Friday, 27 November 2009

Shadowing the best

Thanks to someone's Internet addiction I ended up being given a fantastic opportunity to shadow Anna Ross Davies - an international Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer. Anna invited me to spend a day with her watching her working her horses at her base at Bury Farm in the morning and teaching variety of clients there and at Patchetts Equestrian Centre. The riders today ranged from serious amateurs to professional riders to children trying for/or already on FEI pony teams.
I had a lesson with Anna a couple of years ago and both my riding and my teaching improved dramatically afterwards so it's no wonder I was absolutely delighted to be able to learn more.
Although, as perhaps most riders, I am very much a kinesthetic learner, I also noticed that watching good quality training challenges and develops my teaching skills far better than any hours of riding.
I like to relate what I hear to what I see and observe the rider's reactions to certain corrections which seems to create a real brainstorm in my head - in a very positive way.
Another great thing I noticed is that in the same way as a video feedback helps the riders to improve their perception of good and bad moments in their training sessions, watching a very good, skilled rider can improve your own riding without apparent effort.
If you dig well enough into sports psychology you will probably find some scientific explanation to this phenomenon but I tend to think about it as a children way of learning ;)
A 6 year old can "learn" rising trot just by watching another rider doing it. You put a child on a pony and say "do as that rider does" and more often then not your little rider will correctly rise to the trot rhythm. Sure, you will need to tweak the technique later on but the basic skill is there.

Some time ago, when I was out of action for months on end with my dodgy knee, I read about this top Olympic skier who happened to injure himself right bang in the middle of his Olympic preparations.
He took part in a physio-rehab programme that involved watching videos of his own best performances and it was found out that you can "exercise" the muscles through watching and active imagining of participation in the training.
He did go to Olympics and his physio noted amazing rate of recovery and much faster return to form the athlete had prior to injury.

I can't quote statistics and I am too tired to search the Internet for some academic papers on this but I know it works for me. I ride, teach and think about training much better after watching quality teaching/training.

What I really like in Anna's teaching and riding is that there is clear method to it, whether it's a talented young dressage horse or a pony with shortage of legs and talent. It's like watching lots of elements of a puzzle being put together. Sometimes the riders try to cheat inadvertendly and force some pieces together but they never get to finish the picture like that. It's the undoing what was put together wrong and trying to put it back together in a better way, finding the pieces that do fit and those that don't, is what I find fascinating to watch. It makes you pay attention to details, quality of basic paces and self-carriage of the horse you are riding or teaching on.

I had a chance to watch morning training of Anna's horses and 8 (I think!) lessons she gave afterwards. They all involved very different riders and very different horses. The Prix St George horse, one was putting together her Elementary freestyle to music, then a green 5 year old (that was super to watch), some more Elementary level horses, some work on improving changes with Advanced Medium horse, some contact issues, back stiffeness, basic flexion problems etc etc I personally found sessions with the young/green horses most interesting but I also had a chance to watch Simon working on piaffe in-hand with Anna's advanced horses which was rather impressive.
And the kids - they were all fab little riders. Amazingly, many many PTT or even some AI instructors I have seen in training have less feel and work ethic than I saw with those young riders today. They transformed these ordinary animals into rather special dressage ponies, they listen and try their best to correct what's wrong and you can really see improvement.

I'm knackered now but it was so worth it. It's not often, if ever, that you get help when trying to get better in whatever you do and I am ever so grateful to Anna for taking her time to share her knowledge and experiences with me.
I mustn't have caused too much problems (I did try to control that cute, fury, active dog of Anna's with varied luck!) as I am invited again and I sure will make some time for another day like today. Minus the COLD!

Now, I must remember to set off my alarm for multiple (read: hundreds) snoozes as have to be in Berks at 9am tomorrow.
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