Monday, April 17, 2017

Enter a show and everything goes to shit

I scheduled our 4th level debut and first show of 2017 recently, and everything immediately began to fall apart completely. Isn't that always the way?
"Ugh. I hate fourth level. I hate square halts. I hate being sound. I hate not spooking. I hate being relaxed." -- Pig, probably
I knew the first show at 4th level was going to be a trainwreck, but our schooling just before I put in the entry was looking pretty good. Okay. No. It was looking VERY good.
As in, holy shit who is this pair kind of good. 
We'd had some struggles earlier in the spring. One when I started schooling more in the saddle and Pig was pretty sure he forgot how to move in one.
"Wat dis? How do? Plz explain..."
But we worked through that by putting the saddle on more often and being regimented about the work required. Then... oh man. Then we struggled with Pig realizing the double and the saddle meant hard work, and he began stressing out before we even got started. It's really cool when your horse lathers up at the halt. Literally. At the halt.
Pictured: Horse looking for the cause of his sweat-soaked distress, and a dog being Queen Derp.
I thought we'd work through that by riding in the saddle and the double every single day for a few weeks, through hard work and hacks both.
And look pretty damn good while doing it, I must say.
That seemed to do the trick for awhile, but I think overplayed my hand... literally.
Heh. Puns.
Also, WTF am I even doing here?
Pig started to feel trapped in the contact. Instead of lifting up more in front like he had been, he started diving down more and more on his shoulders. Ugh. In addition, his right hind started giving us trouble again.
Mom. The right hind. It needs pharmaceutical assistance again.
Yep, injection time was approaching again. Thankfully, I'd anticipated doing another injection just before show season. This setback wasn't a huge surprise.
What was a surprise? Well, along with intermittent arthritis issues, contact issues, and basic soreness from hard work, we've been dealing with a bit of an...attitude problem?

Yeah... it's been a bit wild and hairy over here. Some days I'm riding a killer 4th level horse, and we're both ready to conquer the world.
"Captain Guinness here, reporting for flying change duty."
Then some days I'm riding a powder keg that doesn't believe he can turn right, or left, or stop, or go. It's been a confidence booster, let me tell you.
Pictured: Me, sweating bullets. Pig, freaking out.
We're trying to cope, though. I'm taking some time off the pressure with Pig. More time in the snaffle doing the work, and more time in the double going for long walks on the beach in the creek.
Yes, yes. Sane people always take the water-adverse spooky horse deep into the woods alone.
The show is around the corner whether we're ready or not. I need to trust that the training is in there. It's better for us both to go in relaxed and happy athletes than to drill the test movements until we die.
Channeling more of this, plz.
Still, I'd really like to run through that test more than once before riding it in the ring. It's funny how time can feel so short sometimes. Anyone else in full panic mode about upcoming shows or am I cornering the market over here?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Checking on Our Training: Working Toward 4th

Pictured: All of us looking for 4th level. Not pictured: Anyone finding it.
At this point, Fourth Level looms at me like something from my nightmares. On our best days, Pig feels like a confirmed horse. On our worst, I feel like I'm trying to coerce a shoulder in out of a thrashing fish. (There's a visualization for you!) In an effort to give myself a little more focus and confidence in our training and progress, I've started looking more closely at the requirements of fourth level and the test I'm focusing on the most, 4-1.

USEF states the purpose of Fourth Level is: "To confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, and has developed sufficient suppleness, impulsion and throughness to perform the Fourth Level tests which have a medium degree of difficulty. The horse remains reliably on the bit, showing a clear uphill balance and lightness as a result of improved engagement and collection. The movements are performed with greater straightness, energy and cadence than at Third Level."

Let's break that last bit down:

1. Horse remains reliably on the bit.
Exhibit A. Horse on bit.
This is really not an issue for us any longer. We have mild blips, but he's very willing to get back to work after them. I would call this quite reliable, and much better than last year.

2. Horse shows a clear uphill balance and lightness as a result of improved engagement and collection.
This is a bit harder for me to see. With Pig being a thoroughbred, uphill tendency tends to look a bit different in him than the fancy warmbloods I'm used to seeing. Plus, his tendency is to travel fairly earthbound through his shoulders. That said, I think we have some improvement to our basic gaits.
Our average trot right now.
The trot is much improved since our work last year. Pig finds lifting his withers much easier, and doesn't struggle as much in the connection when I ask him for more. We could use more overall engagement, but for a daily work trot I think this is good. He'll give more when I ask, but I'm leery of stressing that stifle more than necessary.
Status of the canter, more questionable.
The canter is less confirmed. I spent the autumn and early winter fixing the incessant 4 beating fault we'd developed during our quest for relaxation. Now I'm working on reconciling that with a lifted wither. We really struggle when it comes to getting Pig to lift his front end at the canter and keep his back loose. I'm 99% sure that difficulty comes from a reluctance to articulate the hip/stifle. When he feels good, this is easier. When he isn't as confident he can do it pain-free, it is not. We take things day by day. That said, the gait quality is much better than it was last fall and the roundness hasn't totally disappeared. I'll take it.
Gait quality = some improvement shown
Also, that walk photo on the right. Wtf horse. Did you forget that leg was attached? Jesus.
3. The movements are performed with greater straightness, energy and cadence than at Third Level.
Here we are making big strides. Last fall our changes were on the aids (finally) but were wildly out of control and usually late behind. Now, our single changes look a lot more like this:
Can I get a HELL YES? Seriously. Can I?
The left-right change is nearly always clean, straight, and relaxed now. It's my fault when it's not almost every time. Pig is getting very confident here. The right-left change is a bit more difficult. While it's on the aids, typically straight, and relaxed, it's not usually clean. I'm not sure if this is because the left hind is slow or the right hind doesn't want to push. I'm leaning towards the latter issue, and working to address it. Right now that means our r/l change can look like this:
I'm extremely happy with how quickly he comes back to a balanced and relaxed canter following that... ahem... moment. There was a time a wild effort on a change would have left us bolting headfirst into the wall, or me nearly flying out the window. Let's give a momentary cheer those days have started to recede into the background.

Other movements are coming along, too. Notably the half pass where we are working to increase the bend (and therefore the engagement).
Needs more bend, gets more bend. That left ribcage is quite the stubborn thing. But, NBD. We're fixin' problems like a boss.
The struggle here, as always, is getting Pig to lower his haunches without resistance. He's getting much better about it, especially as he learns I won't make him stay down in that heavy squat for the rest of his life. #noonelikeswallsits

Now, as we look specifically at the 4-1 test, there are a few new movements for the test: collected walk; very collected canter; walk pirouettes; multiple flying changes on diagonal.
Accurate representation of our exact reaction to those movements.
I have no video evidence of the walk pirouettes or very collected walk. It's coming along, though. Turns on the haunches have been our strength for a very long time, and Pig is translating that work to walk pirouettes like a champ. I'm not too worried, as long as I can keep that left hind from stepping wide when it should be stepping in.

The very collected canter, developing into a working pirouette by the end of the the level, is something we've really started to hit hard.
Moar sit now, plz.
While we're making progress, I need to be sure not to wear out Pig's joints with this work. It's really hard, and when he's sore he's a total pill about literally everything else (and who can blame him?!). It's not worth it to push this too far. He's getting the idea and building strength.

Right now the biggest issue is keeping his power up when we finally get the hip to drop. I'm paying close attention to my reins, as any pulling will just STOP his hind legs in their tracks. Still, it's a careful balance. I find myself using haunches-in on a circle to help develop the feel, ala a Jeremy Steinberg clinic tip.
Sitty, sitty, spinny, spinny
This exercise forces Pig's hip to sit, allowing me to ask for more power and a yielding ribcage. It's really a great exercise, and is helping us develop lift in the shoulders. Again, I need to be conscious of not over-using it. Keeping the circle large is also key to ensuring this exercise doesn't earn me a one-way-ticket to tantrum land from my poor overworked creature.

Finally, we get to the truly nightmare-inspiring addition: multiple flying changes on diagonal. As a single change was a major struggle until recently and I am no wizard at teaching or riding changes, it makes sense why this addition intimidates me. I don't think I'm alone, either. Tempi changes take a lot of organization, relaxation, and timing to pull off. I think everyone moving up to 4th feels like they could use a lot more of all of those skills.

Still, I've been pretty confident in our ability to at least get three changes across the diagonal. (Noticeably much less confident about our ability to do them cleanly or not careen through the wall of the arena at the end, though) The development of relaxed single changes has given me a lot more confidence in this, and I've started adding multiple changes into a few of our rides. Just to test, you know.
Hold your applause, please. You'll spook the horse. Also, yes. I know that second change was really late. See above about fixing that one.
At the moment two changes without bolting headlong into a tree is pretty reliable. Even on a bad day*. This is crazy to me. We can get three, but usually that's a bit too much for Pig to keep a lid on his exuberance. At that point I tend to lose a half halt for at least 5 minutes. Not exactly ideal, but we're getting there. This is huge news. Honestly, this is news I never thought I'd share.
(*Note: All these clips are from days I would call "not our best" and "pretty stiff and resistant". Yeah, I know. What is this madness?!)

I'm keeping work on multiple changes to the long side for now. It's easier to keep them straight over there, and easier to keep the wild dragon at bay. For some reason changes in the middle of the ring are crazy exciting. Horses are weird.
Too bad they don't offer a pas de deux with dogs in USEF. We'd nail that.
Just sharing this post makes me feel a lot more confident about what is ahead this season. While I'm sure we'll struggle to get anywhere close to a 60% at 4th this year, I'm insanely excited to give it a try. Especially on this happy red horse. We just have a lot of muscle, timing, and confidence to increase this year.

What upcoming challenges are keeping you up at night? Do we have any in common?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jeremy Steinberg: A lecturing clinician

Living in an affluent equine area might have a few drawbacks (the price of veterinary care, for one!), but one huge plus is the easy accessibility of excellent clinicians to audit. Jeremy Steinberg, past USEF Dressage Youth Coach and prolific clinician, has become quite popular in my area. In the last 6 months, he's been out three times and I have been lucky enough to audit his clinics.

While I would love to ride with Steinberg when he comes, my finances have not allowed me to splurge on such a thing. At first I believed my horse and our work not to be worth such a clinic, but I am starting to change my mind. With our work towards 4th improving monthly, I do think it's time to bite the bullet and sign up. Of course, that means eating less, cutting the fun budget entirely, refusing to turn on the heat, and no driving except to the barn. Oh, the joys of riding and training dressage on a budget!
Plus his tattoos are pretty stellar!
Thankfully, Steinberg is an amazing clinician to audit. I am able to take what I learn from auditing and apply it to Pig, getting plenty of bang for my auditing buck. If you get the chance, I would highly recommend sitting in on his teaching. As expected from someone who spent a great deal of time instructing young riders on the theory of dressage, his lecturing skills are fantastic. He is comfortable guiding a young rider through the how and why of developing contact, asking pointed (but kind!) questions to discover the depth of the rider's knowledge. At the same time, he is comfortable working with an upper level rider on refining the aids and balance for Grand Prix work.
Working with a rider on developing consistent feel in the piaffe
As an audience member, I feel Steinberg always has an awareness of his auditors. His style is definitely to lecture-heavy. In fact, riders might feel that he talks more than they ride! In some cases this might be true. However, he is so analytical in his teaching that riders are put through their paces to discover exactly where the training holes are in their partnership with the horse.

Most ride more than once in multi-day clinics, adding to the fun. While not always to easy catch from a time management perspective (damn you real life and your responsibilities!), it is fun to see a horse and rider pair change over the course of the weekend. Jeremy holds his riders to a high level of accountability. A pair is expected to have absorbed the lessons from the day before and not need the same lesson two days in a row. While he is content to call out a reminder of the work from the previous day, it is clear he expects to be able to move on an work on other concepts. The message is clear: "Riders! Do your homework!"
Steinberg lecturing a rider on the relationship between bend and power generation in the canter.
When it comes to style and approach-ability, Steinberg is a master. He cracks jokes throughout his lectures, and maintains a light and easy demeanor with riders and auditors alike. He is very friendly and open to questions. During his teaching, he often draws comparisons between riding and other parts of daily life. This makes his teaching memorable and easy to visualize. Some of his favorite comparison topics are weight lifting, cars, and Finding Nemo seagulls (mine!).

A rider warms up while another lesson finishes.
A few gems from recent clinics include:

- "You're the personal trainer for your horse. Personal trainers have to be a little tough. If they aren't a little greedy, they'll never get their client results. But, a good personal trainer has to balance that greed with an awareness of the emotional and physical abilities of their client. You can't push your horse past what he can take emotionally, nor should you wear them out working on an exercise."

- "Think of the horse as a seagull from Finding Nemo. They are simple minded creatures, with a tendency to get fixated on something. If you spend too long trotting around to the left, they might develop a fixation on that outside rein thinking 'MINE! MINE! MINE!'. It's best to avoid that whole fixation in the first place by mixing up the work before they can latch on to something. Changes of direction, tempo, and gait should come more quickly with a horse who tends to zone in and fixate."
Steinberg, explaining his theory of horse psychology.
Often Steinberg will mix up these comparisons with some delving into horse psychology. "If horses were people, they'd be psychopaths," he said at a recent clinic. "They have no ability to regret. They don't understand human emotions. You can't train them like they do." That said, he obviously has a lot of love and respect for the animals he works with, advocating often for fairness in training. His belief in understanding horse psychology seems to come from a desire to do right by the animals.
Steinberg explaining why a horse pushed to go too fast in a gait may struggle and fall off balance.
When it comes to working a horse through a tough spot, Steinberg's focus on psychology really comes out. "Horses are pathological liars. You'll ask for something and they'll tell you 'I can't do that. It's too hard.', 'my leg doesn't move like that!', or 'there isn't enough room for my body to do that.' The interesting bit of pathology is that they believe their own lies." Moving forward, he went on to explain the rider has to show the horse that their belief is a lie, but the approach to the issue differs whether the problem comes from emotional or physical problems. Either way, "You want the horse to take ownership of his own mistakes. If the mistake comes from a resistance from the horse [the example in this case was a horse swapping leads rather than sitting more in the collected canter], don't fix it for him. That was his mistake, and he has to figure out how to resolve it."

Obviously Steinberg doesn't put all the blame on the horse. "Now, you have to be careful with this. It's the job of the rider to know when a mistake is their fault. It's a partnership, you both need to be responsible for your own balance and actions to work together effectively. Neither you or the horse can hold each other's hand through the work."
Rider and horse working to maintain balance in increased collection.
Steinberg's style is straightforward and tailored to the horse and rider pair he works with. His breadth of experience seems to make him a good fit for most, which seems rare to me. I tend to take copious notes during my time auditing. I'll throw some of those notes up on the blog in the coming months to share the knowledge! That'll just take some editing as I go through them.

I know some California bloggers recently had the pleasure of auditing and riding for Steinberg. Does anyone else have experience with him or want to tell me about any other dressage clinicians you love?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Jumping in the fray: Bits and Dressage, a story of development and principle

There seems to be a pretty fun kerfuffle circulating in the horse world right now, and I can't help but leap right out here and disagree with just about every damn person who's written something. What's the fuss about?

A petition to British Dressage to allow bitless bridles in dressage. (This story was picked up by Eventing Nation. It is also not the first time such a petition has been discussed or proposed as this 2015 article in Dressage Today reminds.)

I had been blissfully ignoring the whole damn issue until I read this post on Aimee of SprinklerBandits blog. Go read it real quick. Don't worry, I'll wait... after all, I apparently have a lot of words to compose on this topic.

Done? Good. Now...  In response to Aimee: She states that the reasons to use a bit in competitive dressage are for communication, balancing the horse, and control. I agree that bits are integral to communication in dressage, however I disagree completely that their requirement is also about holding the horse's balance or having control over the horse. In fact, I disagree with that on a pretty fundamental level.

Mainly my disagreement with the need for a bit to establish control is based in the fact that the point of the development of dressage training was to show that you could train the horse in such a way as to NOT have to exert control with the bit (as they needed to do in traditional warfare. No one in the middle ages would have suggested taking a horse into war without a huge ass spiked nasty leverage bit. Pretty sure I wouldn't have wanted to either. It was necessary.).
One for each of my massive freight train war steeds, plz and thnx. 
Response to Aimee's point aside, I believe bits are integral to dressage, and I think I have some good points. First, a couple of counter points to the common "but bitless bridles!" discussion to launch me into my main pro-bit argument:
1. Nose pressure is NOT bit pressure. The communication is 100% different. Can you train one to mean the same as the other? Maybe? But... that's kinda counter to the whole thing. To me this is death of the bitless bridle argument because...
2. Lightness and effective communication are the ultimate goals and proof of dressage training.

Let me explain #2 in more detail:

Back to that development of dressage thing...
Yeah. This... remember this?
Contrary to popular belief, the start of dressage was not to train military horses and riders. Nope. It was developed as a way for blue-blooded noblemen to prove and show off their superiority. Did this bleed over into the military? Uh, yes. As noblemen were in charge of the military, bleed over of training techniques was a natural progression. However, military practices changed pretty drastically from the 1500s to the 1700s. As did other things. Like sanitation practices and men's fashion (anyone for a pair of men's high heels?). The ties between the development of dressage and the changes in military riding style are a bit tenuous until much later in history, after dressage was well established.

Fun Fact! Dressage until the 16th century was mainly practiced in high walled indoor "schools" with windows up high so the horses wouldn't be distracted, and in parades and ceremonial displays by and for the wealthy and powerful. It was considered a type of riding separate from, but related to, that required in warfare.
William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle's riding school at his Bolsover Palace, built in the early 1630s. (Fun Fact! This place is still around, and they do riding displays there! Someone go and tell me if it's cool.)
Sons of the wealthy were sent to schools to learn from masters (such as Grisone, Pignatelli, de Pluvinel (you've heard of him. Right?), and La Guérinière) the skills of fine horse training, later horsemanship. By the 1600s, a nobleman's ability to train and ride a horse effectively was seen as an indication of excellent leadership skills. Yeah, that's right!  Dressage made you cool and desirable. It also, apparently, made you good at your job. If your job was leading men into war and governing nation states.
Diego Velázquez say "Toddler good at making horse do cool stuff. Toddler make good king someday."
(Actual true story. This is legitimately Spanish propaganda of the 1600s. Don't make me pull out my footnotes. I WILL DO IT! This is not an idle threat.)
The popular correlation between a talented rider taking a highly strung animal (often one unsuited to warfare due to its hot temperament) and managing to convince it to dance around like a fool without force, and the qualities desired in a man capable of making good decisions when people's lives are at stake isn't so far fetched. After all, how many of us have said something along the lines of "my horse has taught me patience," or "my horse teaches me to think rationally," or simply "my horse requires that I think, not react". I know my horse has made me a better and more conscientious leader. People during the 1600s definitely agreed, and they would know as most of them had dealt with a hardheaded horse or two.

Now stay with me because I'm getting to how this development relates into the integral tie between dressage and bitting horses.

As dressage training was explored and developed, the masters discovered the key to this sort of training was lightness. You couldn't haul a horse on the bridle, intimidate it with spanks on the ass, and expect it to calmly and happily perform countless piaffes and levades in front of your adoring crowds. Instead, the horses had to be systematically trained to accept the barest of aids from the leg, seat, and bit.

Driving for ultimate lightness led the masters to begin to lessen the harsh bits of the time. Gradually removing the spikes, twists, high ports, and immense size and weight (horses often had to have teeth pulled to accommodate the massive curbs designed for ultimate control in warfare) from their leverage bits. They started to discover that when a horse is properly engaged and relaxed, you can feel that relaxation in the hand. The horse softens to the bit... goes "on the bit." The goal of training became to achieve this ultimate lightness in the hand. A voluntary submission of the horse to the bit, without pressure.
François Robichon de La Guérinière demonstrating the slack curb rein and ultimate self carriage in a piaffe, though I am reasonably certain La Guérinière is actually the dude on the ground at whom the horse is rolling it's eyes. It's most likely a nobleman under Guérinière's instruction in the saddle.
François Robichon de La Guérinière is credited as the inventor of the double bridle, uniting the cart horse bit (the snaffle) with the bit of the highborn and educated (the curb). Why? Most likely Guérinière was intrigued by the amount of communication you could convey through the combination of bits. With the snaffle bit, a rider could give fine motor commands to the horse, dictating how to high to place its head and at what degree to carry its bend and flexion. With the curb, the rider could explain to the horse exactly how far out it should extend its neck, and keep the snaffle from restricting the motion of the nose inward. The eventual goal of all "high school" riders was to ride effectively on the curb alone, with a light feather touch on the curb and a slack snaffle rein.
Baucher on Parisan in the Passage. Note the slack snaffle rein and light contact on the curb.
The idea of using a severe tool to such a degree of fine and light communication appealed to the point of dressage: to convey a superior skill in critical thinking and leadership. At the same time, riders using these tools in this way could encourage their horses to relax, sit and arch their necks in a such a way as to develop the high degrees of collection and self carriage required to complete upper level dressage movements. Their judicious application of the bit in junction with the aids of their bodies shaped the collection and lightness that is the goal of dressage training even today.
Some modern horse in a double bridle. Three guesses which one.
Photo by Redline Photography
In the years after Guérinière, François Baucher came onto the dressage scene. He was a controversial trainer and instructor, but for reasons perhaps more political than you might realize. Credited often for inventing both early rollkur and the one tempi changes, he was disparaged for his lowly birth and his time spent training horses to spectacular feats for the circus instead of stroking the egos of the rich and famous. However, Baucher is the man who gave us the theory of "leg before hand." His time spend with exceptionally hot circus horses and thoroughbred types led him to believe balance and relaxation was the key to training. He based his personal training on the theory that a horse cannot relax with a tense jaw, poll, or neck.

The bit was integral to Baucher when it came to releasing this tension. He instructed the on the use of "flexions" off the bit to teach a horse to release this tension and allow forward movement to flow through. Later in his life, he remanded some of these teachings, realizing overuse of the bit and flexions could back a horse off and restrict it's desire to move forward. Still, the feel of the bit in the hand indicated the relaxation of the jaw and poll of which Baucher never rescinded importance.
James Fillis, a student of Baucher's developed the "fillis hold", a way of separating the action of the curb and snaffle reins to an extreme degree. This illustration shows the use of the snaffle rein to create a flexion of the poll, as described often by Baucher.
Today, relaxation is touted often as the key to good dressage training. However, instruction of the feel of the horse on the bit is often distracted by talks of headset and talk of proper "poundage in the hand" needed for "good contact." That discussion flies in the face of development of the sport and the principle of less reliance on force and heavy handed communication on which the training was founded.

Personally, I think the feel of the bit in the hand on good contact is absolutely necessary to the sport. The communication conveyed through a truly light and relaxed mouth is sublime and effortless. The horse carries the bit(s) on its own, arching the head and neck to engage the abdominal muscles and drive the hind end under to allow more power generation. The contact in the hand is alive, vibrating with the energy between rider and horse. There is absolutely no pulling, maybe only a feather of weight in the hand. Sometimes even a slack in the rein.

Once the training of the horse and/or rider has reached a degree where each understands the concept of collection, the frame needed and the cues from the rider's body, the bit may be unnecessary. (Though a look at this video and the one prior makes me wonder just how much harder one must "shout" to be heard bitless, even on a trained horse.) But for competitive dressage, the goal should be a level playing field where all competitors work to display their mounts training toward the goal of lightness and obedience with as close to near imperceptible action of the aids as possible. I, for one, appreciate seeing a test where a rider has all the tools at hand, but needs only the lightest hand to achieve results.
No dressage master here, but I can vouch the feeling on that bit was absolutely relaxed and sublime.
What are your thoughts?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Things we do that aren't dressage

Skeptical ear asks, "Should I ask why we aren't schooling our changes instead?"
While I work on organizing my thoughts for some more dressage-focused posts, I wanted to share some recent clips of moments spent outside of the sandbox, both on and off the horse.

Like time spent pretending to be much younger while playing in the field...
Or cuddling hard on sleepy, sunny, Sundays...
"How about we nap instead?"
Or galloping full out with minimal brakes...
Dressage horse? Pfft! Piaffe this!!
Yep. Today I'm just here to share photographic evidence of that time my horse spooked at a pile of hay in the dark, then ate it. Because that sort of thing is important.
#noshame #itwasdelicious
And while we're on the topic of food, here's that time Pig thought he was sneaky for stealing a bag of carrots from the tack room...
"I'm a real life Danny Ocean. Just better looking... and sneakier."
See, dressage training isn't all boring circles and transitions. We do a whole lot of other things. Like navigating tiny frozen streams...
And indulging our inner art critic while enjoying the stunningly beautiful Maryland sunsets...
That sky, though. Amirite?
Plus, it's very important to stretch out our back from all that heavy duty collection work!
Yeah, "stretching". I wish yoga was this much fun...
And we can't forget to take time out to play with friends...
After all, it's all about building relationships and memories. What's the point in the training journey if you don't enjoy time spent with your partner?
"Hi Lady! Got carrots?"
As our training gets more and more demanding, it becomes obvious to me that the whole process is aided through the quiet and relaxed moments out of the ring. That's where we build our trust in each other, and that's a priceless thing when you've hit a tough moment in the ring.
Plus, with views like this who can resist!?
Do you find time spent outside of the ring pays off when you go back to work?