Friday, 23 April 2010

Why eventers can't show-jump, training half-steps, napping,shadowing Anna and watching Human Performance in action - week in review

Pic.left: Watching dressage warm up with Barney who after becoming friends with me decided being close by is the way to go!

Where were we?

Tweseldown trip was very interesting. The reason I like to go to various events is because I like to stay on top of the level of riding out there, what do riders have problems with, whether there is any common issue, how does everything runs etc As I barely ever compete myself it's important for me not to stay too much out of the loop. On top of that, being foreign, I still think about competitions I used to take part in and many aspects of events here are very, very different to what I'm used to.
One thing that was particularly striking at Tweseldown was that eventers have a grand issue with the show-jumping phase! I watched quite a few rounds, 30-40 in total and saw maybe 1-2 rounds where horses had a good show-jumping canter. It was an unaffiliated Pre-Novice class so perhaps the level was lower than at a BE event but nevertheless there was quite a few pros competing.
It's good to know there is plenty of scope for improvement in the rider's way of jumping the courses.
The Dressage phase was another interesting part. I watched the riders warm up and very few practiced movements or transitions that came up later in the test. Many just rode around trying not to be mowed down by other riders! It was quite manic and very few looked like they were focusing on the job in hand. Not surprisingly, the transitions seemed to be the weakest link in majority of the tests I watched.
I'm very pleased to report my friend rode a lovely, rhythmic and forwards yet relaxed and supple test on her horse Epperne Z (or Ernie) to score 25.5 for it. Look out for them, they are good!

When you go as a help you can see much more than when you compete and have to focus on yourself. Observing is both good fun and an inexpensive education.
Very few riders walk their horses much once off the lorries. I saw several riders trotting away and into jumping warm-up literally few minutes after they chucked the saddles on. Not too good for all these cold tendons and ligaments is it?
Another good area of teaching - how to organise your time at an event, how to look after the horse before, during and after the event.

The horses. I rode Kingsley today and he felt much nicer and straighter than he was couple of months ago. He is still lacking a lot of suppleness and avoids any bending. Turning on the right rein rocks me to the outside quite significantly. I walked him in the woods in hand as there was nobody to go for a hack with and I thought it might be a bit silly to go solo on a horse that hasn't had the saddle on for almost 2 months. We then walked into the arena where Craig was riding Spider (Just Ironic who is on Badminton waiting list but only 6 places to go! We are keeping everything crossed he goes in!!) and Kingsley was totally fine until Spider started leaving...Kingsley spied that he would be on his own and reacted with napping. He didn't rear but because I know that he might want to I rode him firmly for a couple more rounds on his own. He was fine with that.
Frank was still quite worried about the saddle. He acts almost cold-backed. However, he was much better in the arena, no galloping around at the end of the lunge. He listens now and I can slow him down almost immediately. He still overreacts to most things around him but I was really surprised at how much calmer he was. He was also fine with me leaning over the saddle again. No drama there. I really like him and working with him is quite a challenge.

Day with Anna Ross-Davies. If it was financially possible I would happily just go and spend few days a week just watching the training sessions and anything involved with top horses and riders. It's a fabulous opportunity and I love my days there.
This time Anna wasn't teaching any clients but was focusing on preparing herself and horses for Saumur CDIO where she is selected to ride for the Team GBR.
After 4.30am start to the day I got picked up by Ali who also teaches and rides some horses for Anna. I groomed quickly the two horses that were to be worked at 9 and went to watch Ali riding lovely black mare. A couple of months ago she was a hairy, fluffy, unfit broodmare look-a-like, she is rather sleek now! And moves! Well, I thought it was quite good until Anna came, said a few things and the canter went from bum high to sitting on the hocks.
Then the rest of early morning was all about piaffing in hand with MK and watching very elegant Merrie learning half-steps. I've never seen a horse being taught half-steps in - hand before, fascinating. Simon, who does the in-hand work is quite a magician with the whip!

I was then left with Benji the dog with permission to eavesdrop on James Burtwell's clinic (he is a Coach & List 3 Judge as well as Team Selector for Home Internationals and BD Regional Camp coach) while Anna dashed to the gym. Benji and I leisured in the sun while observing the training sessions. I must say James Burtwell knows how to be positive! He also seemed to have found that happy medium that allows him to praise riders a lot without sounding overly complementary and correct the problems without sounding too harsh. The skill I don't think I have much of...yet...I'm trying ;)
The riders ranged from prelim to medium/adv medium level and yet again there was a lot of emphasis on correct basics but also a lot of freedom to play with more advanced movements despite a gap here and there.
What I really like about Anna's teaching is that the basics come first. I don't think I've seen many lessons when the gaps in rider's position and the correctness in horse's training wouldn't be addressed first and foremost.
Having said that, all the horses on James' clinic improved their way of going and finished on a very good note. He used a serpentine exercise a lot to work on horses' balance, rhythm, bend and flexion and it was interesting to see how many riders/horses started rather badly and rode much better and more balance aware after several goes.
The afternoon started with Anna teaching Eppi who rides for her at home. Then MK, Borris and Anna's riding were scrutinised by Jon Pitts who helps Team GBR with rider's fitness & performance. Jon came to help with improving the canter zig-zag and one tempi changes. There is so many minute details in the training of a GP horse and a GP rider it is mind blowing, in a good way! To semi - quote Anna here, all the weakness that you have as a rider, all the gaps in the basic education might not show at Advanced Medium or PSG level but will hinder you at Grand Prix. Therefore she teaches riders at prelim as if they were going to make the GP level. It seems that once you're there you better have your basics well in place or you can forget about improving your horse at that level.

This is probably why Anna's way of training suits me as I like to be taught the correct way, no gaps, and I like to coach riders this way too. If I go for a lesson I'm not interested in being praised all the time and/or told how good my horse is. Sure, I want my confidence to be built but if I needed a tell-me-sweet-little-lies session I am sure I can get it for free. Not all riders like this of course and many prefer to move up the levels without ironing out the foundation steps.
The solid basics and relying on rider performance tools is the sort of work we want to do with Academy for grassroots riders (scaled down of course!) so watching the training with Jon's input was a fabulous opportunity.
Even more so, he is interested to get involved on rider performance side of the Academy so I just have to figure out how to organise it all!

The day finished with setting up the dressage boards on grass for Anna's lessons for eventers in preparation for Badminton. Wish I could see those. Maybe next time.

Running Training Day tomorrow, then teaching my dear Barnfield gang on Sunday.
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