Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Need For Speed

by c.j. bahr

Robert Kellerhouse & Ian Stark
January marks the annual fundraiser for Galway Downs, located in Temecula, California.  Galway is the site of four recognized horse trials, two International events, and the only Southern California location to host a CCI3 event, drawing riders from all over North America.

Conceived and organized by Robert Kellerhouse, this weekend clinic consists of two days of cross country schooling, stabling and a Saturday night dinner.  All clinicians donate their services and all proceeds go to the maintenance and running of Galway Downs.  Clinicians consist of West Coast Trainers and usually a "headliner" such as Scottish Olympian, Ian Stark (also course designer for Galway).

2013 marked the 15th annual running of the fundraiser and also a new headliner - British Olympian and Rolex Grand Slam winner, Pippa Funnell.

Pippa Funnell
Pippa was scheduled for five groups ranging from Training Level to Advance, and had professionals such as:  Pam Fisher, Barb Crabo, Hawley Bennett as well as amateurs riding.  Saturday started with stadium jumping and concluded on Sunday with cross country.

If there was one theme to pull away from from this information over-loaded weekend, it was:

Speed is NEVER the answer.

The stadium exercises set the tone of the weekend.  Pippa had the riders working on straightness, balance, and responsiveness to aids.  First up was the "puzzle" poles, which consisted of ground poles scattered and set at different and non-related distances.  The riders first walked then trotted their mounts over the poles, using only their upper body and legs, never the reins (yet keeping contact, but not steering by them).  The goal was for the horses to figure out their own footwork.  It was eye opening to see how many horses, even Advanced Level ones, just wanted to run through the exercise.

The exercise increased in complexity with offset, unrelated distance "brick" boxes (about one foot high), set in a line that the horses and riders had to jump over in trot.  Many horses had trouble being rated back to trot between the boxes.

Susan Friend & Cali jumping "over" the oxer they had trotted "thru"
Perhaps my favorite exercise for the day which worked on straightness were three horse width oxers that the rider negotiated.  They passed between the length of the oxers between the standards at first, but then Pippa added boxes (about 2.6 high), between the "outgoing" standards to be jumped at trot.  Again, speed wasn't allowed, and after each jump, the horses were asked to return to trot.

By the end of the day, all riders had their horses straight, obedient and willing as they negotiated a serpentine course that consisted of the offset brick boxes, figure "S" over the oxers, then "thru" the oxers, or "parallels" as Pippa would say.

Hawley Bennett and Gin & Juice
Sunday brought beautiful weather and cross country day.  Again, the day was about the horse and rider learning that speed was never the solution.  It was about keeping impulsion by "adding leg, but not length of stride", and responsiveness.

Sandra Donnelly & Belshaggar
with "allowing" hands as Pippa watches
With the added pace of cross country, new problems were discovered, particularly on the enthusiastic horses.  Many riders, while trying to "contain" their horses, were locking in their contact.  

Pippa was all about the "allowing" hand, which retained rein contact, but didn't throw them away.  It was amazing when riders started to allow instead of hold, letting their horses use their heads and necks, to watch the trust and partnership develop.  By the end of the day, each group of riders and horses saw great improvement.

Myself giving a "lift" to Pippa across the pond

Pippa joked on the way back to the barn that next year, "I'll find all the riders with massive time faults."  We laughed along, but knew the truth, the riders all learned important lessons that will carry them successfully to their competitions.

Here's to Pippa's return next year!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Has Eventing Lost Its Soul?

There's a wonderful article by Denny Emerson in Chronicle of the Horse  that everyone who cares about eventing needs to read.  He raises a lot of great questions about the future of our sport and challenges anyone who cares enough to make themselves heard.  

Honestly, some days I can't even get my own bosses to return my call so I'm open to ideas of how to make my voice heard.  How do we go about getting the FEI to make eventing once again, "a sport for tough, sound, brave, galloping Thoroughbred-type horses, full of stamina, endurance, and generosity of spirit," as Denny so wonderfully puts it. Or should we?  

Time marches on and all things change I suppose, so maybe it is time to stop being married to the military traditions that started it all so long ago most people don't even know of the connection.  Frankly, I'll be lucky to go any further than Novice level, so it's not like I'll personally ever feel the pride of taking my horse out and successfully competing at the long form version with roads and tracks - it that chance will even exist a few years from now.  

What I do know is it will be a sad day for everyone who rides in the sport, no matter what level, when cross-country is no longer the meat of the sport but just another side dish...

To read the full article, click here.  

And seriously, post a comment with any ideas of how to speak out.  I'm all ears...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Area VI Adult Camp - So Cal Style

You remember how fun summer camp used to be?  Hanging out with old friends, making new ones and in general just having a blast?  Back in the beginning of August I got the chance to reclaim that simple joy at the Area VI Adult Riders Camp and I have to say that camp is even better in the grown up version. 

Though they’ve had them before in northern California, this was the first year for southern Californians to enjoy this educational and social experience close to home.  Held at beautiful Shepherd Ranch, we were given the option of either roughing it by camping on the property or staying at one of the local hotels.  Since I’m trying to squeeze as much out of my horse money as possible, Carolyn Bahr and I opted to camp out.  Surprisingly, even thought Shepherd doesn’t have the luxury of showers, we weren’t alone.  Of course, our little pup tent hardly compared to the “Teton Suite” next to us – a ginormous three room tent with pink shag carpet and blow up hot pink chairs on the screened in “veranda” – but it was (almost) enough to keep out the unexpected rain shower we got on Friday night. 

Wheee! Me & Reese. 
Considering this month’s heat wave, the weather was amazing for all three days of riding.  Each rider got the chance to work with both Bunny Sexton and Val Owen throughout the weekend, depending on the schedule.  (Click here to find out more about these wonderful riders/teachers.)  Friday was dressage day, Saturday was stadium-jumping day and Sunday we all hit the cross-country field.  Personally, the biggest lesson I learned was that both Reese and I need to up our games, pushing ourselves harder to be the best we can.  (Ironically, I’m going through some of those same issues in my non-horse life so it was inspiring to see how upping your game can pay off, at least on horseback.)  It was amazing to feel and see the difference in both horse and rider when you’re challenged in such a supportive environment. 

Of course, it wasn’t all just about being a serious student.  We had a lot of fun playing silly games on Friday night and were treated to an entertaining and yet useful talk on Saturday by a sports psychologist.  The food all weekend was simply amazing, and it was great sharing a few adult beverages with your fellow riders at the end of the day, exchanging tips, advice, and a few entertaining stories.  There was even swimming with your horse in the lake because, as our friend Darla Opava said, what’s camp without going swimming? 

It was my first foray into the Adult Rider program and I’d encourage everyone, no matter what Area you’re in, to check it out.  The driving idea behind the program is to encourage adult amateurs at all levels of riding to come out and have fun.  They also have fundraisers and encourage more adult team competition and lots of great educational opportunities for adult riders like clinics and the upcoming Worth The Trust Educational Scholarship.  Considering the discounts you get for Adult Rider activities, the $25 membership dues seems a steal at twice the price.  You can also find them on Facebook!
Big, huge thanks to Dawn Robbins, the Area VI Adult Rider coordinator, for organizing this great weekend and Suz Roehl for her role in arranging camp and taking amazing pictures from the weekend. And of course Bunny Sexton, for hosting the weekend at Shepherd Ranch.   Oh, and an extra huge thanks to our trainer, Susan Friend, who chauffeured us back and forth while the BWT is on the mend!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dressage doesn’t have to hurt to be right

Like most eventers, I think of dressage as the icky wall of fire that I have to pass through to earn entrance on to the cross-country course.  Or maybe it’s just me.  Anyway, this weekend we did a sort of mini-clinic with USDF Certified Instructor Camilla Fritze at the gorgeous Whitethorne Ranch up in Somis that may change my mind about dressage.  It was - dare I say it? – actually a lot of fun!

The two days were terrific, with Camilla taking the time with both Carolyn & I to work out whatever issues we had picked for the day.  Day one was naturally the most interesting.  While Junior had a brief turn out on Friday & Sat before we left, due to high wind/faint hearted mummy Reese spend Fri in his stall and had a brief turn out on Sat.  All things considered, both boys were great, but it was the first time I’ve ever felt like Reese was running off with me!  I didn’t really think the tiny little dressage rails would keep him contained but ultimately we managed to stay in the arena.

Here’s some of the homework we took away from the weekend that we can continue to play with on our own:

Rhythm: Numero uno on that Dressage Pyramid thing and in Camilla’s lesson’s as well.  Establish your rhythm – key point, YOUR rhythm, don’t just follow the horse – and keep it no matter what.  The rhythm needs to match the horse’s stride so for a horse like Junior, who hasn’t learned to use his front legs yet, the rhythm might seem painfully slow until he figures his shoulders out.  Don’t assume that a faster rhythm will get you a better gait; it may just come off as rushy rather than more energetic.  It’s too bad that Garmin doesn’t make a watch that makes the tick of a metronome so people like me who are rhythmically challenged (you do NOT want to see me on the dance floor with less than 3 drinks in me) wouldn’t have to conquer genetics AND riding all in one fell swoop!

Don’t obsess about his head:  Trying to fake dressage by working with your horse’s head down when he really isn’t coming through doesn’t accomplish anything.  Camilla’s focus was on rhythm first and usually, eventually, once the horse kept a steady rhythm with equal, steady contact on both reins, they were more willing to work through their back and naturally lower their head to the dressage picture we all carry around in our heads. 

Turn the shoulder, not the nose:  Simple concept that I’m sure every instructor has tried to ingrain in me since I put a foot in a stirrup but somehow the way Camilla phrased it really made it pop.  I could give a little reminder “hello” with the inside rein if need be but for the most part, but focusing on turning the shoulder/feet and not the head I reduced (not eliminated – please!) the amount of times that I lost his shoulder in a turn. 

Sitting (or stepping) in: This sounds much easier than it is, but was pretty transformational for a horse like Reese, aka Captain Klutzy, who throws you to exactly the spot where he doesn’t want you to sit.  Trying to break it down in simple terms (‘cause that’s all I remember!) you want your outside seat bone over their outside leg, while putting weight in your inside stirrup.  You’re not leaning in (though sometimes it felt like it) but you should feel more pressure on the inner thigh of your outside leg.  (At least until you get used to riding this way.)  Make sense?  Think about it next time you ride and it might suddenly become clear. I had to think of it not just around the turns, but with every single stride, particularly on his oh so sensitive right lead.  It was amazing how much straighter it made him.  Which leads to…

The straighter the horse, the stronger the engine:  With his engine/hind end really behind us, Reese’s gaits felt even stronger and he was able to lengthen out just a little bit. 

The connection mystique:   While I wouldn’t go so far as to say we accomplished true connection by DQ standards, Camilla did make it easy to understand the feel of having your horse in both your reins.  Another one of those concepts that sounds easier than it is, but boy when you had it, the horses looked and felt like a million bucks.  Bottom line: you have to get the horse to accept both reins before any dressage magic can happen. 

Look straight ahead: Years of trying over come the beginner habit of looking at my horse’s ears has gotten me (and most of you out there if I had to guess) into the equally bad habit of looking too far ahead.  Every time I looked through his ears to maybe 5 or 6 strides ahead, the turns just flowed in perfect(ish) balance.  When I turned my head too early, I couldn’t help but throw my hips one way or the other and my little house of cards of balance/rhythm/ came crashing down.   As much a part of me as putting my heels down, this habit may prove to be a tough one to break, but it was really obvious how much of a difference it made.  

Staying in balance with your horse:  For me, this was actually one of the toughest concepts to wrap my head around.  Shoot, you’re in a jump saddle you lean a bit forward, you’re in a dressage saddle and you lean a little bit backwards, right?  If only life were that easy… Camilla pointed out the importance of staying in balance with your horse rather than slavish devotion to the idea of sitting upright for dressage.  Yes, your shoulders should always be open (or your collarbones opening up, or your spine pushed into your body, or your shoulder blades touching, however you need to picture it) but if your horse has fallen a bit on his forehand, go with him and slowly rebalance him.  Sticking with the sitting upright no matter what he’s doing only makes it harder to regroup and after all, this is a partnership like a dance, not a wrestling match.   (Ok, I came up that last little bit up as a way for me to think of it.  I sincerely doubt Camilla has ever seen a wrestling match, nonetheless referenced it in a dressage lesson!) 

And finally….

Intent:  It sounds weird and all new agey, but it’s amazing how much simply focusing your intention on what you want makes a difference.  Having a clear picture in my head of what I wanted made it easier for Reese, me or both of us to understand and therefore achieve the goal.  And while I may not always be able to police myself on whether I’m in rhythm, balance, sitting in or having him in both reins, I can control what my little pea brain is focusing on (mostly)! 

Thanks again to Camilla for a great weekend and the folks at Whitethorne Ranch who could not have been nicer.   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 3 Ram Tap HT: Rain, rain go, screw it

After a brilliant, albeit it chilly, Saturday I found it hard to believe all those predictions of rain on Sunday.  Come on, what have they got, radars or something that tell them when clouds are coming in?

Needless to say we woke up at 5 to see it pissing rain outside.  Again, thank you Holiday Inn Express for sending us on our way with coffee, warm bacon, eggs and biscuits!  We got up to go to the barn anyway for Nahmi's cross country round on Simon.  We looked at the horse, we looked at the footing (as much as one can in the pitch black).  Discretion being the better part of valor, Nahmi decided that she'd be just as happy not running cross-country. Like any good Hobbit, we went back to the hotel for second breakfasts of fresh baked cinammon rolls.  Ironically, Sherry reports that the announcer kept calling out, "Nahmi Jones on Simon the Likable clear at fence three" etc. until "Nahmi Jones and Simon the Likable finish with a clean score."  How awesome is that - Nahmi got to stay in bed AND have a clean round in the rain?  I just feel bad for the poor bugger who actually rode and never heard their name called!

We came back to the Ram Tap to help Sherry and Poznan get dressed for their go.  By then it had stopped raining but the wind was still blowing up big pony's skirt.  Quite by accident, Sherry discovered that what Poznan really needs as a warm up is a good, brisk 10 minute gallop around the warm up area.  Unfortunately, he decided to do it all on his own.  One replacement set of reins later and Sherry was back in the irons (leg ups for your wife are definitely your domain, Brent) and doing lovely over some warm up fences.  A little coaching from Nahmi and she was on her way. 
Nice fashion statement, Nahmi!

Are those Pony Club clean?
It was a gorgeous round fit for a movie.  The first few fences were a bit slow, making the round as they disappeared over the hill a real cliff hanger.  Would Sherry kick him into the next gear and avoid time faults?  Or would she stay safe & secure in hunter land?  As they popped out of the water over the hill, the answer was clear.  Poznan thundered proudly around the last third of the course and came in at the perfect time. 

Another irony in life -- with all the techno-gadgets at her disposal (see the app reference in the last entry) to ensure she was running on time, Sherry ended up going by mostly feel.  

Dear Santa: Nahmi needs new windshield wipes for Christmas
We went out to celebrate the day with lunch, only to hear reports of ice on the Grapevine forming around three o'clock.  Not nearly enough time for us to get over it before that happens.  We changed our orders to lunch to go and headed out the door and on the road.  Fortunately, all we found was snow near the Grapevine but no ice on it.  Still, we end up home before 6pm and cocktails served before 7.  All in all, a successful weekend!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ram Tap November Horse Trials - Sat 11/19/11

A new day dawning

So very, very proud of both Sherry & Nahmi today!  They're both showing commando style -- no, not that kind of commando.  They're both wearing underwear, but are showing without the help of a professional trainer to coach them in warm up.  Relying on their own skills acquired from hard work all year (life?) long, experience from past shows, and helpful notes/suggestions from trainers Susan Friend, Gina Economou and the ever awesome Brian Sabo, they're doing it on their own and really shining.

It's really inspiring to see them showing "without a net" as it were, flying or falling on their own wits.  At the end of the day, isn't that what we all should be able to do? Not at every show, but if the point of showing is testing your own mettle (and for the kind of $$$ it better not be for the .98 ribbon) we all should consider doing this on our own from time to time.  Just a thought...

Hair club for geldings?
Anyway, back to the ladies: of course Sherry had to be an over achiever, scoring the lowest dressage score of the entire show with a 20.  (For non-eventers, our sport is like golf, the lowest score wins.)  Nahmi had a really great, relaxed, flowing ride on the folliclely challenged Simon - see braid pic) and scored one of their best tests at a 35.  I was really happy not just with her ride, but her terrific attitude of looking at this as a building kind of test.  She achieved what she set out to do - bring a relaxed partnership into the arena - and will continue to push from there.  Considering it was such a brisk, chilly day that even the judge commented on it, that was quite an accomplishment for Simon!

Fortunately, the dawn's arctic breeze blew the gray, overcast sky away to give us a brilliantly sunny late morning for show jumping.  Simon's round continued on the same theme of learning and growing.  They had a rail and some time faults, so I suppose on paper it doesn't look as successful as rounds from previous shows, but Nahmi was extremely happy with the outcome and rightfully so.  Simon wanted to be a pisser in the warm up, but as Brian says she choose to disagree with his choice to lengthen to the fence with her upper body, resisting the urge to pull or or lock up her elbows.  Guess what, it worked!  In the arena, they rode straight to the fences, Nahmi's form was awesome, she made choices to get Simon to particular spots and achieved those goals.  A few wide turns turned out to be costly time wise but she had goals and met them -- what else could you ask for?

Poznan proved to be interesting and entertaining to watch in the warm up.  Every time another horse would jump a jump towards him, he went leaping about the place putting poor Sherry's back to the test.  At one point he nearly went over a coffin combination that was next to the warm up arena in his exuberance to show his disdain of other horses & riders.  All the rails stayed in the cups - good Lord, he cantered over one or two instead of jumping them - but they did have time faults thanks to his laid back style.  If only he was the over achiever that his mummy is...  Since her one and only goal was to finish with no time faults, Sherry was disappointed, but it's kind of hard to feel sorry for someone sitting in first place! :)

Sorry, no pics of rides as I was busy with the video camera.  Maybe videos to follow if Carolyn will be kind enough to link them here?  

Have to say, once again Ram Tap's staff and the facility make the unpredictable weather worth enduring.  The jump course was challenging but not daunting, the footing in remarkably good shape and everything running pretty much on time and according to plan.  For those who know me well, you know that the thing nearest and dearest to my heart is the bathroom situation.  Happy to report after touring nearly every port-o-potty on the place that they were all clean, had paper, had hand sanitizer and all in all a pleasure to use.  Thank you Ram Tap!

We walked the cross-country courses with a new companion - the course walking app.  (Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the word "app"?  It sounds like a burp gone wrong, but I digress.)  More on that later in another blog entry but clearly we weren't the only ones out there with this handy new device that measures the course and gives you minute markers as you walk.  Hard to tell, however, it people were using the app or just texting while walking.... (if you zoom in on the pic, you can just barely see it at work.) 

On a very sad note, our dear friend Larry Sawyer lost his eventing partner Caboose today. More than just a successful Intermediate and one star competitor with Auburn Brady in the irons, he was a friend and will be missed. 

November Ram Tap Horse Trials - Friday, 11/18/11

It's freezing, it has rained/is about to rain/just rained and windy -- it must be Ram Tap in November!

When we left LA, it was chilly and foggy so to be fair, crummy weather isn't really Fresno's fault.  On the upside, the Ram Tap showgrounds were, as always, really well organized and the folks who run the show were super friendly when we checked in.  Nahmi and I got Simon the Likable settled in and shortly after, Sherry arrived in the rolling Taj Mahal with his majesty Poznan.

The ladies hacked around a bit while I snuggled in the nose of Nahmi's trailer bundled up in her (purple, of course) sleeping bag on her surprisingly comfy new mattress.  With the shorter days, Sherry and Nahmi both ended up braiding by head-light - literally, with those little miner helmet lights you were on your head. If you show and braid your own horse, this is an invaluable little gadget to have.  Thank God Carolyn owns one so Nahmi could borrow it! :)

Working all day made the steaks that Sherry was gracious enough to grill out on her awesome BBQ that much tastier.  While it looked like way too much food, magically it was all gone by the end of dinner.  (If you look closely you can see Sherry's malibu & firefly lights twinkling - does she know how to do horse shows or what?) Great company and the traditional horse show round (or two) of cocktails almost made you forget how freakin' cold it was!  Well... that and we all piled inside Sherry's warm, cozy living quarters for after dinner toast before Nahmi and I made our way to our hotel.

If you've been to Ram Tap before, you know the hotel choices are either a dump next to a crack house or something that's pretty pricey & farther away.  Behold the new destination hotel for anyone going to Ram Tap -- The Holiday Inn Express on Kathryn Ave.  I shouldn't even be publicizing it for fear that the rooms will fill up all that much faster but who am I kidding, this blog doesn't have that big of a following!  Don't know what the price is since, being a mere groom it came as part of my payment package, but I'm in love with the hotel.  The beds are firm but comfy, the staff really helpful and most of all FOOD!  The gentleman in charge of such things had the continental breakfast ready - and I mean coffee, sausage, eggs, the whole nine yards - by the time we left on Sat. morning at 5:30!!  Usually hotels get kind of pissy when you ask if they can open a little earlier than their 7 a.m. posted time so we can have a little sustenance to face the long days at shows.  Not only was food ready, the young man was pleasant, eager to please and downright chipper!  This happened not just one morning but both days!  I am officially in love...