Thursday, August 27, 2015

So Lame: The saga continues

You may have noticed Pig looked kind of off in this video from earlier in the week. I didn't mention anything, partly because I was trying to stay in the land of denial. That's my favorite place to hang out when my old horse is gimpy and I can't find a single thing wrong with him.
"Who? Me? Lame?"
Seriously, though. I couldn't find anything actually wrong with him.

He has been a little off for maybe a week. I'm not talking off because he hasn't loosened up his newly funky stifle. I'm not talking off because he tripped in the grass and tweaked an arthritic fetlock. I'm not talking off because he stepped on a big rock with his big, dumb, barefoot feet and now thinks he's crippled for life.

Nope. Just a little off, not working out of it, and without any heat/swelling/cuts/bruises/marks of any kind on him. So I free lunged him just to make sure I wasn't imagining things....

Nope. Definitely lame.

I've had this old horse for a long while now, and because of him have become pretty proficient at performing an impromptu lameness exam. So at first sign of persistent "off-ness" I palpated his tendons. No response. I flexed him at the joints that still flex. Nothing. I tapped on his feet. No response. I basically whacked on his legs with a pole to find a weakness. Nothing.

I did find a spot of deep suculus thrush, with corresponding heel soreness. And, I thought, maybe that's it?

So, I showed up yesterday ready to do battle with sore feet and thrush (silver spray, keratex, magic cushion, the works), only to find...
Whaaaaaaaat the efffffff is thaaaaaaaat?!
Shit. I've been here before. It's kind of amazing to me the number of times this horse has whacked himself, resulting in a bruise or catastrophic lameness issue. I'm not really sure how he's made it to 17 years of age with all of his limbs still functionally attached to his body.

Despite being sad he is on the injured list (THREE DAYS BEFORE A BIG SHOW), I'm kind of happy this bump showed up. Why?

1. It's a classic splint. It's a hard bump on the bone. ZERO soft tissue involvement there.
2. Now that it's shown up, it'll be just a minimal time to heal.
3. I finally have something to focus on, instead of wondering if he was somehow broken somewhere really serious and on the final leg of his retirement parade.

With a probable diagnosis I headed off to treat. Ice, bute, compression, more ice.
I'm off to the barn to do much the same today. We're still planning to head to the show on Friday. It might seem cruel, but he's not that lame, riding isn't hurting him, and it's too late to get my money back. If he's worse, we'll scratch. If he's not we'll make an attempt. I'll bute up until the minute I have to stop (cue rereading USDF drug rules...), and we'll see how it goes. My hope is that now the splint has shown itself, it'll heal up fast. It tends to do that.

A trainer mentioned there's a woman coming to do laser therapy on a horse on Friday, before we leave for the showgrounds. It seems like total crazy-horse-person-wasted-money to me. Anyone have actual evidence to the contrary?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Dangers of Rocket Fuel: Feeding the Performance Thoroughbred


While I am a nutrition nerd, I have no formal training in nutrition or vet science. All statements are based on my own experience and the experiences of friends.

Maintaining a thoroughbred for dressage or another high performance sport can be difficult. Their high-energy personalities, sensitivity to temperature, and high metabolisms can make balancing energy requirements and weight-maintenance difficult.

A large majority of thoroughbreds come from a racetrack background. On the track, horses are often fed in way that supports their unique nutritional needs. Namely, quick bursts of immense energy. This type of energy expenditure requires a large amount of quickly accessible and easily digested carbohydrates(1), a minimal forage load, and an otherwise nutritionally balanced diet. This leads to racehorses often being fed mostly sweet-type, carb-heavy, feeds, with a dose of protein and some fat supplements to keep weight up. Forage is often alfalfa, and usually decreased the day of racing to try to keep weight down. (Ever try running sprints with a full belly? Don't. Even if you don't throw up, you'll be horribly slow.)
Remember, kids. Only small snacks prior to extreme exercise...
In the performance horse, energy requirements are often much the same as in the racehorse. However, the type of energy needed is quite different. Instead of requiring a quick burst of energy, most performance horses need to sustain a high level of energy for a longer period of time. (Aside: Lots of people taking horses off the track don't realize how much feed they still need to pour into their horses. This is why so many OTTBs look absolutely abysmal during their "transition" period. This shouldn't be normal. For god's sake. Feed your ex-racehorse a load of cool calories.) For the dressage horse, specifically, the need for exceptional strength is also required to maintain collection. In addition, an extremely sensitive temperament is usually unsuited to the more concentration-based training of the sport horse.

Putting all of this together, the recommended diet for the sport horse would do best with a high forage and fat based diet, lower in carbs than that of a racehorse, but still with a hefty dose of protein.(2) With easy keeping warmbloods, a mostly forage diet with a ration balancer is often enough. In heavy work, easy keepers often do well with an additional grain/fat supplement to maintain weight and long-lasting energy levels.
Om nom...
For the thoroughbred, I've noticed these recommendations don't always work out. Like all nutrition, feeding is incredibly personal. Each individual's unique body chemistry and fitness level dictates what will work best. For most of the high performance thoroughbred sport horses I've met, a lower carb and higher fat diet can work well. However, the thoroughbred build and propensity for developing lean muscle must be taken into effect. For Guinness, this means the addition of more protein to his diet.

As we've been schooling 3rd level, I've noticed Guinness lacking in the strength department. He's been very slow to develop a topline in response to his workload. His neck remained stubbornly the same, refusing to build muscle over the top. He's was also quick to tire when working in collection.
March 2015
In March, I decided to take action and add a protein supplement to Pig's diet. Though he was already getting a decent amount of protein through his grain/alfalfa diet, I wondered if maybe he didn't need more to support the additional muscle growth dressage required.

I chose to add a 32% protein rational balancer to his diet. The additional vitamin/mineral supplementation appealed to me, as Pig otherwise was not receiving enough through his normal grain ration. While on full turnout, his pasture waned in the winter and his exercise levels remained very high. I felt this meant balanced feed supplementation would be a good idea. Plus, a ration balancer is one of the cheapest ways to add protein to a horse's diet.

Since moving to Maryland, Guinness has been receiving two pounds of the ration balancer, on top of two pounds of 14% senior grain and his full pasture. His weight is still fantastic (not increasing or decreasing), but I have noticed other differences with the increased protein supplementation.

He's been growing topline. Like crazy...

As in, inches of topline...
 He's starting to look like "real" dressage horse. And, he's finally starting to be able to maintain collection for a longer period of time. He is much more willing and able to lift through the withers, and step under with a loose and strong back. Some of this development is definitely due to training and conditioning, but as our training hasn't changed too much I feel the additional protein in his diet is finally hitting the optimal levels.

That said, extra protein in the diet does have some pitfalls. Like what? Like ... bringing out the crazy.
I would say Guinness is about 30% hotter and spookier than he has ever been. Two days ago he tried to "save" us both from a feral and dangerous golf cart by bolting towards the road. The day before that he spooked so hard at another horse in a pasture, I actually thought he might have unseated me. Yesterday he decided the sound of the farrier grinding shoes was actually the sound of his pasture-mate being ground into bits. Walking from our pasture to the ring has made me contemplate horse-exorcism, and wearing an air vest. He's completely lost his mind.

Once he's in the ring and settled down to work, however, Guinness has been a perfect gentleman. The extra muscle has helped him feel more prepared for the work, so we have fewer "I can't even" meltdowns. His hotness is just about even with my capabilities, making him a very fun and responsive Ferrari ride. Honestly, I'm enjoying the shenanigans. Hot horses, they are kind of my thing.

The whole thing makes me wonder, though. What kind of balance is there in feeding your horse for optimal performance and keeping him a willing and mindful partner? It seems to be harder for thoroughbreds.

**Thanks to Jodi from Racing to Ride for more detailed info on the feeding of racehorses.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Test Decisions & Planning

Well, I did it. I entered a local recognized show for this weekend. Though I think we could make a better showing at 3rd than in May, I've decided to hold off on showing 3rd until next year when our changes are more confirmed and relaxed. For now, I'm focusing on upping our score percentage at 2nd (hopefully), and qualifying for those IDS end of year awards.

For the last couple of weeks, I've started to put more pressure on Pig. I need him to keep his brain intact during the fast paced tests of 2nd level. Last week he put in stellar work Tuesday-Thursday, running through all the trot work and canter work of the 2-1, 2-2, and 2-3 tests in chunks. When I tried to put everything together on Friday, however, he was a nervous wreck.

Too many days drilling, apparently...
I'm trying not to let one subpar test run-through get me down. I know this horse can only handle pressure in small doses, and 4 days of it is just too much. Still, it's very annoying to have three amazing and relaxed rides followed by one so wracked with tension that any progress is obscured. I know we are better than the so-tight-his-head-wags pair I see in this video, but I also know the video looks a ton better than the ride felt.

Also, our terrible test still had all the movements intact, and in the right places. (Though, I clearly need to school more 10m circles and review ring geometry. Oops!) Second level is firmly within our skill set, and I would call this horse "confirmed" here. Now it's less about "can we" and more about "make it the best it can be." A subtle difference, but one that is fun to try out.

We'll be showing 2-1 & 2-2 on Saturday, and 2-2 & 2-3 on Sunday. Obviously 2-2 is my favorite second level test. I've taken to calling 2-1 "simple change hell" and 2-3 "the dance of the flying change fairy". The trot work in 2-1 is also quite difficult, going from a shoulder-in to crossing the ring straight across to the opposite shoulder-in. There's quite a distance for the shoulders to travel to get to the second shoulder-in. That's tough for a horse who tends to get tight.

As for the differences in the tests themselves, in 2-3 the medium trots are both across the full diagonal, where in the other two tests they are on the short diagonal. As medium trot was probably invented to torture me, I don't like having to hold it any longer than I have to. However, 2-3 sets up the shoulder-in and travers the best, with a 10m circle between the two movements. In fact, if 2-3 did not have the coefficients on movements we regularly struggle with (simple changes and turns on the haunches), I would like it well enough to show both days. In 2-2 one of the coefficients is the second medium trot, which has the ability to possibly destroy our score. I'll have to at least make sure that one is slightly better than the first. In 2-1 the coefficients are mainly just the shoulder-in and free walk. That's much easier to handle.

In a recent lesson, lowering the neck between each movement (and especially before the medium gait work) was suggested to me. This seems to work very well to get Pig thinking with me, and set up to achieve the right amount of lifted wither and reaching frame. A lower frame also tends to keep him in the bridle a little more, where before each movement would lift his frame higher and higher until I could no longer touch him. I can't get a lower frame without relaxation, though. That is clearly the name of the game.

This week the plan is to school Monday-Wednesday. Give Pig Thursday off to relax and decompress, while I shine up all of our tack. Friday we head to show grounds (It's only 20 minutes away! I can't even comprehend this!), and Saturday and Sunday we dance. I'm fairly confident that schedule of three days of hard work with a decompression day will work for Pig... but that's really up to him...
Caution: Brain under pressure. May explode.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

TBT: Schooling in the Double

In the brief time between debuting 3rd level in May and moving to DC in June, I made it my goal to have some low key schooling fun with Pig in his double. I wanted to encourage him to go forward into the contact in it, and gain some confidence.
It's so hard to find a photo where one of us isn't making a silly face. This is as good as I could get...
I was so impressed with how calmly he stepped up to the plate in the double. His mouth was steady, and he didn't fuss in the bridle. I was actually able to take great contact with the snaffle, and ride him with that contact the entire time. While I left the curb rein slack, he wasn't reactive when I shortened my reins. I was able to use the curb when he took too long to respond to my requests to move his shoulder, and he didn't flip out.

When I watch this video now, I notice a few flaws we've been working to eradicate. Namely, he retracts his neck a lot in transitions and tends to go rigid when I ask him to straighten to the left. His collection is marred by that tension, and his hinds just don't engage as much as I know they can. Now he is also much more adjustable in the neck, which is wonderful.

Guinness is also even better in the double now. I can hold the curb properly (not with a huge slack in it) and use it gingerly to enhance his connection and collection. That developing conversation is completely interesting to me.
Pretty boy! The huge noseband on this bridle is growing on me...
Even with the flaws and dated connection issues, Pig's flexibility and obvious joy in going forward is lovely to see in this video and I enjoy watching it quite a bit.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

End of Year Awards

Since I started on my dressage journey, I've been a member of a local Indiana dressage GMO. Not only was IDS a great way to join USDF, but it is also an active group with plenty of opportunities for riders, especially when it comes to awards.

When I first looked into joining IDS, I didn't look very closely their award listing. At the end of the year, I was very surprised to get a huge white ribbon in the mail and a congratulations in placing fourth in their Training Level Adult Amateur division for the year. 
Good Pig!
A year later, and I had a sixth place ribbon for First Level Adult Amateur to hang on the wall.

This year, I want a ribbon for Second Level. To qualify, I need to have a minimum of 6 scores, with a median score above 55%. Right now, I'm at 4 scores. I have some plans in the works to get the remainder of my scores and hopefully increase my median score to something fairly competitive. (61% please!)

I'm planning to accumulate 8 scores, to allow myself some room to drop the scores from the show in May. With luck, all of our good work will pay off...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

New Helmets: A Personal Review of IRH and One K

I've been looking forward to Helmet Awareness Day all year. This year, my dutiful Ovation was up for replacement, and I had decided to upgrade to something a little bit nicer. (Don't get me wrong. I loved my Ovation! It was a good helmet, especially for the $60 price point!) So when the magical day of helmet sales finally rolled around, I jumped...

I'd tried both the One K and an IRH on at Dover in April, but honestly couldn't remember enough about the experience to make a decision. Thankfully, free returns make ordering helmets fairly painless. I excitedly donned my show coat and dove in!

The Options: One K Defender & IRH Air 10

First Impressions:
IRH -- Very similar to the Charles Owen look, which I love. The big vents make it more attractive then the competitively priced COs. However, the vents are kind of hidden behind the padding in the interior, making me wonder how effective they really are. The harness is a little cheap, but the back part of the helmet is really nice and padded.
IRH Air.
One K -- The matte finish makes the helmet look almost gray. The front V shaped vent looks silly. The inside is very airy-looking. When you hold up the helmet you can see daylight through the vents, making me think it's probably super ventilated. The harness position is fixed and rather forward. I actually like that, as it feels more secure and less likely that the settings would loosen over time.
One K. With silly face. You're welcome.
The Fit:
IRH -- At first I thought this helmet fit great. It was slightly snug, but not so tight I worried my head would explode. My head touched the top of the helmet, which is usually a sign of okay helmet fit. However, I later noticed the back of the helmet wasn't making contact with my head. Almost like there was a ton of extra space back there. I didn't like that, even though the rest of the helmet fit well.

One K -- I have an obnoxiously small head. (6 5/8", guys. I'm basically a child. It's even hard to find baseball caps that get small enough to fit me.) I ordered the One K in small; though, I would have preferred to order an extra-small, a size listed on One K's size chart but not actually sold anywhere. As expected the small size was a little too big on me. It would probably fit perfectly with my hair under it, but (sorry hunter princesses) I prefer to exercise my right as a Dressage Queen and ride with my hair in a ponytail.
Luckily, One K makes exchangeable liners in extra small. I zipped off to the local tack shop and picked up a tiny liner for $20 and snapped it into the One K. With the smaller liner, the helmet was a perfect fit. I didn't have the same issue with the weird gapping at the back of my head that I had with the IRH. Success!

Overall Impressions:
IRH -- I love the look of this helmet. It's classy and would look really fantastic in the hunter or the dressage show ring. The deep black of the crushed exterior is lovely, and the vent is very understated and on trend. I think this helmet is the most flattering to my face, but from the side it's a little less flattering and a little more mushroom-shaped. I like it, but have some reservations with the fit. Plus, the liner is built in to the helmet, making washing it nearly impossible. As I sweat more than my horse, this is a bit of a problem.
Mushroom in action!
One K -- With the extra small (and washable) liner, my thoughts on this helmet changed. Initially I didn't like the matte look. It's a little too informal for showing, and looks kind of gray next to my coat. However, in sunlight I think it looks better, and my coat is pretty wild for dressage (Yellow piping, you still make my heart pound!) I think the combo is doable. The more bold vents of the One K are kind of huge, and maybe a little bolder than I'm used to. The look from the front isn't the best, but I do think the helmet is really sharp from the side, especially with the way the harness ties in.
The back of the One K comes down further than the IRH, which limits my ability to sport a really awesomely bouncy pony tail. My ovation has a ponytail hole, which is basically the best thing ever. I will miss it. The lower back on the One K actually makes it feel much more secure on my head, and I know that more protection back there is a good thing. The IRH kind of felt like it wanted to pop off. The One K feels more like it's suctioned to my head. My hair will be grossly plastered to my neck, though.
Aww yeah! Side view!
After a little bit of debate, I decided to go with the One K. I love the washable and exchangeable liner, and that was honestly what tipped the scales for me. If I decide to return to the world of hairnets (a reformed prodigal lunchlady, if you will), I can simply snap in the original small liner. It's that easy. As the helmet gets older (and smellier), I can also buy replacement liners. That's awesome. I also think the more informal style really goes well with my schooling look, which can be kind of crazy colorful for the dressage world...
What do you mean kelly green isn't the usual color for DQs?
What do you guys think? I know One K is pretty popular with dressage riders, so I won't stand out in the ring. Am I crazy for still being a little attached to the more traditional look?
The stretchy bag is pretty nice, too.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dressage Insights and More From David O'Connor

Last week I promised to relate the David O'Connor jumping clinic to dressage. Then life filled up my days (or, really, job searching and riding did). No matter the extreme love and devotion I have for you guys, I just didn't have a chance to get my thoughts put together. I hope this post makes up for my tardiness!

I'm going to divide this post into three sections: Straightness/Impulsion, Horse Shape/Effective Position, and Rider Shape/ Effective Position.
David lectures to his riders before they head out to the ring to get started.
One of the first things David emphasized in his lecture was the importance of keeping the horse straight. He tied this in to direction and keeping a line, for striding purposes. However, straightness is also very important to both jumping and dressage when you consider its effects on the horses ability to create impulsion and "jump".

When you collect a horse, one of the biggest and most common evasions the horse will exhibit is a fishtailing hindquarter. Why?

Imagine for a moment a stick horse...
Maybe not like this...
To lift up the front end of the stick horse, the hind end has to be directly under the front in order for the horse to have enough strength and balance to lift itself appropriately. When you collect a horse, its hips tuck under a little, the hind legs come further under, the front end lifts up a little and more weight is put on the hind legs. That's hard. So, a horse will avoid the compression and weight lifting type of activity by shifting its hind end out slightly, making more room for its hind end. Often the rider is tricked into thinking the horse is collected, though it is not.
But while the crooked position feels easier for the horse, it's not very powerful. With his hind legs directly behind him and ready to accept the weight of the front end, the horse can load the weight on without having to involve too many other muscles. His power is solidly aligned. When he's crooked, he has to work a lot harder with a lot more muscles to try to get his body up in the air.

While this is obviously important in jumping, when you want the jump to be as easy and powerful as possible for the horse, it is also important in dressage. When you are asking for a canter lengthen, for example, it is impossible to get a big and uphill canter with the horse's hind end off to the side somewhere. He can't help but be flat and diving onto his forehand. There's nothing behind him to propel him up, you see.

Feeling the haunches swing out takes focus. When the horse is directly underneath himself, his back feels flat and even. When he's evading, there will be one seatbone that will have a problem connecting, or you may feel the horse is not in the rein on the side the horse is popping out. Without a hind leg pushing him into the contact on that side, he'll simply vanish.

Riding with mirrors helps develop feel, so does being aware of your horse's tendencies. For example, Pig is very likely to swing his haunches out to the right. He doesn't like loading his right hind stifle. Knowing that, I can be proactive in keeping him straight.

How do you keep a horse under himself? That varies. David suggested being aware of over or improper bending. Bend should come from the outside around the inside. The middle of the horse's body should be where the bend comes from, not the neck or the haunch. That means you should be keeping a steady connection between the outside rein and outside hind leg, and your inside leg should stay on so the horse doesn't flail to the inside. Working on the haunches/shoulder in can help you develop more tools for controlling the hind end of the horse.

Horse Shape/ Effective Position
David directly related show jumping to dressage when he discussed roundness. He wanted riders to understand that a round horse in dressage was quite different from a round horse in show jumping.

For jumping, the horse should be engaged (with tucked and reaching hind end) but up and mentally engaged in front. Meaning, specifically, the horse should have its head raised and be looking for and assessing the next obstacle.
Like this.
Image via:
Note the horse's lifted front end? Now look at this one:
Image via:
This second horse is still very lifted in front, but he is much more compressed. His focus is getting a shorter and more vertical hang time. The other horse is focused on a more powerful forward stride. The dressage horse could certainly jump out of this canter, but probably wouldn't clear the spread of a fence. The jumper could certainly jump up and over the fence.

There's a difference in how these horses are using themselves. The top horse is lifting with his back and haunches. The second horse is lifting with not only his haunches and back, but also the base of his neck and through the withers.

David advocated lifting a horse's head as the rider collected them, to get the front end "lifted and out of the way." He was adamant that the horse look up and see where he is going, tipping the nose out. He should not be allowed to get heavy or drift onto his forehand. He suggested that when rider try to get their horses "round" they allow them to get onto their forehand.

One horse in particular tested DOC, until finally he hopped on the horse himself.

You can see DOC popping the horse off his hands and changing the horse's balance from front to back. One collected canter does not suit all. For those retraining jumpers (like me) or doing eventing, this bit of info should be really studied. Also keep in mind that in dressage, different canters are asked for at different times. There are times the more open canter is asked for. It's important to know how to change that frame.

Rider Shape/Effective Position
DOC's biggest point for me was the effect of rider conformation on riding style. When discussing cross country riding, he emphasized that riders with tall upper bodies (Ahem. That would be me...) need to keep their upper bodies very still. With so much weight and drag above the saddle, riders with longer upper bodies affect their horses balance easily. They need to be more aware of how their movement changes the horse. Asking us to envision William Fox Pitt or Boyd Martin's cross country style, DOC reminded us a rider's balancing aids should come from the seat and hips not from throwing the upper body around.
How is he so still?!?!
In dressage, this is absolutely just as important. I had a trainer recently suggest that my body type was going to mean my abdominal muscles would need to be 10x stronger than someone with a shorter waist. I have found this to be incredibly true. I have to be very careful with my upper body. Any sort of imbalance on my part (say, sitting too far left) has a huge impact on the way my horse travels. Tipping forward is just about as good of an e-brake as a curb shank. Leaning back causes my horse to run right out from underneath me. I must remain very still and balanced in my upper body, only changing the engagement of my pelvis, tightness of my back, and twist in my spine.
Maybe a little less still in my hips, though! But, wow, we've changed so much since May.
It makes me wonder what it's like to ride with a shorter upper body. You lucky people, you!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Colorful Overview of the David O'Connor Clinic, and a Note About Shushing (with video!)

Emma and Alli dutifully listening to DOC's pre-ride lecture.
Guys. I think Alli and Emma are some of my favorite people. First of all, they aren't crazy internet murderers. Second, and more importantly, they are wickedly funny. A story...

When I invited the two of them out for dinner the night prior to the clinic, I had expected a nice time at a good restaurant. I did not expect an old friend of mine to crash the party in a hilariously awkward fashion. Thank god for Emma Natalie. That girl deserves some serious acting credit. She is an absolute must have in these sorts of situations. Meanwhile, we found out Allison is a downright pro at impromptu counseling sessions. (Allison: If that real estate job doesn't work out, I suggest psychiatry!)

I mention this, because it would not be our last experience with crazy people and situations. (Are there magnets in our heads?)

See, just moments after the clinic had begun, we discovered a dramatic addition to the auditing crew: The Militant Shusher. Maybe you've come in contact with this person in your own experiences, but I guarantee you this version was a prime example. We must have handled the situation with some amount of grace, as one of the other auditors came up to congratulate us on keeping our cool with The Shusher. It turns out the other auditor had been shushed before us, as well as several others. The Shusher had gone on to even shush riders and people in golf carts. At one point the Shushing Eye was turned on the clinic organizer!

I feel that here is a good place for a quick note about clinic etiquette: Most people audit a clinic to learn a little, or understand an instructor's style. That requires a certain amount of respectful quiet so all can listen and form their own opinions. Auditors should remain as quiet as possible to keep this learning environment, as well as to avoid disturbing the focus of those in the clinic. I do not suggest throwing a social hour party during a clinic. This is most certainly a very disrespectful thing to do.
Dog attendees should also remain seen-but-not-heard, but can be as loudly cute as they want.
However, some people learn best by discussing a point with someone to try to understand it more. Or questioning someone on a quote they did not hear clearly. With horse people, there is also always going to be the commentary on the horses and riders ("Oh! That was really well done!" "Look at how much they've improved!" "Oops! Did it look like she lost the haunches to you?") These types of comments and exchanges are not disturbing when done at a proper volume (a whisper), and can improve the clinic experience for many.

Unfortunately, our Shusher did not understand this. In defense, DOC was rather hard to hear at times. His microphone stopped working at moments, and the delightful breeze would whisk away his voice. However, the meaning of his teaching remained clear when you considered his pre-ride lecture and watched his expressive hand gestures. (At one point, I described it as Clinic Sign Language.) In everyone else's defense, the shushing was done quite rudely and loudly. At one point we were directly shushed when we were clarifying among ourselves something DOC had said. That's extremely frustrating to an auditor trying to get the most out of her experience.

If you find that you must shush someone during a clinic (hey, it happens), the best way to do it is probably quietly and with a little kindness. "Hey guys, I can't quite hear over you. Do you mind?" Another possibility is to move closer to the action, which is what probably should have happened in this situation. Many auditors had moved into the ring to assist with jump crew and to hear all the nuggets of wisdom.

Beyond the crazy, we had a great time. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Emma and Alli, both at similar levels in eventing, become inspired by different sections of the clinic. Meanwhile, I kept applying things to dressage, which took some creative thinking in places. (More on that tomorrow)

When we moved out to XC, the fun really started.
Getting a ride and some wisdom from the DOC himself. Also, Pig lookalike straight ahead!
DOC started the Novice/Beginner Novice riders off over some easy gallop fences. He wanted them to make sure their horses were galloping in balance with their heads up, looking at the fence ahead.

We had fun discussing which distances we'd prefer (Emma loves to find the base, I don't mind a flyer, and Alli demands the perfect approach), and watching the rider's try to affect their horse's gallop by simply changing their body position. DOC had explained he likes a "cruising position" similar to that of a jockey, but before the fence riders should come more upright in their upper bodies to signal to the horse there something ahead to prepare for. Some horses were quick to pick up on this, others required a bit more instruction.
The DOC himself giving a more direct lesson in listening and balancing to a clinic member's horse.
After the gallop fences, DOC moved the riders to more complicated complexes, starting with a rather steep hill with a log on top.
Sonka-Dog oversees DOC.
Position was key here, and some riders really got it. It seemed difficult for some to release their horses to use their bodies to balance, an issue DOC really focused on the whole day.

Finally, DOC moved the riders to a water complex. A very small bank a couple of strides from the water separated the green horses from the more experienced. DOC's quietly supportive and non-confrontational attitude toward greenies was very interesting to see in action. When a young horse would act apprehensive about the down bank, DOC encouraged the riders to maintain a light contact and allow the horse time to understand the situation. He did not allow these horses to leave the situation, asking instead for them to walk down the ramp or approach it again from the other side. By the end of the clinic, the baby event horses were cantering down the drop and launching right into the water with ears pricked and happy expressions on their faces. That was probably the coolest thing to see.

The whole clinic was a great learning experience! Plus, Emma, Alli, and I got to experience all kinds of strange and hilarious. What more could you ask for?