Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Equine affaire clinic ( and Equestrian Peter Leone)

Friday was the Big Day that wasn't. The Day that was to be the BIG day, but due to Miranda's broken bones, became less Uber Cool, but still a really great day. After an interesting morning, where few things went right (I will not bore you, suffice it to say, Holy Scnikey), we made it to Equine Affaire in time to catch what should have been Pippi and Miranda's great achievement clinic.

Okay, so perhaps most people would say it was Peter Leone's clinic.

The clinic title was : " Schooling Hunters & Jumpers for Success: Exercises to Improve the Horse's Performance & Technique." 
("Mr. Leone is looking to select up to six horses and riders for this session. This session will feature a solid overview of the core fundamentals of track, stride, and riding the horse from behind both on the flat and over fences. Preference will be given to horses/ponies and riders who can command a 2’9 - 3’ course at a B horse show and above, and for eventers who show at Beginner Novice and above.")

We entered the coliseum in time to see the end of a Stacey Westfall clinic, and it was touching to hear her voice break when speaking of Roxy, the famous mare that passed a few months back. Roxy was Stacey's partner in the bridleless/bareback reining routine that has touched so many.

The arena was then changed to a jumping arena, and the jumps set up like this:
Four Jumps down the middle going Right to Left; Groundpole, Crossrail, Three strides, Oxer (Crossrail/fence) four strides, Oxer (crossrail/fence), two strides, Oxer (crossrail fence). A nice Gymnastics course. The fences looked to be set at 2'6". In the middle he placed two cavaletti and two small fences to form a circle uncluding the two middle obctacles.
Please to enjoy my feeble rendition:
So there we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the horses that The Olympian Silver Medalist believes are in the same sphere as our dear Pipster. In rides a Giant red horse, with a very skinny little rider. Then arrives a Big Black Horse, and then after a few moments a dark bay smaller horse. Miranda felt that the little Horse was about the same size as Pippi, and we later found out that he was 15.3 hh. (his Trainer sat behind us.) Pippi would have been the littles one, no surprise there as she tends to be the little one.

Peter Leone was introduced, and started his clinic asking the riders to circle the arena while he spoke and gave us a run down of what he called his "Riding Principles."

These are the things I took away:
"Less is more; less bit, less equipment, less exercises, less fuss." Leone stated that one should do what works, no less and more importantly NO MORE. Don't over complicate riding, it is simple, keep it simple, and use the least of what works for you and your equine partner.

"Horses like Routine, and comfort in repetition, but you must keep the work interesting." These are of course opposing goals, so the key is to "routinely integrate the unexpected." Do the same old thing in a new way. In different orders, in different places, with different obstacles.

Riding Principles: 1. Straight & Forward. Easier said than done. But always the main goal.

                           2. Ride Back to Front.

"The bulk of a horse is from its shoulder to its tail." People who try to control the front end should consider that they in fact only have "contact" with 1/2" of horse on either side of its mouth, only 1" of bit contact in which to try to control all that mass. Think of all the contact with horse you have with legs and seat, and remember that those are fundamental while hands are secondary.

Hind end is the engine; control the engine and the horse is yours.

"The shape of the horse arriving at the jump, determines the shape of the horse going over the jump." Flat, inverted, curved, coiled, etc.

And again: "Riding is simple, we want to get good enough to keep it simple."

Then he introduced the Riders and Horses (left to right):

Big Red Horse,10yo TB 17hh+, Showjumper, never told name (Big Red?), and Bridget, professional.

Big Black Horse, 8yo TB 17hh, EQ. Hunter, never told name (Big Black?), and Jody, 3-4 years riding.

Pheonix, age unknown, 15.3hh, Hunters, and Morgan, 12 years riding.

Leone wanted them to pretend they were in a Flat class, "let's check your positions, because Good Position Enables Good Function."

Say what? Good Position Enables Good Function. So that goes back to the idea of keeping it simple, and becoming good enough to make it simple. Sometimes when I am riding along for a few moments it feels so easy. I could just do it forever, and then all of a sudden it falls apart and it is difficult and frustrating again. I want to get so good that the easy is the main part. So easy that it is simple.

Bridget struggled in the flat class, she was tense, and upper body was rigid and locked. Leone told her to go "noodle arms." No flexing from shoulder down, lose elbows. Thumbs at 45 degrees. 45 Degrees?
Miranda and I looked at each other and smiled. This is Miranda's biggest struggle, she tends to puppy paw (hands flat, with thumbs in) while I tend to lose grip on reins. We can so do 45 degrees!! I feel this would help me keep a better grip, and Miranda has always hated the straight up (hold a candle, thumbs at the top) grip we have been told to keep. Leone knows that some Hunter Judges want a thumb on top, but feels that most will let you get away with this and that it is "better position = better function." And we agree! Keeping it simple!
Bridget was also told to "allow the lower leg to breathe on the horses ribcage." This sentences was a key for me. Breathe on the horses ribcage. Maybe due to my love of the English language, but this sentence sat with me better than "swing with the gait," or "move with the barrel of the horse." It meant: allow your legs to be with the horse, touch it, be connected, and breathe with it. And less "squeeze and rock with the movement." More grace, and less forcing your legs to touch and squeeze. Sit and touch. Got it.

Now on to Jody; her legs were good, her back and hands were good, but shoulders were slumped and head tilted to one side. Leone asked her to "ride like a peacock." This reminded me of my show experience last year. When asked what my plan was I had two goals; dismount when I was supposed to, and fake it 'till I make it. I wanted to ride Pippi as though those in attendance were in for a treat, the best horse ever, ridden by the best rider ever. I am proud of my horse and I wanted to ride with that pride eminating from every pore. Ride like a Peacock.

Leone had the riders do some stretching and losen up exercises with their horses. At the trot they were asked to ride forward while bending their horses to their mounts stiff side, go a few strides, release for a few strides and then do it again. Then the other side. Always starting with your horses stiff side.

On to jumping.
This section of the clinic was harder to follow, as the ladies sitting behind us decided this would be a great time to have a loud chat about what their dogs have been up to. I lasted for about seven minutes ( I know, I did good right?) before I politely told them that I could not hear the clinic, and they were very sweet and apologized. 
What I took away from the jumping portion was this; it is mostly the riders fault. All of it. The strides are off betweeen jumps, rider error. (not stting the pace) The inability to find the next jump, rider error. (not looking ahead) The horse falling out, rider error (not enough leg and closed rein on wrong side) Leone said to make your outside leg a "wall" for the horse to hit up against. Don't push, place and hold.

Leone said several times; "Negotiate with your horse away from the jumps." "Do not demand perfection three strides from the jump." He explained that three strides out is not the time to think about collection and head set, it is go time. If you are thinking about form you may send your horse the wrong signal, and take your own and your mounts concentration away from the task at hand, namely clearing a jump and choosing your path to the next jump. My interpretation: You "set your horse" during your circle, and once the jumping starts, you forget it. Set it and forget it. But as Leone pointed out; the shape of the horse arriving at the jump, determines the shape of the horse over the jump.

Now; the young girl rider in the class was tough to watch. Sure, she was young, and had not been riding long, and was probably a bit above her comfort level. But she did fine, and we learned a lot from what Leone adviced her. Which is the purpose for a clinic. If all went perfect, we would learn nothing and they would have called it an Exhibition, not a clinic. But what made it unbearable was her expression (pretty much from the get go), and general attitude. Donna smiled and said she could only imagine what I would have done to Miranda had she acted like that in a clinic, and laughed about how I probably would have marched in and yanked her off the horse. I felt bad for the girl, she was too young and inexperienced to handle the pressure, and in true teenage fashion she handled the stress by acting pouty and pissy, when she probably felt stressed and worried. Experience is more than hours in the saddle, it is just as much about emotional experience. Experience in handling things when things are far from perfect, and still maintaining joy of riding. "Be what you want your horse to be" is so much easier said than done. But if you want your horse to keep on tickin' when it takes a lickin' you must set the example. Young girls horse started out trying and working well, but as her mood sank so did his, and in the end he was refusing fences and his body language mirrored hers.

I will write more about what is was like to meet Peter Leone in my next blog (he was all you would want an Olympian to be). But will leave you with this:

With Equestrians like these Leone Brothers (Peter is in the middle), are we sure we need fantasy "Equestrian Ryan Reynolds?" I mean, these guys actually know how to ride. Just sayin'..........

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful recap of the clinic! Hope Miranda was able to enjoy it...had to be tough to watch instead of participate.

    Were you there Saturday? It was crazy busy with people - we looked out for the wheelchair holding a green casted leg...but never saw you all :)

    Loved EA - will go back next year for sure!


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