Monday, April 4, 2011

Mind Over Matter

This week’s Katie Prudant clinic was an extremely informative experience albeit a humbling one. To be quite honest, I can’t say I remember being so nervous to ride for an instructor since Buck freaked me out in Hong Kong 2007 upon the looming arrival of the infamous George Morris. After polishing my bits and bleaching my saddle pads (and my teeth), both Al and May (and their pilot) were poised to show their stuff! Thus, Day One of lessons with the Queen of the Poles began!

I have always been an advocate of visual learning. Lucky for me I got to watch my group partners Phillip Dutton, Will Faudree and Doug Payne tackle Katie’s tough yet educational SJ exercises. In both lessons we started with about thirty minutes of flat work, perfecting (or trying to in some cases) the flying changes from the SEAT, collection to extension work, and finding a distance over a series of poles placed on the ground. Surprisingly enough, when we began having to fit a certain number of strides in between two lonesome poles on the ground, that’s when the hard work began! Allow me to tell you from experience that it makes the exercise a whole lot harder when your horse (ahem...Al) tends to jump the inanimate pole on the ground as if it were a four foot oxer! However, after a few test runs Al finally realized that the pole really wasn't a trick question and that it was indeed just a pole lying flatly on the ground...doing absolutely nothing.

After we conquered the evil pole drill, we swiftly moved onto our course work. In one particular exercise, Katie set up a line of three fences across a crooked diagonal that rode in a variety of steps, which (here comes the hard part) we had to decide BEFORE riding the line. Knowing that I need to work on balancing from my seat without allowing my horses to fall behind my leg, I took on the line in a steady five strides to five strides, bending it out if I needed more room. Wallah! My plan of attack worked wonders and both my horses jumped like rockstars!

Day Two with KP met us with a deluge of rain! Fortunately, the wonderful Peter Barry was generous enough to donate his breathtaking farm and convenient covered arena to avoid any jumps and/or trainers floating away. My first lesson with May went spectacularly as we honed in on grid work and depth perception. My second lesson was equally as informative but was constantly being interrupted by random downpours and violent bouts of lightening and thunder. At one point in my lesson I remember adjusting my gaze outside of the indoor and seeing Matt Flynn, who also happens to board at Peter’s barn, doing a trot set aboard a talented and unsuspecting young horse literally in the midst of a downpour. Matt’s eyes squinted trying to dodge the angry rain that pelleted down on his helmet as his horse obediently kept the buoyant rhythm and frame despite the weather. I came to the realization from Matt’s act of determination and fortitude against Mother Nature of why I love this sport so much: We eventers are simply resilient...

Looking back on both days’ lessons, the common reminder that Katie would unhesitatingly shout was “THINK through your course.” There is never any excuse to miss a distance or approach a fence unbalanced and that although we have the tools to execute a clean show jumping round, eventers (or other normal human beings) lack the actual PERCEPTION to deliver. It’s what I keep reading over and over in Mind Gym people, MIND over MATTER. Perhaps Mrs. Prudant owns a copy of this irreplaceable competitor’s bible? Speculate as you wish for the world may never know...

And thus April is upon us. Which can only mean one thing...or two...or three rather. For one, April plays host to two of my favorite events, the Fork and Rolex. And finally, my time in Wagener is up. I will miss hearing the constant bickering of the hens in the morning over the premiere sun-bathing spot. Or watching Sarah feed the baby lamb his daily formula, which he is happy to remind you about once every five minutes. I will miss driving into the barn and watching all of my beautiful horses poke their heads out of their stalls one by one to greet me with nickers and neighs alike while awaiting for the start of the work day eagerly and happily. I will miss the sand roads, the random fox hunt of about ten riders who boisterously would traverse the property...I will miss my beloved Guppy toy... and so it’s safe to say guys, I will miss Shadow Lane Farm. I will miss Wagener.

So as I bid adieu to South Carolina, both mom and I are excited to enter the North for the Fork. The horses and I will arrive a few days prior to competition for some helpful “ringmanship” sessions with the Captain, who I am hoping will see a trend of progression in both Alex and myself. This weekend Al is set to run in the Advanced class and May in the Intermediate. Until then folks, elbows in and heels down! Here’s to some floaty trot extensions and immaculate show jumping rounds!

-Lainey Ashker

***Above photos courtesy of Pamela Eckelbarger of Thank you to Pamela for capturing some great moments at not only the KP clinic, but many of the other Aiken Training Sessions as well!