Sunday, February 13, 2011

Riding with Greg Best

Long, tiring, WONDERFUL day!  Today was the day that I actually got to ride with Greg Best.  At the start of the day, Greg basically said that he expected me to try and execute the same things as the others riding with me, even though I hadn't ridden in the previous days' clinic (especially since I *had* been auditing the day before) - no problem. I hadn't intended for the case to be otherwise. He asked me a bit about Star, what we did, and how long I'd owned her. I said that I had owned her for almost 4 years, but that I'd ridden her since she was three, twelve years ago. He commented that I was then pretty much responsible for everything she does, good, bad, or otherwise. I cheerfully (at least, as cheerful as I can be at 8AM on a freezing Sunday morning) admitted that I would have to take full responsibility.

We trotted and cantered around to warm up; the only comment to me from Greg was "good." We started jumping with a crossrail-oxer, going over it in a figure eight pattern. It was raised a little bit, and we continued in the same pattern. After a few times over that jump, he told us what the course we were going to ride was.

The course was a right-lead canter to a brick wall on a diagonal, followed by a left turn to a line consisting of vertical-oxer-vertical. The distances were set at 58’ and 60’, respectively. This line was followed by a right turn to another 4-stride line that started with a roll-top and ending with a pink oxer. We jumped around and Star was being pretty good. I knew that the lines were not as consistent as I (or he) wanted, but the killer came when he asked me how many strides I'd done in each of the lines. Uhhh... I hadn't even tried to count, and pretty much had no idea. (I never really learned how to count strides, and only recently have begun to figure that aspect out at all... really quite similar to my inability to read music) A few times over the course, me trying to figure out how the hell to properly count my strides... it got worse before it got better. We had 5-4 1/2-4; we had 5-5-4; we had 5-4-4… basically everything but consistency. One time, after trying really hard to count and having a course that had ridden very well, I came back and triumphantly announced that I had done 5, 5, and 5. "Ah, nothing like confident belief you're right" (or something to that effect) is what Greg said. Damn. I never did get it entirely right the first jumping go-round, but I did start to figure it out. He actually noticed when I was counting under my breath - he saw my lips moving as I was mouthing the numbers! He did, at one point, say something about me being a capable rider held back because I didn't have the information I needed (that would be gained only by being able to properly count my strides, because that's the only way to really quantify what you're doing) and therefore wasn't able to use that information to make adjustments. He also said something about being a seat-of-the-pants type of rider... this was not a compliment.

As I watched the other two in my group jump around a longer course, I counted every single stride the other horses took. He spent a loooooooooong time working with the other two riders; I was starting to think that I'd screwed up majorly, and because I couldn't count my strides to save my life, I got to be done with jumping. Finally, however, he did come back to me. He had me start out with the same course as before; I think that time I actually managed to get 5 strides in each of the lines, which was the first time I had managed to get the same number of strides in each place... though ideally, it still should have been 4. That particular time, however, I knew I had a quiet horse from having stood waiting for so long, so my plan was for 5. He then decided to have me do a longer course than the other riders... not real sure why - probably because there was more counting involved that way!

The longer course I jumped was the initially the same as before, but then I jumped the very first jump the opposite way, and then back through the first line the opposite way. After that, there was one more line of an oxer and then four strides to a pair of verticals, set a tight one stride apart (57’ to 21’). Greg said he wanted me to ride the first and second line each in 5 strides again, and then four strides when I came back through the first line the opposite way, and four strides in the last line. I wasn't perfect; I asked Star for too much coming into the four stride lines and fitting the 5 in the second line wasn't as smooth as it could be, but I did get all the correct strides. He had me do it one more time, with the goal of making everything a little smoother and a little more consistent. Last time through, and it was pretty darn near perfect... I wasn't 100% happy with the last one-stride part of the last line, but when I came back, Greg said that I had done the course well ("Nice ride" or something to a similar effect).

As I was on course the last time through, I'd overheard Greg saying something about something I did do, so I was kind of bracing myself for a comment on whatever it was I was doing wrong when I came back. Much to my surprise, he said that he was just commenting to the group that my position was very good and my upper body control was right where it needed to be; I was balanced in the center of my horse, both front to back, and side to side. In terms of overall position, including leg, from his point of view, there were no corrections to be made. Well, hot damn! I guess that's why he never made any corrections to my position prior! Several sources confirmed that there was no one else to whom he had said anything of that nature over the past two days. I was pretty excited about that! =)

He seemed to like Star; he said that she was a machine, and very rideable and willing to do anything I asked. He also said that she was a little overachiever (meant in a good way). He was not at all surprised when I told him I'd jumped 4'3" with her. I jokingly asked if I'd done okay with her over the past 12 years, and he said that yes, I had done very well with her. Another point for Nicole! My day that hadn’t started out as well as I’d hoped definitely ended on a strong note.

So I came away having definitely learned, and I am really going to work to get better at counting strides, because it really is holding me back more than I had ever realized. I will also be keeping in mind all the things that Greg said and really try to keep those things a part of my riding and training. The farm owner is going to try to have him back in August for two days... so I'm definitely going to start saving my money now! At least this gives me a lot of time to decide which horse to take…

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Start with More and Finish with Less

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity today to audit (all day) a clinic by Greg Best at a nearby farm.  I ended up with awesome windburn/sunburn lines from the trademark sunglasses and probably more information than I will ever be able to fully digest.

First, I would like to say this: Greg Best is an amazing clinician.  He's friendly, honest, down-to-earth, and sometimes even pretty damn funny.  I like funny people.  He is also a very gifted teacher, and it seems that he never loses his temper.  He doesn't call people names and he doesn't pretend that he's god and has all the answers.  He expects riders to be able to think for themselves and not need to have their hands held through an entire ride.

My roommate audited the clinic yesterday, so I had a bit of an idea of what to expect.  Greg emphasizes consistency in every aspect of the ride.  "Start with more and finish with less," seemed to be the mantra of the day.  Now, this statement may seem quite counter-intuitive at first, but if you think about it, it really makes sense.  Typically, as we go around a course or down a line of jumps on our horse, momentum tends to build.  My interpretation of "starting with more and finishing with less" is not that the horse should be running out of gas and petering out... rather, it's management to maintain consistency.  When you have a pole 60' from a single jump and then another pole 60' away on the landing side, the horse should take the same number of strides between both the first pole and the jump, and the jump and the second pole.  If the rider does nothing to maintain consistency, the horse will likely leave out a half or full stride on the landing side compared to the take-off side; this is incorrect.

In order to help maintain this consistency, Greg advocates the use of the automatic release, though he doesn't refer to it in those terms.  By his explanation of his theory, "following hand" would be a much more apt term.  The correct amount of release over a jump is the amount that the horse needs - nothing more, and nothing less.  This means that sometimes you may be reaching a bit more to give your horse freedom over the top of the fence, or that sometimes you may be a bit restrictive in order to properly maintain consistency on landing.  He sees no useful reason for the big, long crest release seen so often in the hunter ring (especially when paired with a ducking rider and swinging leg).  We watched a horse change from going over the jump like he was shot from a cannon to using himself better and listening to his rider through application of Greg's theory.

Greg says that he has two problems with the concept of "give and take" - the "give" and the "take."  When we try too much to "finesse" a horse using give and take, many horses seem to think that "give" means, "I was given an inch... time to take a mile!" and take advantage of the give.  The rider then has to "take" more than what would otherwise be necessary in order to re-establish what was previously had.  By being consistent initially, rather than "giving" an overly big release, we maintain consistency, rather than always engaging in a discussion to re-establish it.  This does not mean that the rider's elbow and shoulder should not remain soft and following.

Greg is also all about straightness.  Straight, however, is defined a bit differently for Greg.  Straight is relative to your intended course.  Everything is also about straight.  Our priorities on the landing side of a jump coming into a turn should be first straightness, then collection, then any needed lead change.  When jumping off a left lead canter to a right hand turn, our commitment should be to maintaining the left lead, because nothing should change over the jump; we should remain straight and consistent.  (Though, when he asked this question on Sunday and I answered that we should be committed to whichever lead would keep the horse straighter, he was okay with that answer, even though technically wrong.  "That's a different answer, but I don't mind it.")

In terms of rider position, he wants the rider closer to the front of the saddle, a bit of a deeper seat than the usual "hunter perch."  If he could fix one point of the rider, it would be the knee position.  This is not advocating a pinching knee at all; we just need to be able to keep our lower leg well under us for balance and support (a bit behind the girth) and still have the ability to actually move our leg around to use our aides.  Rather than the traditional "shoulder-hip-heel" equitation alignment, Greg asks for "shoulder-hip-ankle."  Upper body control is also very important to Greg: he wants neither an upper body too far forward, nor too vertical.  It actually strikes me that much of what Greg seeks in rider position is well-accomplished with a saddle that truly fits the horse and rider.  Interesting.

Some of what Greg says may seem to be a bit unorthodox compared to the traditional school of hunter-jumper training in the United States, but it really makes sense.  It really makes me wonder what he and the George (George Morris) think of each other and each others' methodologies... anyone know?

More tomorrow... when I actually get to RIDE in the clinic! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Just Another Manic... Sunday

I love running around like a maniac.  It's one of the things I do best.  Sunday was no exception.  Far be it from me to set myself up for a nice, relaxing day.  Nope!  I had bigger fish to fry.  My day started at 4:45 AM, when I woke up purely by chance.  I'd set my alarm to go off at 4:15 AM... this must have happened, because when I did wake at 4:45, my phone was on my bed beside me and it had started out the evening on my night table - but I don't remember this.  I digress.  Day started at 4:45 AM with a mad rush out the door to make it to the barn by 5:30-ish.  Jen, my honorary big sister, was taking Star and her horse, Tiki, on a grand adventure to an IEA show that had not originally been on their agendas, and I had said I would meet her at the barn to help get ready and load.  I have this compelling, uh, compellment (yes, I just made that up) to be the person readying and caring for my horse, even if I'm doing someone else a favor in letting them use her.  This means I sometimes don't get as much sleep as I technically could.
We loaded the horses with no problem into Jen's beautiful new trailer and were off by a bit after 6:00.  (This is really pretty good for us!)  We arrived at the show grounds, unloaded horses, and readied them for schooling. 
For some reason, I had decided that I would school Star, even though lately I've not been jumping her over anything under 2'9" myself in order to keep a better eye for bigger fences.  A bit to my dismay, I found that Star was being used as a 2' horse, and not 2'6."  As we were waiting for them to call the 2' horses for warm-up, I was approached by someone else to warm up a flat-only horse.  Sure, why not?  Flatted that horse, then warmed up Star.  She was pretty good, but I am realizing more and more that I am NOT the best person to ride Star for any hunter-esque purposes.  Twice around the course and once again over a turn, and she was good to go.  After schooling Star, I warmed up the other pony brought by Jen's team over the crossrails course.  She was a good girl - not nearly as lazy as I had expected based on what I was told prior to the ride.  Three horses before 10AM - not bad!  Chatted with the girls a bit, then jetted off - of course, I had somewhere else to be!
After a quick shower, I drove *back* to the barn for a lesson on Kellie, my friend's young SWB mare, with Susan, the dressage trainer across the street.  We worked on convincing Kellie that bending, working over her back, and giving to the bit were good things.  After a bit of time, she started to get it.  Quickly untacked Kellie and turned her back out and a mad rush for the next point of interest - a haircut.
Haircut was no big deal - actually made it on time - and decided that since I was remotely in the area, I would stop by Dover.  I need some new breeches, so I decided to try on a few pairs.  A pair of fleece-lined Kerrits, a couple pairs of Riding Sport with a Euro seat, and a pair of Tailored Sportsman Trophy Hunters later, I thought I was done trying stuff on.  However, a friend of mine who also happened to be there convinced me to try on the Goode Rider Jean Riders... damn her!  Breeches are not particularly flattering apparel for anyone, but damn!  These actually looked nice!  So now I have to hate my friend a little bit, because it's going to be a while before I can afford these amazing pants.
So four horses, a haircut, and seven pairs of breeches later, I could finally go home and get some rest.
No wonder my weekends are never long enough!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Truth is That...

I am something of an eBay Queen. Or Princess. Or maybe Lady-in-Waiting. Anyway, I'm very good at finding what I want on eBay, and getting a good deal on it. Like my top hat. If I chose to go to Dover Saddlery and purchase the Grand Prix top hat, it would cost me about $500. Yes, $500. Orrrrrrrr... I can look on eBay, and get one that is almost brand new and in stellar condition for $65. Guess which option I chose.
eBay is also useful when one seems to have a penchant for things that have been discontinued or are no longer stylish. Like a Beval New Canaan square raised breastplate. Breastplates are pretty much not cool in Hunter World (guilt by association, here). Beval Saddlery discontinued the New Canaan line a while ago. Apparently plain, square raised is also not very cool. $50 on eBay (price new: over $200... moot, because it can't really be purchased new anymore).
My cohorts wonder how I am able to get such good deals. "How do you do it?" they ask. "I always get outbid!"
The truth really is this: I get outbid - a lot. Do you have ANY idea how many times I had to bid on rust breeches before I finally got mine? It's true. But I don't talk about it. Not because I'm ashamed or embarrassed (though maybe I should be, given how much time I actually spend on eBay...), but rather because it's not very much fun to talk about what you didn't win on eBay. I mean, really? Who wants to do that?
The other part of this truthfulness is that I. am. Cheap. Yes, with a capital 'C.' No, not as in easy. I decide exactly how much (or, really, in my case, how little) I am willing to spend on a given tacky item (pun intended), and if I get outbid, I wait until another rolls around.
So that's the truth behind my success on eBay. I'm cheap, and I'm patient. It's easier to be patient when you're buying stuff that you don't really need.