Monday, September 28, 2015

More Stephen Birchall, a button for flying changes, and the tough right lead

An example of why my stirrups needed shortening...
- Raised my stirrups one hole
- Decided my tack was okay
- Worked on stretching Pig down and through his back, loosening his neck/poll/jaw especially
- Took away my whip, making me rely on my weight and legs to aid

From the warm up, we picked up a left lead canter. On the circle we suppled the canter and increased the jump by increasing bend and response to my inside leg. From there we went on to do three  and four loop serpentines, finally leading to developing the flying change:
The video gives a good overview of how Birchall initially explained the lead change cue to me, but we ended up talking it over in more detail later. Here's what I picked up:
1. Balance the canter by getting a relaxed counter canter, able to be straightened or bent to true canter easily.
2. Start activating the soon-to-be-inside hind by bumping with the inside leg behind the girth. Step into your outside stirrup to keep the canter lead while you do this. Don't be afraid to mess with inside flexion to keep the lead, too.
3. When the new inside is more active, start to flex the horse in the direction of the new lead. At the same time, aid for the lead change with the outside leg and bring the inside leg forward, changing your weight.

This sequence really seemed to click with Pig. He boomed off changes at my request throughout the lesson, even though we usually struggle doing them on the wall. I was really impressed. Birchall even said "I see him starting to understand.  It think we're starting to install a 'button' now."

Whee!

With the idea of the changes firmly lodged in my head, we switched directions to work on the stubborn right lead. The stiffness of our work to the right was immediately obvious when we went to simply pick up the right lead. I couldn't keep Pig flexed to the right and get him to step into the lead. Instead, he would strike off on the wrong lead and flip mid-depart.
It's super awkward, no?
In an effort to loosen up Pig more to the right, and drive home the idea that he CAN flex and step up at the same time, Birchall had me flex Pig to the right, HARD. He had me completely let go of my outside rein and just use the inside rein to bring Pig's neck around until he had to loosen at the base.
Give in, Pig. Give, in
Once Pig relaxed in this position, he had me aid for the canter.
Still a little awkward, but at least the depart is clean!
I explained to Birchall I was using the outside rein to help me "catch" the outside shoulder when I asked for inside flexion and without it I felt out of control. He told me to try using my outside leg and seat to catch the shoulder instead, suggesting I've become a little too reliant on fixing this issue with my rein. Probably right.

Once we had the right lead canter and actual bend, we headed off to work on straightening and balancing it further. Birchall had me do slight shoulder-fore on the long sides and then counter canter loops. 
Shoulder-fore...
With just a little counter canter work, we headed to ask for the change. This direction they did not come as immediately as in the other. For my first attempt, I felt Pig was straight and ready to change, but when I cued he did not respond.
Can you spot where I ask? Hint, it's right at the letter. Second note: the cue wasn't terribly clear. Oops.
Without missing a beat, Birchall told me to keep it together and "Give him a big kick with that inside leg. So that I can see it!" Apparently that was the encouragement Pig needed to give his ribcage and leap into a change.
Boom.
While the changes were pretty tight in the back, I am actually super happy by how CALM they were. A lot of times we will get a change, only for Pig to bolt off into the sunset. Hopefully as we get our cue more solidified I can help him relax through the change and actually manage him through the whole transition.

A few other miscellaneous clinic notes:
- Lots of counter canter work is going to need to be done daily to keep Pig thinking about what is my idea and what is his. We need more canter lead obedience, even though it is much better than it used to be.
- Sometimes horses need to feel the inside leg lift off during the moment of the change, to give their shoulders room to move over. Pig will probably need me to work on this to develop more confidence and jump in the change.
- Each horse and rider is going to take a different approach to contact. I saw Birchall give another fussy horse a completely different approach than he gave Pig. That horse was prone to curling and getting too low to evade, with head tossing thrown in. He had the rider ride that horse with short reins and boot the horse forward when it would duck behind. He also had the rider bump the horse's head UP with the reins, then go back to being very still. His emphasis on still was quite different from how he emphasized I not get too still and dead in contact.
- A dressage horse should not be UBER light, they should take the contact and be solidly in your hands. A horse that is too light is not with you, and not paying attention. "If a rider is coming down the centerline and their Grand Prix horse goes super light, you can be sure they are thinking 'Oh, shit!'"
- When correcting and imbalance (like Pig's stiffness to the right) it's okay to have more weight in your inside hand than your outside. Don't be a slave to "inside leg/outside hand", while that is what you should strive for, in some situations you have to deviate. Don't be afraid to deviate and find an effective way to communicate to your horse.
A good clinic!

20 comments:

  1. You gave me a lightbulb moment. I am guilty of depending on my outside rein to catch the shoulder instead of using my leg...
    You and Pig look lovely.

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    1. Awesome! There will be more on this over the next week...

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  2. Love the logical progression of aids for the change! You guys look incredible, and I'm so excited that this clinician is helping you unlock the changes!

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    1. Meeee too! We've had a few great rides with changes since, and a few biffed changes, too. It's coming along, though!

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  3. Complete awesomeness. That is all.

    Question- were the other riders in the arena part of a group lesson, or just riding during the clinic?

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    1. Aw, thanks!

      The other riders were just riding during the clinic. The arena is huge, and wasn't closed during the clinic. Other riders were just encouraged to give clinic riders space and respect the lesson. Nbd.

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  4. Very cool. Maybe someday I will be there too. (There=schooling changes, not in DC).

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  5. Interesting--my red horse lightens too much, and then he's all self-carriage and no connection, and then two strides later he's hauling on me and I have to lighten him. He's too used to gadgets.

    Great recap!

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    1. Yep. Pig lightens too much, too. It's important to find a way to help them maintain a constant connection, not too heavy or too light. Part of that is learning to carry themselves, so it's hard when they've worked with mainly gadgets that have helped them be carried.

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  6. what an awesome clinic - Pig looks super fancy! i love when a new clinician or trainer can suddenly make clear a concept that's been causing problems. and now i kinda wanna ride with this guy too lol

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    1. Dooooo it! I'll let you know if/when he comes out!

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  7. Sounds like it was super productive. It's always nice when someone can say something a little different and all the sudden it clicks!

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    1. Guuuurl, I just realized your blog address change meant I was not getting your blog updates at all. This is totally unacceptable. Now I'm way behind!!

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  8. Yay! I was reading that the aid for the flying change is a really personal thing, that everyone trains/aids a bit different. Super interesting, glad it was such a good lesson!

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    1. I think they do. Plus I think every horse is a little different in what they need to "explain" the change to them. That's part of it. I've ridden horses where the change aids were more from the seat and some where they were more leg. Pig seems to be a whole body aid kind of horse. Of course.

      The clinician and I also talked about how I've been aiding for the changes (half pass to straight for 2-3 strides, then change), and he agreed that's probably been a good way to illustrate to Pig exactly what I mean. He was worried it was helping Pig get away with being crooked, though, and encouraged me to try more along the wall. I hadn't thought about that and was really happy for the advice.

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  9. how cooooool is that! Can't wait for Hafl and me start to work on flying changes - but wow, you and Pig have done a great job! good to see the videos too!

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    1. You and Hafl are going to NAIL them. I can't wait till you work on them, too. I bet you guys approach from a totally different direction, just based on Hafl's attitude.

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  10. Replies
    1. Aw thanks! I'm being picky and think he needs to jump more into the change and be a little looser in his neck and back, but hey! It's quiet and on the aid. A month ago, I didn't have that!

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