Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Spending money I don't have; Learning things I need; Getting sore legs

He's so photogenic...
Last weekend I rode in a clinic with Stephen Birchall. While I hadn't heard of him, he came highly recommended by a barn friend of mine. As I am still yet to find a trainer I really mesh with out here, I figured my (admittedly very limited) money would be best spent on a quality training session heavy on the theory and touching on a lot of ideas. I went into the whole thing crossing my fingers there would be a lot of concepts for me to savor over the next couple of months. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed.

In fact, I picked up so many ideas I'm going to break this clinic into a few posts. (Plus, I've been a little buried in work and visitors. So, take this as a way of easing back into writing.)
Ready for action?
Like any new meeting with a trainer, Birchall started off our lesson by investigating my tack. He immediately took away my dressage whip, but unlike other trainers made no immediate comment on my huge-looking spurs. He checked my saddle fit, agreeing with me that it isn't perfect but doesn't appear to be hurting my horse. He suggested it may be pinching a little at the shoulder, which I've kind of been figuring.

As I was explaining my PTSD-esque issues with contact and how they stem from this horse's particular issues with it, Birchall investigated my bridle. He suggested I add a flash to my bridle, and crank in my noseband. I explained that I used to ride this horse in a drop (for years), but have switched to a regular noseband because I now feel that I need the feedback from my fussy horse. Birchall gave me a heavily skeptical eyeball (Which, well, yeah. I probably would give myself one, too.), but we proceeded without cranking down my horse's face.

The whip removal was probably the biggest change for me. I've been using my dressage whip much less for forward encouragement in the last few years, and more as a long "pointer finger" to encourage my horse to activate his hind end. However, it turns out that I might have become a little too reliant on my whip to solve issues that my weight, seat, and legs could solve.
As witnessed by the loud thumping it takes for me to "encourage" my horse into a trot...
Birchall explained his whip-taking theory as being rooted in his time with the Spanish Riding School Bereiter. It seems he is very focused on using weight to encourage the horse to move into the proper balance, and doesn't really like the "whack and yank" methods of some. (Does anyone really like to whack and yank? I mean....)

I will say, removing my whip made me think a lot more about which leg I needed to apply, and which leg/seatbone was active. Removing it has also had the interesting side effect of making my horse much hotter to my leg (after an initial warm up period in which I pray for relief).
Here my legs are considering falling off. At least the horse is forward?
It was at this point that Birchall when on to make one final tack adjustment... he shortened my stirrups by one hole. I won't lie, I've been considering doing this for at least a couple of weeks. I've noticed my hips have been a lot tighter, and I've been really reaching for my irons. I'm super happy the clinician asked me to shorten them, and was actually annoyed it took so long between him suggesting he'd like them shorter and giving me a chance to stop and shorten them.

Once we were through the theory and tack discussion, we moved into the active warm up. Birchall explained he wanted me to encourage Pig to warm up very low and round. This follows a lot of the other advice I've been given recently. I agreed, especially as I've seen a lot of good results using this type of warm up. Birchall suggested I think of this warm up as encouraging my old man to reach down and touch his toes, stretching out his lower back.
Because. Face it. We all needed that visual.
To encourage Pig to stretch down, Birchall had me open and close my inside hand. (Think, tighten and loosen my fist on the reins.) Then he had me keep my hands low, telling me not to let them leave the level of my fleece. We basically kept my hands there the whole ride, which I found very interesting. He stressed that I keep my hands much more still at the posting trot (Strugglebus here. In fact, a main strugglebus thoroughfare...), and really encourage more stretch by releasing down when Pig gives through the poll.

As the warm up progressed, we ended up with a nicely stretching horse with a fairly loose and swinging back. I was happy! With 30 minutes in, it was time to move onto the fun stuff!

**Note: At the end of my ride, Birchall commented, "It's really obvious you know this horse really well. I think he's fine in that noseband just the way you have it. I wouldn't change a thing, other than your stirrups and riding without your whip more often." Glad to hear it, dude. I wasn't planning on tightening my noseband anyway!

25 comments:

  1. I actually LOVE his "touching the toes" visual for warmup!! Can't wait to hear the rest of the details. :D

    ReplyDelete
  2. Guinness looks great in the warmup bits! Sounds like a lovely clinic...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He started off super stiff, but came around!

      Delete
  3. is this the same clinician that was out when i visited? does he come out often? also glad to hear he ultimately concurred with you on your bridling choices. can't wait to hear the rest!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is the same guy! He's been coming out every couple of months, which is kind of awesome. I feel like he will be cutting his visits through the winter when everyone goes to Florida, though.

      Delete
  4. Interesting! I thought a dressage whip was part of the required stuff :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's extremely helpful, and nearly necessary at times to help the horse understand which part of his hind end you want to activate, you can't make it a crutch. You aren't allowed to compete with one in championship rides, or (I think) FEI.

      Delete
    2. You can compete at the FEI levels with a whip or I would have died!! I'm not sure about CDIs though.

      Delete
    3. I was hoping you'd chime in! Maybe it's CDIs? I know there's another set of classes you can't take it into...

      Delete
  5. I like a good discussion of theory. Glad you had a good ride!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sounds like a good clinic! I'm glad he didn't make you mess with your noseband, I think that if a horse can go without a noseband cranked down, they should. I get reliant on my whip too, not on TC so far though. Fingers crossed it stays that way!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fingers crossed!! I didn't realize how dependent on it I had become. My seat has a lot of work to do to separate from my legs again. Booo. Luckily it's not much of a forward issue as it is a "hey quit slacking on this particular hind leg, horse!"

      Delete
  7. The whip thing is interesting to me! I never ride with a whip for dressage, mostly because I am not used to doing so and it feels REALLY weird. Most people at my barn ride with one though, and seem to use it how you describe- more of a 'pay attention HERE' not as a forward aid.

    Sounds like a good clinic- I love it when you can get lots out of one ride!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think dressage riders use the whip a lot differently than jumpers, a fact that was brought home to me fairly recently.

      Delete
  8. Great clinic! I have only recently started using my whip or jumping bat on Mo (because now he doesn't explode when I touch him with it). I like the idea behind using your body to encourage the horse forward.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Using your body is the best way, but sometimes in training you have to have the whip to make things clearer.

      Delete
  9. Ugh I'm reliant on the whip too.. Whenever I get back on Foster I will have to consider not riding with it from time to time- right now it is always a necessary part of our tack!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so easy to get stuck on an aid, isn't it? Ugh! Hopefully you get back on Foster soon and get to experiment!

      Delete
  10. Toe TOUCH! I'm kind of disappointed he didn't do the bend and *SNAP* after...

    ReplyDelete