Why eventers can't show-jump, training half-steps, napping,shadowing Anna and watching Human Performance in action - week in review

Pic.left: Watching dressage warm up with Barney who after becoming friends with me decided being close by is the way to go!

Where were we?

Tweseldown trip was very interesting. The reason I like to go to various events is because I like to stay on top of the level of riding out there, what do riders have problems with, whether there is any common issue, how does everything runs etc As I barely ever compete myself it's important for me not to stay too much out of the loop. On top of that, being foreign, I still think about competitions I used to take part in and many aspects of events here are very, very different to what I'm used to.
One thing that was particularly striking at Tweseldown was that eventers have a grand issue with the show-jumping phase! I watched quite a few rounds, 30-40 in total and saw maybe 1-2 rounds where horses had a good show jumping canter. It was an unaffiliated Pre-Novice class so perhaps the level was lower than at a BE event but nevertheless there was quite a few pros competing.
It's good to know there is plenty of scope for improvement in the rider's way of jumping the courses.
The Dressage phase was another interesting part. I watched the riders warm up and very few practiced movements or transitions that came up later in the test. Many just rode around trying not to be mowed down by other riders! It was quite manic and very few looked like they were focusing on the job in hand. Not surprisingly, the transitions seemed to be the weakest link in majority of the tests I watched.
I'm very pleased to report my friend rode a lovely, rhythmic and forwards yet relaxed and supple test on her horse Epperne Z (or Ernie) to score 25.5 for it. Look out for them, they are good!

When you go as a help you can see much more than when you compete and have to focus on yourself. Observing is both good fun and an inexpensive education.
Very few riders walk their horses much once off the lorries. I saw several riders trotting away and into jumping warm-up literally few minutes after they chucked the saddles on. Not too good for all these cold tendons and ligaments is it?
Another good area of teaching - how to organise your time at an event, how to look after the horse before, during and after the event.

The horses. I rode Kingsley today and he felt much nicer and straighter than he was couple of months ago. He is still lacking a lot of suppleness and avoids any bending. Turning on the right rein rocks me to the outside quite significantly. I walked him in the woods in hand as there was nobody to go for a hack with and I thought it might be a bit silly to go solo on a horse that hasn't had the saddle on for almost 2 months. We then walked into the arena where Craig was riding Spider (Just Ironic who is on Badminton waiting list but only 6 places to go! We are keeping everything crossed he goes in!!) and Kingsley was totally fine until Spider started leaving...Kingsley spied that he would be on his own and reacted with napping. He didn't rear but because I know that he might want to I rode him firmly for a couple more rounds on his own. He was fine with that.
Frank was still quite worried about the saddle. He acts almost cold-backed. However, he was much better in the arena, no galloping around at the end of the lunge. He listens now and I can slow him down almost immediately. He still overreacts to most things around him but I was really surprised at how much calmer he was. He was also fine with me leaning over the saddle again. No drama there. I really like him and working with him is quite a challenge.

Day with Anna Ross-Davies. If it was financially possible I would happily just go and spend few days a week just watching the training sessions and anything involved with top horses and riders. It's a fabulous opportunity and I love my days there.
This time Anna wasn't teaching any clients but was focusing on preparing herself and horses for Saumur CDIO where she is selected to ride for the Team GBR.
After 4.30am start to the day I got picked up by Ali who also teaches and rides some horses for Anna. I groomed quickly the two horses that were to be worked at 9 and went to watch Ali riding lovely black mare. A couple of months ago she was a hairy, fluffy, unfit broodmare look-a-like, she is rather sleek now! And moves! Well, I thought it was quite good until Anna came, said a few things and the canter went from bum high to sitting on the hocks.
Then the rest of early morning was all about piaffing in hand with MK and watching very elegant Merrie learning half-steps. I've never seen a horse being taught half-steps in - hand before, fascinating. Simon, who does the in-hand work is quite a magician with the whip!

I was then left with Benji the dog with permission to eavesdrop on James Burtwell's clinic (he is a Coach & List 3 Judge as well as Team Selector for Home Internationals and BD Regional Camp coach) while Anna dashed to the gym. Benji and I leisured in the sun while observing the training sessions. I must say James Burtwell knows how to be positive! He also seemed to have found that happy medium that allows him to praise riders a lot without sounding overly complementary and correct the problems without sounding too harsh. The skill I don't think I have much of...yet...I'm trying ;)
The riders ranged from prelim to medium/adv medium level and yet again there was a lot of emphasis on correct basics but also a lot of freedom to play with more advanced movements despite a gap here and there.
What I really like about Anna's teaching is that the basics come first. I don't think I've seen many lessons when the gaps in rider's position and the correctness in horse's training wouldn't be addressed first and foremost.
Having said that, all the horses on James' clinic improved their way of going and finished on a very good note. He used a serpentine exercise a lot to work on horses' balance, rhythm, bend and flexion and it was interesting to see how many riders/horses started rather badly and rode much better and more balance aware after several goes.
The afternoon started with Anna teaching Eppi who rides for her at home. Then MK, Borris and Anna's riding were scrutinised by Jon Pitts who helps Team GBR with rider's fitness & performance. Jon came to help with improving the canter zig-zag and one tempi changes. There is so many minute details in the training of a GP horse and a GP rider it is mind blowing, in a good way! To semi - quote Anna here, all the weakness that you have as a rider, all the gaps in the basic education might not show at Advanced Medium or PSG level but will hinder you at Grand Prix. Therefore she teaches riders at prelim as if they were going to make the GP level. It seems that once you're there you better have your basics well in place or you can forget about improving your horse at that level.

This is probably why Anna's way of training suits me as I like to be taught the correct way, no gaps, and I like to coach riders this way too. If I go for a lesson I'm not interested in being praised all the time and/or told how good my horse is. Sure, I want my confidence to be built but if I needed a tell-me-sweet-little-lies session I am sure I can get it for free. Not all riders like this of course and many prefer to move up the levels without ironing out the foundation steps.
The solid basics and relying on rider performance tools is the sort of work we want to do with Academy for grassroots riders (scaled down of course!) so watching the training with Jon's input was a fabulous opportunity.
Even more so, he is interested to get involved on rider performance side of the Academy so I just have to figure out how to organise it all!

The day finished with setting up the dressage boards on grass for Anna's lessons for eventers in preparation for Badminton. Wish I could see those. Maybe next time.

Running Training Day tomorrow, then teaching my dear Barnfield gang on Sunday.

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Comment by Wiola Grabowska on May 1, 2010 at 4:05pm
Wow, ok slc2, I must say I was totally unaware that my post came across as such a harsh criticism of the riders I watched. I re-read it and I still can't sense the same harsheness and know-it-all as you seem to imply I shown. I guess I shouldn't really share my training opinions on here if they cause/might cause upset in people who read them. I am not backing off as you called it, I simply don't like offending people in any way and if what I write does then I suppose I will keep it away from here.
It was neither my desire to try to convince anyone to train with me. What I post here is just a selection of posts from my regular blog and I write for a pleasure of sharing.
Apologies to anyone who felt similar about my observation as slc2 did.
Comment by Wiola Grabowska on April 28, 2010 at 7:34pm
?? I wouldn't say I thought they were "all bad". I do, however, think they might have been better. My job is to make things better hence I look for areas that can be improved.
Yes, you could be right, maybe it wall all they could have done at that moment and that time. Maybe. Or maybe their trainer didn't help them sufficiently and they didn't prepare as they could have. Maybe (and this is actually for sure as told to me by a rider on the day) some of them actually thought they made a silly mistake by not warming up differently.
Maybe indeed it is all part of learning but what's wrong with wondering what could have been done better?? Especially that a lot of riders would love that help??
I'm not directing my observation at any particular rider, it's simply a view of some general goings on.
I'm a little surprised at how definite your statements are - did you spectate/take part in that event in the class I watched?
If so then I guess I agree to diagree.
Comment by Wiola Grabowska on April 25, 2010 at 8:12pm
Hey slc2, I never said the horses at that level should sharpen their transition work up, my comment was about the general way of going some of the horses shown (behind the leg). By sharpening up I don't mean buzzing a horse up but making it more tune in into the rider's aids. I didn't think my comment below mentioned any of those but then English is not my first language so I maybe I didn't express myself well.
Perhaps I should explain, I'm a riding instructor and observing -to-find what needs improving is part of my job. I've never said all the riders warmed up wrong and there were some lovely tests to be watched too. However, it's the worse and the less correct what's interests me so that's what I blog about and what makes me think up ways to improve the riders' performance.
By criticising some training methods I don't mean to aim it anyone in particular, I'm equally critical towards myself.
I guess every trainer/coach has certain way of working horses in. My preference is the warm up that brings the most athleticism, suppleness and freedom of movement. Most of the horses I happened to watch were warmed up in a way that didn't show these qualities.
Maybe like you say, there was something about the day/event etc that made them ride as they did.

Observers always seems to know better, they don't have to ride, get stressed and try their best - I enjoy my observing and the moments of being oh-so-clever about how things should be done ;))
Comment by Wiola Grabowska on April 25, 2010 at 5:18pm
Hey slc2 - not sure if I agree as to the warm up. If it was a case of a higher level event with fitter horses I would definitely share your views but at the Pre-Novice level (1m) there really isn't that many hot-fit horses and in fact plenty looked like they would do with a bit of sharpening up. There are of course some horses that benefit from a trot straight away etc as you mentioned but I've seen too many riders doing so without much of a reason.
As to transitions in warm up - same as above really, sure some horses sharpen up too much with transition work but the way they were being warmed up didn't seem to help them much in the tests.

The half-steps work was brilliant to watch :)

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