Sunday, October 11, 2015

Leonie Bramall Clinic - Day 2

The second day of the Leonie clinic brought absolutely stunning sunshine and a perfect 17 degree temperature, which created a bit of a "holiday vibe" and so we sat back and relaxed as we watched the lessons continue.

It was evident that the previous day had just been a warm-up, as it wasn't long until the serious work started in my first lesson with Bertina. We warmed up using my newfound "activating" skills from the day before and they were very effective in getting her quicker and looser. Our work phase consisted of using leg-yield to help introduce half-pass, where she needed more ability to cross and reach out in the sideways movement.

Starting from the corner, we half-passed across the school to just past the centreline and as we neared the end of the diagonal line we did a steep leg-yield the other way off the other leg. So if we half-passed right, then at the end we leg-yielded over to the left off my right leg, then turn right.

The leg-yield needed to be very steep as the aim of it was to increase the flexibility and crossing of the hindquarters. Bettina finds this quite difficult as she is a big mare with a lot of body to move around, but I definitely felt her open up through her body and move with less resistance off my leg after this exercise.

Next was Chad, which was REALLY hard work. Leonie used our white arena boards to create a small square in the corner of the arena, about the size of an 8-10m circle. You know Leonie means business when she gets out any props or equipment!

The exercise was to travel in a circle inside the square, making sure to reach each side. It is actually very difficult to follow the circle line staying on the track of the square, as it requires so much control to not step on or over the poles/arena edging so you tend to do a smaller circle to feel safe. But the point is that you are able to ride the shoulders on that line with a straight head and neck, and be able to push the hindquarters in so you are in travers.

It is too easy and false to create a travers feeling by pulling the head and shoulders in and letting the quarters fall in as well. This makes the horse use its strength incorrectly by falling through its outside shoulder and doesn't challenge its suppleness. We have to focus on keeping the head, neck and shoulders being super straight in front of us, riding forward around the circle (or down the long side or diagonal line for half-pass) and the hindquarters travelling forwards on the inside track of the front feet.

I did this in canter with chad to improve the pace and his ability to sit instead of scrambling along. The temptation to just make the circle smaller is huge, as you hardly trust yourself to keep the horse inside the square if you go so close to the edge, but this is what challenges your control and how much the horse is on your aids. It really helps him use his hind legs to push around the turn, as I couldn't use my reins to make any adjustments as his head would turn in too much and he would fall out through the shoulder and I would lose my precision control. This exercise makes you so aware of how you ride the back end to control the front, as if you even slightly try to correct the front, you lose everything.

We used the same small square for Seb too, but this time in trot. As Seb is a older and tends to be a bit lethargic, I'm always trying to make him quicker and sharper. By doing this traverse exercise in the small square, I had to make sure he stayed really in front of me or I simply couldn't keep him straight. If he fell at any point behind my leg and pulled himself around rather than pushed, I couldn't get the control I needed for the precision of the exercise.

Seb developing his trot after using the "square"
So it was super hard work to get him really active and powering around the small circle, but he was in a position that I was really able to influence his body and actually create something, rather than him just moving in a straight line or in a shoulder-in/travers down a long side where it's so easy for the energy to be lost out through a shoulder or a hind leg.

When I moved out of the circle to continue the activated trot around the arena, he felt absolutely amazing and just powered around with ease. If he started to lapse and fall behind me, I would just go back into the square and pick him back up with the travers on the circle and the engagement would come right back.

I found this such a great exercise for the horses and it is so easy to adjust it to the horse's needs. It fixes so many problems, it just depends what you focus on while you're doing it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Leonie Bramall Clinic - Day One

Training with Leonie 5 years ago in Germany
If you're a regular reader of my blogs (especially the Teen Dressage Dream blog), you will need no introduction to Leonie Bramall. Leonie is the one and only trainer that I have kept through my journey since I was 15, when I first went to Europe to ride and trained with her in 2009. Since then, I have been backwards and forwards to Germany for my essential dose of "Leonie training" whether it be for a weekend, a couple of weeks or 4 months. Leonie and her partner Volker bred and started my two younger horses, Bertina and Chad, who I bought when they were 3 and so have always tried to do them proud with their babies. Leonie also helped me with Seb in 2012 when I was finding him virtually impossible to ride and train, and within 3 months she had me out competing in Germany getting scores in the high 60s%. However, after hitting a few bumps in the road and being sent off track, I haven't been back to Germany to train properly in well over a year.

So you can imagine the apprehension I was feeling when I arranged for Leonie to come over to the UK to do a clinic, where she would also be teaching me on Bertina, Chad and Seb. The amount of respect I have for Leonie is huge, so it really meant a lot to me that she was happy with how the horses were going. Luckily, they have all been going better than ever and I am really happy with how I'm riding and training, so all I could do was hope for the best!
Quite a contrast to be training on a gorgeous Autumn day
at my own yard in England! Pictured here is Shaun Mandy
on his lovely "Poppy"

I needed not to worry, as Leonie was very pleased with all of the horses and understood that Chad and Bertina wouldn't be as far on as they could be because of heading off-course during the past couple of years and not having consistent training. I was particurly chuffed with Seb, as she helped me so much with him and he has been the hardest horse I have ever had to ride, and over the weekend it was a case of "ok that's all great... what do you want to work on?". I never ever thought I'd hear Leonie say those words to me, as we've usually got A LOT of things that need to be fixed!

So the first day of lessons was on Friday evening, just after I had brought her home from the airport. The lessons started off fairly simply, just addressing a few basic issues and principles. All 3 of the horses could have been a bit more forward and looser in their bodies, so from the beginning in the rising trot she had me using my "rise" to urge them forward, and squeeze with my calf while my seat was out of the saddle. Without losing the connection with the rein, the energy created from your legs gets pushed up through your body and flows forward into the rein contact and helps the horse flowing forward without any restriction from your rising trot and prevents an inconsistent rein contact as you move your body up and down.

I found this really helpful with all the horses, and you can even move it into the sitting trot, where you can imagine that your "rise" every second stride the horse takes, just like the rising trot, and automatically your hips thrust them that bit extra forwards along with the squeeze of your leg. If the horse gets really stuck behind you, the worst thing you can do is clamp down and drive more, as it just shuts them down. You need to get away from their body to urge it to open up, so even if you're doing sitting trot you can just rise out of the saddle for one stride only, and give an almighty squeeze with your legs as you rise up, and that surges the horse forwards and through over its back. Then continue sitting and go with the motion, carrying that energy you just created forwards. It is essential that the rein contact remains the same as you do this, however, otherwise you're pushing them into empty space and they can't carry the connection forward.

In the canter, a similar principle can be applied in the way that if they are getting stuck in their back and cantering too much "up-and-down", you can canter like a show jumper and rise up and down in the rhythm of the stride to push them forward and open up. This is especially effective in the warm-up if you can start cantering early on, as often this will improve the trot for particular horses. 

While sitting in the saddle in the canter, if you time your "driving" aid of the seat with the moment the outside shoulder lifts up off the ground, and imagine that you're pushing the legs further forward with each stride, the canter