Friday, November 22, 2019

methods of learning

Each fall, Waredaca hosts a long format Classic 3 Day Event for Novice, Training and Preliminary, run over championship courses. It's intended to be both a test and celebration of the sport, the riders, and their amazing horses, and includes all manner of educational opportunities for qualified participants.

Not least of which are introductions to (and mini-clinics on) riding steeplechase and roads and tracks. Instruction is provided by world class professionals who are on hand all weekend for questions, encouragement, and insight. This year the clinics and course walks were led by European, World, and Olympic team rider Eric Smiley, and Olympian and Burghley winner Stephen Bradley. (Notably, Stephen Bradley is the last American to have won at Burghley.)

partying at the Waredaca Classic 3DE after finishing cross country day. +100 for having a brewery on site!!
My friend Rachael qualified again this year, after an extremely poorly timed hot nail ruined their weekend last year. So I and a few other friends got to spend the weekend playing support crew, while conveniently also being on hand to soak up some of the learnings ourselves haha.

And. Ya know, per my usual habits, I wanted to share with y'all my impressions from all that haha.

Truth be told, this should probably be like 3 different posts bc there are a few distinct aspects that had an impact on me... But I didn't want to put off writing any longer, so here we go with this.

excerpt from Eric Smiley's book. emphasis mine... hint: this passage is a theme
My first step down the rabbit hole began when I tagged along for the T3DE course walk with Eric Smiley. During which I (obviously) took copious notes haha. But I also peeled off a few times to take a closer look at the N3DE course while Eric talked technicalities of riding the T.

Bc let's be real. I've spent all season walking T courses, schooling T questions, working/yearning for that eventual move up. But we're still just plain old not there, and I had already concluded that we'd finish the year with more positive N outings. So, why not get a closer look at an N championship course, right?

T3DE course walk with Eric Smiley, wherein he tried to explain that this up bank - down bank (with hedge) - to wedge (not pictured) combination isn't actually bonkers 
Plus, I didn't write about it at the time, but I volunteered at the Morven Area II Novice Championships a few weeks back too - and also walked that course. It looked flipping fantastic, with all manner of interesting terrain and variations of style of fence. Particularly, the first few elements looked like a proper test and I LOVED the first water: a slightly-less-than-straight line through a small pond then direct up a steep mound with a log on top.

HOWEVER. What really struck me from Morven's Area II Novice Championship course was.... there was neither a ditch nor a bank on course for N. Certainly there were combinations for both on T and the levels above... but nada for N. Hrm.

hint: is confirmed to be bonkers
So yea. It was at that point that I started wondering what sort of courses an N rider had to tackle to make the next step to T seem more realistic. Thus my curiosity to study Waredaca's N3DE course, also billed as a championship course.

But anyway. More on that in a few. Back to my notes from Eric Smiley's colorful commentary on the T3DE course particularly, and cross country more generally.

this was the 3DE Training question that i was pleased to see repeated in Novice form on my recent waredaca course, tho you can sorta see there are flags on the other side of the mound for another (equally inviting) T fence, whereas our N combo just had the first fence and mound. still tho, it's a clear visual progression from one course to the next!
He got us started by declaring that fences ARE related on cross country. For instance, you may have an angle early on course, then a corner later. Or a skinny early and then another even skinnier skinny later.

The well designed course should be a progression, and you'll see if it you're looking for it. Generally speaking, the courses are testing your stage of schooling.

looking at the first water complex on course. there are lines for P, M, T3DE, T and N3DE here. notably, my starter N from a couple weeks later did not touch this water
Furthermore, Eric expounded on how you "warm up" for this progression by describing how he runs his clinics: First thing he has riders do in a clinic on jumping day is canter a pole 3 times. Question is: "What has your horse told you?" Has he said which way he drifts? Whether he has made a plan? Whether he’s on deck?

Has he told you at the practice pole whether he’s going to run out at 24? Has he told you he’s going to need help making a plan or whether he will do it himself?

closer look: T3DE and M share this center line (elements circled in red) of two stride line of logs dropping into the water.
regular horse trial T has the yellow circled line on the right -- log drop into water at A, then mound up to house at B
I actually brought this example up in a recent lesson (er, yesterday, post coming soon!) wherein my trainer noted Charlie was much straighter than last time, and I said he'd been leaning hard left all warm up so I'd been working on it. Turns out -- isn't that exactly what the warm up is for?? (hint: yes)

To the same point, Eric also said that the benefits you receive from steeplechase are enormous. The phase (which replaces any informal warm up you'd do for cross country at the standard horse trial) is there to get the horse into gear mentally and physically. And it is in this phase where you should be inventorying what the horse is telling you about their readiness.

close look at the other side - P (green) has a roll top inside the water, then a skinny out at B
and N3DE? the log that technically does not constitute "having height" so it can be at the water's edge (jumping out).
i understand the idea here, but c'mon. where's the progression? the step up is enormous from that little log on the championship N3DE course to the regular horse trial T log drop into water with house on far side, right? /rant
Once on course, Eric encouraged riders to "allow the presentation of the fence to tell the horse what’s up." Specifically, he warned: If the jump is going to re-balance a horse, don’t do it yourself.

Meaning, if the jump has some sort of intrinsic aspect that might make the horse sit back and adjust (like the ditch under a trakehner, or a giant mound behind the roll top), then you don't want to layer your own half halt on top. The risk is you'll in essence double the effect and possibly run out of petrol.

it's useful that waredaca literally has a brewery right there on the premises
Instead, Eric advised riders to keep riding the horse to/at the fence and let the horse figure it out. Keep riding forward. He called the trakehner in particular a fence style with a "natural re-balance." The ditch, clear ground line, and sloping profile do all the work for you, so that the rider can just keep coming to it.

This theme was much repeated throughout the entire course walk. Eric encouraged riders to "Sit up, Look up, Get up. Look where you want to be."

yep. totally bought the book. "Two Brains, One Aim." some chapters are more interesting to me than others but so far i'm liking it and finding it directly applicable
It sounds simplistic, but actually ... Yea. It is. And he really means it to be that way. He used Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton as examples here - as riders who make things happen. Doesn't have to be pretty. Doesn't have to be perfect. But it has to happen, or, ya know, it doesn't happen. It really is that binary.

Eric advised riders against getting overly technical. And against getting too stuck in the details of the thing. Again, he was adamant. Make things happen. Get the job done.

final chapters. full disclosure, i haven't read them all yet
In essence, Eric's overall warning was to not overthink things. Or over analyze. Which, uhm, haha, cough cough... Well, y'all know that's a bit of a hard pill for me to swallow. I want to know it all. I want the data. The trends, the margin of error. Historical context, calibrated measurements, and predictable outcomes.

Which, according to this particular world class professional, jusssst miiiight be doing a disservice to my overall mental state and philosophical approach to this sport lol.

Fun fact: I may or may not have finished that course walk musing whether I'm emotionally pre-disposed to a philosophical mindset diametrically opposite of what's required in eventing...

Which... Ha, well if that isn't a recipe for an identity crisis, I don't know what is lol.

are we there yet??
Luckily I already sorta went through all my own tortuous mental contortions this summer about "But do I really want to??" And already determined the answer to be, "Yes." So. Nice try, Eric haha. But just because I'm overly analytical doesn't mean I'm gonna quit!!**

Obviously not his intention tho, let's be real. But it did give me a lot of food for thought. Clearly I'm not about to abandon my desire to analyze and understand and study all the things. Or (case in point) document all the things too. Bc that's just how I roll.

But maybe I need to do a better job of categorizing all that data, that information, in terms of overall "usefulness." What data is going to help me act in the moment? What will help me make things happen? And what ultimately ends up being a distraction?

In other words, do I need to know the exact distance between that hedge-topped down bank to the narrow wedge? Or, rather, do I need to know whether my horse has been drifting left or right, or has been on board and making plans along with me the whole ride?

There's probably more I want to write on this subject (and other tangents), especially as we go into the navel-gazing daze of off season haha. For now tho, let's leave it at that.

There's so much to be gained from opportunities to discuss riding and courses and overall mentality with these seasoned professionals, and I'm extremely grateful to have had this chance. For any of you sitting on the fence about signing up for volunteer jobs at local events -- these are the sort of interactions, observations and conversations that can arise from nothing more than the luck of being there in that moment. So, ya know, go for it ;)

**Srsly tho, that was obviously not his point. He's an extremely encouraging sort and I would 100% ride / audit / drink a beer with him again in the future!


  1. It's funny, because I was always very much a 'get it done' kind of rider, not a 'get it right' kind of rider. And yet, I ended up in the Equitation, which is very much a 'get it right' kind of riding discipline. You need the right step, the right pace, the right distance, the right number of (even) strides, a correct lead change, etc. I think that is why I like it, it doesn't come easy to me, and makes me work on my weakest points as a rider.

    Maybe we should switch disciplines :D

    1. Haha for real tho I love the precision and exactitude that you describe in equitation. Only problem is..... I’m only “stylish” as a rider if you mean *that* sort of style lol . Equitation rider I am NOT !! But yea there’s definitely something to be said for just getting out there and getting it done. I need to remind myself that that’s what competitions are all about - at that point you’re not training any more, you’re doing!

  2. Yes. Eric is awesome. Definitely ride with him some time if you can. He will really push you to just go forward and let the jump happen.

    1. I really enjoyed my conversations with him!

  3. I think that success can come from many different mindsets. Some people are ‘big picture’ and others ‘detail oriented ‘ (overly simplistic but valid nonetheless). The trick is using it for good rather than evil and to develop the other skills to use when needed. Does this even make sense?

    1. Yes. That’s exactly sorta what I’m thinking too. And why I liked that first quote from the book too much. Whether information is good or evil, whether it improves or detracts from performance, I think depends in large part on focusing on the *right* pieces of information at the right time. And not letting the other stuff drag or bog me down. Letting go of the noise and focusing on what will actually help me “get it done.” Bc yea. Turns out riding is both simple and so so so hard simultaneously lol

  4. I don't have much to add to this post personally, but I find it fascinating!

  5. Great post - really interesting to delve deeper into how you learn (about riding/showing) and layer in new concepts. What a great opportunity!

    1. such a great opportunity! gave me lots of food for thought haha

  6. Sounds like a lot of really good advice coming from him! Now if only it was so easy to turn our brains "off" ;)

    1. omg for real haha... if you figure out how to make that happen, let me know!

  7. I think the point is not that analytics and data don't matter, but rather IN THE MOMENT you have to get things done, and worry less about what you read in the manual (so to speak). The analytics and the learning happen when you practice. But when you get out there on course, you have to ride what you've got.
    Sounds like an educational day!

    1. yes - exactly! we spend so much time practicing, focusing on learning, understanding, applying, etc etc etc. and while we're doing so, we have so many resources at our disposal (the "manual" as you say). but there's got to be this moment where... it's internalized. it's within us. and we can go out and do the thing and rely on it. for me, my impression is that i need to make sure i'm internalizing the right pieces haha

  8. Overanalyzing can be a problem??..... nah lol I mean duh. Don't we trip up ourselves a lot by trying to soak up all the things and applying all the things all the time. I am excited to see what posts you come out with this winter, it's supposed to be a cold one!

    1. oooh boy, yes winter IS coming! and hopefully i can chug out a few inneresting diatribes on all the various pebbles clattering around in my head. fingers crossed ;) but yea. over-analyzing. who knew it isn't always the right answer!!


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