Tuesday, February 19, 2019

bucket list lessons

When it comes to eventing, Maryland and the surrounding area has an embarrassment of riches in that it's crawling with world class professionals. Especially if you go up the Route 1 corridor from Fair Hill and north into Pennsylvania, virtually every highway exit leads to some other 4* 5* or Olympic rider's farm.

sweet charlie
One such pro is Sally Cousins, an extremely popular and sought-after trainer. That name might sound familiar bc tons of bloggers have ridden with her regularly over the years.

Actually it feels like almost every local eventer I know has ridden with her - at least half of my barn mates, most of my regular coaches, and even the person who first recommended OF to me back in 2014 when I wanted to start eventing.

the indoor was very bright, with two walls of windows and two walls of mirros
Lessons with her have been on my bucket list basically since day 1, but while there have been a number of "almosts," nothing ever quite materialized. Until this past weekend, that is.

Sally teaches regularly at various farms around the area - including the beautiful Kealani Farm up in PA, where Michele always used to go. Considering my goals this year focus on pushing myself and investing in my education, it was finally time to make the lesson happen haha.

it made for a very visually stimulating (and possibly overwhelming) atmosphere
And it was a really interesting experience, actually. Not just bc of the riding, but bc of my own sort of emotional or mental state. Turns out, I found myself way more nervous than I expected. I don't even know why. Maybe just jumping at a new place, for a new trainer? Idk, but I don't remember being that nervous for the Phillip Dutton clinic so who knows.

strip away the new location tho, and the exercises were all very familiar
In any case, Charlie agreed with me about feeling a little.... uncertain about the situation. He's always been a horse to be very transfixed by moving objects in the distances (other horses, cars or trucks, for example) and I think the two walls of windows combined with the two walls of mirrors where a lot to absorb upon walking into the arena.

charlie had #feelings about that blue and white diagonal jump. i blame the whales tho
Which is kinda funny, bc it's not all that different from the arena at our normal dressage lesson barn. Go figure tho, it felt different and both of us were a bit on edge. Charlie walked into that arena wide-eyed, stopped immediately and took a giant liquid poo haha.

He warmed up fine tho, although I was very slow about it. Being realistic here, I get my bravery from Charlie. Sure, in some situations where I feel really confident (like at home or in our normal settings or familiar venues) I can be there for him if he needs it. But in this situation, feeling him be a little nervous definitely contributed to the pit in my own stomach.

"oh no" - charlie, probably
It's all just so interesting to me, these visceral responses. Ya know? Like that anxious feeling is completely detached from reality. Had nothing to do with the farm, the lesson, the jumps, the exercises. It's just like this intangible vague insidious feeling of impending doom. But then nothing ever actually happens....

In any case, the lesson itself was actually pretty great. All the jumping exercises were similar to what we work on regularly, and were built up in a progressive and inviting manner. Also almost all of Sally's feedback was like a fresh take on what Trainer P always says haha. Which, ya know, makes sense since Trainer P has ridden with Sally plenty too!

"oh kay"
The lesson started with a couple trips up a center line grid - starting as just a vertical and systematically building up each repetition until it finished with a large oxer + fill. During this point, Sally quickly observed a big weak point in Charlie's training: keeping him straight through his shoulders while turning.

You'll hear it in the video, but she repeated often (almost every turn haha) that I needed Charlie more on my outside aids when approaching the fences. Almost in some cases thinking a little about counter bend. Essentially: his inside shoulder needs to be lighter in our turns, and he needs to be straighter on the outside.

sally didn't like that the whales clashed with the yellow so she moved them to our sticky jump. it remained sticky haha
She also echoed Trainer P in talking me through the differences between getting to a good takeoff spot in a bad balance, and getting to a bad takeoff spot from a good balance. To help Charlie with his balance, I need tons more core and a 3pt seat instead of 2pt or half seat. Aka, "Sit!!" haha.

While I love the feel this new saddle gives me through my seat and lower legs, it can't exactly fix me from the hips up. It won't miraculously make me sit up or grow some abs, ya know? And even tho I *can* sit the canter in it, I've gotta reprogram years and years of perching.

didn't care about the yellow jump at all tho
Which like, honestly that was kinda my response to everything Sally said. Whether it was about not keeping Charlie straight through the turns, or not using my core effectively.... honestly my answer was more or less, "Sometimes I just don't ride?" lol. Not altogether satisfying. But true.

simple progressive exercises - just looping around to the diagonals
Like, Charlie will stay straight and jump the dead center of the fence if I ride him to it. Comparatively, Isabel and I also had a drift but I swear, I could be thinking about literally nothing else except straightness and she'd still drift at the last moment. Charlie tho? If I actually do something about it, he will comply.

One area this drift issue showed up the most was in rolling back on the left lead to a bending right line in a measured 4 strides. Especially bc it was simultaneously a tighter distance, but also needed you to keep riding forward bc of the sharpness of the turn.

the outside lines were set at about 56' i think, and we had some trouble fitting in the 4 every time
Sally pointed out that Charlie gets the most crooked when I have him on a shorter stride -- this was kinda part of the whole "right takeoff, wrong balance" situation too. Luckily tho, esp since Charlie was being a little spooky, I was at least remembering to keep my leg on, and keep him in front of my leg.

we were a little careless and probably knocked the most rails of any other horse in the lesson
Bc again, it was weird to see how spooky Chuck was! And how antsy I was haha. And yet the jumping was honestly fine. Not perfect, but representative of our combined levels of training.

If anything, Charlie's spookiness made him way sharper off my aids than normal. All fully automatic lead changes. Turning on a dime (actually in some cases he turned faster than I did, which like... never happens haha bc he normally handles like a cruise liner...). He had two moments (both in the video) of briefly contemplating a run out at that blue and white diagonal, but then jumped it fine both times.

this bending line in particular was challenging
All in all, even tho Charlie didn't start out feeling 100% thrilled about the atmosphere, he was totally fine and confident about the exercises themselves. And actually seemed to settle in and relax quickly as he realized that it was all gonna be kinda easy - that it wasn't a trap.

Which obviously reassured me too, and I was able to go from riding a little tight and conservative for the first few efforts to finding a more open stride (sometimes to ill effect) as we went. Which actually, Sally liked the jumps from the open stride a bit more, I think.

you might say that maybe it'd be easier if i sat up. you'd probably be right.
Like there's one example in the video where we jump down over the white/pink oxer and are supposed to do 4 strides to the yellow. But instead we did a heinous skipping 3.5 and Sally marveled that Charlie managed to even clear it haha.

I repeated the exercise and came in on a collected canter instead, which Sally called "cheating" -- bc she wanted me to be able to jump in on that more open stride but then land and "Whoa!" to make the striding. Which, ya know, sounds familiar haha.

out jump of the bending line, can sorta tell that the rail is falling
For our final course I was able to make that happen down the same line, and while it wasn't pretty it did actually work and Charlie listened well. So all in all, a lot of familiar feedback from this lesson -- and in such a way as the instruction felt very effective.

one stride got stretched to 21' for cantering in to start our final course
We don't look smooth and flawless in the video (which is almost everything from the lesson), but we're not supposed to, right? Instead the exercises were good for isolating our weaknesses and allowing us to work on them. I liked it! And will hopefully get a chance to repeat somewhat regularly moving forward.

no touchy the pineapples!
Especially considering how surprised I was by the nerves and anxiety the lesson produced.... Which, again, were way more than I expected. But it feels like something I should keep in mind looking toward the upcoming season. Like a reality check of sorts.

damn those spooky ass whales tho haha
Bc I have all these plans, right? All these ambitious thoughts and ideas about competing and moving up and getting qualifications and the whole nine yards. But those plans are so easy to make from the safety of the off season, while we're comfortably ensconced in our quiet little winter routine.

Turns out, tho.... it's possible that I'm going to be in for a rude awakening once the new year actually starts heating up haha. Shit is gonna get real. And probably I'm going to be way more nervous than I expect. And it's hard to say what sort of impact that could have, ya know?

For now, tho, it's at least reassuring to do a lesson like this and experience all those nerves and have my horse feeling worried too, but then have the actual riding be fine. Better than fine, really. It was a good lesson.


In an ideal world, I want Charlie's training to be the bedrock foundation that we can both fall back on in moments of need. Bc... uh, yea haha, sometimes I'm gonna need it! But we all know tho that the margin of error - aka the horse's ability to bail the rider out of shitty situations - shrinks as you go up the levels.

So it'll be interesting to see whether these butterflies settle down once we get back into the groove. If not.... I might have to rethink some of my plans for the year haha! We'll see tho. The answer to my anxiety has always been to get out moar. To make the "big" things feel mundane and routine.

Considering the first events of the season are imminently approaching, we won't have to wait too long to start figuring out where we actually are haha. In the meantime tho, thank god for lessons!

36 comments:

  1. From everything Michelle always wrote about Sally, I had dreamed of riding with her. Now that you had a similarly positive experience, her name is gong on my list for when she comes to Aiken next winter!

    Nerves are fascinating to me. They creep up seemingly out of the blue and when least expected. I think it is our mind's way of keeping us humble.

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    1. She’s in Aiken now! Only came up north for the weekend to teach. I can send you her contact if you like ;)

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    2. Sally comes home end of March so Sara give her a shout!! And I am totally planning on going next year to Aiken when she is there. GOD I MISS HER YELLING AT ME (nicely)to go forward more :) HA HA Glad you finally got to ride with her Emma! That arena makes you figure out fast how to get the horse around it :) HA HA HA

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    3. aww haha - you totally should go to aiken next year!!! i always have this big pipe dream of doing a week or two in aiken one winter, but so far it's remained a pipe dream lol. i really liked the lesson tho - glad it finally happened!! and omg that arena was dreamy. it is only 20' wider than the indoor at charlie's farm, but felt GIGANTIC in comparison hahaha

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  2. Sounds like a good lesson! I really love her "how good was that?" that she says often and her encouragement through the whole lesson.

    Also gotta say I love all of Charlie's....extra over the fences - from tail flicks to gaseous impulsion LOLOL He was such a good boy tho!

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    1. OMG tho, right???? like, wow we were kinda all over the place -- and SO MUCH FARTING, where is it even coming from??? and here i was thinking that my days of pictures filled with majestic tail flips ended with my lease on isabel. but apparently charlie's all about that tail flick too, who knew?!

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  3. Y'all look awesome! I will forever admire your ability to put yourself into uncomfortable/stressful situations and absolutely thrive. Great job, lady, a real inspiration. =)

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    1. aw thanks! it's such a tricky balance bc if i'm too uncomfortable or stressed out, then i'm not having fun. and, ya know, it's supposed to be fun right? the above WAS fun at least, but it was reminiscent of my sorta surprise anxiety attack at the one twilight we went to last summer, where honestly maybe i *didn't* really have a lot of fun. just needs balance!! and practice and mindfulness haha ;)

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  4. I totally get what you said about nerves. I will get them when it's someone that I've always wanted to ride with. I think you too look really good.

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    1. hm - you might be on to something there. i have been trying to figure out why i was so much more nervous this time than with phillip, when superficially speaking it's almost the same type of situation. but maybe it's bc i knew the phillip thing would be a one-off situation? whereas this i'm really hoping to form some manner of ongoing training relationship, so in a way it mattered more? food for thought!

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  5. Good for you for trying something out of your comfort zone! And making it successful!

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    1. thanks! i'm hoping with enough repetition it won't feel so alien to me and my horse haha!

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  6. Saddle and position look great with shorter stirrups! What a great adventure thanks for sharing

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    1. thanks - agreed that the shorter stirrups help! this saddle is kinda amazing in how easily it's lowered my center of gravity, like my legs just sink down under me and i almost melt into the tack. it feels very secure!! but now i need to not let that "melting" feeling travel up through my core haha, must stay tall and strong in my upper body too! it's always something, right? the solution becomes the problem?? lol....

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  7. I feel your struggle on the whole "just not riding" sometimes. I feel like up until this last year, I had been riding so infrequently and at such a low level that my main goal for almost every lesson/ride was to just survive. Now that I have an established partnership with a horse and am trying to move up the levels, there is so much more thought and nuance that has to go into each ride. Am I using my body and aids effectively, is my horse balanced underneath me, am I setting him up correctly to handle the question being asked, AM I SITTING UP AND ACTUALLY USING MY ABS?? lol. It's amazing that the more you know the more you have to work on :D

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    1. omg isn't that the truth tho.... i don't even know how on earth it's so hard haha, but there are so many moving parts and so many things to think about! like ideally it all becomes muscle memory eventually, but that always seems to take forever haha. one day tho, one day i will have usable abs!

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  8. I was there for that clinic to watch too! I must have missed your group:) I love her teaching style!

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    1. oh awesome! yea i was in the last group of the day i think, we'll have to coordinate next time!

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  9. A friend of mine from college just did a lesson with Sally too! She posted a few clips, and I loved the feedback she was getting.
    It makes sense to be a little nervous. Sally's pretty famous (I mean, I'm a hunter jumper princess and I know who she is!) and it's a new place, blah blah blah. Good for you for getting past that though!
    For me, a little bit of those butterflies helps me rise to the occasion. I ALWAYS get them at a show, but they give me a little edge I think. Hopefully they will for you too.
    I'm sure you guys will be great this year. You've been doing your homework all winter.

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    1. the feedback was really useful!! on one hand - none of it was necessarily new (which is kinda reassuring haha), but it was delivered in an effective manner that helped me make the necessary changes and be more proactive about them. definitely a good thing!

      and re: the butterflies, yea i agree that they don't necessarily have to be a bad thing. positive anxiety can be a power for good, right? there's a limit tho before the nerves start stripping away how much "fun" an activity can actually be. it's something i've always dealt with (see blog title haha) but it always amazes me how illogical and cyclical it can be. we'll see tho, hopefully once we get out for our first outing this year i'll feel better about things!

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  10. You made that 3.5 work even though it wasn't ideal!

    So I had 2 main thoughts on that inner bending line that Chuck hit with his knees the first two times, if Irene had set that up in our indoor, on Ramone I would have gone wider - like all the way to the wall in order to fit in the 4 a bit more but that's also hunter brain kicking in "use the space provided" - conversley on Carlos I would have galloping that bending line straight on, slicing them which is totally cheating hahaha

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    1. ha i didn't really want to admit to sally just how much practice charlie and i have in those 3.5 situations lol..... one day i'll react faster to fix it tho!

      and re: the bending line, yup that was basically exactly the fix. after knocking it twice in a row sally had me change my original roll back turn off the wall to meet the in jump on the opposite side that i had been aiming for, and at a different angle. thus creating a better line to the out jump. funny how it really does all become a game of geometry!!

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    2. Geometry was my worst math subject if that tells you anything lolol

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    3. see, and i wasn't terrible at geometry in skool, but somehow can't actually put it to work in the real world. like shooting pool, i'm fucking terrible at it lol....

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  11. I'm pretty jealous of how many awesome trainers you have available there. It sounds like you can really find the people who click for you. I'm glad you got to do this lesson. :)

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    1. we are definitely spoiled in this region!! the access and opportunity make a huge difference!

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  12. I've been drooling over that farm online for the last several weeks and was trying to make the Jimmy Wofford clinic there recently, but it was too much of a haul on a work day. I'm loving all the media here as a result, obviously. It's awesome you were able to work through your butterflies and Charlie's so productively! I suspect those nerves will be a thing of the past as you get more clinics and competitions under your belts together. Things like this are high on my bucket list if I ever manage to get my hands on another horse to call my own. *wishful thinking* In the mean time, I'll live vicariously.

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    1. oh man tho, why does Wofford only ever want to teach on like, wednesdays?!? i've tried to sign up for clinics with him before too, and felt like i moved heaven and earth to get availability for the week day haul, only for them to cancel at the last minute bc of lack of entries.... sigh.

      anyway tho i really liked kealani and will hopefully go back! re: the nerves going away with experience.... i'm not exactly sure that's true haha. if you're curious as to why, check out my "events" tab above to see the absolute insane volume of outings and competitions and clinics and experiences and.... literally everything we've done over the last few years haha. unfortunately i think the anxiety is just something that lives inside me and needs to be dealt with on a regular basis!

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    2. I feel you on that. No matter how many endurance rides I do, I still get jitters at the start for NO REASON. I don't think that's going away for me no matter how much experience I get LOL

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  13. Sounds like a really productive lesson, and it's always good to know your coaches knowledge and training is the same as someone who is top level!

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    1. for sure --- i feel really lucky that we have so much quality instruction in my area!

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  14. I'd tried to ride with Sally when she was down in Aiken last year, but we could never mesh our schedules to make it happen. Glad you had a good time!

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    1. oh man, yea i know that feeling. schedules can be so hard! hopefully you get a chance to make it happen sometime in the future. it was a good time and i'm definitely hoping to repeat!!

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  15. You guys looked great! You know that I know how those nerves can make themselves known but you made it look easy. I also was a little behind on your posts so I read your newer one first. It is crazy to see the difference in Charlie (and you)! He looks like a different horse. You should be so incredibly proud!

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  16. That whale jump is cute!! Glad you were able to get a bucket list lesson. It sounds like you took away some good homework and I'm sure it was good for both of you to practice working through some nerves and a new environment.

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  17. Catching up since I've been MIA for a while . . . you guys look GREAT. Your position is so nice, and Chuck is jumping with so much power. Love seeing y'all thrive!

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