Wednesday, June 12, 2019

gallop training!

This past weekend one of our resident pros, upper level event rider KB, hosted a low key pace clinic on farm. I did a pace clinic with Kelly Williams at Loch Moy last summer and it was the perfect ride to get my and Charlie's good juju flowing again after the Plantation catastrophe.

So obviously I was super gung ho to sign up for another one this year too!

picked up this cheapie timex watch off amazon months and months ago
I even brought my own little dinky sports watch haha. This one isn't as fancy as the $$$$ purpose-specific watches you see most pros and serious competitors wearing.... But it gets the job done.

To date, I've never even ridden a timed cross country course, let alone worn a watch haha. So shelling out for the top tier equipment seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse, ya know what I mean? For now, any watch with a timer and a screen big enough to see in motion will do.

being stunningly handsome isn't exactly a requirement for galloping, but it sure helps!
At last year's clinic, we worked on a roughly 1,000m oval course with logs and small jumps spaced at ~100m intervals. The clinician then instructed us on which speeds she wanted us to work on (everyone in the group was a little different -- it's very easy to dial in to each rider's needs with this format!) and then told us where our respective minute markers would be on the course.

there goes brontosaurus charlie getting out-walked by his spicy little nugget friend!
I was kinda hoping we'd do a similar format this time around, but actually KB took a very different approach to setting the track that proved really useful as it addressed different factors.

Specifically - there were no jumps this time, and the track was FAR from being a simple oval or out-n-back haha. Instead, KB mowed a fairly narrow path that included two big long straight uphill pulls, but also a couple downhills, more than a few turns and curves, PLUS two devilish off-camber rollbacks.

track is by design quite different from a basic oval and included some tricky off-camber turns!
orange dots reflect minute markers for Training speed
Those two red loops closest to the top of the picture frame above were extremely tight haha, especially on a horse like Charlie who has a near magnetic draw back toward the barn. The mowed path was relatively flat, but if you overshot the turn you were very quickly onto off-camber slopes, making the turn even harder.

The parts of the track closest to the bottom of the picture, following the fence line and road, were mostly smooth straight pulls on nicely rising ground. Tho you can see in the second half of the track, KB actually mowed the path around a little log so that we still had to adjust and steer.

galloping through the mid section of the track, away from the barn
Finally, KB placed white stakes in the ground at the first minute markers for BN, N and T speeds. I marked out roughly where the T stake was as an orange dot on the map (it's also just out of frame in front of Charlie in the pic abovev), and the N and BN stakes were just a bit earlier on that first loop.

The stake set at the finish line was positioned to be at exactly 2min for T speeds, and KB just told riders working on different speeds what their finish time should be.  

trying to keep my position up and forward even when i'm really pushing and driving charlie for more
We walked the full track as a group first, while KB explained each of the features and talked about the importance of position.

Specifically, she was very adamant that riders needed to be staying off the horse's back as much as possible as that alone is the most tiring for horses. Even for a strong horse, you really want to limit the amount of time spent on his back, but can adjust your shoulder and hand position to give you more options.

homeboy never really looks like he's in a hurry haha. the trick is to look at his tail for an indication of relative speed LOL
She also talked about the importance of not really messing too much with the horse's natural galloping style. Like, it's one thing if it's a very young green horse who doesn't really have an established way of going yet, or if it's a very incorrect horse.

But otherwise, by and large, you want to mostly let the horse travel in his own natural style. This allows the horse to be his most efficient. Compared to, say, if you try to change the horse's way of going (maybe by making him carry his head more up, or more down, or making him travel specifically on one lead or another) you're likelier to tire him out faster.

there we go big guy, now you're haulin ass!!
Tho of course, it's important to note here that she's distinguishing between competition and conditioning / fitness work. In your training you can address some of those details if you think it's important for improving your horse, but once out on course, the objective should be smooth, streamlined efficiency.

Anyway. After we walked the track, we did a brief warm up in the front field (visible on the map above haha) where KB assessed our positions etc. Despite being a race horse, Charlie can be a bit of a lug to get going, and I often find myself sitting down and behind him in an effort to drive him forward. This is counterproductive, however, so I really had to work to stay out of the tack even as I pushed for more.

sorry for the blur.... but you can at least get a sense of what T speed looks like with charlie
To get started with the gallop, we did just the first half of the course up to the first set of minute markers. Our plan here was to basically aim for our "normal" rhythm, and see where that got us by the minute markers. For me and Charlie, I did push him out a bit more than I normally do in competition, but not much. And we were well within the N speed range for this.

So that was kinda reassuring that the speed that feels normal / good to me right now is appropriate for our current level of competition (even if, ya know, I sometimes need to remind myself to ride more forward on course! lol...).

this is the final leg of the course after rounding the last turn, as we speed to the finish
Next up, we put the whole course together but this time aiming specifically for the T minute markers. I knew I was going to really push Charlie out for this, not letting off the gas at all especially through the first half. Tho this meant that I wayyyyyyy overshot both of those tight rollback turns. Despite studding up for this clinic, those turns were still just super tricky esp being off-camber.

I still made the time tho, which was good to know. In my mind I was thinking it was reassuring to know that we could still make the time just by speed even if we missed the turns and ended up covering more ground.

tired pony was happy to rest under the mulberry tree afterward
KB wanted better than that, tho. The whole reason she had put those turns on the course was for us to learn how to adjust speeds as we go, while maintaining an appropriate average speed.

Most cross country courses, especially at the upper levels, can't actually be safely jumped all at the same speeds. Or even at the listed speed for that level. Some combinations demand a more collected canter, so riders have to adjust their speeds appropriately, but then make up for that time by going over speed during the more open galloping sections.

For a masterclass example of how speed changes throughout a course, check out literally any of Ingrid Klimke's SAP-enabled helmet cam videos. There's a recent example from her ERM round a couple days ago, tho I also wrote about this topic with a linked video here too.

wherein he mayyyyy or may not have teased his barn mates with his freedom lol
So anyway. KB wanted me to go back and redo the second half of the track again, but this time adjust my canter appropriately in order to stay within the mowed track. But still make time.

And? Actually it worked out! I had to slow Charlie wayyyyyyy down for the turn, and had biffed the settings on my watch so I wasn't timing the run. Honestly I figured we'd be too slow, but actually KB said we were right on the dot.

does Elephant look jealous?
That, for me, is probably the biggest takeaway. Charlie never looks very fast in videos (I have video from this clinic but it's vertical and very far away, so I'm not sure how useful it is beyond the gif above). He's certainly nowhere near his top gear at T speeds. Honestly I often look at videos of us going and get frustrated with myself bc I feel like we're going fast, but there he is on video loping around like a hunter.

EXCEPT. Turns out. Charlie's "lope" is actually quite fast. He's got very long legs. He's covering a LOT of ground haha. Just bc it doesn't "look" fast doesn't mean that it's slow. It's not slow, turns out.

mmmmmm mulberries! his tongue was purple after that haha
Yes, I do need to work harder at riding this forward when there are jumps involved, bc my tendency is to want to shut it down a bit. But.... We're actually pretty close to being on pace for where we're at, in the grand scheme of things.

And most importantly, I learned that we can still be on-pace even when I have to really slow us down to take our time with trickier turns (or combinations on course like that weirdly measured half coffin at Loch Moy a few weeks ago).

charlie prefers the title "grazing machine" to "galloping machine" haha
Being able to stay on-pace on average even as we adjust for those turns and combinations is key, bc it's all about efficiency, right? Like, sure, we could make the time when we went way wide around the turns just by going fast all along. But we also made time by taking fewer steps and covering less distance when we were more adjustable in our speed.

Good to know haha. So all in all, this was a very useful exercise for us. It was useful for Charlie mostly in that he had to be obedient through multiple "start box" sessions, and with being driven forward away from the barn. Two things he's not always been great about, but lately has aced.

It was useful for me bc I feel like I'm getting a better grip not only on the average pace we need to carry, but also on how to better leverage Charlie's newfound adjustability. Plus, ya know, the watch practice was helpful haha. I'm toying with the idea of wearing it on my next course, but we'll see.



23 comments:

  1. Hahaha I was gonna say that yeah he really doesn't look like he's going all that fast. Courtesy of having a big horse with long legs LOL But I'm glad it was such a good outing tho! It's so hard with video because it looks SO MUCH FASTER when you're riding it, and then you look at the video like "oh. is that... that's it?" lolol I'm glad that everything seems to be coming together so well! (hopefully I'm not jinxing anything by saying that LOLOL)

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    1. lol exactly - tho it turns out that our eyes are the ones lying to us when it comes to thinking charlie looks slow. it IS actually fast haha, it just looks slow.

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  2. I got a good chuckle out of your cheap watch. I honestly hate the big optimum time watches. I have a little wrist and it just takes up too much real estate... so I compete with a little timex too. I think they give you plenty of watch until you reach like... prelim and up, when you really really need those minute reminders.

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    1. oh good, glad i'm not the only one haha! yea my impression of this little watch was better than i expected. i don't really plan on riding hard for the clock any time soon, but it would be nice to continue developing my feel. i can't decide tho if i want to set a timer counting down from optimum, or if i just want to start the stop watch and let it roll, while keeping optimum time in mind... we'll see i guess!

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  3. Big strided horses are optical and feel illusions in and of themselves but this clinic sounds absolutely fabulous for learning how to internalize the "right" feeling.

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    1. lol YES he's definitely an optical illusion in motion haha. and yea that's exactly it, internalizing the feeling is exactly what i'm shooting for here. sorta like trying to work on my eye, but.... for speed? lol

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  4. So cool! I've only been to a couple of pace clinics, but I loved them both and found the one encompassing terrain rather than jumps was actually more helpful for me.

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    1. Yea honestly I think I agree - I didn’t expect to like this track and was kinda annoyed at how sharp and off camber the turns were ..... but then putting it into action esp when I rode them in correct balance actually was very enlightening for me.

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  5. Sounds like a very useful clinic! With a big horse like Charlie, you really don't have to run to make time since his step is HUGE! I've never evented, but Rio and I did the jumpers, and he was much like that too. I never had to run, just had to let him open his step up to make time. It's a really nice feature!

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    1. Ha yes agreed completely! I really love that feeling esp as Charlie is becoming more reliable in just those small calibrations or stride rather than just taking off with me haha. This was useful too right after my lesson with Sally where she really reinforced that it was just about forward but that I had to stay connected too. Hopefully I can hang on to the feeling!!

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  6. That's a cool clinic format. My husband did a bit of this at camp last year, though not with tight turns. He managed to go out on XC without a watch last event and still come in on time just from knowing his pace.

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    1. that's awesome!! and definitely my hope that i can commit this feeling to muscle memory without really feeling like i need to rely on a watch. again, i'm not really riding seriously for time at this point, but i *do* want to be approximately correctly on pace for the level i ride.

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  7. Average speed is SO HARD. I focus on that in my own runs (on my own two feet, haha). It's kinda fun to see if you can nail the times.

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    1. yea it definitely adds a whole 'nother degree of challenge to it all lol! right now i continue to be a bit more concerned about handling the jumps themselves reasonably well.... but considering we've got so much experience at this level at this point, it makes sense to start refining the details, right?

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  8. This is so cool!! And look at Charles GO! It makes me wanna get out there and set up some markers and practice. Mostly, I just wanna experience the wind in my face on a good horse, but I love that I can do that with a *purpose* lol

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    1. yessssssss!!! definitely get out there and do some gallops!! bc it's FUN :D i mean, charlie and i don't really do "gallop sets" routinely in our conditioning, tho i'll occasionally do what i try to semi-seriously describe as a "hill sprint," when in reality it's just letting loose and running wild across the field bc why not, right?

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  9. zoom zoom! Sounds like a fun way to work on timing on xc. I am imagining my little QH galloping - his little legs would be like a sewing machine...lol

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    1. hahaha zoom zoom, indeed!! and hey, QHs can gallop too ;) that little pony in the pics above also had quite the fun time running all over the place <3

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    2. haha - yes, QHs can gallop, mine is just tiny with short legs, so I was picturing him compared to Mr. Long Legs Charlie! ;-)

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  10. Yeah, it def doesn't take long to figure out that if you have a course that 400mpm, at some point, if you're not going 500mpm for part of it (or faster) you'll never make time because of the re-balancing to jumps, re-balancing in corners, etc.
    This was definitely tough for me at first and at my first event I think I was 32 seconds too slow, lol

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    1. ha yea that's good to hear tho. bc esp with charlie's early days, i was more worried about him being too fast and careless over the smaller speed bump jumps, but now i really need to completely reprogram my mind that it IS ok, and actually appropriate, to really open up on some stretches while on course. esp now that charlie's pretty reliable about coming back to me when i need him!

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  11. The amount of thought that goes into eventing is amazing. There is much more precision involved than you would guess by watching a competition.

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    1. i know, right?? like you just watch the videos and they all look like they're just cruising around effortlessly. but it turns out there's a LOT of work and practice that goes into developing the rhythm that they make look so easy....

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