06/27/2016 Clinic with Meg Kepferle

If you had asked me before the clinic with Meg Kep how I wanted it to go, I probably would have said that I would have liked to ride the best I have ever ridden, or May to go the best she has ever gone. However now that the dust has settled, I am so happy that wasn’t the case.

There were two BN groups in the clinic from my barn. Luckily, I was in the second group, so I got to watch the first group go. I got to see how Meg warmed riders up on the flat: finding a quiet 20M circle in the ring and working on getting each horse individually with the goals on getting them more connected and supple. None of the instructions was incredibly different from our regular trainer, but Meg offered up some different techniques and worded theories differently. Also, let’s face it, we always try to ride our hardest in front of someone who has never seen us ride before.

I only got to watch the beginning of the jumping session, where they introduced some of the “scarier” elements (aka a row of tires and a liverpool jump). Our liverpool is especially crazy looking, but it makes normal liverpools even less of an issue. Meg discussed the importance of understanding why a horse is disobeying: do they not understand or are they being rude? She said that the vast majority of refusals at items like ditches and banks is due to the horse not understanding the question.


Meg then walked each rider through her process of introducing these scarier elements. First, walking the horse past the object on both sides so they have an opportunity to read the obstacle without any pressure. Then, she had each rider approach at a trot, keeping their weight to the back of their saddle, and hands holding onto their neck strap. She felt that we should give our horses the opportunity to use their heads and necks to property reach and obstacle so they get more confident with it in time.

 

This seemed to work well with each horse. The only stops seemed to occur when riders allowed their hands to come up and they tried to package the horse too much to the base of the fence. This was also a great reminder to put my breastplate on, which I usually don’t use at home. (there isn’t much risk of my saddle slipping on flat, show jumping ground). Now, this was a bit different than what I have learned previously, which was to keep a horse’s balance back on its hocks and its head up. This ensures that a horse isn’t jumping the scary object out of balance, and further scaring itself. Meg offered a different technique that seemed to work through, which I am always grateful to add to my toolbox.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the rest of the first section to get ready for my section. May got tacked up in her Sunday best, while I broke out the white sunshirt, tailored sportsmans, and my show boots. Let’s be serious though, all anyone noticed of May was her ridiculously fluffy tail.

We walked out and hopped on and May felt realllllyyyy good. She was connecting to the bridle and allowing me to keep the contact on the outside rein like we have been practicing. She was forward and balanced and I was pretty pleased with her. Meg worked individually with the two other participants in my clinic, working on bending and rhythm and frame. Then, she started explaining the first jumping exercise and setting up jumps.


 

Now, I am used to being a bit overlooked. May is not a traditional eventer… or jumper… or Dressage horse… or riding horse at all. So of course I immediately jumped to that conclusion. Instead, Meg turned as she was setting up the jump to tell me that May just looked really correct. Of course, I was beaming like an idiot because I have spent soooo much time on this horse’s flatwork, and it is always nice to have it noticed.

 

The first exercise was a pole on the ground to a small raised pole and then we were told to leg yield at the canter out to the rail and then trot. May, in true May form, rushed over the cavaletti, jumped way over the raised pole, and then threw her head around on the landing side. Meg recommended that I sit very keep on the landing side and keep my hands together, moving them both to the outside together, instead of just opening the outside rein. So what did I do? I jumped the mini-gymnastic again, sat down in my saddle, and kept my hands (mostly) together. May did perform a little, mini, almost leg yield. Definitely something I want to try working on.

 

Then, Meg put the jump up and had us circle to the vertical. She instructed me to sit deep to the base, but to give with my reins a few strides beforehand, even if May makes a bid at the fence. Ok, I thought, I used to own a very forward horse, so I could do that. And I did. We were able to come around and just kept hitting the jump in rhythm. Maybe May is more capable of finding her distances than I was giving her credit for.

Then, we moved on to adding the liverpool oxer and continuing down the line in 5. Meg wanted us to do the line in 5, then 4, then 6. May and I had to be straight and forward to get the five. The first time in the line, May took a hard look at the liverpool. It was in a new location and now filled with dirty water. I kept my leg on and my hands forward, as Meg instructed, and she jumped over it, but we had 5 and a half strides getting out of the line.




We fixed it on the next attempt. Then Meg asked if I thought we could get four. I shrugged and said we would try. I gave it my best galloping effort, but May only ever got 4.5 strides. It was just too much of an ask, especially since she continued to jump up and over the oxer instead of across it. Below is the first jump in my attempt at 4. She is trying to stretch, but just puts her feet down too quickly.



After a short break, she had us try it in 6. But told me not to pull. Just to sit super deep and rock May back on her hocks. No luck. She dragged me down in 5, so Meg had us halt in the line  a couple of times. Then try again. We got 5.5 strides, and that was deemed close enough. May’s canter work is improving a lot, but it still isn’t that adjustable yet. Again, something to work on, even just with poles on the ground.

 

To continue to work on adjustability, Meg set up a 2 stride line with the skinnies through the diagonal. The first time through, May nailed it. After that, I just couldn’t find the distance. I think because I was prepping for the shorter distance, I was losing my rhythm to the first jump. May, of course, was super catty getting out of it, leaving all the rails up. Meg called her clever, which she is… to a fault.

Then of course, it was course time! The course wasn’t overly technical, but it required you to ride forward at the beginning and then have adjustability for the turn and combination at the end. Check out my awesome paint drawing of the course.

Capture

1. Blue triple bar

2. a) Roll top (this was a brand new jump and our first time jumping it)

2. b) 2 strides to a boring vertical

3. Liverpool oxer, now closer to Novice height.

4. Pink vertical, definitely Novice height

5. Tire Jump

6 a & b. Skinny combination in 2

 

So how did it go? Below is the video.

I had a bit of trouble getting into a rhythm for the first three jumps (story of our lives). I think May was a bit hot and tired by this point, and just wasn’t moving off my leg like she had been earlier in the day. The size of the Liverpool woke her up though, and she had great balance coming down the line. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t get herself up and over that line with how tired she was and hit both pretty hard. Then, she was determined not to knock the tire jump, and gave me a great effort over that one. The turn to the combination was tight, but she stayed in between my legs and hands and jumped well through it.

Overall, it was a nice round that was the perfect example of where we are right now. I don’t always make the best decisions and May still has some green moments left in her, but it is getting a lot prettier. Meg wanted me to stay concentrated on keeping my seat very deep in the saddle and to float my reins a bit. I.e. keep her balanced with my body without interfering with her head and neck. It was hard, but it produced some great jumping efforts! And she is right, May shouldn’t be looking for me to save her at the base of every fence. Incidentally, the clinic was exactly one year from my first show with May. I would say I see some improvement!


The last exercise was one of accuracy. We had to trot up to and jump over a single barrel. Meg told me to keep my hands forward, so I don’t interfere with her head and shoulders, but wide so that she can’t get too wiggly. I listened, and it worked! May looks super bored about the whole thing by this point.

Overall, I was left with a lot of great homework and a few more tools in my toolbox. Exactly what I look for in a clinic! Looking forward to getting back in the saddle and putting these things to use.

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06/16/16 Jumping Lesson Recap

The running joke between my trainer and me is that I have had some sort of PTSD from our show jumping round at Kent. Sure, I pulled it mostly together for Burgundy Hollow and XC doesn’t seem to phase me at all anymore. However, I have been fighting the undeniable desire to either pick or chase May to pretty much every jump in my path.

Then, like a true AA, I jump all the way up the neck. Perhaps some of you with fancy horses with Long Necks are like “well of course, that’s what the neck is there for!” (to my non-riding readers, that is not what the neck is there for) May has a very short and very round neck. Therefore, flinging my body onto it over the fences has the same effect as trying to belly-flop onto a yoga ball. May saves me anyway, but it is definitely a habit to work on.

Over the course of the last 3 weeks, I have focused more on my Dressage and jumping one or two smaller jumps. The focus has been to not change May’s rhythm and not throw myself up her neck. However, I realized that I would have to take a real jump lesson before our clinic on the 26th. Because again, me falling off in clinics is not something that my trainer takes pride in.
So we lessoned! My trainer had set up a simple grid for everyone, which was perfect to deal with the aforementioned belly flopping tendencies. It also was set up for May to trot into. May was not a fan of trotting into it. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that drafts can’t be catty. They can, they just need proper motivation. In this case, May realized that the grid was easier if she cantered into it, so she managed to find a way to canter through the trot poles without hitting any of them and jumping through the grid. I am oddly proud and dismayed at the same time.

 

She did do it a couple of times correctly, and my trainer figured it would be better to pull together a full course than drill the grid. Below is our first attempt at it, and it ended up being our last attempt at the full course. I rode. I kept my body back, and May did a great job in staying balanced and in front of my leg without dragging me.

The first jump was a pink vertical off the short side. The trick was to keep May’s balance up without changing our pace around the corner. Mission accomplished. Then we had to come back to the trot to go through the grid. The trot needed to be forward enough that she would make the pace through the grid without being so forward that she cantered through the poles. I actually thought she looked quite fancy with that trot.

The grid was good. I kept my face out of her mane and she landed fairly balanced. (instead of dropping her shoulder and charging through the corner) We tripped a bit coming to the liverpool, so I opted to keep it steady and ride to the base instead of chasing her for the flier. Notice, I said steady not pick until the horse has no stride left and then jump up her neck. May even corrected her lead after the liverpool. I say corrected not changed because I am about 90% sure she landed cross cantering.

The one stride was ok. We lost our rhythm coming around the corner and just didn’t get a great distance in. Then, on the way out, May took a solid peak at the filler, which she hasn’t jumped before. (See below for a still shot of that Kodak moment) No big deal, but we did do it a couple more times. Of course the second time, since she took a look, I chased her through the distance on the first jump and she had to shove the worlds smallest stride in between. My trainer made one of those half laughing half horrified noises and told me to do it again and just stop doing things. I did, and it rode perfectly. Go figure.


We ended on that because while we were out of the heat of the day, it was still quite humid and May was done. She got a quick hose off, but as you can see, she is desperately in need of a proper bath. Maybe this weekend. Either way, I think I can declare my PTSD over with and my confidence truly on the mend!

Recent Purchases – a Review Primer

 

Somehow, my lack of showing in June – August has turned into a huge buying opportunity. I recently purchased really gorgeous Navy & Black gloves. These, but in Navy. I bought them from a local tack shop for less than I am seeing them online and in a prettier color, so I am calling that a win. I will do a formal review once I have owned them for a while, but I have gotten to ride in them once. So far so good!

 

May has also been really needing a proper pair of XC boots. Enter Majyk Equipe in White! I paid full price. I have no shame. They might be a touch too tall on May, but I am going to try them for a bit and then decide. The White looks super flashy.

I also had an interesting interaction with SmartPak that ended up with me trying their new breeches. The Piper Knit Breeches with Silicone Knee patches. I got them in tan because I need a “just in case” cheap pair of pants for shows. Since then, I have bought a second pair in Navy.

Piper Knit Breeches

Again – a formal review is coming but the breakdown is… meh. They look nice, but are too long for me. I am typically very much in the “regular” length for inseams, but these are a solid 4″ too long and too bulky around the ankles. It’s fine in my schooling tall boots, which I bought one calf size larger than my show boots*, but it would be uncomfortable under my more “form fitting” show boots.

*My show boots are exclusively summer wear. When I wear them, I am exclusively wearing summer pants with thin socks. Meanwhile, during the winter I like to wear under armor beneath my fleece lined pants… with two socks. This creates bulk that my show boots just wouldn’t be able to handle.  Unfortunately, this also means I have a slight panic attack right before I have to wear my show boots because I am always afraid they won’t fit anymore. 

How do you deal with less than perfect pant bottoms? By buying perfect socks! I bought these. I have used them once. I am in love.

Of course, the list can’t stop there! I also bought a pair of thinline reins. I have no idea if I love them because I hated my old reins so much, or if I am actually in love with them. They were definitely bulkier than I expected, but I like the slight give they have when I increase tension. It was a bit off to ride in the first time or two, but May and I got used to it. I also got them in a slightly shorter length than my old pair because May has a very short neck and I am secretly hoping it will make it look like we have more stretch in the free walk if I just mysteriously run out of reins to give.

Finally, this hairnet.I had one… now I have 3. It looks super goofy before you put your hair up, but it has revolutionized my relationship with hair nets. Try One. Buy Many. 🙂

Disclaimer: These items were bought over the last couple of months and the fiance is aware of all of them… and of my slowly building need for a navy OneK.


As for an update on May:

May and I have reached a bit of an odd point in the season, a break point. In years past, I have competed as a Hunter/Jumper rider, and there was never any consideration of taking the summer months (or the winter months) with any kind of break. In fact, most shows and trainers took advantage of the summer months to do such outlandish things as weekday shows!

 

This year, however, my trainer is due for her first child in mid-July, and I have a horse that would really prefer to live in Canada (rumor has it she is from there). So what are we doing until September rolls around…

 

1. Dressage. Always Dressage.

I wish someone had told me when I was a kid that eventers spend a lot more time doing Dressage than XC jumps. (or maybe it’s just me?). I also wish someone had told me that I would love it. At my first lesson after our last show, my trainer and I discussed the difficulties I have during Dressage tests and jumping rounds. May tends to get very heavy in my hand and down on her forehand.

 

In regular schooling, I correct this with a transition. The transitions have gotten much cleaner, and they continue to be part of our program. However, May is now broke enough to begin isolating body parts and learning things like shoulder-in. May, as usual, is appalled by this notion. I have spent over a year teaching her butt to follow her ribs, her ribs to follow her shoulders, and her shoulder to follow her head. (at the beginning, May used to love to turn her head and continue in a straight line)

 

We began with some baby shoulder-ins just to help her get the idea of traveling that way and then backed off. This is something I may play with once a week until it becomes something she is comfortable with. Drilling it each ride will just make her anxious through the whole thing and ruin the point of the exercise.

 

2. Show Jumping… (and possibly my own equitation)

If you all remember correctly, I barely pulled myself together in the last lesson before our 5/22 horse trial and was able to jump a semi-respectful course. At the competition, I had a good round but still pulled one rail. Unfortunately, I am still struggling with getting our mojo back after our rough stadium round at Kent. I am also pretty disappointed with how my eq has suffered. In changing May’s form over fences, I have also changed mine, except not in a positive way. Which in turn is making May less balances, which in turn is making me compensate more. It’s a vicious cycle.

 

I have been jumping smaller jumps (2′ – 2’3″) about once a week in order to work on things like rhythm and balance. At that height, it is still just a big canter step for May, so I don’t feel bad for incorporating them now and then. I also use jumps as a reward.

 

We recently added a liverpool to our jump ring. May was terrified of it. I got her to walk past it the first time she saw it, after some coaxing. Eventually, we built up to trotting over a pole next to it. Then we trotted over a pole next to it inside the standard. Once she was able to trot past it and not give it an evil eye. We picked up a canter, jumped over a small vertical a few times and I put her away. The next day, she was able to come out, pick up where we had left off, and ended up jumping over the liverpool, no issues.

 

In addition to continuing lessons as much as we can, we also signed up for a clinic at our barn with Meg Kepferle. Give her a Google. She’s pretty cool, and we’re very excited. I am going to try to put my last clinic out of my head (where I ate dirt in front of Marilyn Payne.)

3. Buying all the Things!

If there is one thing I have learned with horses, it is that buying more expensive and newer tack/equipment/clothes will not make you a better rider. There are no quick fixes. However, much like most people would rather cry in a Mercedes than on a bicycle, I would rather eat dirt in Italian breeches and watch my horse canter off wearing her French Saddle. Fortunately, neither I nor May fit in either of those things, so I will stick with my smaller, but still pretty, purchases.