Sunday, April 18, 2010

FOB (Fans of Bastian)

Yesterday was a cold and snowy day, yes we had snow!  But all is forgiven because yesterday was also a Clinic day.  I was able to ride in a Hunter Clinic with Cindy Foster of Novelty Ohio.  She is currently based in Novelty at Foster-Jimenez Show Stables and winters at The Farm Down Under in Wellington, Florida.  I rode Bastian in the 2'-2'3 division and we had a blast. 

Cindy was not exactly what I expected.  I'll be honest, I am very skeptical and stero-typical when it comes to the Hunter world.  Sheesh, I've been avoiding it ever since I stopped showing in 4-H shows with my Arab (aka Goldie the wonder pony) about 12 years ago.  The stylistic politics along with horses that just don't look like they go right totally put me off.  I'm more of the dressage type, I want my horse up and responsive, not long and low about to trainwreck into the ground.  See, I'm stereotyping now, sorry!  But at the same time, to be blunt about it and drastically oversimplify, hunter = long, low, and (often times) heavy on the forehand.  Yes, I realize there are good hunters out there that are not heavy on the forehand, but just like you see low level self taught dressage riders with over flexion at the poll, you see a lot of lower level self taught hunters dying to have that long low movement that will pin only to see them throwing their horse away and they can't understand why they don't get lengthenings in a hack class or cleaner transitions, etc. etc.

Cindy made a point of saying that we would not be doing any long/low stuff on a loose rein during the clinic, she said (and I'm paraphrasing here) a good hunter is worked hard on the flat including Dressage (that dirty word!) work.  Transitions, lateral work, STRAIGHTNESS.  I was impressed.  I've come to realize after 20 years of riding that what we do in the show ring is way different from the work at home, I was one of those self-taught hunter riders when I was a kid, trying to get my Arab to go on the long low hunter rein and be perfect so that was how I schooled, on as loose a rein as I could and trying to not touch her mouth or move my body.  It never happened.  Goldie tolerated me, bless her heart, but at the same time I know she was saying "Really?"  She was the horse I started riding again after my broken back and I finally, after 16 years rode her successfully as a hunter because *ding* the light bulb had gone on about how to ride from my seat and how to keep a firm, but elastic and soft contact.  So needless to say, from the getgo I was ready to listen to what else Cindy had to say, so far she was a winner.

So the first half of the clinic was spent during flatwork, which while I thought was an excellent statement on how to train your hunter (which in itself is a novel idea for a clinic, usually you go away with just an exercise or two, this was a whole concept: flatwork=improved jumping), it was minimally redundant for Bastian and I.  There is no way to say this without sounding snotty, but Bastian and I have the basic flatwork down pat for the most part.  And I don't want to sound snotty, its just that we have worked very hard on our flatwork, I've had my trainer(s) riding him, then instructing me on a regular basis and we practice, practice, practice.  I still make a lot of mistakes, but for the most part Bastian and I can be steady steady steady for a Hunter flat class, transitions from the walk, go on a light contact, extend, collect, etc. etc.  So he breezed through all the flatwork, Cindy only had a few suggestions on my body position that were well warrented, but on Bastian's performance, there were lots of "very goods." :)

I think its all the dressage work.  Dressage makes you precise and aware, you have to ride figures, you have to steer more than just staying on the rail.  I am also a very firm believer that good flatwork/dressage make you a good jumper.  My jumping has stank all my life until I started riding with a Dressage instructor in North East, PA, Liz Sambor.  I would just canter (or gallop) up to a fence and hope I that 1) my horse jumped, 2)I stayed on 3)we landed on the other side.  Scary.  But anyone who saw me jump as a kid can totally attest to that.....I had more guts than brains.  

Above is Goldie and I practicing jumping at home (1994??).  Goldie had a nasty habit of dumping me at fences, no wonder when I jumped the fence before she did. (note the state of the art equipment and the fancy riding arena (aka "driveway")

Once Liz got me controlling my body more and able to ride my half-halts and get the horse listening to me so that I was in control my jumping got much better.   This picture is from a jumping lesson (2007) on one of her school horses, Sable.  Sable is awesome and if you don't ride with your seat it won't work.  Ride with your seat and she will do anything for you.  I love this mare.  But look at the huge difference, now I am balanced, my leg is secure, shoulders are up, eyes are up.  Beautiful.  Dressage did this for me. 

I have absolutely no issues with learning how to jump from my Dressage instructors (and likewise they don't mind teaching me).  When I get ready to ready to start riding Grand Prix Stadium, or make the move up to Intermediate and Advanced Eventing I'll seek out regular jumper/eventing coaching.  But until then my dressage will get me through everything I need to do and I believe it would get more riders confident over fences if they would allow the dressage to sink in.  But that is just my personal opinion, back to the clinic!

The second half of the clinic (It was about 2 1/2 hours, our time ran over) we got to the meat and potatoes, the jumping.  Which I what I was waiting for, I need practice jumping and while I will practice on my own, I don't do anything risky and it usually involves a lot of trotted x-rails.  We started out with trotting an X, I froze up my first time through which is pretty typical.  The next few times were better, then we did a simple course of three fences (all Xs).  He did nicely and even got his leads!  Woot!  Then she set up a full course: single, diagonal, diagonal, 4 stride line.  And she raised all of the jumps except the first fence of the line to verticals.  2'3" verticals.  Not 2', not 18", 2'3", followed by the words: "Katie, you can go first, canter the whole thing....."

I was meanwhile peeing my pants.  2'3" is friggin huge in my book now-a-days.  Not to mention I had to canter into the first jump, I have some major cantering jump issues.  I'm much better now, but it takes all my willpower to not panic sometimes.  What am I going to do though?  I know that both Bastian and I are capable of jumping this height and that I can canter fences on him.  So we go for it.  Our first trip through was sloppy.  We made it over everything, he rubbed two rails (he wasn't expecting the height) and by the end I was super tight on the reins, preventing him from getting his strides.  I had reverted to the old "hold on tight" jumping mode.  He is not going to take off with me.  That's not his M.O.  So I confessed my fear to Cindy, took a breather and then did the single outside to the 4 stride line and the line rode beautifully, I used my body to keep him balanced and rhythmic, he hit the striding perfectly and rounded over the second fence.  It felt great.  We ended on that.  I was estatic with him.  Its hard to not be proud of the bestest Chestnut Thoroughbred this side of the Mason-Dixion Line.  [There are some awesome Chestnut TB's south of the Mason-Dixion line so he can't claim "bestest in the world" ;) ]

Here is a total brag moment: By the end of the clinic, Bastian was starting to form himself a little fan club.  Cindy wanted to take him home with her and I heard through the grapevine that many other people were complimenting him on how nice he was.  I think that that is really cool.  I have never recieved compliments on my horses like that.  Of course my friends would say "oh, that looked good." But that is what friends are for and perhaps on that day one of my crazy reject horses was being good so instead of bucking/rearing/taking off, that tense tight trot did look awesome.  LOL But total strangers is a new concept and I am totally digging it. 

I would definitely ride with Cindy Foster again.  I enjoyed her teaching style and humour and how she held you accountable for your performance, she didn't pussyfoot around things.  I appreciate that in an instructor.  Also, a huge thank you to the Up and Over Hunter/Jumper Association for organizing the clinic and underwriting a portion of the clinic cost.

Bastian is enjoying a well deserved day off today.  I'm spending the day at home with my dog and cat who were starting to wonder if I did indeed still live in the house with them and cleaning and doing laundry.  Tomorrow its back to the dressage grind, our first schooling show at Grand Haven is May 8th, followed by the EHSC Summer Show I on May 16th where we get to test out our hunter prowess.  I can't wait!

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