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…

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