Tuesday, 14 November 2017

My UK adventure! An Enlightening Experience...


After the bungle of my flight from Lisbon to London, it was a relief to finally make it to Totnes, Devon on Monday to start my Enlightened Equitation Teacher Training. I only ended up being an hour late - which under the circumstances, was not too bad! 

One of the advantages of going by train from London to Totnes in daylight was seeing more of the beautiful English countryside - even if a peak fare rail ticket cost me £125! (gulp!). I'd never been that far west, so exploring new places is always fascinating (note to self - glad I did not hire a car as I would have freaked out about those narrow sunken Devon lanes....oh my!). 

Many people would probably think it strange that as a hot blooded eventer I've kind of "gone alternative" (for want of a better term). After all, I've missed the last three events of the season! However, my time training in Portugal in January and then subsequently training with a classical dressage coach on my horse this year has opened my eyes to just how much rider position affects the horse's way of going. It's taken me months to have a more symmetrical position, independent control of my body and to stop being so "busy" with my hands and legs (and there's still work to be done!). 

Out competing, yes there are many riders who are successful, even with a less than ideal position. But how much better would they be if they sat straight and quietly, moved with the horse without blocking him and didn't have distracting waggling legs, busy hands and a nodding head?! My goal is to ride with barely perceptible aids and a quiet, elegant seat...and to teach others to do the same. I'm also inspired to train my school horses to a much higher level, in order to teach correct "feel" and show how correct training can improve any horse - whether competing is the goal or not. 

It is difficult to put into a few words what I have learned in the first module of my course. The core work for the week consisted of observing numerous "guinea pig" riders of various abilities have a lesson with Heather Moffett. I found her teaching and training methods are simple and easy to follow, making the basic aids very clear, yet without force. Position is obviously the key theme - however it is being able to maintain a good position whilst correctly applying the aids and making transitions where many come unstuck! I like the fact Heather has the ability to train horses as well as riders - meaning horse and rided together make considerable improvements. 

                                      Observing Heather Moffett teaching 

                                    The Irish wool blanket my sister gifted me - very useful!! 
Saddle fit was another major issue. It is astounding how much correct saddle fit and balance affects a rider's position. I know a lot of emphasis is now placed on making sure the saddle fits the horse, but if the seat size is too small for the rider, or the saddle doesn't sit the rider centrally, it is extremely hard for a rider to achieve the correct shoulder, hip, heel alignment in flatwork. In GP saddles, the problem is compounded by stirrup bars being set too far forward and knee blocks in the wrong place, so they are continually forced into a chair seat. We learned some simple remedies for some of these issues - not always requiring a new saddle! 

                                       Saddle fit and balance was a key theme 

As well as discussions on the various schools of classical training, we spent afternoons on the Equisimulators, which are machines that (with assistance of a coach) teach riders how to correctly absorb movement - particularly in sitting trot and canter - often what riders find most difficult. The electronic machines are good for developing feel in walk/trot, whereas the rider powered mechanical simulators enabled us to practice walk, rising/sitting trot and canter, plus transitions - an invaluable tool whether for a beginner or an experienced rider needing remedial work (let's face it - none of us are perfect!!). The rider powered machine is great in that if you follow the movement incorrectly, it will stop - much like the effect of blocking the horse.  The beauty of teaching this way is that corrections to position can be made whilst a rider is in motion - not even possible when teaching on the lunge. 

                                          Feeling the "flex" in rider's back on the Equisimulator

So...I'm now a trainee EET and will return to the UK in 6 months to complete my training (with a number of assignments inbetween). I look forward to meeting up again with a lovely bunch of like minded individuals - we all had a wonderful time and many laughs! 

                  The group of 2017 EE Teacher Trainees - what a great bunch! 

My most exciting news is.....Gretgrix Equestrian will soon be home to the only rider powered Equisimulator in Victoria (there are currently only two in Australia, in New South Wales). This means I will be able to offer lessons on the simulator alone, or in conjunction with a lesson on a horse to transfer skills across. All of my beginner clients will soon have the opportunity to use the simulator to get the basics right from the start - speeding up the process considerably. It will be an invaluable tool for those returning to riding and/or lacking confidence - once their seat is more secure, the transition to a real horse will be much easier and less scary! It is also a great way to improve rider fitness and core strength. 

                                    Work on the Equi

Next year, once I have transport for the Equisimulator sorted, I hope to be able to offer demonstrations and lessons at Riding Clubs, Pony Clubs and other groups. Unlike the much more sophisticated computerised machines, the Equisimulator is transportable. Lessons can take place regardless of the weather or time of day (as long as shelter/shade is available) and unmounted workshops are another possibility. 

Watch this space!! 

                                     Heather's amazing book

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Farewell Portugal....!


Sunday started off ok, with a beautiful sunny morning and a ride on Hostil. After warming up, he gave me some nice work, getting softer with a good rhythm. One of the things we worked on was flying changes, which I find a bit tricky and want to do too much! Single changes across the diagonal went ok, then we started to attempt 2 and 3 changes across the diagonal of a 20 x 40 arena...which is where things fell apart a bit! I forgot about sitting still and maintaining quality of the canter....and Hostil started anticipating and getting a bit strong and quick. We then broke the exercise down into two changes across two short diagonals....then got 3 changes across the diagonal....finally! It was a good lesson for me as I have been starting changes with my horses at home - with mixed success. Frederico gave me some good exercises to try, so will be putting these into place when I get home.

    Ulisses and Vingador in the background doing kids' lessons :) 

Trains, planes and automobiles

After farewelling Julia (who was off to spend the afternoon in Sintra) I began the journey to London. I arrived at Lisbon airport, with plenty of time. Checked in, all good. Got to boarding gate before 12:45 only to be told...."oh, we don't have a seat for you" 

Say Whaaaaaaaat? *insert long line of expletives*

I have to admit, I was flabbergasted - I've never had this happen. 

It turns out that TAP Air Portugal regularly overbooks flights. I was an unlucky one to be "kicked off". The (not very friendly) boarding gate lady told me to go organise a 4pm flight, but to do so, I had to get all the way back through the airport backwards....not easy when you've already been through security and passport control. I had to find ground staff on a few occasions to let me through staff doors, passport control (again!) and finally a tearful stressed out me found my way to the TAP desk back near check be met with a huge line up. It took close to 2 hours wait in line, where I discovered many others had the same issue with other flights...some poor travellers were kicked off a flight to Rio they'd paid for in June! I also wasn't sure what had happened to my suitcase I checked in that morning....another worry! 

Anyway, I finally got a boarding pass issued for the 4pm flight, given a card for 400 Euro and was assured my bag would be on the flight.... then had to go through security screening againnnnnnnn (time was getting tight by then)....get to passport control and I think, because I had already "departed" it would not accept my passport in the Australian/NZ etc e-gate. I then had to join a huge line up and started panicking. Very kindly, people on later flights let myself and others on the London flight jump the cue. There was NO way I was missing that flight. 

I arrived in London, got my bag (hurrah!) and then took the easy option of the airport desk organising a hotel and transfers. By that stage, it was after 8:30pm and getting a late train wasn't an option (I actually think I missed the last train option). I was tired anyway, after such a long day stuck in an airport. I finally had dinner at 10pm (after having nothing to eat since breakfast) and went to bed, and slept well, but was up again before 5 am. 

And to today....I checked out of the hotel at 5:20am to catch the bus to the airport station....plenty of time to get to Paddington for me train to Totnes, right? Wrong! One of the tube lines was down causing delays on other lines. I got to Paddington at 7.03, when my train was scheduled for time to buy tickets here I am on the next train and will arrive an hour later...but I'll be happy to arrive at all. 

Let's hope the week improves.....! 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - Revisited, Part Two

Today has been a fantastic day. This morning I had the opportunity to ride another amazing schoolmaster, Ulysses. He is quite different to ride, but was an excellent teacher, particularly with the piaffe, passage and spanish walk. 

I have ridden piaffe and passage as single movements before, but not put them together, so it was great to experience this. It was also a good test of my reaction time and making my aids clear to the horse - if I didn't get it right, he told me! It made me much more aware of what my body is doing....and also aware of just how much more there is for me to learn!! 

Another fantastic part of today was seeing my youngest sister, Julia, who flew over from Ireland to join me for the weekend. We spent today in Cascais, down by the marina, shopping and tasting the local pastries ;) There was a market in the centre of town with a beautiful carousel - my kids would have loved it! 

Tonight we'll go out for a traditional dinner. Tomorrow, after another ride I'm off to the UK and Julia will stay on to explore Sintra ;)  

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - revisited!

                                          Sunrise from Dubai airport
I'm back! 

It's amazing how some places seem like a second home. Cascais seems to be one of them - I can't quite pinpoint what it is, but I always feel relaxed when I'm here. Even strolling along to the local supermarket in the rain (dodging trees and signs with my umbrella) I was thinking how funny it is that I can love going shopping in a place where I can't understand a word of Portuguese, but feel totally at home. 

It was a long journey (I had forgotten about that part). I was very fortunate this time to have three seats to myself for the 14 hr Melbourne to Dubai leg, meaning I did sleep (a bit). Even having all that time to lie down meant I arrived in better shape, not so stiff from being stuck seated all the time. The connecting flight from Dubai to Lisbon departed at what seemed like the opposite side of the terminal, so I got a good half hour walk in too - and a chance to appreciate the Dubai airport (last time I hardly had to move, the departure gate was much closer). There was the most beautiful wall size mural of Arabian horses somewhere in my walk....I wish now I'd stopped to take a photo! 

Clear skies greeted me as we flew into Lisbon, but alas not for long! 

                                           About 20 mins from beautiful is this?

I arrived to stormy and damp conditions, but the storms were very intermittment. I still like rain, coming from the dry country it is not something I ever wish away. I did get a bit wet walking to the supermarket, but then avoided a massive downpour just as I was about to venture back out again.

Time to ride

So, as I did last time, I kept myself awake on local time by having a dressage lesson at 5pm! I rode Hostil, the 5yo Lusitano I spent time riding during my last visit. It was interesting that Frederico remarked how much straighter and supple my body is, so I'm glad my riding has improved in 10 months! (NB - I have hardly ridden in the past 3 weeks since my own horses were turned out for a spell, so this is very good news!). 

Hostil felt a lot more established since I last rode him - although still a bit cheeky and fresh, given the wet and stormy conditions. We did some suppling work and really made him focus, so there was no excuse to be distracted when it decided to rain. His canter work was very nice and rewarded me with some straight and balanced flying changes - it felt very easy. We worked on some leg yield and then into half pass which was great (when I got it right!!)

The other interesting thing Frederico incorporated into the lesson was use of Franklin balls to help with my sitting trot. I had seen them on the Internet, but had never tried them. These are inflatable/water filled balls that you can sit on or place in other areas to assist with position issues. It felt very strange to begin with, however once they were taken away - wow! My sitting trot was so much better, my seat and body more free and able to follow the horse. I was sitting much deeper. This is something I am going to explore more, not only for myself, but for the benefit of my students. 

I found an article about them here - 

Continous improvement 

This next week will be a great opportunity to work on myself as a rider and coach. It is good to work on myself, not just the horse and dealing with specific issues that come up when training for a competition. This is part of what has me frustrated when competitions run close together in a season - there's no time to work on specific issues - and I end up with 'band aid' solutions just to get better marks in a dressage test. 

So many lessons in my many years of riding have been all about how the horse goes. More recently my own training has been about correcting my riding so I can be more effective and not block the horse or unbalance him. I think as riders we tend to get "stuck" once we've been riding a long time and then bringing on a range of horses...and forget to check in on ourselves. There's always something we can do better that makes our horse's job easier - in competition or just in everyday riding. 

"Letting go" 

Lately I've been finding things a bit hard and really have burnt myself out (I only have one mode - flat out). The last two weeks have been difficult for me personally, with sick kids and nursing a cat with snake bite on top of everything else. I had to shut myself away a bit, for my own sanity. I took some rare time away from social media (ok, I'm back....but purely because people were having trouble contacting me!!!) 

Time in transit and having a lesson yesterday has been a good time for relection. I'm letting go of the guilt that has encompassed me. Guilt for taking time off riding - which is silly because with increased work commitments and two small kids that need me, riding can't always be #1. Not to mention, I had decided to end my competition season early and give the horses a why the guilt? I was freaking out that with time off, my riding would be terrible once I got here, but it seems that was a myth I'd conjured up. You don't suddenly forget how to ride! 

I feel bad also, that my health and fitness is not what it could be. I feel a bit self conscious about still carrying around a partial baby belly (and then some). Yet again, life does get in the way. I do need to take better care of my body, for the sake of my kids, if nothing else - but by making small steps and sustainable changes...and not beating myself up. 

Let's see what today brings :)