Can I just say !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I'm still getting over my excitement from the weekend. Months ago Alayne and I signed up to ride with New Zealand Olympic Gold Medallist Blyth Tait for a two day clinic in Tottenham Ontario. The clinic was being held at the Eventing Canada training centre which puts on several clinics with big wigs throughout the year.
To say I was excited may be the understatement of the year. I have admired Blyth since I started eventing and watched Badminton and Burghley VHS religiously as a kid. When I saw he was coming to Canada and within driving reach I did everything I could to make sure I could ride with him!
Alayne and I headed up Sunday morning, I rode first at 9:30am. I did my best to make sure my horse was immaculate and I was neat and tidy. I was definitely nervous, not really about the riding but just wanting to make a good impression and be a good student. Blyth asked what level everyone was riding at and apparently I was put in the Training group. It was a good thing I ended up with Penny otherwise I would have been royally screwed as I had planned on taking William who is jumping 2' LOL. Would have been interesting!
We did a quick warm up and got right into the jumping. The first exercise was a simple 9 foot rail to an X. Trot in and canter out. Blyth wanted to asses whether the horse was in front of our leg and whether we could do as instructed. We were to only trot before the X and canter after and if we didn't, we were "gunna get a punch" (insert New Zealand joking accent here). We all laughed but tried hard to do as instructed. Penny trotted in well and cantered away easily. After the X we were to change direction and take the X on the opposite rein. From there we were to trot into the X and canter to a simple square oxer in 5 strides. Repeat the exercise but with 4 strides the next time.
Rhythm, adjustability, counting strides and reliability of the canter was the theme of the weekend. We were to trot in and get 5 even strides throughout the entire line. No short then long strides, no fast then slow strides - 5 even strides. The line was an easy 4 strides for a 12 foot strided horse. Our first time through the line we did 4. Penny has a long open stride with mediocre adjustability at this point. Blyth said to get the canter right away after landing off the X and then simply allow the second jump to come to us maintaining rhythm. We tried again and got the 5 strides, noting the last stride was a bit short compared to the others.
We reversed the exercise and focused on the same thing. Blyth brought us into the middle to discuss the exercise and explain what it was teaching us, the horses, and the purpose. He explained that the most important thing for an event horse is the canter. He told the story of how he once was a Grand Prix showjumper. At the time he took an interest in eventing he took a lesson with a big name rider in the UK. They asked him what the hell his canter was? He said in showjumping they only really need one canter, so the concept of other canters was foreign to him.
Every horse needs three canters. The sneaking around canter, the ordinary canter, and the GOING PLACES canter. All three canters should be available easily at any time for the rider. All three canters have a purpose and are useful for an event horse. Most problems that are found in the ring or on cross country can be boiled down to the horse not having a good enough or well developed enough canter.
We did several more exercises working on changing the canter, steering, and control. One included jumping the X at the canter, doing a ten or fifteen metre circle afterwards then powering up and lengthening the canter stride to "fly like a bird easily" over the oxer. The powering up gives you a great jump out over the square oxer and helps build the horses confidence.
We did a few more similar exercises over a triple bar to a skinny on a bending line. I could not make the bending line or the distance for the life of me. I feel like I land in a heap after a fence and it takes me a few strides to regroup. More complex lines like bending lines etc are showing to be my weakness so that is definitely something I am going to focus on along with improving our canter. We also did a serpentine over 3 fences. Bending over each fence to ensure we landed on the correct lead and maintaining rhythm.
To finish we ended on a line with a three stride to a one stride with a big oxer out. We were to allow the jumps to come to us and our only job was to maintain rhythm. We figure out rhythm, the horse will figure out the jumps. Flatwork with fences in the way. Penny jumped this line beautifully. I tried to sit up and just let her do her thing. She sure knows what she is doing and I am loving that. We ended day 1 with a talk about what we had schooled today and what to expect the next day. We needed to bring what we did in the ring that day with us out to the cross country. He emphasized the canter work again and to keep a rhythm and straightness in our mind. He also warned that anyone keeping their shoulders forward would be made to fall off so sit up!
I was really really thrilled with Penny on day 1. I watched Alaynes group and others go and really enjoyed hearing his coaching of other groups, and learning where their weaknesses were versus my group. I find I can learn a lot just by watching and I feel like I was able to absorb a tonne this weekend. We put our horses away for the night, went for dinner, then camped out with a bottle of wine beside the horse trailer.
Cross country day was coming tomorrow...
Videos to follow cross country recap!