Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lucinda Clinic

If there were a ratio of hours of instruction / amount of influence on my riding, Lucinda Green wins without contest. I've been clinicing with her now for 10 years, as often as I was able. She teaches something that no one else teaches-- what to do when it all goes wrong. Lucinda is the Queen of Cross Country, winning Badminton 6 different times of 6 different horses. She now travels the world teaching her clinics: "Cross Country: The Safe Way." Some of her gems include "Just remember: E.L.B.O.W. Engine Line Balance or OW!" "When in doubt, GET OUT!" and, my personal favorite: "There is no known distance between these fences." It's all about putting you into sticky situations so that you and your horse have the tools to deal with anything!

Day 1 is always closer to dog agility than it is to cross country riding, but in a good way! There is much less emphasis on jumping big imposing jumps than on figuring out how to connect with your horse and get her to do the job you need her to do! So, lots of skinnys and arrowheads, a few oxers and panels... lots of strange 'uncomfortable' distances. The rules are simple: Don't have a run out. Lucinda will tear down the jump if necessary, but you better stop square in front of it if you do stop. Much better if you can scramble over in some fashion or another... they're all quite small, so there's no reason not to walk over them! The horses generally pick up on the game quickly, while Lucinda targets the rider to really force you to focus you're eyes on the jump and wrap your horse in the 'tube' of your legs. The sum of all this is a finely focused partnership cantering up to these skinnys, and its all accomplished in the first 30 minutes of the first day!

The next activity was the tarp, which as you may recall, is not our strongest suit. After struggling to get over it within the group, Lucinda pulled us aside to work on it on our own, saying that we'd stay there all night if we had to. We actually got over it fairly quickly once we left the group, and we continued to go back and forth over it for another 30-45 minutes. She never truly settled, and every 5-10 minutes we'd start back at the beginning, with the rearing and naughtiness all over again. Finally, after I'd won the battle again (for the fourth time), I stopped working on the tarp and walked back to the group. I'd won the battle, but the war was still on-going, so I wanted to end her day on a good note-- riding 5 fences with emergency rein contact!

Emergency rein contact is when you lose your reins and have a jump in the next few strides, so you don't have enough time to get them back. So you sit back and widen your hands until you DO have contact, and then ride the fence! Emergency rein contact becomes really important at Preliminary level and above, because course designers find ways to force you to ride with no reins (drop into water followed by a skinny?), but the point of Lucinda's clinics is that these situations can happen to anyone at any time. So you may as well plan for it! She actually had a great anecdote, about that plane that landed in the Hudson River? The pilot had exactly 120 seconds to decide what to do when the engine failed. But because he'd been over so many emergency situations in his mind so many times, he was able to quickly find a solution and save hundreds of lives. Obviously a very dramatic example, but the point remains: have a plan for when the manure hits the fan.

The second day began with walking through the water, and walking up and down small banks until the horses learned to just quietly step in and out of the water, and then repeating everything in trot. Next we put together a few small courses in and around the water complex, using the same skinnys as the day before.

On our first mini course, Zahra decided to give me a piece of her mind. After trotting up and down the banks happily for ten minutes, she decided she would not be trotting up the steep slope that had a skinny on top. A few little crow hops and general reluctance to go forward finally concluded in me giving her a resounding WHAP with my stick (turned upside down for bonus shock value). It's like the switch went off in her head, and she trotted up the hill and over the skinny. She didn't give me any grief for the rest of the lesson!

Before and After the spanking.
Photos (c) ShortHorse Studios

Once Lucinda had our horses listening to us and doing all the ins and outs of the water complex, she turned us loose to jump any combination of jumps and water that we fancied (just keep it small please). Zahra was foot perfect with everything I asked her!
Eat your heart out George!
(c) ShortHorse Studios

"Ragdoll Style" resulted in a foot in the ditch!
(c) ShortHorse Studios
Next, we walked over to the ditch. I'll admit, I was a bit trepidatious about this-- the only ditch we'd ever jumped was a very shallow, natural ditch. Although this one was not especially deep, it was much deeper than the one at home, and riveted on both sides! Plus after having that big tarp discussion, I wasn't sure what I'd gotten myself into. I swore I would ride it positively though, and so I banished all thoughts of worry from my head as we approached the ditch "rag-doll" style. She didn't hesitate any longer than it took her to put one of her feet down into the ditch and then skip over it! A bit unorthodox perhaps, but I was ecstatic!!

Baby trakehner!
(c) ShortHorse Studios
After a few more times over the ditch (and even helping "pony" a few other horses over the ditch! A welcome change after every single horse in my group tried in vain to pony Zahra over the tarp the previous day), she made it into a small coffin with the skinnys. Note to self: Zahra will get between the flags, over the jumps, come hell or high water, but our "adjustability" needs work!! 
Finally, Lucinda added a skinny to make the ditch into a small trakehner. I was so overwhelmingly filled with pride when as we cantered up to the ditch, Zahra's ears pinged right on to the standards and took me there!

Another trip out to the main field to jump around and have fun-- this time I faced baby Z up to some bigger gallop-y jumps (up to training level), and she felt perfect! I was overflowing with confidence that she has become the horse of my dreams!
Jumping a moderately sized house without incident
(c) ShortHorse Studios 

Of course, than Lucinda brought out the tarp again, and she and I got to have a "mini-private" session on tarps! It was actually really a good thing to come back to the tarp. After a small fit, she began bounding over it, and once we got her quietly walking over it, I jumped off and let her graze while Lucinda imparted some words of wisdom. I'm paraphrasing of course, but do your best to imagine it in a very proper British accent:

Our private session with the tarp
(c) ShortHorse Studios
"I just had this very strong sense that we shouldn't beat her yesterday over the tarp. I could sense that she was genuinely afraid of it, so beating her would not help us. But I also had a sense, just as strongly, that we should beat her when she was being silly in the water. And I think you sensed it too, because you really gave her a good crack."

I'm not gonna lie, I thought that was pretty funny in an absurdest kind of way, but its also completely true. So many people struggle with where that line is. Some people don't want to ever punish their horse, even to the point where it can develop into a dangerous situation; while other people can be so far to the opposite extreme, beating their horse every time he steps out of line (which can also develop into a dangerous situation!!). Knowing the timing of when to spank a horse is not something that can easily be taught. You have a tiny fraction of a window to punish a horse after he is bad. You need to have your wits about you, carry out the punishment, and then remain calm and cool enough to continue on your ride as if nothing happened. Maybe a future blog post dedicated to this subject is in order... :)
One last epic picture to close the blog... :)
(c) ShortHorse Studios

Turn, Smile, Shift, Repeat

Young horses can be a trip. You start with a blank page of potential, so that every small thing that they do right, you can claim as your own personal victory. But, it would be a lie to say that these victories came without their fair share of set backs. The best thing to do is stay positive and turn every defeat into a different victory.

Easier said than done, but remember, we do this for FUN! So there's no sense getting too bummed out if something doesn't go as planned. It's all about the journey.

Recently, I had trouble getting Zahra into my trailer to take her to a show. Blessing in disguise? One extra day of relaxation in Outer Banks, North Carolina!

On Friday, I tried to take her to the vet to see about this niggling little not-quite-lameness in her hind end. Maybe its nothing, but I wanted to be sure. Again, no getting in the trailer. Blessing in disguise? When we finally DID get her in (hours after her appointment was supposed to start), I drove her, and my two year old Puck, to the farmhouse.
  • She gets some R&R while we abandon the rigors of dressage and jumping for quiet hacks around the farm.
  • She is learning to self load in the trailer because it provides relief from the bugs and it is where all her meals are given.
  • Puck is getting a training intensive! Fly spray was the first and most important thing he finally had to come to grips with. Next? Maybe a bridle!
  • Work is being done on the farmhouse to make it horse friendly!! We set up the round pen, built a pasture, and updated some trails!
  • When we reschedule the vet appointment, we'll be able to take Puck too, who needs his wolf teeth pulled.
I never knew how much I would love having my horses at home, but now I know. It's awesome!! 
Building the round pen, step 1
Sophie guards the horses as we build the fence around them.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Indelible Session

From ShortHorse Studio's Website:

Equestrians know that horses are etched into our beings. Each leaves an indelible image, like a tattoo on the soul. The Indelible Project is being put forth to express our experiences - our joys, sorrows, humorous moments and devastating losses - as though we would wear them on our skin.

Each image will be created from two separate sessions: one with you and one with your horse. Both sessions can be done in one day, but it may not be necessary or possible to do so.
(c)SHS. One of Heather's "Signature Collection"
which was the precursor to the Indelible session.

Let's begin with an introduction. Heather McManamy of ShortHorse Studios is an artist first, photographer second. I think the order is important, because many people can pick up an expensive camera and call themselves photographers, but there's a lot more to it then picking the right lens and knowing when to push the button!

Now off of my soap box...

I asked Heather if she would like to collaborate on a story for Horse Nation-- maybe I could tag along on one of her sessions? She did one better! She said "Let's do one of YOU so that you get the whole inside process."

I, of course, said Heck Yes.

We started the process by talking through different ideas for the final image. The question that really set me on my heels was "What part of your body has changed because of riding?"  Really when you stop to think about it, this is a big question. There may be injuries, there are certainly muscles, there is the emotional toll, both the sweat and tears but also pride and confidence.

(c) SHS. The first Indelible Session.
The bond between horse and rider.
Have you ever experienced the stranger or new acquaintance saying "Oh, you ride horses? The one time I rode a horse I..." and then they tell you the story. Even if they themselves didn't actually ride the horse, even if its not actually their story... they want to share it with you. No one ever walks up to Lance Armstrong and tells him about the time they went bicycling. It's one of the things I find most fascinating about horses, and its what this project is all about, because if horses could leave such an indelible mark on all of these people, just think about all the millions of ways they have changed you!!

The concept that Heather developed was spot on. As I was an eventer, we were going to focus on strength and courage, whereas the first Indelible Session sought to capture the grace and bond between a dressage rider and her horse. Each shoot is completely customized to the particular horse and rider. For my shoot, we used a dark red dress and fabric, with gold make-up (aka, my cross country colors). We did the photoshoot in our cross country course while the apple trees were just starting to lose their blooms, so the setting was pretty magical. 
(c) SHS. A selection from the first session.

We took pictures with me standing in front of jumps, standing on jumps, laying on jumps, walking up jumps. Heather also climbed trees, stood on jumps, and ran circles around me in order to catch me from multiple angles, with different lighting. Her part-time assistant, and full-time Significant Other, Mike, was also constantly on the move, making sure the light was coming from just the right place. All together, we were at it for about two hours. It didn't feel like that long, because the whole process was very fun.  As barn girls, we don't often get a chance to get all dressed up and be girly, so it was a nice change of pace, and since riders tend to be pretty physically fit, we tend to "clean up pretty well."

The horse session was much faster paced. What's that old Hollywood saying? Never work with children or animals? That's where Heather's mettle came in! We took my cute little 4 year old up to the water jump, which was actually very deep after recent rains! Even my trusty Dubarry's were no match... they don't protect from the horse splashing water into the tops of your boots!! So, we had a young horse who's still a bit green with water, me not able to go more than 5 feet in from the edge because of the depth, the sun was setting, and somehow Heather had to get a cool photo before the light was gone! 

(c) SHS. Zahra's session.
Well, of course, Heather stepped up. We got Zahra playing in the water, pawing at it, jumping down the banks, galloping through it... and Heather caught the playful spirit of my horse perfectly! We took pictures for two hours with me, and only 20 minutes with Z, but they. were. awesome. Zahra's just more naturally photogenic I suppose!

The last piece was pulled together by Heather; in my imagination it was done in the middle of the night, with the light of her monitor as the only glow, and a bottomless cup of coffee, as she bent layers, masks, and vectors to her will. The final image, in my opinion, is almost ethereal. A benevolent horse goddess looking down upon her creation. What do you think, HN? 

(c) SHS. The Final Image.

So, you think you want one too? Here are the requirements:

Candidates must:
  • be comfortable with showing some skin (no "parts") in a safe environment 
  • be comfortable in front of the camera or willing to try  
  • own or have access to a horse 
  • have a horse that can tolerate lighting equipment, props, etc.  
  • be open and willing to take direction as well as initiative – this is a collaboration and ideas are welcome!  
  • sign a model and liability release 
Visit shorthorsestudios.com/indelible.html for more!