Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting to Learn from a Legend

These past 48 hours have been quite a roller coaster. A brief summary:

High: MY VISA HAS BEEN ISSUED!!! That means there's only one hurdle left to starting my English adventure which is... getting there! Wahoo!! Well, actually I have to get my visa back to me first, which is a little nerve-wracking as I had to include a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to send it back to me with, and I'm worried that I messed up somehow and it's going to get lost in the mail and I'll never see it again. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime: WAHOO!!!!! IT'S HAPPENING.

Low: I had my first tumble off my new bike :( It was a stupid situation where I was riding with my father and brother and they were setting a blistering (for me) pace and were leading me on a ride where I didn't really know where we were going--at one point we got to an intersection and my brother went left and my dad went right... and then at the last minute did a very tight U-turn and looped back to join my brother. I had gone right but was surprised by my dad's move, so by the time I went to follow him the turn I had to make was even tighter and I ended up not being able to make it, going onto the sandy shoulder, slipping out, and tipping over into the road. Ouch. Fortunately I'm ok besides some bruises on my leg and a big fat goose egg on my elbow, but it was a bit of a bummer. Lesson learned: know your route, have a plan of attack at the intersections, and stick with it, even when you're tired.

High: I GOT TO RIDE WITH LENDON GRAY!! And it actually went really well!! And I didn't even cry :) SUCCESS. 

The first thing Lendon had me do was tell her what I was good at. Umm... crickets. She laughed when I said I didn't know, as apparently that's a pretty classic reaction, but then pushed me for an answer. The truth is that I think most things in my test are pretty uniformly OK, with a few glaring rough spots--there really aren't a ton of things that we're really, really good at. Feeling the pressure to say someting, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind: my lateral work at the trot. ... ... Did I actually just say that???! What??! My half-passes suck!! 

I knew what was coming next: since it was my "biggest strength," Lendon told me to get started with that. And, unsurprisingly, it wasn't great. It was OK, but... not something worthy of a strength. Lendon gave me advice very similar to Kim's, which is to really focus on increasing the bend. Eventually it improved, but I was still a little mortified that this was something I'd said I was good at:

Lendon also immediately commented on my flappy lower leg, which I was quietly expecting. She asked me to fix it, and I knew that this was going to be a make-it-or-break it moment in the lesson. Make it happen and hopefully I'd make a neutral or positive impression. Fail to make some sort of visible change, and it would be bad. So, even though it was MASSIVELY difficult, I put everything I had into following her advice. And I must say, the change was visible! 

Happy that she had tortured me enough, Lendon allowed me to move on to the canter. Phew! At least I'd done one thing right! After feeling like I'd sort of failed in the half-pass, I was really happy that I could actually do what she wanted with my position. 

Lendon had by now cottoned on to my bend issues in the half pass, so we basically did the same exercises at the canter. Fortunately, I had by this point figured out what I was being asked to do so, beside having to really work to get an appropriate level of collection in the canter, it went a little faster than the trot:

Then, it was on to the zig-zag. This is actually something I usually score pretty well on in the tests, so it was a little horrifying to do it really poorly several times in a row with Lendon watching. Gahh!!! I think because Lendon was asking for more in the half-pass, I was getting to the change and second half-pass more underpowered than usual, so that my trip back to the rail was consistently disorganized and wonky. Rough. But the last time, I finally at least fixed the wonkiness halfway through, even if I didn't get it right from the beginning, which was deemed an acceptable improvement for the moment: 

After that, it was on to the changes. The first couple of times, Lendon just wanted me to do three separate changes on the diagonal with no count -- it was surprisingly difficult! Lendon figured out our problems with the changes pretty quickly, which is that Ringo tries to take over and I sort of panic and get tight and encourage him to be tense. The three separate changes were really useful to us as an exercise, as they both required me to stay cool and calm and forced me to keep Ringo's canter under control between the changes. 

After conquering the three singles, Lendon let us do a line of 4s, and then a line of 3s: 

In the fours I messed up the very last one which, as Lendon correctly assessed, was because I got close to the end of the line and panicked. Whoops! Again, she stressed on me that my job was to be relaxed and keep encouraging Ringo to keep his neck long and stay relaxed. 

Finally, it was on to the pirouettes. First, she had me see what I could do:

Just like the half-pass, Lendon's assessment of my pirouettes were that they lacked sufficient bend. So, she had me do an exercise where I overbent him on a circle before I went into the pirouette, then thought of almost leg yielding him into the pirouette, and then leg yielding out of it. It was really hard!! But the difference was there when I started to do it right:

It was the sort of exercise where I didn't master it in the lesson, but I'm really excited to go home and perfect it over the next few weeks. That was the takeaway from the lesson as a whole: Lendon didn't make me repeat an exercise ad nauseum until I got it perfect, but made me repeat it just long enough until I knew where it was supposed to go, and then left the rest to to homework. This is probably my favorite approach with a clinician, as I looove homework and love feeling like I've touched on a lot of different things. 

Overall, I loved Lendon's teaching style and wish I could ride with her again! Unfortunately this is definitely it for now, and chances are low that I'm going to be good enough to make it worthwhile to ride with her again in two years when I come off my hiatus (for a while, anyway!). A few of my favorite nuggets of advice:

  • The reins should dictate the activity of the hind legs, NOT the length of the neck. You should be able to pull on the reins and still have the neck get longer if you want, not automatically get shorter. I have to work on this a lot. 

  • You should feel like your calves are lightly brushing against the hair of the horse's barrel all the time: not vice-gripping, not slapping intermittently, just quietly resting and waiting for action. If your horse needs constantly banging legs to keep him forward... then he isn't really forward. 

  • Just like in jumping, it's all about the quality of the canter: EVERYTHING. Get the canter and the half-passes, changes, and pirouettes will come. All the movements are incidental beyond the basics. 

I was so pleased with Ringo and so, so thankful for the opportunity to get to ride with such a legend of US Dressage. Good boy, Ray!!

(Also as an addendum, I got back on my bike and had a great ride yesterday: I was tired and sore from the exertions of my crash, but felt good, regained confidence, and had a wonderful time. We're still cooking with gas, baby!)

(Plus, my cat is adorable. Life is good.)


Aoife said...

Congrats on the Visa & the great lesson, it is wonderful to have stuff to work on. Sorry to hear about your tumble from the bike, but again great that you got back out there and enjoyed yourself the next day.
I'm new-ish to your blog and can't remember if I've read what you're going to be studying when in Oxford, bet you'll have a blast. Have you mapped out all the "equine" things you want to see when your there? I'd have such a to-do list if I was based in England - they have amazing events within easy'ish striking distance from train stations etc.

I am delighted that you decided to keep blogging when you get to Europe. I had a sneaky giggle at you calling your bike Marcel, that name is always synonymous with the monkey from friends for me - guess I'm showing my age now!

Katherine Erickson said...

Ahh Marcel the monkey - I'd completely forgotten about him!! Hopefully that won't now ruin it for me...

I'm studying modern British and European history - my proposed thesis at the moment is on the history of educational policy in the German interwar period, which I'm really jazzed about.

I actually don't have a horsey to-do list this time around, I'm realizing! I did last time and did a lot of the things on it (Badminton, Cheltenham, Ascot, Bramham), but there definitely are some place still left on my 'must see' criteria :)

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