Saturday, June 13, 2009

O'Connor Clinic

Favorite Quotes of the Week:

"Fushia frock" - Max on Zoe's wardrobe choices

"Get back here, I am not done yelling at you yet!" - Karen on my terrible approach to the downhill coffin jump combination.

"That energy zen stuff that nobody really understands," David on me trying to explain something about energy to him. He lives by K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple.

"How did I get the dope on a rope?!" - Karen on your horse's thoughts

"Get in there!" - Both David and Karen have said this many times, trying to yet you to ride harder into a combination

"ROW THE BOAT! ROW THE BOAT!" - Karen when you were not riding forward enough

"It's all about me" - typical Karen response to anything David has said

"Get him outta there!" - Karen on getting your horse out of a combination when getting a bad spot in

"Well, that's a first!" - David when a camper on the big red bull laied backwards on him and Cathy

....more as they come back to me =D

O'Connor Clinic - Day Six - The End =(

David left early friday - places to go, people to see. Whoa is the life of the USEF Presient and coach of the Canadian Eventing Team.

For the first time all week, we did not get to bond with out usual "Voodoo Child" Bull this morning. It was 8:30. The Show Jumping course was set, designed by David, and Karen met us all on course to walk it with her. 

She showed us the routes she would take, where she would balance and where she might push. We walked all of the distances between combinations and discussed having a plan as to where to start our course. Karen challenged us to outsmart the course designer. But we had to have a strategy... we all decided that it would be a good idea upon entering the ring for our round to trot past the grandstand where the triple combination was to make sure our horses were okay with that. Karen called the placement of that combination the "line of pressure." 

We also took note of the start and finishing flags. Karen explained that the rider needs to be aware of the placement of the start flags - once you ride through them, the clock has started. One needs to be careful in that respect when riding a stadium course. Also - we noted the finish
flags. If you know the time will be tight, you must get the most direct route through the finish flags to stop the clock. Karen also explained how if you just had an Olympic Show Jumping round, and the gold medal hinged on one second, you want to get to those flags quick.

I am sure she has experienced this kind of pressure before.

Each of us signed up for a height, and had a warmup with Cathy before our round. Lucky for me, Cathy trained Simba and was a definite help in my warm-up. The warm-up went so well. Simba was adjustable, more round, and he felt fabulous. Then it was my turn in the ring.

No pressure. You are just the last one to go at this height. Everyone is watching today. You are in the grandstand ring riding a course that David O'Connor designed. The horse's breeder, owner, and trainer are watching you. No Pressure.

Well, my first jump, a red gate oxer, went well. We took the route around the triple by the grandstand and got our canter. He balanced in the corner and I rode forward to the oxer. One down. Left hand turn to the grey combination - I tried to ride more cautiously and held him back in between the first and second element for the seven strides. It was okay, but I much preferred the more forward ride. Okay. Change lead. Circling, looking right towards #4. Balancing up, forward to jump #4 then maintaing rhythm to get eight strides in a bending line to #5. Change lead. Straight past the in-gate [which I knew I would have to ride more aggressively to as there were people and horses standing around] to the two stride #6 A&B. I saw the big jump in, and threw my upper body. Whoops. Simba chipped in, not taking the long distance, then I pushed him forward through the combo and out in two strides. Few. That could have been a disaster.

Around to the left to #7, a bigger oxer towards the in-gate, to a vertical in four. It did walk a four, but others had been riding it more organized in five. We got in forward, as I rode aggressively to oxer, jump #7,  and made the four work out getting to #8. Change lead. Look right for line to my triple. Looked for the distance. Set up my turn - rode not as aggressively as I should have and got in kind-of funny. Threw my upper body again - but recovered and pushed for the one and the two strides and got out alive. Whewww...

Karen told me there were definitely some good parts to my ride. What a relief. I actually proved I learned something. We did the line in four to the triple another time or two. The best analogy she gave me was to ride the first element of the triple like a single oxer - aggressive and more forward. Then keep riding through the combo. And yes, it did work out. My last trip around the triple was pretty good. We got in from a distance I saw before my turn, rode forward through the one, and should have balanced in the two, as it was a bit short. Overall, not a bad course. I need to learn how to be more still with my upper body and ride the forward distance from my tummy down... and I could have sat up more with my chest out, looking back at pictures, but I can live with a course that was "not bad." Excellent day.

We all then got ready for lunch, catered by the folks that helped build The Oaks of Lake City, the only CHA equestrian community in the state of Flordia. We had our riding group skits: a jepardy for the staff about the campers, a riding lesson taught by Karen, and a simulation bull ride. All skits were complete with quotes from the week ... haha. Laughter lit up the room as we filled our bellies with food. Good friends, good food, good company. Awards for Stable Management and Most Improved were distributed - prizes were buckets full of O'Connor goodies such as their sponsor's products, their book, and a 3 month supply of Succeed. We all said our goodbyes, packed our horses and headed for home. 

I am not sure how I feel about office work this week, as nothing could replace the past six days of riding, learning, and sharing. Then again, my 21st Birthday is on Tuesday, so that should keep the coming days more interesting =)

The week has flown by all too quickly - not only was it one of the most intense, educationally saturated six days of my life, it was more than that. A sneak peak at the lives of those people you root for at the Olympic Games, and how the entire OCET works toward their goals every day. An enormous Thank you to Karen, David, Max, Hannah, Mequilla, Cathy, Mandi, and everyone else who made this camp a success. Oh yeah, Thanks to Mother Nature as well - for holding out and not letting the heavens open up on our outdoor riding extravaganza this week.

Thanks again - it sure has been an amazing experience.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

O'Connor Clinic - Day Five

So - today began with our usual, big red bull machine. I guess my personal problem was that I was never really taught how to properly jump a down-bank - but I learned for sure how to do so today =) The bull is an excellent simulator of actually going XC... I know they told us that a long time ago, but it really hit home today.

First - I would like to start with a quote that pretty much sums up my day:
"Put on your big girl panties and get over it!" 

We then went straight to XC jumping due to afternoon storm threat where we broke the courses down into three sections: ditches, banks, and water. The three groups rotated between these three sections. We did banks first - which was a really good thing for me as it taught me proper body positioning for up and down banks so the rest of the stations were easy. 

Karen showed me how if I gripped with my knees more, let my reins slide through my hands, and tipped just a little bit forward upon jumping the down-bank, I would stay out of the saddle and it would be a much smoother ride. And guess what? She was right! So glad to figure out my body positioning...

Moving on to the ditches, we started by doing a shoulder-in around the perimeter of a coffin about two times, then turning left and jumping it. Karen says this method works every time and it it did for our horses.We then did a coup to a vertical to a  coffin to a vertical out...all downhill.

Great. favorite. It was interesting. First I didn't even get the NUMBER ONE part of the rider's responsibilities correct. I know, I know. Yes. I was not going in the right direction. So after some stern words from Karen, I came again. 

This time, my direction was better, but I was worried about the speed the whole time, which was blatantly obvious to spectators... "Do you sleep with a nightlight?" Karen asked me. Okay - not going to use my voice this time. One more try.

This approach, my direction was good, I found a decent speed [although faster than what I really wanted, it felt better than he other rides]. The coup was not hard, the vertical came easily, as did the coffin, and the last vertical was a bit short. I probably could have sat and balanced more in between the coffin and the vertical to improve my distance, but I was pleased with that trip the best. 

Moving on, we headed for the water jump.
Water. Something that my old horse thought would eat his pretty little toes alive. 
But not Simba. We splished and splashed and jumped both little lines that Karen set up. First was a small jump into the water, which I rode like a marshmallow to the first time. Whoops. Come again.

The second time when we actually got over it, into the water, made the five strides to the out jump well. Then coming around a left tern, we were to use our galloping position, then our preparation position and balance, then ride forward to a little brush drop into the water. I rode like Karen had told me: "Load the gun early, then shoot it." 

So, I came around the corner, balanced up n preparation position, then rode to a forward distance and nailed it! Simba jumped in pretty big over the brush, then we dropped into the water. Thanks to my stellar instruction earlier at the down-bank exercise, I had good body position over the fence and it felt great. My first drop into water! I fell so accomplished. Plus, it is always good when all the spectators clap and upon galloping through the water away from that fence Karen said, "Look at you go!" Now that is truly the best feeling in the world.

The XC jumping today was fabulous and the footing was great. It was a bit wet on top with a softer ground underneath from a recent rain the day before. We also learned that the slipperiest ground is hard footing with dry or dewy grass. The reason being that the ground will not give to your horses hooves and having a bit of wet ground aids in traction. 

The one thing we had to be careful about was using our OUTSIDE rein to turn because the horse uses his head and neck as a counter balance. Too much inside rein could cause your horse to loose his balance, slip, and fall because he does not have his neck to use if he did get in trouble. 

We had a stellar Succeed Representative, come and explain the uses of her product at lunch to promote proper hind gut health in horses. Karen commented on how ALL of their horses are on this product and the positive effectives it has had on her horses' overall health. 

The Marvelous Ms Max then narrated a slideshow of the Hong Kong Equestrian Olympic Games, which she accompanied along side Karen and Mandiba in 2008. She explained all about the quarantine period that they spent in England, the barns in Hong Kong, the riding, the monitoring of horse's health and the different locations as the eventers traveled such as downtown to the cross country course. Max and Karen also explained how detailed the horse shipping was prepared: there would be two air-ride horse trailers full of horses, then one empty horse trailer, and a horse rescue unit behind that. And repeat. They traveled in a caravan fashion and the roads were closed. All the horses arrived an orderly fashion to their destination.

So in conclusion, we had another Ms Max lecture on braiding, tail pulling, and correct show maintenance for the eventing world. Again, with the big white wonder horse, Smarty, as her model, she demonstrated proper braiding technique and helped us all learn by giving us campers a try. So, we compared braids.... then I realized why she is Head Groom. =)

Karen closed the Olympic slideshow with a realization for us to take note of: Olympics mean a great deal to her because no matter a person's race, religion, gender, language, or even ethnicity everyone has a belief in the Olympic Games. Fellow and former Olympians alike know the high degree of excellence it takes to compete. She expressed how proud she was to have been able to take part in FOUR* Olympic games in her career [*correction], and making the awards podium was an ultimate achievement.

It was a weird feeling to sit in the room with Karen and David and look at pictures of Karen jumping these huge show jumping fences in Hong Kong, pictures that you have seen before in magazines. Today these pictures are not in a book. You watched Karen school her Olympic mount this morning. You have pet that horse. You have been taking lessons with that rider. They are in the room with you, maybe sitting at your table, maybe even sitting in the chair next to you. That is who they are. They are horse trainers, cross country riders, dressage perfectionists, jeopardy enthusiasts, motor bike junkies, clinicians, head honchos, dog and horse lovers...and then they are David and Karen O'Connor: Olympic Medalists sharing their experience and knowledge you. 

Last day is tomorrow. I am a bit saddened. Show Jumping 'competition' type-thing in the morning and then a lunch-eon. More on how that goes later...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

O'Connor Clinic - Day Four

 First of all, I have for you today is one letter: "O." Today the letter "O" is brought to you by our special friends with the OCET. Thank you OCET. I will recOnize this letter tO emphasize its impOrtance.

Okay. NOw that the letter "O" is taken care Of... So we started Off Our day with the bull master again, but this time with a saddle! So this was a definate change for us as now we had to wOrry abOut jumping pOsition, gallOping pOsitiOn, preparatiOn pOsitiOn, and drOp jumping pOsitiOn. These, by the way, are the types of crOss cOunty jumping pOsitiOns. We wOrked on the bull for quite sometime and had a lecture all about cross country jumping with David and Karen. They explained how the 5 major rider responsibilities we learned previously [direction, speed, rhythm, balance, and timing] play a huge factor in keeping cross country riding safe.

 Karen worked with Group 1, as the other instructors worked with the other two groups respectively, and we worked on our galloping positions as well as how to increase and decrease speed in this position and how to jump as well as gallop down hill. Honestly, it was not as scary as I thought it would be and we were told that instead of the "Man from Snowy River," that we were the "Women from the Maury River." Very funny....haha. But at the end of our ride, Karen dubbed our group with a name, as we were needing to decide on one soon anyways: The Future of the Sport. Coming from someone who pretty much IS the sport of American Eventing at this time, we were a bit stand-off-ish about this idea. Then again, he statement holds validity. Eventing needs its followers - whether Novice, Intermediate, and even CCI**** riders [ahem* Hannah*] to be able for us all to continue to compete in recognized competition.

ALSO - I must mention that Cathy, being the very generous woman that she is, lent me her homebred chestnut gelding for the rest of the camp. As we will be finishing with lots of jumping exercises, she wanted me to be able to work on myself and not have to worry about my horse, Nick, who we determined needed more canter flatwork to strengthen his hind end on the flat before proceeding with anymore jumping. So a BIG thanks goes to Cathy for allowing me to rider her fabulous 6 year old horse, Simba, who is doing Preliminary level =)

So Simba and I tackled the XC galloping with Karen, the galloping downhill, and then we let him rest up for more Show Jumping which was to occur later that afternoon. There was a lecture by the Pennfield feed representatives, who have been sponsoring the O'Connors for YEARS, during our lunch time when David told us of his loyalty to them. The threat of a storm rolling in from west Virginia, we all met for some Show Jumping shortly after.

Well, Mr. Simba was a ROCKSTAR. David had us jumping around a very technical course, changing both the direction and speed throughout to sharpen our abilities. Simba never batted an eyelash at the height, but we did have an interesting line near to the beginning...who knew that jump two fences straight meant "go really really fast" in my little brain. Oh well. It was pretty amazing - we rode a very forward 5 in a 72 foot line [made for 6 strides] and then David made us try to fit in seven or eight strides. Always challenging us. So as David is standing in the middle of the arena i spot 3 half-full bottles of Diet Coke. He is addicted I tell you, addicted to Diet Coke just like Smarty is addicted to cribbing on his stall guard like a chain smoker and just like Karen is addicted to the rubber band on her xc whip. Don't question it, just go with the flow. 

So as I am having the time of my life jumping Mr. Simba around this course of five jumps every which direction, and resting in line while another camper's wonderpony does the exercise. I then realize that David says very few words. "LOOK!" "GO GET IT!" "COME AGAIN." As short and simple as these phrases might sound, each has a definite purpose and aids an active rider in making better decisions on course. It is hard to believe that I am here, riding with the man who brought home the first US gold eventing medal in more than 25 years as well as having the highest scoring round in eventing, to date, at an Olympic Games. He is watching intently, sipping his Diet Coke, occosionally crossing his arms or putting his hands on his hips, but never says a discouraging word. How did I ever get so lucky to be present in this ring, in this lesson, with this eventing superstar?! 

A fabulous dinner was provided by Brian and Penny Ross where we all ate, drank and were merry [to say the least]. The bubble wands were a huge hit, even with the big kids =) We also played a thoroughly entertaining round of Jeopardy in our groups and go figure, the group two lived up to their name, "That's Smart," and won by a landslide. Even though, Karen did have some interesting body language at times directed the way of the parents and auditors group. And our group is still working on living up to their name....because we lost terribly.

Yet, I just still can't believe it sometimes. We are all sitting around eating and talking and visiting, and its just Karen and David. They are like the neighbors that always return your cup of sugar they borrowed: truly blue, down-to-Earth, positive attitude-type-of people that never stop making you smile. I can only hope that their staff and all the members of OCET know how honestly lucky they are to be able to be a part of this family-oriented eventing team. Superstars to the young riders who wish to emulate them and fierce competitors in the face of 3-day eventing, David and Karen O'Connor seem more and more normal then any pop-singing-head-shaving-Paris Hilton-type celebrity. 

Well, in closing, I had a blast today - more XC tomorrow! I look forward to waking up every morning just so I may learn. I just want to be a big, fat, yellow sponge and soak up all the knowledge that I possibly can in these six days. It sure is a good time to hang with the "top dogs..."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

O'Connor Clinic - Day Three

We started up today with our buddy, the red bull master. Full seat breeches are the KEY...or just a great way to make everyone think you really can hang on. We then moved on to more of the Parelli Horsemanship ground work with our horses... I must add that this is as far as i got on the night of which these events took place as I was wicked tired and I passed out after those two sentences were written.

We then followed up with some flatwork riding in which we used pairs of tennis balls which David placed at 4 strategic places on two 20 meter circles. We had to walk, trot, and canter through these balls and when you hit one you owed David $5. As it was Me and Nick's first time cantering, we racked up quite a bill, yet learned a lot in the process as well. We needed to be straighter on a circle [yes, I did not think that this was possible either but it sure is] as well as looking to plan our corners. 

After a short lunch, we re-convened to Show Jump. In Group 1 [my group] we worked with Cathy in the grandstand ring. Though Nick needs to work on collecting his canter, we did have a flowing trip that was impressive. The jumping exercise was all about related distances. We worked on a straight line and a bending line made up of three jumps in a "Y" type shape. Cathy made us all count our strides out loud, and I know least for me, that kept me from holding my breath! 

We finished with another stellar lecture by the Fabulous and Wonderful Max on first aid and studding. She did NOT use the familiar model post Olympic horse, Mandiba, but opted for the big grey, Smarty. Well, well, well. All I have to say that is that Smarty sure LIKED Max more than anyone else at the time she was wrapping legs. =)

Another successful day with the OECT. These days full lectures, riding lessons, watching them school their own horses, working, cleaning, mucking, watering, brushing, jumping will make every day without an O'Connor camp seem just not full enough. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

6/7/09 - O'Connor Clinic: Day Two

Day Two started out with a wild ride.....not kidding. The big red Bull Master helps your learn how to hold your body and rock through your hips while jumping XC obstacles such as up and down banks. It also provides for a great laugh as well =) I guess the O'Connors only to try buck off the riders they like.

Then we continued with some in-hand demonstrations by David with one of their young horses, William. He [the horse] was an absolutely adorable homebred, by the way. He showed us how they start all of the young horses at their farm and ended giving us a try with our own horses. WELL...William sure made these four 'basic' tasks look easy!

I worked with my borrowed horse for the week, Nick, with the other campers in the covered arena. Note that Nick is an 6 year old chestnut appendix that looks mostly like a QH, and is a real sweet heart. David, Karen, Cathy, and Hannah [part of the OCET] taught us all how to accomplish the responses we were looking for in a way that does not tell your horse "NO." I was impressed with that fact that David, Karen, and Hannah all came around and helped every camper one-on-one. I mean, it IS all about having a connection with your horse and establishing the relationship that will make riding the horse that much easier.

I really liked the way that they stressed the 3-part-system: first you ask your horse to do something, then you tell him, then you make him. This system calls for different aids accordingly. Everything done on the ground with our horses is also transferrable to riding! It is like doing your homework before going to class - practice makes perfect. We then had some lunch and culminated to ride in a Dressage lesson.

We began in three groups of six working, respectively with David, Karen, and Cathy. First, we worked on doing the same four movements we had taught our horses on the ground earlier that morning while mounted. Personally, I had a bit of difficulty with Nick this time as he wanted to back up and/or hop up in the air to avoid contact with me. By the end, we were able to complete the four tasks at hand, with a little help from David's riding skills. We worked at the walk and trot [Karen's group even did a bit of canter work] and finished with a fabulous, fun leg yielding exercise. Now that Nick and I had established this 'go forward then move laterally' concept, the leg yielding work went better than I had expected! He was an excellent student, a and a fast learner.

With the OCET's patient and perseverant attitude, I was able to complete all exercises mounted, the same as we did in hand, and felt accomplished at the end of the day! I learned how the rider's leg must be the aid for the horse's legs to move. Meaning that I could not use hand to pull Nick around, or even make him go more in the bridle. I used leg and body positioning to achieve the movements. Thoroughly pleased with my day of intense O'Connor training, we headed back to the barn for a drink and well deserved bath - for Nick, of course! =)

Later on, the Head Groom for the O'Connors, the marvelous Ms Max [not Sam], lectured on the importance of properly fitted tack for the event rider as well as having a live demo horse, Mandiba [Karen's most recent Olympic mount]. A model student wearing all three types of breastplate/martingales that Max piled on him, Mandiba did not care too much for the saddle fitting part. Then again, I am sure he smiled a little inside.

The OCET has proven to be patient, caring and accommodating. Their teaching methods are new to me, but very effective. Can't wait for what tomorrow may bring....!

6/6/09 - O'Connor Clinic Begins

Well, well, well. Today we had our orientation for the O'Connor Clinic, held at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, VA. We worked on learning each others names, camp style, and introduced ourselves to the group. There are 18 of us in this session. While some participants are still in middle & high schools, many moms and dads came to help as well as some auditors. I seem to be the only college kid...decked out in my Hokie colors to boot. We met all of the staff that David and Karen brought along, and I noted the many horses and doggies that tagged along as well. From the start, the O'Connor Event Team seemed to be really just one big, huge, horsey family. =) We then went up to the Pavillion on top of the XC hill and had a fabulous dinner and visited. Horsey terminology was dropped left and one batted an eyelash. It is our equine interests that brought us together, and I realized how much I really do enjoy being in the presence of horse people.

Over plate full of some fruit salad and fried chicken leg, I was relaxing in the cool summer breeze effortlessly brushing across the hills and visiting with two girls from a northern Virginia barn. As we exchanged commentary on our past riding experiences, I just about jumped out of my jodhpurs [figuratively speaking, of course] as Karen O'Connor plopped down with a plate of food across the picnic table from me. I worked on containing my enthusiasm slash trying not to make any sudden movements across from the same woman that I have read about in Practical Horseman multiple times, who has competed in four Olympic Games and has been named USEA's Female Rider of the Year ten times! Deep breaths.....honestly though, she was quite normal. We all enjoyed some music, a meal, and each others company. As highly as I respect the O'Connors, they [including their awesome staff] were also stellar hosts for the evening. And so my first experience being in such close proximity to Olympians went well.

I would like to end with a quote someone told me on the phone that night which pretty much sums everything up: "Well Maggie, they do put on their pants in the morning the same as you; one leg at a time."