Monday, October 31, 2011

The Atkins Diet for Eventers

Moose and I had a wonderful time at BeaHive Ranch continuing our education with Peter Atkins. As I watched other riders adapting to Peter's unique riding theory it made me think of the first time I rode with him.

I rode into my first lesson with Peter in July 2010 as part of Come Again Farm’s first event camp.
Peter Atkins Teaching at Come Again Farm

He watched me ride around a bit and promptly lengthened my stirrups…for a jumping lesson. 

OK, I will admit it. At this point, I figured I had a cook on my hands. Nevertheless, I figured you could learn something from everyone, kept my mouth shut, just lengthened my stirrups and jumped.
Only to be told to “Stand Up”. Huh? What? Clearly, I misunderstood.

“Peter, I’ve been taught to fold my entire life over jumps. Are you saying this is wrong?”
To which he replied emphatically, “YES!”

I was now convinced I had a cook on my hands. But I’d paid my money so I might as well give it a go. It would at least be a fun story to tell. So I tried it. Huh,…that kind of worked for me…let’s do that again…hmm the light bulb was starting to go off.

Peter explained that a horse clears a jump with front end. In jumping in the manner that the American equitation system dictates, we are making the horse’s job more difficult. By standing up over the fence with our leg in front of the girth we are freeing the front of the horse while also cementing our position in the tack.

This was starting to make sense...And then there was this strange flushing sound....the sound of 25+ years of jumping lessons with the red coats of  show-jumping fame, advanced event riders and $100s in well thumbed classic American texts going down the crapper. Best damn day of my riding life.

More was to follow...much more. At the end of my first lesson my perspective on riding theory had been flipped upside down. Since that day I have attended every possible lesson with Peter. I am going to share a few of my favorite 'Peterisms' below...they may sound odd at first (trust me -so been there) but give it a chance. You will be changed for the better.

Peter on Riding

Of primary importance is balance and tempo.

Horse should always be ridden in balance. A balanced horse is happy horse as the horse is a prey animal -their worst fear being unbalanced, falling and thus unable to defend themselves.
Riding the horse round, always in a high quality working gait decreases the load on the joints as the horse uses it muscular strength to support itself. Horses always ridden in this manner stay sounder longer.

The control of balance and tempo is your job as a rider. My mantra as I school at home has become "Who's trot is this?" "Is this a quality canter?"

Peter on Jumping Position
Your stirrups will be lengthened (“ride long, stay on long”). Your leg will be moved forward with the toe out (“imagine hooking your spurs in front of the girth”). Finally, you stand up over the jump –you do not fold.
"Stand Up, Look Up, Kick Up" Note: leg should be in front of the girth #@$!

The effectiveness of this position is illustrated as Peter has riders jump horseless. It is almost impossible to jump the fence folded as the weight of your head and upper body disrupt your balance. The jump is easily cleared when one jumps upright.

This is hard!
A bit easier now!

“Stand Up, Look Up, Kick Up” is the oft repeated phrase.

Sound interesting? Well I'm stopping here-you'll need to ride with the man himself.

In a Peter Atkins clinic you will be treated to a complete education. From appropriate tack, bitting, and whipping technique no topic is left uncovered.

And yes -after my first lesson with Peter I headed to a tack store for a new bit, bridle, reins and spurs. Darn it all it just made so much sense. And darn it all if my little horse did not improve just with the new tack.

Trust me. Find a clinic near you or better yet organize one yourself.

If you are lucky enough to ride with Peter Atkins, a proponent of inquiry based learning, I am going to give you some questions to mull over beforehand. You might be surprised by the answers...but they will make you a better rider.

Q & A with Peter

"What does the horse need to be on the bit?"

"Why do jockeys ride with their stirrups so short?"

"Why do horses not like water"?

"How big a fence is this up-bank?"

And finally, a question you thought you might never hear in a riding lesson;

“How heavy is a bowling ball?”

Good luck to you...and a helpful hint. Guess if you must. NEVER say "I don't know."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Peter Atkins at BeaHive Ranch

October 22 & 23 was spent at the jaw-dropping gorgeous BeaHive Ranch in Springville IN for a Peter Atkins clinic.
BeaHive Ranch
Uhhuh. I brought my unclipped (he lives out all winter) fat pinto camp pony to this place. I was a bit intimidated...until I was greeted with warm smiles, hugs, steaming hot cocoa and welcome gifts. The furry pony was ushered into a freshly bedded stall complete with topped off water bucket. I was made to feel like family and we quickly settled in to enjoy our weekend.

My first lesson was later on Saturday so I spent the morning with a trusty bottle of Miracle Groom getting the beast the Moose presentable. As Moose is not normally stalled BeaHive had kindly provided a guest seemed a good idea to let him out for a bit to stretch his legs before the lesson. I left him quietly munching grass only to come back to this:
Iz ready for my lesson now

%$#@! We dusted off and got ready to ride. I was looking forward to continuing our education with Peter. Moose and I have worked with Peter since 2010 and under his guidance had been slowly making progress.  Peter took a minute to check on us a few minutes before the lesson started-he of course wanted to see the canter. I think he was pleased (yay!). He gave me some home work (canter-trot transitions every 4 strides as well as walk-canter transitions) and then it was time to start the group lesson.

The clinic began in traditional Peter Atkins style (if Peter had a punch card I could no doubt redeem it for a free lesson or 2!) with riders navigating scattered poles in an exercise I call "pick-up sticks". Moose and I have already done this in previous lessons as well as praticed at home so were able to complete the task now as easily as the "first-timers"...but hey-that's progress!

The pick-up sticks are are systematically removed and jumps added until resulting in a traditional grid.

Through the Grid
I felt Moose and I did well...hell we have had lots of practice at this. However, I did not perform as well as I hoped. Reflecting on this I realized I had not been jumping much at home. Our work has mostly focused on improving that gaits (especially the canter). When I did jump it was through a series of low bounces used to improved the canter (Peter homework from July) so I had not been working on me. Another factor was fitness. I have completely slacked off on the exercise routine as of late. The body control was just not there.

On to Sunday -Cross Country! Moose had recently completed starter at the Come Again Farm Horse Trials and I was ready to work on our improved skills. Apparently so was Peter.
We started out easy enough over some beginner novice and novice type fences. Moose Tracks was jumping great! 
Unfortunately I had the same feeling from the grids lesson -not enough body control and not enough fitness. This became more apparent as the fences got a bit bigger. Poor Moose had never jumped fences like this:
meh, it looked bigger in person
I was now asking him to jump a few training fences for the first time and instead of helping him he had to help me. Good Moosey. Bad Amy.

I came off cross country thrilled with my wonderful, kind, generous horse! And vowed to not do that to him again. I will be fit next time.

Days later I am still replaying how wonderful my horse was for me. Thank you BeaHive for allowing us to use your beautiful property, for stuffing us with goodies and for the very genuine hospitality and kindness. Thank you Peter for sticking with Moose and I as we fumble around the sport of eventing. And thank you MooseMan for taking care of me.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Octoberfest Moose Tracks Style

Moose Tracks has had a very busy October. From relaxing trail rides galloping waterways and leaping yard art to cross country schooling with friends he has not been home a single weekend.

In early October, we trekked to Come Again Farm’s Fall Horse Trials to eat test our mettle at starter level. Yes, starter –as in Beginner Novice Test A –as in we are cantering in public! Yup, time to test the new hocks!

With some trepidation, we entered the dressage ring….and…wowza! Moose pulled it together and gave me his best! I left the ring thrilled and humbled by my little horse. Icing on the cake was a score of 35 putting us in second!
For full disclosure we did get “hurried tempo” on the first canter circle, “needs slower tempo” on the second and “needs to work on better control of canter tempo so not so hurried” in the comments. Poor judge –if she only knew!

On to showjumping –Lee Ann out did herself with a really challenging and fun course decorated to the nines. Moose jumped clean and even cantered most of the course! Woot!

I thought this picture was cuuute. My husband, however, felt he looked like a leaping Okapi :(

Ok...there is a vague resemblance

this. I needz it.

We tore up the cross country cantering the entire thing. I had promised Moose he could eat the popsicle they were giving at the finish flags so we were there in no time…when I went to look at the final scores we had time penalties. For speeding. Oopsie…I did not think to wear a watch-who tries for time at starter anyway? It never occurred that new hocks=speedy Moose. 

Oh well! Still thrilled with the MooseMan and his pretty yellow ribbon.

That's my Baby!

Last weekend Moose got to clinic with Peter Atkins at BeaHive Ranch…post on that coming soon (promise).

Teaser alert –Moose Tracks jumped some TRAINING level xc fences (and I did not pee my pants!).

Yes! This is a training level fence!

PS –and for the record I did actually go to CAF to event. I only dropped $25 or so at the concession stand. For full disclosure Lori ran out of food :)