe go slower than I am thinking haha): Dan wanted me to really get a feel of leg yielding out on our canter circles. Almost exaggerated. Turning and bending in, while moving out. With the whole idea being to really sit on that inside hind leg.

This worked shockingly well for Charlie, and added a ton more balance to our canter. Like, obviously leg yielding at the canter isn't a new concept, but I really have not been applying it in this manner. Actually, honestly, I think my habit lately has been to overuse my outside leg on circles - esp at canter. And this exercise really helped put me back in the right place on the horse.

this farm is also super pretty - classic Pennsylvania horse country views in all directions!
Anyway. The flat work progressed pretty smoothly for us. It was validating to me to go through the exercises knowing that they're all so familiar to Charlie already. Even tho I haven't been coached by Dan regularly in two years, I've still really tried to practice what he's taught me. And this lesson was really reassuring that we're on the right track in that regard.

From the canter, we moved onto starting over cavalleti. First up was two cavalleti spaced at what might be considered a competition 3 distance, but that Dan wanted us to do in 4 even strides. First time through obvi Charlie and I were a little long, but after that Charlie was able to compress really well. Tho Dan wanted me to keep Charlie more "jazzed up" even in his shorter stride.

square turn between the cavaletti. intended to be ridden in 4-5, tho we almost always did 4
Next we came down over a raised cavalleti, 3 easy strides to a low wide square oxer, 2 strides to another low wide square oxer. With the striding being on the easy side, the key was being patient to the cavalleti - treating it like just another canter stride - and making each stride to the fence even.

Charlie and I were a little tight fitting in the first 3 once or twice, but again Charlie was just being super.

middle grid element. note the spike strips in the middle - who remembers when i almost died falling into them two summers ago?? (fun fact, that was also the same day i met charlie!!! ah memories...)
Then we added in a second cavaletti to create a square turn to the line. Actually - it was two square turns: one off the rail to the first cavaletti, then another square turn to the second cavalleti.

For this, Dan really wanted to see me pick Charlie's inside shoulder UP. Shorten the stride length, but increase the height of each stride, if that makes sense.

final grid element. charlie made it look easy!
The square turns were kinda easy to mess up - easy to sort of round off an edge or pull around the turn - but then the rest of the grid didn't ride quite as well. With Charlie, it was very clear the difference between when we had the right canter coming in, bc he would stay very steady and almost buoyant down the line, vs getting a little rushy.


We repeated this a few times off both leads, then put the jumps up and repeated again off both leads. The right lead had felt pretty easy when we did it the first time, but then after going left a few times, finishing on the right lead felt a little harder haha. Go figure.

cruisin the perimeter, trying to blend in haha
So. Ya know. Superficially it all sounds like really basic, straight forward stuff. But. ya know. This IS the stuff tho, right? Like the reason I like Dan's lessons so much is bc they're essentially just flat lessons with jumps thrown in the way. When the flat work is good, the jumps take care of themselves.

We hear that all the time, but putting it into action can be a whole 'nother story. But for whatever reason Dan's style works really well for helping me be more effective in getting the right feeling. Plus it was really cool hearing the same old instruction about quality of the canter but actually be able to act on it better with Charlie, whose canter is much stronger than Isabel's.

you're a good boy, chuck!
I was super proud of Charlie too bc he was definitely getting tired by the end. Verging on being a little grumpy with the repetitions and heightened expectations for being on the aids for every single moment. But.... He never lodged a formal complaint. Sure, some pinned ears -- but then he answered every question every time, and handled each exercises easily and well.

Hopefully it won't be another year before I can get another of these lessons.... But at least it's nice to know that we *are* building in the right direction even without them. Now if only I could remember to ride like this during my normal weekly jump lessons haha!

26 comments:

  1. That’s cool that you got to get out to have another lesson with Dan and even better that you left feeling that you have been on the right track.

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    1. I just wish it was easier to get out there!! Wouldn’t it be great to just lesson all the time with no work??? Lol....

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  2. Wow sounds like a great lesson!! I hope you can get back for more! Great pictures too. Swoony at his bascule

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    1. Thanks I’m glad I got to snag a couple shots at least - it’s tough to get media in these lessons!

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  3. He looks like he was jumping well! Sounds like my kind of coaching style.

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    1. oh man i would KILL to get back into a weekly routine with these lessons -- it's not everyone's style i don't think but i really like it!

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  4. Those pictures! Your position over fences is just so lovely. I'm so happy you had a chance to get out to Dan's. He sounds like the kind of coach that makes improvement real!

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    1. thanks haha! sometimes i feel like a hot mess in the saddle but this style of grid and the preceding flat work definitely helped us stay in a better balance together

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  5. Yay for a great SJ lesson. Dan sounds like a wizard! I'm glad you're back to riding with him. I love that exercise!

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    1. it was exactly the lesson i needed - hopefully we can make them happen more often!

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  6. That is so awesome you were able to get in a lesson with Sir Dan! Square turns were super important for Ramone too, it really helps them get their shoulders up and butts under them. I'm glad you were able to get a lot out of the lesson. Do you know if you'll have the opportunity to go back sooner rather than later?

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    1. the square turns are so great - i practice them a ton in my warm up at the walk in basically every ride, but in kinda a loose, casual sort of way. am thinking now about how to keep making them a little better at all gaits. and idk yet about when/where/how i'll get another of these lessons. hopefully we can get some sort of routine in place, but with the long drive and whatnot, it's a pretty substantial chunk of time, energy and money for a lesson. they typically have to be scheduled during the week too, which further complicates the matter. we'll see tho, i'm hopeful!

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  7. Yay that you were finally able to get another lesson with Dan! Charlie is sure looking absolutely lovely over those fences <3

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    1. thanks - he felt like he was kinda floating down the line for the most part, those wide oxers jumped well!

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  8. That walk exercise sounds interesting. We've been doing a lot of leg yielding at the canter, and working on our square turns too. :)

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    1. i love leg yield at canter too - tho i usually do it on the straight and really haven't at all been working on it on circles. it made a big difference tho - and actually dan had us doing it specifically during down transitions too, something that's been a weak spot for us previously. good food for thought!

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  9. I'm glad that you are getting lessons with Dan again!

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    1. So far it’s just “lesson” singular haha - there’s little to guarantee it won’t be another year before the next, even tho I’m hopeful. We will see tho!

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  10. I love lessons like that! It's like back to basics, but doing that makes everything so much more correct that the harder stuff just works. + your leg in that jump pic looks solid as hell!

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    1. thanks! that's the great thing about lessons with this coach - you're so focused on the canter canter canter that literally everything else just flows. which.... yea that's the whole point haha

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  11. Glad you got to ride with Dan again in a lesson. Kennett is a bit of a haul though for you and summer flew by!! Hopefully you will get to do it again sometime in the near future!! :)

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    1. ugh yea it's a real haul. i worry about charlie alone in the trailer sometimes bc of his weaving (and how upset he was in his last big solo trailer trip: coming home from surgery), but am hopeful that we can make some sort of routine work bc it really does feel worth it.

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  12. What a great exercise! Sometimes the simple lessons are the best. Charlie is looking awesome!

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    1. thanks! and yea these lessons are so awesome in their deceptive simplicity. the whole idea is that you focus in so much on being precise and accurate in every step of your canter, that everything else just looks easy. spoiler tho: it's never actually easy lol.

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  13. I love lessons like this, where you really get back to the basics and focus on the details

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    1. definitely! all about that quality of canter. tho i was super impressed with charlie too, esp in his ability to handle that square turn in four strides between cavaletti at a canter - no simple task for a gangly brontosaurus!

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