Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowed In: Oliver Townsend Clinic, from HorseSmart, via YouTube

Since I'm snowed in and can't get to the barn, I spent the morning doing "continuing education" on YouTube. I was looking for videos with top trainers working with green or inexperienced horses, so that I might re├źnforce my thoughts about the work I'm doing with Jazz, glean a few tips, learn a few new exercises and see what it all looks like when a "work in progress" is being done well. Trying to sort past the skads of videos of amateur riders riding amateur horses, I found a few videos with Conrad Schumacher from HorsesmartVideos , but I couldn't sort out his accent with the poor audio quality.

Finally, I stumbled on a video, also from Horsesmart, with 2009 Badminton and Burghley champ Oliver Townsend and ended up spending a couple of hours in the "related videos" wormhole, viewing the entire the series:

How to Do Dressage
Love the title! What event rider wouldn't love to learn "How to do dressage"? Let's face it, eventers don't catch the bug because they excel at dressage.

If your dressage score is on par with Anky's (that is, after converting to penalty points), you might not have a handle on the basics. Oliver Townsend divulges some of his weaknesses, early mistakes and how he overcame them. The sitting-trot-to-posting-trot exercise is enough to get you started. Makes me wish I was at the barn right now (sigh).

How to train a horse to Jump

Townsend's take-away: "You don't have to try and see that stride. You just got to try and find that right pace and stay in it."

How to see a horse's Stride

Same take-away as above: "When it goes wrong, is that you come around the corner and you grapple with the head looking for that perfect stride and you kill the canter... Put the power in the canter here, get the engine running, ride a good turn, sit up, 'Level, level, level, level. Good boy!'"

How to train a horse jump a very narrow fence

Townsend demonstrates how he gets a horse confident over a narrow fence, like a barrel. He then dials it back to show how he would start a Novice horse on a lower fence and explains how the same theory applies to ditches.

How to bring on a young Eventer

Townsend candidly describes how he spent big bucks on a talented horse from France with eventing show mileage all the way up to NOVICE level.

How to teach a young horse flying changes

Townsend doesn't use ground poles to teach the flying change, so you have to be very clear with your aids if you're going to try this at home.

How to Canter on a horse
I know it's a cultural thing, but I did a double-take when I saw the title of this clip and wondered, "What else would you try to 'canter on'?"

Townsend answers his own question, "How do you teach the horses to be adjustable in the canter?"

How to make your horse jump a clear round

There isn't much instruction or advice in this clip, but you get a good look at how Townsend puts it all together.

Oli Townend (sic) picking up a beer over a jump!
This isn't from the Horsesmart series, though it demonstrates the payoff of sharpening up your jumping skills.

You can see why Townsend is a popular guy to have at your party. If only he were just as nimble with a snow plow.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The No-Handsy Challenge

The one aspect of Jazz's jumping style that has been bugging me is that he's rather flat, no sexy bascule (that's French for "I look great over jumps"). Video review implicates the usual culprit... me and my lame attempt at a short release.

Today, after a few warm-up fences, I decided to challenge myself to ride Jazz more like a hunter by not "touching" his mouth at least three strides out. To be clear, I'm not talking about dropping my horse three strides out, but lightly releasing the contact.

The immediate payoff was that I didn't invert my poor horse before every fence and he could begin to feel the sensation of not having to brace against the bit over every jump.

The bonus prize was that so many other skills that have been struggling with were automatically there:

  • DISTANCE — I know, I know... you're supposed to judge the distance and stick to it. By taking away my hands, I had to stick to my guns, which made me realize that I never really knew what it feels like to NOT second guess my eye at the last second, scaring the hell out of my horse for the long spot, or choking him into a pathetic chip. Somehow our horses always forgive us, but that doesn't make it right.

  • PACE — Don't even try to shrink a stride without your hands if you don't establish a pace — the laws of physics don't allow it. And forget seeing a stride without an even pace, your brain needs at least two even strides to start doing the advanced calculus required to determine your takeoff spot.

  • BALANCE — The stop-ripping-on-your-horse's-mouth challenge forced me to longitudinally balance Jazz on approach to the jumps with my back muscles, seat and legs, not arms and hands. In short, if you use your seat, your horse can use you to maintain his balance, if you use your hands, you're using the horse to keep your balance. Guess which one your horse prefers.

  • STRAIGHTNESS — Purposely giving up lateral controls at least three strides out requires the rider to get the horse straight through every corner using outside aids. Once the lightbulb went on, I realized that, on a good day, I occasionally use the corner before the fence to get my horse straight, but I ALWAYS give up the corner AFTER a fence. If you are coming off a diagonal fence, then you usually have at least two corners to the next fence. If you get the horse straight on the first corner, your work is practically done for the next corner — who knew?!

I realize that most teenaged riders figure this out of in one afternoon without ever having think it through. However, I'm a middle-aged novice who requires creative methods to convince my body parts that everything that the Old Masters preached is true, at least since Caprilli.