Monday, 8 September 2014

A Lesson with the Frenchman

First things first, today was my birthday! 

I'm kind of a birthday person. I don't care if this makes me selfish. I figure it's the ONE DAY a year where I can do whatever I want (without, you know, breaking laws or whatever) and not feel guilty about it.  Hooray!

Being a Birthday Person, you can perhaps imagine my excitement and joy when an e-mail arrived in my inbox on Sunday evening, stating something to the effect of "Trainer will be at the barn tomorrow for exactly five hours, so if you want a lesson, you better text Barn Manager NOW since has 999999 horses to ride and less than two lesson times available."

It being Monday, there was little enough competition for said lesson slots, so I was able to get in. YAY!

You may perhaps be wondering exactly why this level of ridiculous joy is happening when this person is my regular trainer and my level of happy was akin to something like, I don’t know, winning a clinic spot with McLain Ward.  Well, here’s the thing, Trainer has been away for over a month at this point, what with preparation for WEG and then actually showing at WEG and then being ridiculously successful at WEG (holla top 20 in the world) and is heading off to Spruce Meadows again this week, meaning no lessons before the next horse show next week (sad face) and my confidence wavering (at best) since we had done such EXCELLENT breakthrough work last month and holding that tenuous little egg together has proven impossible without his assistance.  I am, of course, exceptionally pleased (and proud!) for him, and want him to be successful, but these are, realistically, the down sides of having what basically amounts to a celebrity trainer.  It's cool, we make do, and I go hacking a lot, but it's also pretty amazing when he's here.

Since we weren't expecting him back (at all) and he was more or less using the barn as a stopping point between France and Calgary, I basically viewed this lesson as a fabulous birthday present.

But on to the lesson.

I arrived early in order to properly and thoroughly groom Mr. Ponycake, who was (as ever) very happy to see me.  Lessons with Trainer mean you better be turned out as well as you would be if you were heading into the show ring, minus the braids - we're talking deeply groomed and polished coat, mane wet down and combed over, tail flowing and shaving-free, horse's face washed, clean and fitted square pad, clean half pad, clean and straight protective boots, tack squeaky clean and adjusted properly, belly pad, and hooves oiled.  He cares a lot less about how the riders look, but I usually try to make sure I'm wearing well fitted breeches (not the $40 Aerocools whose waistband I have to roll down and only wear if nobody's around, for example), a polo, belt, and clean/polished-ish boots, hairnet, helmet, gloves, and stick.  If we're honest, my outfit doesn't really deviate too much from that on most days anyway, though I don't really tuck in my shirt if I'm just out puttering around without any trainers lurking nearby.  Occasionally I'll be a total rebel and wear a t-shirt. Gasp.

Anyway, after scrubbing Riley to within an inch of his life, we headed out to the ring about 15 minutes early.  On entering the outdoor ring, Riley decided he wasn't very interested since there were several new and TERRIFYING vehicles parked in the entrance, and threw quite a fit, at one point managing to throw himself around enough to get about halfway back to the barn.  After some convincing, he finally walked in the ring, with the viewing gallery observing me curiously. (Trainer travels with an entourage. #celebstatus)

I warmed up as Trainer sat on the phone, conducting some serious-sounding conversation in French, and as I finished my walk and trot passes and started into my canter work, paused long enough to shout a quite cheerful hello.  Then back to it.  Some time into it, I had settled Riley enough to start cantering a pole bounce that had been set out, and on my second time through and halting, Trainer hung up the phone and immediately started handing out instructions.

"What you are doing wizz your body? You are leaning back when you ask to halt, it throw everything off, it is not good. Just sit still and bend your elbow. Again."

So I cantered back through, had a good halt, then when Riley decided he would really rather NOT and go forward again, I leaned back and got "ahhh so close, non. Do it again."

Three times later I finally kept my (eff) body still, mutter mutter mutter.

After this I jumped a vertical, set around 3ft (no pansying around today, I guess), which was pretty decent, then another vertical, which was also pretty decent, then we almost immediately started putting some exercises together.  First I jumped a vertical, then turned sharply left inside another jump, then jumped down over another vertical set on a right angle to the first one.  I went through and did this really well.  Trainer then reversed it, and I did that really well, too!  All along he was coaching me on what my body was doing, holding it still (apparently I went back to doing dumb shit with my upper body while he was gone) and keeping the rhythm.  He always wants a slightly quieter rhythm than Assistant, so that was a little bit of a challenge.  It's amazing when you find it, though, and I started to put my fragile little egg back together - the one where, if that rhythm is perfect, I can find *any* jump from about ten strides away.  As we went along with Trainer helping me it went from pretty good to absolutely excellent.  I could basically do no wrong, though I started noticing the instructions got infinitely more specific... something I found interesting, and definitively means that there's been improvement, since he doesn't go there if he doesn't feel someone can handle it.

Not an egg. But not too far off from my mental image of said tenuous egg.

At one point we put together a course where we jumped up over a vertical, rollback/right turn to a longish two stride vertical-oxer combination, left turn up over an oxer, right turn/rollback to a vertical off a short turn.  The first time through, I was very slightly short coming into the two stride, and had to hustle a little to get out, which made us a little quick.  Trainer immediately snapped (but kindly) "now QUIET!", I got Riley back, and the rest of the course was fantastic.  We reversed it the next time, which made us jump the oxer, then have a bit of a long run and total rollback right to the two stride, and I saw both distances - the longish one or the shortish one.  Being indecisive at times, I went "errrf" and ended up having to kick a little, which immediately led to "get him back!" I don't know if any of you have ever tried to half halt through a two stride, but it ain't easy.  However, we managed to do so successfully, and jumped the rest of the course really well.  As I finished, Trainer went "you know, he get away from you a little, or you chase a little, but zen you gotta get heem back, you are not doing zis quickly enough, it is not very bad, but it zere." 

So the next time, I had a nice forward distance to an oxer he'd set up a bit bigger, then immediately sat back (with my stupid body still!) and gave a serious half halt. Riley folded back to me beautifully, and Trainer was shouting a blur of positive things ("ABSOLOUEMENT!!! SUPERB! EXCELLONT!") and we finished our course with that utterly perfect, patient, gorgeous, floating rhythm that, for whatever reason, Trainer seems to be able to manufacture JUST BY STANDING THERE.

To say this was the best lesson I've ever had wouldn't be much of a stretch - I had a day where I was really on, my horse was sharp but still paying attention, and I really took the instruction and applied it with total success right away.  Trainer seemed very happy, lots of cheerful words, a little chat about WEG after, etc etc.  All is right with the world.

Now he's off to Spruce for the week, and I wish him the very best success! $1.5 million dollar class, here we come! Who's gonna be glued to the live stream? Oh, that will be me. #obsessed

The rest of this week will be lessons with Assistant on both Mr. Riley and the totally cute gelding I've been schooling (who has been a total superstar) and then off to THREE beautiful straight weeks of horse showing starting next week.  I'm so excited I could die.  I am the luckiest girl in the world.


  1. Love reading your updates, especially the way you type your trainer talking. Makes me smile every time. His mare & he kicked ass at WEG, what a beauty she is.
    Wow 3 weeks of showing is fantastic, I hope you have a great time & enjoy yourself. Mind that egg

    1. AREN'T THEY AMAZING. I am in shock and awe every time I see them, haha. She is a powerful thing though, jumps him out of the tack half the time! Not his usual style, usually he makes it look like an equitation round. He is such a funny guy, I'm glad it kinda translates here!
      I'm so excited to show 3 weeks, I feel so damn fortunate! So excited for it I could squeak (ok, maybe I have squeaked about it, lol!)
      Thanks for your lovely words, always love reading your comments <3

  2. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! glad you had such an awesome lesson :)

  3. Happy birthday! Congrats on the great lesson.

  4. Happy Birthday! that lesson sounds like a fabulous present :)

    1. Thank you! It was about as fabulous as it gets! :D

  5. What a fabulous way to spend your birthday!

    1. You pegged it, haha - it was amazing!

  6. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! I love birthdays and absolutely get the joy. :-) Love your lesson write up. Glad you had such a great ride!

  7. Happy Birthday! Fabulous lesson. Tres bien!! =)