Monday, October 23, 2017

Carl Hester Masterclass Day 1

A post shared by Carl Hester MBE (@carlhestermbe) on

  I was blessed with tickets for my birthday to attend the Carl Hester Masterclass with my mom.  The symposium was held at the Caledon Equestrian Park in Palgrave Ontario, the host site for the 2015 Pan American games for dressage and showjumping.  My mom and I made a weekend of it, and stayed at a bed and breakfast close by.  We headed out at 5:30 am to make the almost 3 hour drive to the park.

  The event was sold out, with 2000 people attending.  Some had VIP tables, with lunch and wine served.  We had bleacher seats, but were treated with free coffee, water, drinks and snacks.  Photos and videos were not allowed.  We arrived early to get good seats and met up with our coach and some friends.  I was really excited to audit, being a fan of Charlotte Dujardin who Carl has coached for nearly her entire career.  I knew he was talented but wow, he really blew me away with his knowledge and training philosophies.  He is probably my biggest idol now, I think tied with Micheal Jung, which if you know me at all, you know how obsessed I am with MJ!

  The session started with Carl talking about how he cares for his horses.  He said he is different than most in Europe as he turns his horses out every day.  The horses which are 4 and under live outside.  They come in first thing in the morning for breakfast, are ridden after and then turned back out.  He said it is such a different idea that he had people asking him if he thought turn out was the key to winning medals.  He laughed about it, and said no, the training is the key to winning medals.  That being said, turn out is part of the program he believes in.  He also only works his horses 3 or 4 days a week in the school.  The other 3 or 4 days a week they do hill work, hacking, or water treadmill.

  His training goal is always the Grand Prix.  He does not believe in the Young Horse classes. He feels those horses majority of the time do not make it to the upper levels, and that the horses who do well at the Young Horse classes are not horses who are meant for the Grand Prix.  His focus is training to the highest level, and the Young Horse classes are more for a resale or breeding type interest.  He does not train his horses in a quick fashion either, so the Young Horse classes do not fit into his program.  He said you can expect it to take 6 years to take a horse from start to Grand Prix.  So from age 4 to 10.  He does not start horses before the age of 4.

  He does not think horses at this age need to be showing, although some do because they are born to show.  You have to know the horse and decide if it is worth stressing them at the early stage of their training.  He suggested clinics like this type are good to get the horse exposed without the pressure of expectations.

  The riding portion of the clinic started with two 4 year olds.  The one 4 year old sort of fried her brain and only came in to walk around and then left.  He was adamant the horse have a positive experience.  He could also tell the horse had been worked really hard the night before, and he said he does not like to work horses when they are tired.  He prefers them fresh with lots of energy as the training is more positive in that scenario.  He told the rider to let the horse rest and come back tomorrow and asses if she was relaxing more and ready to do some work.

 He immediately noted the other 4 year old was behind the vertical, and ridden with too much hand.  He had the rider start by getting the horse to stretch down to the contact.  He starts every ride with 20-25 minutes of stretching work.  The 4 year olds do not do more than that a day.  If they were not turned out he may add a bit of hacking after but majority of the time this is enough.  Stretching is the basis of his training all the way up.  It is mentally and physically relaxing for the horse.   Stretching does not mean nothing in the hand though, you still need contact.  Lightness does not mean an empty hand, lightness is a horse carrying itself. He explained that young horses need someone who is confident, quiet, and able to give the appropriate discipline when needed.  If you are not this person, then you should not be training young horses.

  He emphasized that you need a plan.  With young horses you need to ride big circles, big lines, and not go into the corners too deeply.  Be safe and see how much you are able to trust your horse.  The young horse needs to be able to steer, stop, start, and stretch before it learns anything else.  He recommends transitions in a forward seat for young horses.  He does this so the horse does not feel like it needs to raise its head and neck in the transition or the canter.  If your horse is spooky, ride in a shoulder fore position.  An often spooky horse is a horse missing basics.  He also reminded the rider, that in order for a horse to be straight they must carry their head in the middle of their chest.  You can check their ear position often to make sure you do not have a bend in the neck.

  With the horse who was behind the vertical, you could see the muscle at the base of the neck had a dip to it.  This is an easy way to see if the horse is lifting through its shoulders to the bit.  He said just thinking long will allow the horse to move up into that.  When you want the horse to move forward, you move your upper body slightly forward.  You should always be sitting in the center of your saddle, and have the feel that you are standing, so that if your horse disappeared beneath you, you would land on your feet.  The feel in your hand - contact - should feel like the horse is slightly resting in your hand.

  He shared that he thinks a horse behind the bit is more difficult to correct than a horse who leans on the bit so you really want to be sure you do not encourage this.  If a horse goes behind the bit, hold your hands closer together.  Your hands should be together, thumbs almost touching in front of your saddle, and when you stretch you can hold your hands lower and wider.  Wide hands above the saddle make the bit very sharp.  If a horse is heavy or on the forehand, raise your hands and the horses frame will raise.  He said until you are riding carrying your hand in front of the saddle for your entire ride you are riding wrong.  The only thing you can do when your hand is in front of the saddle is pull back, and not down.  And trust me, Carl does not approve of you pulling on horses face, whatsoever!  Especially not to get it into a frame.

  This 4 year old had a habit of sticking its tongue out the left side.  This is because he was avoiding the contact.  To correct it, the rider was to watch for the tongue and put their left leg on every time she saw the tongue come out.  This gets the horse to think about its hind end rather than what is happening in its mouth.  It becomes a habit and you need to become aware and consistent in correcting it.

  With young horses you have to keep it very basic.  You need to decide when enough is enough.  Is this good enough for this horse at this moment.  He does not ride young horses until they are tired, he rides them for a short time and ends on a positive note, with lots of stretching.  Not just one trot around the arena, he does circles, transitions, etc in the stretch before he finishes his ride.

 After the 4 and 5 year olds, he had the horses doing Advanced medium or what we call Third Level.  The one horse in this class was my favourite.  He was a very leggy dark bay KWPN who looked so much like Valley.  He just floated around the arena, and was so so so consistent and obedient.  He warmed them up the same way as the young horses, with 20 minutes of stretch work.  He explained to these riders with goals, that believing in your horse and yourself is half the battle.  You must believe in yourself.  Do not worry about the things that come up on the path to get there.  Start with a lovely walk trot canter and a dream.  He said to be sure to ride a horse that suits you.  If you don't like push horses then ride hot horses.  If you don't like hot horses then ride lazy horses.  Carl himself prefers a hot horse.

  He talked about swing speed - the speed at which you find the horses "swing" - i.e. the dreamworthy float.  Some horses swing speed is faster and some slower.  For some if it is too fast it throws them off balance.  Do not pull back to slow horse, use your body, relax your leg and head up to the sky to half halt.  The half halt should only last half a stride, not two or three strides.  Your aids need to be black and white.  You need to ask until you get it.  Try and make perfect transitions every time.  Even at the walk and when taking a break.  Your horse has 24 hours a day when it is not working, in that hour you ride you are training the horse.  Every movement, every transition.

  The riders that followed were Intermediaire, PSG, and then Grand Prix.  He worked these horses all the same, starting and ending with stretch work, and then observing and choosing one or two things the horses needed help with.  I didn't make notes for these horses because as you can see, I had already noted so much and my horses are no where near this level.  I also wanted to watch and not be writing so I could see everything and remember it.  The differences are minute but I do have eye for it and when I see the changes it gets etched in my brain.  I did also listen intently and made note of all the exercises he used.  He showed us A LOT of exercises, each with a specific purpose which were tuned to the horses in the clinic.  There was noticeable improvement in all the horses by the end of the session.  It was really remarkable to see.

  Carl was absolutely hilarious, making jokes and telling stories.  It was great to see that Canada has definitely improved its quality of dressage horses too.  We have a lot of talent in our pool, and were so lucky to have Carl come and share his knowledge.  Tomorrow I will share my notes from day two.  If anyone is interested in any exercises to help anything you are struggling with leave me a comment and I will share if he used one that might be helpful.

  Off to dream of turning Penny into a dressage princess!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Grandview Horse Trials Recap Oct 17

  The weekend after our last event, Penny and I headed to Grandview Horse Trials.  Grandview is an absolutely stunning facility, but I haven't been back there in years.  It is usually a packed event with crazy parking, so I tend to avoid it with my high strung horses just because of the busyness.  That being said, Penny was being quite chill lately, and their courses are really nice, plus only having a few events left in the year, I wanted to get Penny out again before the season was over.

  We headed up there early Sunday morning, I had a nice ride time of 1pm, which made the early morning not so painful before our 3 hour drive up.  Bri came with me to groom and help out and keep me company.  We arrived and parked with no issue.  Penny unloaded and was happy to stand quietly and eat at the trailer while I went and walked the course.  The course was really nice, some big fences but really inviting, a couple of combinations to make note of - but nothing we couldn't handle.  I still felt nervous about the course, the size of the fences, and how she might ride to some of them, but I just reminded myself of the course we tackled the weekend before and it helped ease my nerves.

  I tacked up for dressage after my course walk and headed to the dressage warm up.  The night before we were absolutely pelted with rain, and the warm up rings were quite wet and sloppy.  They were also really crowded, and these two factors seem to effect Penny.  She would not relax or settle.  I warmed her up for quite a while, but I just couldn't get her in front of the leg at all.  I knew this was going to be bad news for our test.  When our time came I went to our ring and started going around the outside.  Our ring was beside the woods where there is a creek beside it.  It just added to her tension and what happened next was basically an abomination of a dressage test.

  We went down the center line jiggy jogging with our head straight in the air.  It did not improve from there, once our canter came she picked up the wrong lead, trantered, wrong lead, trantered, right lead, bolted, and then whizzed around with her head straight in the air.  The test continued in that fasion until we got to our lengthen trots, when she finally settled, was in front of my leg albeit strong.  She did two beautiful lengthens and then pulled me down the center line where THANK GOD - we were done.  That was by far the worst test I have ever ridden in my life.  I could do nothing but laugh as I saluted the judge.  I thanked her as I left the ring and she smiled and laughed and said "you'll need that later".  It was nice to have a judge who could laugh along with me instead of shunning me with a look of disgust that some can do when you have an awful test.

Photo: Linda Shantz (unedited, but had to share because shes soooo proud of herself)

Photo: Linda Shantz The judges and I having a chuckle over our test

  It was pretty disappointing at first, especially after our amazing ride the weekend before.  I know we are capable of so much more, but we haven't mastered the tension yet.  That's something I will need to figure out how we can improve over the winter.  I'm not really sure where her nerves come from when it comes to the dressage ring, but I definitely want to do some investigating to figure it out.  Once I got back to the trailer I felt a bit better.  I knew we could have some fun jumping and although we were dead last after dressage and no where near competitive, we can both benefit from the experience of tackling a few more courses.

  The stadium course looked really fun.  It flowed well and had distances that were on the long side which suits Penny.  There was a big puddle on the landing side of one jump that was causing a lot of stops, but I wasn't too worried about that with Miss Pen.  There were two combinations, one a very long one stride and a long two stride.  She warmed up really well.  Super quiet, on the aids, jumping straight and square.  We went into the ring and had a great round.  I figured since the one stride was a on a long one stride I could just let Penny cruise through it, but I was wrong and she didn't have enough room and we had the second part of it down.  It was completely my fault, I should have packaged her up much more, but I thought the extra  1/2 stride would give us enough room. Lesson learned.  We finished with the one rail but I was thrilled with how she was once again really rideable.

  We moved up three places after stadium so that was alright.  I had a nice little visit with my old horse Parker in between stadium and cross country, and that was really nice.  I still miss that horse often and seeing him out eventing and happy just makes me happy.  He gave me a big hug and a cuddle before I tacked up for cross country.  Heading out to the warm up I was feeling pretty nervous, but I went over the course in my head, reminded myself Penny will take care of me, and that we can just take it jump by jump.

  We jumped a few fences in the warm up, she felt good and listening.  Then we were off.  The course rode so nicely, and Penny was just cruising over everything.  I brought her back and collected for the combinations to make sure we had no errors.  She came right back for me, listening intently the whole way around.  She was pretty much foot perfect and made it feel easy.  We cruised home clean inside the time, and our only real bobble on course was the massive flyer we took at the last fence.  I saw the distance and the added distance and went for the flyer.  I know Penny can jump from long ones but really I should have tried to collect her a bit more a few strides back to even our stride out and get a better distance.  That is just another thing learned from the experience and something to work on in the future.

Photos 1-7: Bailini

  We ended up 14th of 17, but our scores weren't really that far off the higher placings.  Considering the horrible score we started with, I can't complain about our finish.  We clearly still have a lot of work to do in the dressage ring, but to be honest I would rather have a horse that will jump day in and day out than a horse that can win the dressage and doesn't always jump around.  That is if I had to choose lol  Penny's willingness over fences really impressed me, and she just gives you the absolute best feeling out there jumping.  We will keep chipping away at things all winter and come out next year ready to tackle an entire season, and learn what we can along the way.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Touch A Rainbow Horse Trials with Penny Recap

  Penny and I tackled our first event since June a few weeks back, at Touch A Rainbow Horse Trials.  Since the season is ending, and Penny and I have come along in our dressage and rideability over fences, I wanted to sneak in a few events before I didn't have the chance to get out again this year.  We had a stellar dressage lesson the day before, so I was hoping we could carry that into the ring at the event.

  It was also extremely hot that weekend, with the humid-ex rising by the minute.  Katie and I packed 11 bags of ice, and plenty of water to keep the ponies cool.  This time of year in Ontario, they are starting to get their winter coats already.  It was going to be a hot sweaty one, but at least we were prepared.  That morning Penny practically ran me over to get onto the trailer.  She decided she was going with me today regardless of what my plans were.  She's so funny, once upon a time when I first got her, she wouldn't even load.  Now she self loads and literally runs on.  God love her.

  We arrived at the event without issue and I tacked up and headed to warm up.  Once there, I realized I had learned the wrong dressage test.  Luckily there was a nice lady there with the omnibus who let me read through the test quickly before I had to go in. Crisis averted!  That is the first time I have done that, I'm glad I realized it before I went into the ring and saved myself that horror lol.

  Penny warmed up fabulously.  She was relaxed, loose, and really connected.  She always looses a lot of her relaxation once we get to the show ring.  As soon as we start our walk or trot around the outside she tenses, resists, and gets stiff.  I'm not sure why.  I don't know if it is the pressure of being alone, nerves, what.  It is something I am trying to figure out and find a solution to help her stay as relaxed around the ring as she does in the warm up and everywhere at the show.  She did manage to settle a bit and we went in for our test.

  And it was amazing.  She was relaxed, soft, supple, and seemed to be enjoying herself.  Since I hadn't ridden this test before, it was kind of amusing to be riding it the first time in the show ring, but I liked the test.  It has a good flow and showed off Penny strengths.  The judge was extremely generous.  We scored several 8s and even an 8.5.  Considering how hard dressage is for her, you would be surprised to see she actually is quite a big mover.  He commented that we were an "incredible pair" and had the most positive things to say about her and the movements.  

  I almost died of shock when I saw the score - 39.6. (26.4 US).  We were 3pps behind first place, in 2nd.  Even if the judge was generous, and you tacked another 20pp on our score, I would still have been thrilled for Penny!  We smashed our personal best by miles.

  I walked the cross country after dressage, and was completely terrified at what I was seeing. It has been two years since I went Training level.  In 2015 we only did a few events because she was prepping for the Pan Am Games and that was the most important focus for us.  In 2016 I was off with my broken leg.  So here I am, walking this course, thinking I am nuts, crazy, these jumps are huge, these jumps are skinny, these jumps are insane, I'm probably going to die.  But, I just kept reminding myself that we have done plenty of Trainings successfully before, and that Penny will always take care of me.  I read an article by an upper level rider a few months back, I can't remember who it was, but they said they key to success for them was always believing their horse could do it.  That alone gives you and your horse the confidence you need and the horse will feel it.  So I just reminded myself that Penny is amazing, she can jump the moon, and she will always try her heart out.

  I went and walked my stadium after and thought the course looked super fun.  I don't know when I all of a sudden stopped having nerves for stadium and starting looking forward to it, but here I am!  I got back to the trailer and told Katie that I was crazy and wanted to puke after walking my course, but she assured me we would be fine.  I am exaggerating of course, but I was pretty nervous.  Thankfully I had stadium first to test the waters and see how Penny was jumping and listening, and to warm me up for our big long cross country course.

  Showjumping is definitely one of Penny's forte's, although we have struggled with rideability in the past.  This does not seem to be an issue anymore.  She is very responsive now, listens extremely well.  So well that it throws me off.  She stays quiet right to the base of the jump, pats the ground and jumps well over her back.  It's an adjustment to me and I still get this feeling that maybe she isn't feeling well when she jumps so quietly!  That is just a change I have to get used to, because she clearly was feeling fine when she gave me a beautiful clear round.

  There was no more delaying the inevitable.  It was time to get our gear on and get ready for XC.  The course was really long, the optimum time was 6:16! Crazy long, and on a super hot day I was most concerned about keeping Penny healthy and finishing well.  We just did a long walk warm up, and 2 minutes out from the box I went for a good trot, and then canter around to get her heart rate up and her muscles pumping.  Before I knew it there was no turning back now, we were counted down in the start box and on course.

  The first few fences rode right out of stride.  Fence 4 to 5 brought the first of many combinations, a bending line of coops, the second being skinny.  I asked Penny to come back and wait and she did.  It was a good feeling to know she was listening.  Fence 6 was the water - which I haven't schooled this year with Penny other than our event at Little Bromont.  I was a bit concerned as in the past she has looked at fences before the water, not the ones dropping in.  I had no reason to worry, she came back to me and jumped in bravely, then drove herself the 6 strides out over the skinny log coop.  Major big pats for her there.  

  I let her gallop a bit but she got too strong, so I brought her back and we flew over the Steeplechase fence.  Next was another combination, ditch then angled line to skinny.  Once again she came back and listened and took me over it no issues.  We galloped onto 11, 12, and 13 which were a bank up, around the bend to a bank down, a few strides to a big upright corner.  Another fence I was worried about.  The corner was right off the bend and very upright.  Penny felt so good already though, I opted to go the direct route.  She made me so proud, as she just jumped through that combo like it was a cross rail.  From there we had a good gallop to a very large table.  More long gallop, turn for home and a two stride combo of angled cabins.

  The combinations worry me because of Pennys long stride and her lack of adjust-ability in the past, however Penny is like a new horse, and maybe I am a new rider, because she came right back to jump two nice strides through that combo.  We had another long gallop and into the woods, where I got lost and had to turn around.  Touch A Rainbow is notorious for getting riders lost, it's pretty much expected when you event there lol.  Our next fences were another combination, two very skinny arrowheads, the second off a 90 degree blind turn 4 strides off the first.  I had no idea how this would ride.  I just pointed Penny at it and kicked her on.  She took total control, in a good way,  she wheeled around the corner saw the flags and flew over the second.  WHA.  At that moment I knew this horse was definitely a Prelim horse, and most likely with lots more work, an Intermediate horse.

  From there we gallop to a small coop, then left turn to a bench, where I once again got lost LOL.  Penny was jumping out of stride so well, I was just letting her cruise.  She flew over the big Trakehner and then there we were almost home.  There was a final combination before the last fence, a coffin, with a big skinny brush as part C.  Penny just took me through it like a boss mare, and then we had a gallop to the finish over the last.  Check out my GoPro - I had it pointed a bit low so my apologies.  But look at her adorable little white ear spot :)

  We finished with a handful of time faults, which was to be expected after getting lost and also not running hard in the heat.  The ride was so unbelievable, it felt like a cake walk for Penny.  She was so rideable, brave, and honest.  The feeling coming off that course was like none other.  I untacked her and went through buckets and buckets of ice water and she recovered really well.  She happily beat me with her poultice tail while I wrapped her.

  After she was cooled out, pampered, and eating by the trailer I went to check the results, and we had moved into 1st place.  I was in shock, a beautiful red ribbon for my beautiful red mare.  No one deserves it more than Miss Pen.

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