Stephen Birchall Clinic Part 1: The Defenestration of Austen
|"I saw a mouse!" -- Pig|
The lesson started with me explaining that we are planning to show Third this year, in an attempt to collect our final Bronze Medal scores. I went on to explain that I feel our collection is finally developed enough, but the canter work is feeling much weaker than the trot. I think I called it "flat and tense." The changes, I went on, are much more confirmed, though exuberant and "bolty."
Obviously, that intro meant we had a brief warm-up followed by nearly exclusive work in the canter.
Once cantering, Stephen picked out immediately that I need to get better body bend from Pig. This was one of the things I'd had brought to my attention by the judge at our recent schooling show, and something I was hoping we could work on. To address this issue, Stephen had me take more inside rein, using my inside leg to keep Pig stepping into the bridle.
|"They tried to make me go to rehab. I said 'no, no, no'..." |
-- Pig, Emperor of Tense Bend
"You're blocking him with that rein." Huh. "Give with the outside when you take on the inside. Otherwise he feels trapped and just goes tense. Use your seat and legs to straighten him out and keep him in the bridle." Oooh.
What resulted was a careful dance. I would put Pig in the bridle solidly, and he would be very straight. Then I would put on my inside leg a touch more, and ask for more bend with my inside hand, giving slightly with my outside. Once I had more, I carefully took a half halt with both reins, ensuring I followed that up with enough oomph from the hind end to get more jump, not a flatter stride. The outside rein release was barely a breath. Any more release, and Pig reacted like I had dropped him and refused to go into the contact again. (Stephen was quick to emphasize that I needed to pay more attention to my hands. They are getting too noisy during moments they should be quiet.) The breath release allowed him to feel like he could lift his shoulders and have the room to contort his body into the deeper bend. If he took too much advantage to the outside, I kept my outside rein, but used my seat and a thump with my outside leg to remind him not to blow through me. This is very similar to a lesson from the last Stephen clinic.
Stephen is big on emphasizing those loose leg bumps as a way to keep the horse relaxed and "breathing". It seemed to work to defuse a tense situation. The solid but not constant bump of my leg seemed to break through Pig's muscle tensing and get him to relax a split second. Sort of like slapping a person who is having a nervous breakdown.
|Maaaaybe less dramatic, though.|
He tried to have me fix the issue by leaning to the outside, forcing Pig to straighten up. This did work, but the alacrity of Pig's reaction caused Stephen to exclaim "So, he's awfully sensitive!" He suggested this issue would be more fixable with my seat by catching it early in the warm-up.
At this point we moved on to a little counter canter, but it was pretty obvious that I didn't have enough control of the shoulders and haunches to keep the counter canter. Stephen had us come back to the 20 m circle, practicing haunches in and shoulder in at the canter on the circle to get a better control over Pig's body.
|Pirouette canter on the horizon?|
|Better balance = better half halts|
|Pictured: Exuberant and "bolty"|
Basically, I need to do less celebrating that we got the change and more riding the movement and the strides directly after the change. Maybe keeping my butt in the saddle during that leap n' flail would help, too. This issue is entirely rider error, so it's really up to me. Even though Stephen pointed this out, I struggled to really get this all weekend. Chalk this up to something I'll be working on.
We quickly moved from this movement to the centerline -> half pass -> change movement from 3-2. Stephen was happy with Pig's half passes, calling them "quite nice" and suggesting that I be careful not to allow more angle to develop when trying to increase the bend.
|Things we do well...|
|Pictured: A classic power shift via defenestration. Not pictured: My face when I realize I can see the ground outside and just might be landing on it head first...|
I think the whole moment really shook Pig and Stephen the most, and it honestly ended our lesson. Pig's brain was shot after this. We did some more work, but the horse made his opinions on repeating this exercise very clear by flat out refusing to half pass to that corner...
|Straight up noping.|
|"What part of 'nope' was hard to understand?!"|
|Pig's feelings on the whole thing.|
It was kind of an interesting discussion, especially when I later realized this is one of the first times Pig has brought all of his nervousness to bear in a lesson and I knew enough to realize exactly what was going on. Stephen seemed very wowed by how sensitive Pig proved himself to be in this lesson, but seemed interested when I said that most of that sensitivity has to do with pressure. If there is no pressure, his sensitivity is much lower. As we've started schooling higher levels, he feels the pressure more easily.
All of that aside, I left this lesson still feeling like Pig and I are capable at the level and feeling more empowered in our working relationship. That might seem odd, but maybe it was just due to splitting a bottle of champagne with Emma afterwards...
|"Look, Lady. I didn't actually toss you out the window. You should gimme some bubbly as a gift of gratitude."|