Friday, October 29, 2010

The Greg Best Clinic At Flintridge Riding Club

Olympian Greg Best giving advice
It’s amazing to me how much you can learn at a clinic even if you’re just hanging out.  I went to the Greg Best clinic held at the Flintridge Riding Club Oct. 23&24 just to cheer on Cappa and Sherry.  With my pony (and riding) sidelined for the foreseeable future, I wasn’t really looking to learn any great revelations, but it’s interesting how much you absorb if you keep your mouth shut and eyes open.  (That, by the way, is probably not one of the lessons I learned, so don’t count on that happening too often!)

Here’s some of the “Best-isms” that I picked up:

Riding a jump course should be like riding a dressage test with 8 – 12 “elevated steps” along the way.  Each jump should be approached like a movement in a dressage test; if you biff one, get over it and focus on the next movement.  Like a dressage rider, you can make an error on one movement (in our case a jump), but if you focus on doing your job on the next element instead of lamenting about how you screwed up, you can still score a 10 on the next movement.  He also pointed out how the lines and the turns are connected, you can’t just ride the jumps, you have to ride the turns as well, it’s all part of the same dressage test/jump course. 

A rider’s job is to ride straight, with impulsion, and some third thing I forgot.  Hey, it was cold out there, give me a break.  Hopefully Cappa or Sherry will remember.  That’s it.  When he asked the three riders (Cappa, Sherry and a 10-year-old girl who as an obnoxiously good rider and student) what your job is over the fence, there was a lot of hemming and hawing before the most popular answer came up – staying out of the horse’s way.  Makes sense, right? Wrong!  According to Best, your job over the job is exactly the same as your job on the flat and in between fences.  If you have to correct for your horse’s left drift coming up to a fence, that’s still your job over the fence.  Feels like it all relates back to the idea that this is like a dressage test with elevated steps, not a journey tackling one obstacle after another.

Cappa was not so happy to demonstrate how much the shape and consistency of your back, especially your lower back, can influence your riding not just on the flat but over the fence as well.  It also dramatically affects your leg position; the more curled your back, the farther out in front your leg slipped.  According to Best, while a dressage rider wants their butt to stay connected to the saddle, a stadium jumper keeps their back more still, causing the saddle to tap the rider in the butt with the canter rather than keeping their buns in the seat.  (Mind you, that’s my paraphrasing; not his exact explanation but you get the picture.)  Though he did smilingly admit that for an eventer, whose main focus is “to survive” (his words that time) he could understand the need to sit a little deeper in the saddle to a cross-country fence. 

To me, it looked like a very light version of two-point, with your crotch being the point of consistent connection as the horse’s back and your saddle comes up to meet your butt.  By putting an upside down crop through Cappa’s belt so that is smacked her in the face every time her lower back moved, Best demonstrated both how important and how difficult it is to keep your back still.  As always, Cappa endured the torture like a sport!

Best pointed out that your back position is something you can practice while just sitting on the horse, you don’t have to wait to be in motion to work on it.  I’ve taken it one step further, trying to maintain that perfect posture now in the car, mowing the lawn, even while typing this.  And no, I’m not so dedicated that I have a crop hitting me in the face when I lose my position.

An interesting idea Best brought up was that just like when you’re driving a car, you need to slow down around turns.  Like a car, your horse needs that collection to maintain (or re-establish) his balance.  It’s the rider’s job to get the horse to move forward up out of the turn, however.  Gunning them isn’t the answer, much like gunning your car out of a turn is ridiculous, but getting back that forward canter you had before the turn is pretty important as you head towards your next jump (or dressage movement if you want to keep with that analogy.)

Along those lines, Best asked another crowd stumper (ok, except for Carolyn, who gets all these theory questions right) – what should your upper body do as you come out of the corner then?  Most of us went with stay still – wrong!  Best points out that if you lean forward, what does your horse do?  It goes faster.  So a little lean forward will encourage them to move up.  Conversely, a horse slows down if you sit up straighter and taller in the saddle – not if you lean backwards, which only drives them with your seat.  So sit up tall – and by that he actually means sit, have your body connected to your saddle, not hovering over it – to collect in the turn. 

It was a little bit of a mind blower when Best told Cappa and Sherry’s class that he doesn’t really worry too much about changing his speed to adjust for the next fence being a vertical versus and oxer.   Keep the horse straight, keep it moving, and that third thing that I forgot and that’s all you need to do.

Leaving no illusion unshattered, in Michelle’s class Best corrected a rider who looked at her next fence as she went over the one in front of her.  He knows that’s what we’ve all been taught, that’s what Pony Club tells us, but “they’re wrong.”  Again, thinking of a jump course in terms of a dressage test, you don’t see a dressage rider complete a move and then look 100 yards forward, they consciously ride every single stride.  In a jump course, how you ride the turn is just as important as how you ride over the jump (maybe more from some of the riding we saw this weekend) so you have to be looking at where you’re going in the next two strides, not ten away.  He advocates using landmarks when walking and memorizing your jump course, not just learning the jumps in the order they appear.  For instance, from jump #5 go around the corner and at the third tree turn left towards jump #6. 

I was truly impressed with how fast Best was able to get a handle on both horses and riders.  In no short order he pegged Poznan as being lazy and Jack as truly lazy.  Sorry girls, that’s what he said.  He liked them both, don’t get me wrong, but while it’s possible for a horse to have good initiative or bad initiative, Kong and Poppy had “no initiative on the first day and even less on the second day.”  It really didn’t seem all that unusual nor a bad thing in young horses.  Much of that, including Poppy getting over his “butterfly brain” is something that they’ll gain with maturity and training.  Now Cappa’s self-professed butterfly brain, hmmm…..

Apparently, after a week of rain and hand walking, Gordo apparently found his “on” button out in Flintridge’s cross country field.  Michelle bravely agreed when Best suggested removing his bit (holy socks!) and using a very simple English hackamore.  It’s really just a noseband with a place to attach the reins and while it seemed to reduce Gordo’s fussiness, it exposed a whole new steering issue Michelle didn’t even know they had!  Undaunted, she came back the next day with a similar simple hackamore (as opposed to the mechanical one with the long shanks) and had a beautiful go with Gordo over all the fences.  Ok, sure, collecting him back on the downhill line as a little tough, but she got the job done. 

Hats off to Cappa, Sherry and Michelle for great rides.  Kudos to Flintridge as well for a really well run clinic.  Despite the fact that their arena footing had taken a beating from the rain, the footing out on the cross country field was in great shape so they adapted and held the stadium jumping clinic out in the wilds where many of their riders aren’t used to going.  Special shout out to Chris Warner, who was so friendly to everyone during the clinic and kept a nice, warm crackling fire going in Flintridge’s massive fireplace.  Wish we had one of those at Day Creek for the damp winter days ahead!

Most importantly, many thanks to Greg Best for an entertaining and educational experience.  If you want to learn more, go out and buy his videos

New List of Nicknames for Poznan that came as a result of the clinic:

Scuba – due to love of water. 
Scoobie – because Tina totally ruined Scuba for me – ask her to explain
The Dude – because of his sun bleached tail and surfer dude attitude
The Dude – re: The Big Lebowski (same name, different reason)

Let the name game continue this weekend at the Jimmy Wofford clinic…