Monday, 20 December 2010

Meet Case Study #3: Suzanne

Meet Suzanne. An endlessly jolly character who absolutely loves having lessons and learning new things. Suzanne helps out at a riding school by managing the whole operation on Sundays. She pretty much does everything from mucking out to meet & greet, open and close, feeding the ponies and hacking out with clients. In return, she gets the lessons, mostly on a Cleveland Bay mare, Rosie.



Photo: Suzanne also has a very non-horsey job in London but here is what Rosie thinks about it!

Suzanne introduces herself

I am from Zimbabwe where I was introduced to horses at an early age, plodding around a farm on a horse that was way too big for me. I started lessons when I was about 6 and pestered my parents for my own pony but to no avail. I was lucky enough to have a friend with horses so my teenage years were spent on crazy hacks and hanging around shows being my friend’s “groom”. For a couple of decades I barely rode. However, the bug returned and I started riding again at a local riding school. I have always loved horses; they are huge and majestic but so trusting and generous. Being outside, riding a horse you love, what better thing is there?

Horses She Rides:

I ride at a small riding school where I generally ride the same horse in my lessons, Rosie, a Cleveland Bay mare. Rosie is in her teens, a bit stiff (like me) and sometimes finds things a little tricky. However, if I get something right, she tells me and we float off on cloud 9. I also hack some friends’ horses, a gentle giant called Thomas (also a Cleveland Bay), the handsome Phagan (an Irish Draught x TB) and Clarissa (the most comfy cob).

Suzanne also comes for Intensive Training Days at Hall-Place Equestrian Centre a few times a year.



Easy and effective exercise to become more aware of what each side of your body does. Suzanne tends to collapse her waist in the saddle so here she is stretching each side to trigger her awarness of being symmetrical.

Suzanne BEFORE the Academy training started:



Why does she like having lessons?

I enjoy hacking, being out and about and taking in the surroundings. But I LOVE lessons. I need to be pushed to try to achieve those things that I don’t think I can do, I like to be challenged by the technicalities that lessons bring even if it takes time for me to get there. Most of all, I want to ride quietly and effectively, respecting and in harmony with the horse, and for that lessons are vital.

What are your riding ambitions? Would you like to compete or do you prefer training at home?

I’m happiest training at home, progressing slowly. I don’t have ambitions to compete although I might eventually be persuaded to try something like Interdressage or Dressage Anywhere.



Photo: Suzanne on Bella on one of her Intensive Training Days. Hacking is a great addition to lessons especially when you have instructor on another horse next to you who drills you now and then ;)

Did you enjoy participating in the Academy’s Case Study?

I was honoured to be asked to be a Case Study. I’ve learnt that it’s all the little things being knitted together that make a difference. The Academy’s training is holistic, structured and fine-tuned to suit the individual. All aspects are interlinked and I enjoyed the whole experience.
1) Intensive Training Day(s) - Riding different horses at a larger yard. Riding one I had ridden before and finding the feel more quickly. Hours in the saddle at one time and being given the luxury of learning something and then being able to try it again a bit later on that same day.

2) Video Feedback - Invaluable, really instils what one is trying to learn and connects the image of how one imagines one rides with reality.
3) Written homework and links to articles on the theory chosen to help with particular element of training - Widens all round knowledge. Exposure to alternative methods.
4) Fitness programme/Stretch Exercises/Chiropractic assessment - The stretching exercises make a huge difference (I just need to remember to do them!).
5) Was taking the programme motivating? Did you feel like you were more/less focused on tasks & training? - Highly motivating and very addictive. The way the programme is organised certainly concentrated my mind and helped me to see the progress I was achieving.

Considering what Academy’s Programme is all about would you consider purchasing the Training Plans? If yes, why? If not, why?


I would. Having definite aims and a structure is so beneficial to learning. For me, time is an issue but the Academy programme is flexible enough to fit around a full time job.
LITTLE LOOK INTO SUZANNE'S TRAINING PLAN



Long term goals:

Improve flexibility and suppleness in the rider to help with her seat and influence in sitting trot and canter. Ride a good quality Preliminary level Dressage test, being able to control the horse's way of going, the tempo in all gaits, increasing the feel and awareness of when things are working well and when they start falling apart. Getting to know as many aspects of Preliminary dressage as possible, understanding the Scales of Training and the process of basic schooling for dressage and soundness.

Training Plan Goals:

1) Develop fundamentals of deeper seat. In Suzanne's case the areas to address were:
- confidence in sitting trot and canter!
- address the usage of psoas muscles and abdominal muscles and understanding their role in rider's stability
- hip flexibility
- body suppleness
2) Understanding longitudinal and lateral bend in the horse and being able to ask for both.
3) Ride an accurate BD Walk & Trot test with full awareness of gymnastic value of dressage movements included in those tests.



Photo: Giving Piriformis muscle a nice stretch. This exercise makes you feel like your legs lengthened by good few centimeters once you've sat back in the saddle!


We had several months to reach these goals so the first thing we did was to implement a lot of fun off - horse exercises into Suzanne's daily routine. She was to sit on a gym ball at work and keep her hips mobile ;) She did say her colleagues were quite amused.
She was also to do some very simple and gentle stretch workout programme which she found very helpful.
Suzanne tends to stiffen her wrists too so she got a special series of wrists movements several times a day which also met a few bemused comments ;)
It took several weeks but we soon started to see the benefits of these little routines. As the body of the horse constantly moves, the joints in the rider's body have to be kept mobile and relaxed. It takes a lot of confidence to just "use" ones skeleton for balance rather than applying constant muscular effort sprinkled with nervous tension. Suzanne isn't particularly nervous rider but tends to grip and "hold" when unsure or when the movement gets bigger.
As with all other riders, we also introduced lunge sessions. On a trustworthy horse these are the perfect way to develop supple seat and improve balance in motion.





Photo: Suzanne and Boss - "squeeze down the rein"...but how? Suzanne learns how to keep her wrists "soft" while changing the pressure on the inside rein to ask the horse to yield to the bit and produce inside flexion at the poll.

Suzanne is happy to canter on hacks in light seat but arena work is a different matter for her. This is why we simply made a point of cantering in every lesson. To keep Rosie comfortable we did all the canter work in light seat at the beginning and only once Suzanne was able to follow her movements more comfortably we started introducing deeper seat.
Suzanne's lower leg lives its own life so we addressed the balance and lower legs control first.

Here is a short clip showing the improvement in upper body balance and lower leg stability in a light seat in canter.





Photo: Keeping the horse "in front of the leg" in trot is becoming easier and easier for Suzanne. She also developed a lot of feel for the moments when "things are about to go wrong" and is able to correct herself even before I say anything! I still have no idea how she can stay warm in just a T-shirt in the winter but I can only guess that all the enjoyment of hard work is keeping her toastie ;)



Photo: Snapshot from one of Suzanne's Video Feedback sessions. The seat in canter is coming along!

We were going to film Suzanne for one of the November's BD Walk & Trot tests for Dressage Anywhere but the weather spoilt our plans. I will keep you updated and will also add the video once Mr Snow and Mrs Freeze decide to go away.

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