Sunday, November 3, 2013

Perfect Practice Produces Perfect Performance

Tristan and I have been very fortunate over the past years to have access to some amazing trainers. One trainer I have mind-melded with to an almost eerie level has been the amazing, incredible Eric Dierks. I studied with him in 2012 for seven months at Renovatio Farms, the gorgeous facility he calls home with his equally gorgeous and talented wife, Trayce. Under Eric's tutelage, we transformed my cute, spunky pony cross into a lean, mean, eventing machine. This October, the Super-pony got to stretch his cross country legs at the incredible Gibbe's Farm in St. Matthews, SC. All I can say is that I thought I had died and gone to some cross country heaven, filled with great schooling questions and challenging fences alike. A clinic with Eric, and a trip to "Eventing Candyland" was exactly what the doctor ordered for the end of this show season!

Day One - 

Sometimes Eric gets very animated while explaining and it leads to awesome hand gestures/facial expressions!

We started the Prelim/Training group with a solid focus on galloping position. Eric said many of the problems that occur out on course stem from a lack of stability in the gallop. The rider should be up over the hands, almost balanced on the balls of the feet, and ready for action. Then, when you go into the preparation phase before the jump, all you need to do is lift up through your collar bone, draw your elbows to your sides, and support with your legs to the fence. When our group all started out, we all had gallop positions too behind the motion, trying to dictate our horse's balance, instead of letting them find their own. Once we adjusted our positions over our hands and with the motion of the gallop, all of our horses started to find their own rhythms and become accountable for their own balance, allowing the riders to focus on more important things like track and engine.

We started off schooling a small oxer, working to establish our "stamp" over fences. Eric's goal at the beginning of a clinic is to examine the individual rider's perfect jump, and have them strive to repeat it over every fence. That "stamp" is different with each horse and rider combination, but it's great to start out with a base level of excellence to strive for.

Chelsea over a nice wide oxer establishing her "stamp."
Once our "stamps" were established, we traveled out into the main field to start with some of the jumps I had been drooling over since pulling into the facility; steeplechase fences. The steeplechase jumps were laid out in a big ring around the field and meant to be ridden at speed, something with which Tristan and I are only recently getting comfortable. We went from steeplechasing to up and downhill fences in small courses. One of the comments Eric made about uphill jumps really resonated with me. Eric said "9 out of 10 times, the horse will add a stride before an uphill fence." When I rode my uphill line, I kept that nugget in mind. While not necessarily planning for the add, I wasn't shocked when the add came and was able to ride positively from it instead of being taken by surprise.

Katellyn and Manderlay over a steeplechase fence

Superpony steeplechasing!

Katellyn and Manderlay


Eric on Manderlay

Oh yeah, and I jumped a duck. No big deal.

Day Two -

Since we had established the gallop the day before, Eric had us focus on letting our horses "play" over some smaller courses. We started out in a more forested area of the farm, playing pole bending with the trees and getting the horses to think on their feet, or as Eric put it, "cat-like." From there, we started a really fun exercise: using the smaller beginner novice/novice jumps, we created our own courses at the trot while jumping a fence at least every 15 seconds. This made all of us think on our feet about where our tracks went between the trees and which fences would be next, all while maintaining a comfortable pace at the trot. I, for one, loathe trotting jumps, but it is a vital skill to have when you find yourself in a sticky situation, like jumping up a bank to a skinny.

After we played over the jumps for a bit, Eric had us each create a 6 fence course, with only about 10 seconds between each fence. We could use any of the jumps we wanted, and were to make the course as winding as possible. I chose to create a course with lots of tight turns, highlighting Tristan's short-coupling allowing him to spin on dimes, including a rollback turn to the same fence within three strides, and finished with a sharp angle over a pipe. Tristan likes to put on a show, but was rather unimpressed by the baby jumps.

After playing with some more courses over larger fences, we moved back to the main infield to work on the coffin. Tristan is generally good over ditches, but due to the deep nature of this question, he took a hard look during the first attempt. We then circled to do a half coffin, ditch to roll-top, and circled again to do a full coffin. Whether it was the wind in my ears or I just felt extra gung-ho from all the great jumps before, I decided to interpret the "bending line" to the coffin as a straight line, angling the ditch to a much taller skinny. We jumped through it well, but it just wasn't what Eric had asked for. Oops.

During our first tour of the property, I had noticed a great big mound question with a log on top. I've jumped questions like that before and know they slightly terrify me. Unfortunately for me, I made the mistake to mention this fact to my boyfriend, who mentioned it to Eric, who then sent me over the jump. Oh, dear. First attempt resulted in a stop, not because Tristan didn't want to jump it, but he could feel that I really didn't want to jump it. Second attempt also had a stop. I still didn't want to jump it and my body language had convinced Tristan that there were indeed monsters hiding in the tiny log. Third try, Eric gave me a blow by blow approach. We started with a more collected gallop, and once we were about two strides away from the base of the mound, he had me wrap my legs around Tristan and kick it into full throttle. Since the hill was so steep, we needed the extra impulsion on the incline to allow enough power to actually jump the jump once we got there! This time we had success, and I really got to feel my position shift from a jumping 2-point, to a backseat drop. Not so scary after all!

Going down!
The last part of our schooling took place in the water. I generally have a fear of dropping in to water, after a previously soggy schooling, but this past show season has helped Tristan and I grow lots of confidence over drops. Before, I would ride in going, "I sure hope this works out!" Now, I say instead, "OK, we've done this before." We put together a small course jumping in and out of the water complex, ending with a large drop with a scary pipe! Tristan jumped like the champion that he is, and made me a sincerely proud momma!

It would probably help if I could keep my eyes up.
I am so glad I went to this clinic. Lessons with Eric help me take an honest look at my riding, and keep me from being too hard on myself. Our last show this season didn't go as planned, as falling in stadium rarely does, but from looking honestly at that attempt, and saying, "It's not that we don't have the capability to show at that level, only that weekend wasn't 'it' for us." Tristan still clearly loves his job, and I can't help but be filled with joy when working with such an incredible partner. Adding Eric's expertise to our chemistry gives us great long-term goals and keeps me looking forwards for the future. With hard work and dedication, we will be successful at Prelim!

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