All right! Kiki and I are on our way back! I was a little nervous about jumping right back into it (literally and figuratively) by entering the Buck Davidson clinic at Pirouette Farm up in Norwich, VT, this weekend, but man am I glad I did. I didn't know much about Buck as a clinician and I was SERIOUSLY IMPRESSED. He had interesting exercises and was, most importantly articulate and tactful enough to actually guide us through them well. He got a great feeling for what I needed to do with Kiki pretty much right off the bat and gave me some really clear advice that yielded immediate improvement in my riding and our performance. We both left the weekend feeling happy, confident, and closer as a partnership. Yay!!
(The Piggy was flying this weekend! Thank you so much to Pa for taking all these pictures)
So, to the nitty gritty:
Day 1: Gymnastics and Show Jumping
After showing up a few minutes late to the lesson after taking a walk around the field that took a little longer than expected (whoops!!! Not a good first impression!!), Buck put us right to work by asking us to pick up the canter on a circle and alternate between galloping on in two-point and sitting down to collect. Right off the bat, he called me for not wanting to sit on Kiki's back, and stressed that I need to be able to sit in the saddle and follow the motion of her canter dynamically in order to ride her to my fullest ability. I know this is the case, but it's hard to stick to my guns sometimes when I try to sit on her back and she immediately starts hopping up and down!!
When I got better about not trying to sit on her AND shut her down in front, however, the change was almost immediate. Indeed, throughout the entire weekend, the message that got repeated over and over was: follow! Following (and light) seat, following (and light!) hand, following everything. If I wanted to control her, I needed to use my body instead of just my hand. It made a huge difference!
When we started jumping, the same idea of being able to control the horse's length of stride without having to depend on the reins remained at the forefront. We started on a 20m circle with two little verticals with placing rails on either side. When we first started, it was a little western! I think I was intimidated by the rails (given her... umm... previous proclivities for such things) and so was very tense and passing my tension on to Kiki. Buck talked us through it, getting me to follow better with my seat and stay light with my hand. After a few rounds, we were definitely improving! With that down we added in a crossrail on the same circle, which actually went way better than I'd thought it would. Kiki is growing up =)
After that, it was coursework time. Our first course had me a little green around the gills (especially since I'd been elected to go first! Yikes!); it involved coming around a fairly short turn onto the diagonal, doing a vertical to oxer one stride and then GALLOPING down an eight-stride in seven, turning and doing the circle exercise, continuing right to a single oxer, doing a long left rollback to another single oxer, and then coming on a straight line into the circle exercise one last time.
The first time we set off without enough pace, meaning that Kiki got nappy in the corner and almost hopped to a standstill in front of the one stride. We ended up lobbing through in two strides and then chopping down to the oxer in 8 (instead of the requested 7). Whoops! After that, I though about GALLOPING, and goodness what a difference it made.
Not only was Kiki's stride way longer than I'd given her credit for (almost getting 6 in the line once!), she was also way more adjustable than I could have believed. I just don't have to do so much! She only gets hoppy or wild when I try to overmanage and control her. When I actually got the balls to gallop on and only balance her with my upper body a few strides in front of the fence (and NO SOONER!), she was amazing. And she threw some really classy jumps in at the end, too! What a good girl.
(It was a beautiful day!!)
Day 2: Stadium for Cross Country (And Cross Country Too)
On Sunday, Pa and I got a chance to watch the morning groups before it was my turn to ride. Well, I think they did more to freak me out than anything else. They looked HARD! The structure of every lesson on the second day was essentially the same: a brief flat warmup, an exercise that involved galloping down to an oxer with progressively tighter placing rails, an 's-turn' exercise that required slaloming between 4 offset verticals that made an s- or z- shape, some bending lines, and some straight lines with and without placing rails.
In the warmup, Kiki was a bit wild! It was a similar warmup from the day before, but using the whole arena, and she decided it was a bit much. She was swapping out her leads and hopping down every. single. time. I tried to bring her back to a more collected step on the short side. It was a little worrisome because I felt like I was trying as hard as I could and she did not improve AT ALL, and it felt like Buck was getting as close to frustrated as he ever got (which wasn't very - he kept a pretty admirably level head throughout). Finally we just moved on.
(Kiki in 'Pony Express' mode in warmup)
For the first few courses we did, she was WILD. Not totally rank and horrible like she was been, but definitely not feeling super obedient or responsive. We ate it pretty hardcore the first time through the 's-turn,' and was more than a bit hairy through the straight line of skinnies on first attempt as well.
(Thinking about chilling out... thinking)
But, miraculously, we got better. When I first got Kiki, if she was having a bad day, she was having a bad day. Period. Any I attempt I would make to bring her around would either have no effect or, in especially bad cases, cause things to spiral down further. But today, she actually got her sh** together and improved. I also quit psyching myself out and started riding better, which certainly didn't hurt, but she also "started to play" as Buck put it. Good girl!
(Looking much more relaxed)
In fact, she just got better and better as the lesson went along. At the very end we did some real cross country, and she was just fabulous. We even jumped her very first corner!! What. a. Star. Honestly, I couldn't be more thrilled with her, and am so happy that I got my nerve up and went. Hopefully this is a good track to start on for the rest of the year!
(Off to cross country - my first in 11 months!!)
(Corner FTW! Ignore me, please, and just bask in her glory)
(Wee log on a berm)
(Up over the houses - a moment where Kiki's newfound long stride came in useful!)
In a funny twist, Pa and I ended up driving Buck back to the airport. It was really fun to talk to him on the drive back (I hope he felt the same way - Pa and I are not always the most scintillating conversation, something we both know well), and hopefully I didn't embarrass myself too much. After all, it's not every day that you're crammed into a single bench-seat cab between your father and one of the best American riders of the last quarter century!
Kiki will get a stretchy ride tomorrow so I can see how she came out of the clinic, and then Tuesday off. I was naughty and was way too tired to ride Ringo when I got back (all the best laid plans...) so he will be top priority tomorrow. The last two rides I've had with him have been the best two we'd had since our reunion, so hopefully we can continue the trend!