Thursday, July 25, 2013

Andreas Hausberger Clinic (Part 1)

July 20, 2013
First I must say I believe that I have died and gone to heaven.  My day started with a lovely ride on Nikki.  It was already humid at 7 AM but not quite as hot as days past when it was in the mid 90's and humid!  Don't you hate when people say "it's not the heat, it's the humidity"? I lived in Texas for a year where the heat was drier.  It IS TO THE HEAT!  But I will agree the humidity definitely makes it worse.  The bugs were awake early also, judging by the way Suki raced me down the driveway!  It was mostly in extended trot but she did break to canter for a few strides.  Nikki came to the gate a little less ambitiously but was anxious to get in as well.  In spite of her slower journey to the gate Nikki was quite energetic for our morning ride.  The sun was behind the clouds the entire time which certainly helped our effort.  It was a day for some basic exercises including spiraling in at trot and canter followed by leg yielding out to 20 meters. Nikki was light in my hand for the most part but became a bit heavier as fatigue set in.  We pushed beyond that to regain lightness and finished.

The ride was followed by several hours of getting the house (by that I mean laundry and all instructions for Monday and Tuesday) in order then packing and heading out on my five hour drive to New Berlin, NY and Waltzing Horse Farm for the Andreas Hausberger clinic.

I am staying at a small B & B approximately 15 minutes from the farm.  The Shamrock and Thistle.
The road to the B & B

The view from the porch
After suffering through mid to upper 90 degree temperatures and oppressive humidity, the need for a sweatshirt was welcome, indeed!  I felt like I had landed in a little slice of heaven.  All I can hear are the sounds of birds and bull frogs, with the occasional bark from one of the three adorable dogs (a red setter, an irish setter and a collie) when they have found something to chase.  A glass of wine and an evening to myself.  That is such a rare occurrence in my life so I am trying to take advantage of it and not feel too guilty.  I have three days of clinic ahead of me, and my friend Beth is joining me Sunday night.  I think I owe Michael a few days of surf fishing this fall!

July 21, 2013
I am writing this while sitting on the front porch, wearing a sweatshirt inspired by the view, the lessons learned and new friends.
Day one of the clinic
The first ride was at 7 so an early start was in order.  After a good night's sleep and a lovely breakfast I was off to find the farm.  I was given directions as the GPS apparently takes seasonal roads which translates to dirt roads.  Not to worry, I had no difficulty finding Waltzing Horse Farm (turn left after Amish farm) and quickly found a front row seat for observation.
Ride 1 (I missed the intro on this horse but it looked like a Lipizzaner).  The first thing that I noticed is that Andreas is very direct with his teaching.  Additionally, I have observed and ridden with a number of "big name" people and some are very impressed with their own importance.  Sometimes the audience is that way also.  Name dropping, pretending to ask a question but really using it as an opportunity to talk about themselves.  None of that going on!  How refreshing!  So this rider was not sitting quite as deeply as necessary and was standing on her toes in the stirrups.  AH: "You are standing on your toes in the stirrups.  We take them away now."  Of course her seat improved and so did the horse.  They worked a lot on transitions within the gaits, and AH required very definite distinction between collected, working and medium.  Explanations were clear and concise.  Not a large man, Andreas was an imposing figure in the arena, standing quite straight and carrying a long whip to use for encouragement.  For some instructors that comment would be in quotation marks, as I have seen many use the whip too aggressively with the riders and horses.  He emphasized with many of the riders, but starting with the first one about not "chasing" with the seat, or driving too much.  AH followed behind the rider as she walked on the rail and did the "driving" lightly at the hocks with his whip, instructing the rider to only think about position in the saddle and softening with the hands.

Ride 2: danish warmblood 19 years old.  The owner has not had the horse very long and previous owner(s) apparently did him no favors.  Another theme emerged: quickness of response of the rider.  The rider is a professional and clearly had brought him along nicely since his arrival.  They worked a bit on connection and again not over driving.  AH spoke about"playing" with the hands, but in no way does this mean seesawing as we so frequently observe in riders.  He spoke about moving the fingers and the wrists, being sure to give but not throw away the contact.  "Respond quicker and faster" said Andreas.  They did some work on spiraling in at the canter, leading to half pirouettes.  It was a nice segue and worked well for the horse. Andreas lightly tapped the horses hind end in rhythm.  The horse responded by maintaining a nice cadence and engaging his hind end.  Because the touch was soft and light the horse did not seem bothered by it.   Heading to the rail Andreas worked the horse in half steps while lightly tapping the hocks.  Each small response was rewarded with a hearty "Good man" and clap on the neck.  Bigger responses received sugar cubes as well.  The SRS must go through A LOT of dots!

Ride 3: Arabian gelding.  Owner had a bit f a bad experience when he took off with her, so she has a bit of anxiety.  Wearing a safety vest she explained that the year before at the clinic her horse had been stuck which they had tried to address.  Ultimately the horse was diagnosed with gastritis, treated, and improved immensely.  I think sometimes we under estimate the physical issues, thinking instead that certain issues are behavioral.  I experienced this with Suki....but that's another story for another time, explained more fully in my book.  I wondered how Andreas, Chief Rider at the SRS and Director of training would handle a more novice rider with severe anxiety.   I have seen lesser instructors become impatient in similar situations.  AH was very patient with the rider, working her in walk and trot only.  He managed to push her past her comfort zone by having her "play" small with the reins and not constantly squeezing with her legs.
This was another theme that emerged. Legs hanging lightly.  Horse does not respond to light squeeze, give a kick.  That is not new to me as this is always the goal, and I have always been taught this way.  Not that I always do it, per se, but I do try!  Keeping the rider at the walk and doing the driving while she focused on her seat and softening the front end.  There was a definite improvement by the end of the lesson.

Ride 4: 6 year old Andalusian/Hanoverian cross.  AH asked questions about what she had been doing with the horse.  She had been doing some in hand work so AH asked the rider to show him what she has been doing.  She seemed a bit nervous (who wouldn't be!) so he started to help her.  Rider at head, Andreas with whip at hocks.  Her job was to keep the horse on the rail and moving forward while he tried to elevate the horse in his back.  AH is very patient, always realizing that the horse may not understand but quick to react.  He felt that the rider was not responding quickly enough at the front end.  It all improved and the rider mounted.  Rider has a very nice seat, which Andreas complimented her for immediately.  But with that he still felt that she was not responding quickly enough with her aids when necessary.  They worked a bit on movement within the gaits: working, medium, collected.  When he says medium he means medium.  No waffling in between.  This helped sharpening of the aids and there was further discussion about playing with the reins by lifting the ring finger.  No elbow and arm movement.  Once again transformation of horse softly and happily in the contact, up in the back and engaged behind.

Rider 5: Lusitano stallion.  Rider said that he does not like in hand work because very mouthy with erson at head.  Doing piaffe work, so AH asked to see it.  She kept moving quite forward so AH asked if he had misunderstood and she said passage.  Rider said no, just starting piaffe and half steps.  Well, that's different than schooling piaffe, eh? So once they had that all straightened out AH worked with the horse along the rail, asking for half steps.  He seemed a bit tight in the back, but started to relax once he began to understand.  AH's patience and constant reward visibly relaxed the horse and he began to respond.  The rider has a very nice seat and the horse responded well as they did exercises to adjust gaits and ask the horse to soften through playing.  This rider too was over driving and once she stopped, the horse came up in his back under her guidance.

Mid morning we stopped for a break, and Waltzing Horse Farm put out a lovely selection of cheeses for everyone to enjoy.  Finally able to shed my sweatshirt, we all settled in for another 3 hours of education.

Next up: POA mare.  She was very resistant in the beginning, trying to stick her head in the air.  Andreas worked them through numerous transitions to find the connection.  To feel what she was doing as a rider, he clasped her hands and asked her to "play" with the reins.  Once AH showed the rider what she should be feeling, they walked forward again and the mare showed signs of relaxation and submission.

10 year old girl on hunter pony.  Very cute pair.  AH was not easy on her in spite of her age and limited understanding of dressage.  As with the other riders he patiently explained what he was asking for and through transitions, changes within the gaits the pony dropped her head softly.

Connemara Stallion: a bit tight in the back with lateral work.  Long reins tomorrow

Overall I was impressed by the response of horse and rider through careful explanation and useful exercises.  AH emphasized the importance of in hand work as well.  Do not over drive, soft in the hands, reward often. With my head spinning I headed back to the inn.

Showered and dressed in a sweater, I sat with a glass of wine on the porch.  I can't even tell you how long it has been since I have been this relaxed.  I even forgot to text Deb to ask about the girls!  Instead I worked on the Suki book and enjoyed my surroundings, looking forward to day two.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Life and an anniversary

Well, it seems that time has gotten away from me once again!  The aftermath of the two conferences plus additional projects at work have given me few opportunities to write.  Isaiah's summer schedule is not easy as far as camp timing so riding opportunities have been limited.  I do go to the barn each night to groom both girls, but have not had enough time to ride except on the weekends.  Thankfully Louise has been keeping Nikki going for me.

The two day-camps that Isaiah is attending this summer (the Montessori where he attended preschool and kindergarten and the Reading Public Museum Discovery camps) were both closed the week of July 1.  We found this out late, but planned an impromptu vacation to a Hilton resort in Virginia Beach.  Neither Michael nor I had ever been there so we thought we would give it a try.  The plan was to leave early AM July 4 and return Monday July 8.

Wednesday July 3: Ripley at kennel: check; bags packed: check: arrangements for Cecil and Bentley to be fed: check; Suki and Nikki arrangements: check.
Wednesday PM: Bentley vomits in the kitchen.  No big deal, right?  Cats vomit.  This was not a hair ball.  Just undigested food.  For the next couple of hours I noticed that Bentley was posturing strangely.  I tried to palpate his bladder but he wouldn't allow me to pick him up.  During my restless night I checked on him several times and he just did not seem right to me.

Thursday, July 4: 6 AM: Bentley did not come right to breakfast which is unusual for him.  He did eat when offered food but posturing was still unusual.  The litter box had a wet spot in it but we have two cats.  Then I saw Bentley enter the litter box and try to urinate....nothing.  My suspicions were confirmed.  Urinary blockage.  I called the emergency vet and off we went.  Bentley was unblocked successfully but would need to remain in hospital for at least 48 hours.  While we could have had someone pick him up, Bentley will require close observation.  That's a lot of responsibility to place on someone, plus we would worry the entire time.  Hotel cancelled (Thank you HiltonHonors status waiving all fees!)  Isaiah was crushed, of course, and we were all disappointed not to spend some much needed family relaxation time at the beach.  But the health of our four-legged family members is very important, so we will just have to plan something for a later date.

Bentley reblocked immediately upon catheter removal.  He was re-catheterized but I started to think that a perianal urethrostomy might  be in his future.  When the second catheter was removed Bentley blocked again.  It was not due to crystal formation, but perhaps an anatomical issue or spontaneous spasm of the urethra.  Douglassville Animal Hospital was highly recommended as apparently not all veterinary hospitals perform this procedure.  It is critical to select a doctor who has performed the surgery many times, and that was the case with one of the vets at Douglassville.  We transferred Bentley immediately and he had surgery the next day.  He is now resting comfortably at home (July 10) and doing great!  The care and service was awesome and we have our sweet Bentley home.  He gets antibiotics and pain meds twice a day, but is eating well, snuggling with his favorite stuffed dog (he likes to "nurse" on the dog) and purring like a mad man.  So we are all relieved.

Bentley, sequestered in a guest room

July 9, 2013
Has it really been four years?  Sometimes it seems like just yesterday and others, like it was 100 years ago.  I can so vividly remember the first telephone call from Bobbi alerting me to the fire, and the frantic night ahead.  But I don't think about that if I can help it.  Instead I try to focus on Suki's survival and how much hope and inspiration that she has brought to so many people.  The July/August issue of Warmbloods Today magazine contains an article (by me) about Suki.  It was difficult to keep the word count down, so some details have been lost to editing.  My book contains more detail without making it cumbersome.

Last year we toasted with champagne, but this year I just wanted to honor the day, and Suki, quietly.  She survived and continues to thrive.  That is the most important thing.  I read something today that hit my heart: The phrase "everything will be alright." When someone says this to us I think we perceive it to mean that all will turn out the way we hope it will.  How many times during Suki's recovery did people say that to me?  Well meaning, and a way of consoling, it is a heartfelt sentiment when offered.  But these words struck a chord: " It's not that everything will turn out the way you wish, but if you live your life with grace and dignity you will be able to handle anything that comes your way."  I think that this embodies Suki's courage.  I remember thinking about all that was lost with that fire.  But really, life is full of changes.  Sometimes unwanted changes.  You can ignore it and pretend it is not happening or embrace it and make your life better not only in spite of it but because of it.  Many lessons have come in light of the tragedy.  We continue to forge ahead.

Riding in this heat has been crazy, but early morning rides seem to help.  The down side is that the arena has full sun in the morning.  When I arrive at the barn shortly before 7 AM the girls are ready to come in.  One morning they actually ran to the gate.  I felt like we were racing down the driveway!
I have kept the rides light in the extreme heat, focusing primarily on transitions and lateral work.  On days that were not quite so oppressive I added shortenings and lengthenings within the gaits, and Nikki seems to be offering some real signs of a formidable medium trot.  She gets a little heavy in the hand at the canter when it is hot so I try to do that work earlier in our ride, knowing full well that we need to build stamina.  But my goodness she is fun to ride!

I admit that on the first very hot day I pushed myself more than I should have.  Nikki recovered well, I gave her many breaks.  But during our cool out walk on a long rein I suddenly felt chills and knew that it was time to dismount.  Quickly I got Nikki into the barn and untacked her, noting that her respiration was completely normal.  I threw a wet towel over her back and grabbing a Gatorade I sat on bales of shavings in front of the fan.  Recovery was quick then, but a lesson learned.

I was able to work Suki on the lunge a couple of cool mornings and in hand on those days that were not quite so agreeable.  The greenhead flies were particularly bad on some occasions, but we got through it.  Now in the middle of an even hotter heat wave, Suki will not work and Nikki has short early AM or evening rides.  We are not pushing it.

Suki must wear clothing at all times when outside, but during the heat of the day in her stall in front of a fan she can be naked. This is a huge development from last summer.  Even so, it is still fairly hot when the girls go out for the night so I hate putting on a fly sheet.  But it is a necessity and Suki seems to do fine.  I recently bought a more open mesh fly sheet but because it does not have enough protection across the top of the back where Suki does not have hair.  My awesome blanket person, Donna, is adding a bit of breathable fabric to that section.  I think that it will work.

So as the heat continues we will work carefully and on some days not at all.  I can't wait for the heat to break, but will be cautious about wishing for winter!