I actually got a little out of order in my timeline, as the day before Davis I had the real treat of going down to Dayna and Shannon's in Gilroy to see the first of the West Coast Training Sessions with Captain Mark Phillips, the Chef D'Equipe of the US team. I've gotten to see some of the East Coast Training Sessions in years past in Aiken, but had never actually been to a California one before as they are usually held in southern California, which is a bit too far for a morning of watching barely audible dressage lessons. But, this year they were just an hour from Stanford, so I took one of my first trips off campus in what felt like forever to drive down and have a look. The weather over the past few days has been absolutely unbelievable, and in Gilroy especially there were wildflowers everywhere and it was warm but not hot, sunny but not bright: perfect.
I did a writeup for Eventing Nation, which I thought I would repost here, with the addition of many extra pictures! So without further ado:
It's hard to be unbiased, but California winters really are wonderful: after hot, brown, and crispy summers, the rains finally come and everything bursts out in green and bloom. It was especially lovely this past weekend at Red Fox Farm, site of the 2012 West Coast Training Sessions, where the mild weather was complimented by cherry blossoms and wildflowers in full force. The flat sessions were held in Red Fox Farm's spacious covered arena, where a decent crowd of about twenty spectators gathered to watch the best and brightest of the west coast learn from Captain Mark Phillips.
Overall, the flat sessions were refreshing in their emphasis on absolutely correct, straight, basics, backed up by intelligent and dynamic riding. The 20 meter circle quickly became the central unit of each lesson, as riders needed to demonstrate true straightness and evenness in both reins there before being allowed to move on to more complex movements. Captain Phillips had a lovely teaching style, clear and demanding but also quick to praise when a rider improved and gave him what he was looking for. Each and every rider improved drastically over the forty five minutes they had with him.
First of the morning was Shannon Lilley and Forgotten Emblem, or "Michael," a horse she successfully competed at CCI** level last year. The theme of the lesson quickly became straightness, especially at the canter where Michael tended to carry his haunches ever so slightly to the inside, by using shoulder fore and counter canter. The transformation when he straightened and started using himself fully was huge: he went from being somewhat short-strided and tight in the back to showing really lovely gaits, especially at the trot.
Next up was Max McManamy, on her adorable and eye-catching pinto Project Runway. Max and "Devon" were on the short list for the Pan American Games last summer and are coming off a successful season at the CCI** level. The focus of her lesson was improving the length and straightness of the neck by insisting that he fill the outside rein and not depend on the inside rein on the 20 meter circle. Again, the difference from start to finish of the ride was impressive.
Shannon then returned with her Pan Am mount from last autumn, Ballingowan Pizazz, or "Mango." Mango is a beautiful horse with lovely gaits and tons of presence. They warmed up without much comment from Captain Phillips, but then were asked to start pushing their work to the next level. At the canter, especially, Captain Phillips felt that the canter was pleasant but could have more. He stressed the idea of always being able to "feel the extension in the connection" of the canter, meaning having a canter impulsive and active enough that the extension is always there, bubbling under the surface. He then gave one of the best maxims of the day, remarking that "A good rider is happy with what they have, while a great rider keeps trying to see what more they can eek out." It was then exciting to watch Shannon respond by pressing Mango into an even bigger, lovelier, and more uphill canter, finishing with some good work on flying changes.
I unfortunately had to leave just as Mackenna Shea and Landioso were warming up, which is a shame as Landioso is undoubtedly one of the most stunning horses in eventing at the moment. After I left, the riders went on to jump later in the day and then have another session on Sunday. Overall, it looked to be an exciting start to the eventing season in California.