Monday, November 14, 2011

Attention All Passengers: My Horse is a Saint!!!

A young participant discusses her ride with Kyle.
(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

We are home again after a busy, successful, bustling, and very WINDY weekend riding with Kyle Carter in Nashville, TN. The clinic was amazingly successful and very well-attended. There was a nice mix of experienced eventers, newbie eventers, upper-level riders, lower-level riders, youngsters, oldsters, ammies, pros, and sweet ponies galore. I think that everybody had a great time and learned a lot. 

(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

I rode late on Saturday afternoon in the last group of the day, and dark fell much faster than any of us had expected. But in that time, I had the chance to work some on the flat and I had mentioned to Kyle (in our group introductions) that Eddie and I had primarily done nothing but dressage this past year and I was hoping to make the transition back into jumping by using our newly-found skills. Previously, Eddie thought dressage and jumping were two completely different things. The sandbox was a place to clench his jaw, tighten his back, and put his nose in the air, while plowing through the test by performing according to what he thought should happen when....and I was just an innocent victim. Now, there is synchronicity in our tests! I ask, he gives; I tell, he does; I smile, he prances. Thus, I am hoping to inject some supple ridability, control, lightness, and softness into his jumping phases as well. As we started off trotting through poles, Kyle asked us to be round into the poles, and I got frustrated and grabby when Eddie approached the poles roundly, then stiffened a bit to find the spacing as he trotted through. It wasn't heinous, but Kyle gave me the most spot-on advice: "It doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be better each time." Yep, that's me! I feel if it isn't perfect instantly, then we might as well give up (forget the fact that trotting through poles fairly competently is something we didn't do successfully over a year ago, so anything decent this weekend was a Godsend). I kept forgetting that we hadn't jumped in over a year and we are RUSTY right now. I felt like things needed to be perfect while riding with a coach of the caliber of Kyle Carter, so for him to acknowledge any positives, and to encourage progress, was a welcome reward. 

Me and Eddie (on the right), my sister and Molley (on the left), wait our turn.
(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

After several more increasingly improved trips through the trot poles, we moved on to a canter turn to the left to a small vertical off the rail. I was nervous about this, since last year's jumping efforts ended in a wild leap and landing bucks over even the littlest stuff. As we cantered up stiffly to the vertical, Eddie bounced a quick one, two, three strides and popped lightly over the vertical, and landed moving forward eagerly. It felt soft and effortless, and I was feeling more confident than I have in a year. The several other riders in my group (including my sister) rode through the exercise a few more times, but Kyle didn't have me do it again, since it was getting dark and I hadn't massacred that initial effort too badly. As dark fell completely on the arena, he caught up with each of us briefly in preparation for the continued session the next morning. Kyle reminded me that my horse is very nice and I need to soften and let him move forward more. He had instructed me to keep more energy and adjustability in the canter (when we were working on the flat), so I need to transfer that same soft bend and impulsion from the flat into our approaches to the fences. 

Kyle works with Lauren (clinic organizer) and Brandy.
(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

The next morning, I rode in the first group (again with my sister) and this session focused more on jumping bending lines (approaches, turns, pace, and control). I started off the group by trotting through the poles again, to a left-hand canter turn to the same little vertical from the night before. I felt like this was going to be alright and we could succeed in this exercise, so we cantered down the rail and made a slight left turn. As we jumped the jump, I kept a tight hold of Eddie, expecting the over-jump and possible buck....but he just hopped over it and cantered away. I was pleased, but Kyle called me out (rightly so) for my clenching hold on the reins that flattened Eddie's jump. We also drifted off to the right on the landing, and he asked us to stay more straight as we rode away from the jump. I came around again, and the approach was lighter and I softened more, but we took the exact same line upon landing. I was so worried about the pace and my control on the approach that I completely forgot his previous instruction to move left on landing, so he informed me that our jump had been better, but the ONE thing he'd told me to do, I hadn't done. DRAT. I didn't want to get rattled, but I was also worried about not appearing to be very I'm someone that takes 5 or 6 failed attempts before I can actually do it right. I made a point of letting Eddie move up on the approach and staying WELL TO THE LEFT on landing, and Kyle gave me the "OK" sign after I finished. So, we stood by and waited for the others to work through the exercise. 

Megan Corbett leaps through a gymnastic.
(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

After everyone made improvements over the single vertical, Kyle added another vertical to the right of the first one, making a 3 stride bending line to the new jump. Again, we started by trotting the poles, cantering left off the rail to the first vertical, then turning right to the quick second vertical. I was so worried about the bend that I grabbed the reins after landing from the first fence, turned my head/body to the right, and wrenched Eddie's face toward the second vertical. We almost overshot it to the right and we ended up trotting the last half-stride and jumping from almost a stand still. Oops. Kyle's VERY ACCURATE assessment of "That was brutal. Just brutal!" was much-deserved. His point was that as I anticipated the second jump and turned my head, Eddie was actually responding without me even noticing, and my "extra guidance" had caused us to over-turn and almost miss the jump to the inside. As we cantered around again, Kyle said "soften and just stop pulling him." The second attempt was better, but I was still all over the reins. As Kyle prepped me for another attempt, he said that the way I was all in Eddie's face, he "should dump me on my butt and gallop off for the barn." Instead, my sweet horse puts up with me and he jumps whatever I ask -- and goes wherever I yank him -- time and time again. Man, did I feel like the worst rider in the world! I watched my groupmates go through a few times and then I tried it again. I just let Eddie go and I tried to turn with my body and leg (not the reins). It wasn't picture perfect, but that next time was a big improvement. I think we did it one more time fairly decently, so showing opposed to horrifying regress......was a nice feeling!

A view of the beautiful setting for the clinic, Southern Promise Farm.
(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

The final exercise of our session was to go out of the arena and onto the side of a hill to practice jumping a bending line uphill on uneven terrain. We cantered around a clump of trees at the top of the hill, turned right as we cantered downhill, then came back up the hill to jump over a 4 stride bending line consisting of two small verticals. I was worried about the canter down the hill, since Eddie thought we were going foxhunting when we went out into the field and he was literally jigging on air. But, as I sat quiet and we turned to listen to Kyle explain the task, Eddie settled down, pricked up his ears, and patiently observed the question. When it was our turn, Eddie cantered softly around the trees, went lightly down the hill, and lifted back up into my hands when I half-halted. We came up to the jumps a bit bouncy (I was just too much in his face still with my hands) and, although we jumped out fine, we lost our line a bit through the bend. Kyle told me to come around again and to just leave Eddie alone once we made the turn up the hill to the jumps. So, I did just that, and Eddie jumped lightly and quietly like a star, cantering on enthusiastically after the second fence. When I pulled up and turned back for Kyle's comments, he said, "Your horse is nice and wants so badly to do whatever you ask him. You need to do about 60% less of whatever you're doing and just enjoy the ride." I smiled and said, "Thank you. I'm glad you said that. I keep forgetting this is supposed to be fun." He started to laugh and said, "YES!", then he turned and said, "Well, now, I didn't say anything about FUN." But, we all know that isn't entirely true. Kyle is Kyle, and if anyone can make a job and a lot of hard work "fun," it's Kyle.

Not Eddie, but a lovely "look alike": Grace, ridden by Jess, the daughter of the
farm owner, Anita Scott (in the teal hat in the foreground behind Kyle).

(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

And, I did have fun! I wasn't the most talented rider there. I wasn't the most accomplished and my horse wasn't the fanciest. But, we made more progress in 2 days than we have in ages, and we left feeling confident and ready to build on that instruction in the coming weeks. I enjoyed being there with my horse, my friends, my sister, and many fellow eventers. A large amount of the satisfaction in a good clinic is the information gathered and the lessons learned. But, there is also a decent amount of satisfaction that comes just from having a good time and leaving with the confidence to pick up where we left off when we get home and resume schooling on our own. I'm hoping that Kyle will be doing a clinic again in the spring, because I have lots to work on over the winter and I'd like to ride with him again to see how much I've progressed. And, the operative word here is "I." I am the one who needs to work on improving myself, not my horse. Eddie just needs to do nothing more than keep on being Eddie!

My sister, smiling as she jumps through the hill exercise at the end of a
very windy morning session!

(Photo by Catherine Efinger/Lauren Romanelli)

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Ah that is fantastic!