Once every rider had ridden on Friday we all met up in the Clubhouse to watch the videos and discuss the performances. We also got some yummy pizza delivered that was the size of tables and I haven't seen such large servings ever! It was really tasty too :)
Initially we were just going to have a quick glance at the videos and have a proper video analysis session on Saturday but everybody was so eager to learn and find out what they need to work on that we ended up having a really great, couple of hours long discussion on various training matters! All the riders took part in assessing each other videos so we got a rather fantastic brain storm session going on :)
This is something I would love to do more of especially that there wasn't a rider who didn't improve on the next day and they all walked into the arena with superb enthusiasm and somewhat changed!
It was late night on Friday when Kari and I sat down to discuss all the riders and their issues, what we thought was going on and how we were going to work on the problems. I re-watched all 30 odd videos we had of the riders to decide what should I teach them and what they will likely stumble upon during our Saturday session. This is much easier done with riders I teach on regular basis as I know what they might do or how they might respond to certain suggestions or instructions.
The late evenings videos were particularly difficult to watch as it was dark and riders wore massive coats and jackets. Not great to see what their backs/necks and seat were doing!
This is how it looked. It was about -20C and I could barely move for the amount of coats I was wearing! I was still shivering under all the layers ;)
The indoor arena was much easier as it was a little warmer and obviously much lighter :)
I told all the riders that Saturday would be a correction time...I admit I did a long mental list of what I didn't like as well as what I did like and hoped to keep in each rider despite the changes I was planning.
I knew there were a few things that would be very difficult to improve in a very short time as some require a lot of trust in what a trainer/instructor is saying. It's not easy to just show up and say, look this isn't taking you anywhere, stop this, try that.
For example - Camilla, riding indoors on a big bay mare in draw-reins did so due to fear as she was bucked off badly not long ago. I couldn't just say, I don't want to see you in draw-reins tomorrow. Instead we had a long conversation about why she uses them and what are the benefits and [mostly] negative influence this aid has on dressage horses. In the end she actually asked if she should come without them. Hurray! Camilla did an amazing job throughout the weekend and I hope her confidence will keep coming back as once she relaxes a bit she has a lovely feel for her mare and good skills to build up on.
Saturday starts early. I woke up all of a sudden but couldn't figure out why. Knock Knock. "Kari, it's Maria waking us up"
"She is joking" - comes Kari's sleepy reply.
"Erhm, no she isn't ;)"
The King of Hunt looks at us as if saying - "Off you go, I want to relax here on my own, thank you".
The day is so full-up I decide not to even take the schedule with me as knowing myself I wouldn't be able to focus on time-keeping, name keeping, horse name keeping, yard keeping etc AND teaching. I let Maria and others take charge of telling me what happens when and who rides after whom and which arena I need to be at when.
Kari has similar day seeing 14 riders for their main assessments. She takes photos of them so we can later go through the posture issues and think how those findings were reflected in the riding. This is something we found our strongest point and that speeds up rider's improvement immensely. I don't want to reveal too much about Academy's methods on here so if you want to try us by yourself let me know :)
Most of the riders today are really good at the theory and I find that if I ask a question I get an almost "perfect" response. This puzzles me at first as I don't see the same "perfection" in the actual actions and this is where I start seeing the gaps and missing pieces in each rider's education. I am impressed at how quickly the riders correct themselves as if they were waiting for a particular cue all long and it slots in into the rest of what they doing.
We go right down to basics focusing on the rhythm, the seat and suppleness. In both rider and the horse. I fully admit I don't give many compliments to riders which can sometimes come across as a little harsh but thankfully majority of the riders were after exactly that attitude. They weren't looking for sugar coated comments but they wanted to know what was wrong and what they could do about it.
This said I am always much more positive with novice riders so the better they were, the harder they had to work ;)
We worked mostly on keeping the horses straight through the shoulders and making everything quite simple and practical. Sometimes the theory can be a little dry without the skills so I triple checked if riders *knew* not only what to do but how to do it.
We also worked on riders seat a lot, improving general balance or specific weakness areas. The biggest challenge is switching quickly in between different riders as I do most lessons back to back. I am trying not to over and under teach. My head is spinning but it's all good :)
The riders ride as if our discussion last night cleared some points enough to truly show off their skills.
I ride two horses: Mazda and Pepija. The first horse is just disconnected and lacks confidence so I have a little play with her to make her realise it's good to be with a rider. She rides very supple and soft, almost too soft, has a short neck and tendency to go either above the bit or deep behind. When she wants to be behind I ride her even deeper than she wants to be and then when she wants to go above the bit I focus on the rhythm and ride her strongly forwards into both reins as if nothing much happened. At the end I offer her a nice, generous length of rein and she stretches down to it. She feels nice and mentally relaxed.
Pepija is afraid of hand and contact and has a novice rider who steers a lot with the hands. I ride her on a lose rein for a minute to feel her movement and let her "get to know me". She is a lovely horse, black and leggy, Thoroughbred type. After a few rounds in walk I feel she is relaxing a little. I take the reins up and at first she worries but I just give her a pat and she just settles into the most secure, quiet, confident contact at the end of the rein! She has a metronome like rhythm to the trot and even when I try to push her too much (as she has a novice rider and I want to check her reactions) she stays so regular I can't stop smiling.
I get both owners-riders to stay with me while I ride and we talk so I know that they know what I am doing. I let Pepija's rider to hold the rein with me so he can feel how much weight and how much tension he needs for the mare to stay relaxed.
Both horses went really well the next day and Pepija's rider must be a superb visual learner as he just "got" everything I said and he rode so softly yet effectively I could cry! It's because I get very fond of horses I get to ride :)
We end the day on another Video Analysis evening and a round-up discussion.
Once in the house I get under wonderfully hot shower while Sofa Princess gets comfortable on my hundred layers of clothing:
Maria then cooks a wonderful dinner for Kari and I and we have superb evening chatting horses, training, books and watching some old videos of Elin racing on ponies. It looked so much fun!
Kari and I then spent half the night re-watching all the footage and writing notes so we don't forget what we want to later put in into rider's feedback notes. Having a look at all the Chiro sessions photos I am trying to connect the off-horse crookedness and symmetry perception in each rider to the problems they have in movement. It's really interesting.
I still have no genius idea how to help one rider with a lot of tension. Then there is Maria who I am still not sure what the biggest problem is that is stopping the suppleness from improving.
It's 2.30am when I look at the video of her and Fame one more time and have an eureka moment. Can't believe I didn't spot it earlier. Sleep time. As I close my eyes I still hear Kari typing her notes on her laptop.
Sunday. The knock comes even earlier than on Saturday. Kari starts the sessions at 7.15, my first lesson is at 8.30. I have about an hour to sit and have a good think of the "worried rider".
Pic: View from the bedroom onto the arena. So quiet and white and beautiful. It's just after 8 and still not truly light.
As I look over the arena I suddenly recall a conversation we had last night about dog training. Something the "worried rider" said gives me an idea on how to put some messages across.
I also ask myself: how do I make sure everybody remembers what we learnt and how can I make sure they are able to recreate the exercises once they ride on their own.
As I go down the steps and into a frozen morning I think I have it more or less sorted.
Pic. You can just see Maria in the distance getting on on Fame for her 8.30 lesson. It's so quiet :)
Everybody rides so well today.
We pretty much have a breakthrough with Fame and it's such a pleasure to see Maria working with this mare.
Some new problems come up here and there but I stick to my basics theme because I believe these riders will be fine sorting other issues later by themselves.
I was going to sit on North Peak as he shows some stubborn streak when he isn't allowed to just float long and low but Andrea rides him so well from the start I leave her to it :)
I make everybody talk me through everything they are aware of doing and how they are doing it. I find this method really helps the rider and Berit and I have a grand fun while she keeps forgetting about legs and riding forwards. Once she puts everything together, Charlie shows up some third gear!
Young Bosco had his best day on Saturday and he looks a little tired so I focus yet again on some rider's hand issues. Siri corrects herself very quickly and has very good feel for her horse when something is good or bad. I am trying to make sure she is also able to act on that feel and that everything is simple and black & white in her aids.
We use Bosco's flash noseband (which I took off as he was setting his jaws against it) as a balance strap for rider to hold - not for balance but to stop her from overusing the reins and overcorrecting with them.
Very interesting work with Hjalmar who has some issues with getting left behind the motion in rising trot so we address that and come up with tools - exercises he can use to self-test himself without having eyes on the ground.
The guys at Elveli show me how good they are too. Another breakthrough with the "worried rider", she shows off her mare in style :)
I am especially impressed with Oddveig who makes some grand improvements in her seat and use of legs in just two days.
We have a sum-up meeting in the Clubhouse and as I asked all the riders the day before to bring one photo that inspires them, we have a look at them.
There are some superb choices, mostly classical. It's sad to leave!
Maria drives us to the airport and we say goodbye. Hopefully see you again soon! And here, just a little video to show it's not just all-serious with Academy training ;)