Friday, November 12, 2010

Horse Camp, report

Horse camp was wonderful, from the food to the facilities to the camaraderie to the instruction to the riding. If I had a complaint it would only be that it wasn't intensive enough, and that is simply because I am capable of more intensity than most of the world. Other people were already overwhelmed while I was still at "bring it on!" And I would gladly "camp" for nine months, or a weekend every month, or all I possibly could.

We started with a wine and cheese party and introduction to what would be happening. The text was The Simplicity of Dressage which has beautiful photos and some interesting text that I've skimmed but not actually read yet. Andre also provided a notebook with more articles, and he lectured and I took copious notes. We rode twice a day but for only 45 minutes each time, in groups of four (or sometimes five). When we weren't on or tacking or cooling out, we were observing. And the auditors obviously observed all the time. Anyone watching at any time heard a lot more from Andre than anyone on a horse did. We started each day with breakfast and a lecture, then a ride, then lunch and a lecture, then a ride, then supper then more lecture which was usually mostly observing and commenting on videos which this year were mostly from WEG.

So that's the overview. Blow by blow? I don't have much from the first night except riding group assignments. I'm pretty impatient with slow lectures and won't write what I don't find useful so it is hard telling what else went on then. Friday morning we started by going over the bottom three elements of the training scale. Now, an interesting thing about the training scale to me is that either it wasn't yet developed 30 years ago, or MM didn't go over it with us 30 years ago (and most of our riding education was on board horses, not in a classroom), or MM did go over it and I in my immaturity totally spaced out on it. I don't know. But perspective on and intellectual understanding of the training scale is something I've been hungry for more of. So, rhythm, relaxation and connection. I've got lots of good notes on these, things to think about and try to apply.

The second part of the morning's lecture was on position. Without hesitation Andre said that position is the most important aid. Which I agree with (even as I struggle with position) but I find in taking and observing Andre lessons, he rarely comments at all on position.

In the first lesson he asked us to develop the habit of using the long walk warming up to ride with stirrups dropped and to concentrate here on our positions (with the hope that this will carry over to other work I assume). Sit on the triangle of the pelvis, rotate legs inward, unclench buttocks, let thigh hang down with lower leg bending back from there. And then we looked at and worked on rhythm, relaxation and connection. It was in this session that I got highest praise and I record it so I will remember it: In individual canter work, Rol did her usual "exuberant" canter take-off and on second stride, when I had confirmed her going forward, I loosed my inside rein and Andre said, "That was exactly the right thing to do." (I find it interesting that I'm always more relaxed and willing to ride my own ride with Andre than with Lisa but I hope that I'm getting better even at that)

All afternoon work focused on quadrille, the "specialty" of this camp. I happen to agree with Andre that quadrille work is exceedingly valuable for horse and rider, having done a good bit of this sort of work at MM (we rode in a LOT of single file for dressage days, especially when Kay taught all the English sections which combined us all into one arena). So we had the lectures about what riders have to accomplish in quadrille work, and went over the various maneuvers. Then we went out and performed them on horseback. For the afternoon we were in different groups supposedly geographically related. This put horses of vastly different levels and qualities together, which was great! Well, you might really want to avoid that in a quadrille but if you really want to learn to ride it, dealing with all the difficulties magnified is a great way to learn it! I wanted to push the closeness and the speed but this was the part of the experience where I was more intense than another group member and it was waaay less than pleasant for me, so much so that I will avoid more group work unless I'm sure each member has the same commitment to it.

Saturday morning's lecture continued our training scale discussions -- impulsion, straightness, and collection, obviously more advanced and building upon the previous elements. Also, no matter the level, one does begin to introduce these things -- the idea of collection, correction of the crookedness that is (because we are all crooked horse and rider alike) -- and so we went out and began playing with these ideas with the horses.

In the afternoon we went over a few more quadrille figures, and received our assignment to create a quadrille to ride on Sunday morning. The rest of the lecture was taken up with discussion of warming up, particularly at shows, and how to do it effectively. I think that the focus on effectiveness is one of the things I like a lot about riding -- correct is always effective, incorrect is always less effective: It isn't right or wrong in the traditional sense. It reminds me of Jamie's saying -- choose your method, choose your results.

Sunday we performed our quadrilles -- and they all came off! It was great. There will be video somewhere, eventually. After the three teams performed their quadrilles, all twelve horses got into the dressage arena and did figures as they were called. It was something! Totally awesome.

The setting for this camp is a humongous girls camp, and we stay in the nurses quarters. With heat, kitchen and unlimited hot water, it is in no way roughing it. It is, however, camp-like. The beds are a fairly thin and narrow mattress on a board. I am not a naturally very social person although I do know how to pretend to be one but certain behaviors did try my patience. Can you imagine what it would have been like without the hot water?

Breakfast and lunch were provided. We went out to dinner en mass at night (except the first night when we had wine and cheese and actually quite the spread of hor'dourves courtesy of Mrs. Andre). There was plenty of coffee and tea. Everyone got up in the mornings and went to the barn by about 7 and fed, watered, cleaned stalls, did some initial grooming, etc. I thought that was a wonderful experience -- real horsemen always want to care for their horses, not have someone else do it, and that was truly the case here. It was also fun to see how quickly people learned how to work with each other, sharing tools and tasks. After dinner, everyone stopped at the barn for the final check of the night.

At night, after dinner, we came back to the lodge and mostly watched videos. Most striking to me was the fact that Totilas, in winning at WEG, outshone his competitors because of his relaxation (on the bottom of the pyramid) despite some shortcomings (his extensions particularly).

I have thought about listing the things that I learned. One would definitely be that I'd rather ride in a $3K saddle than a $900 saddle. The saddle doesn't make the rider but I was not comfortable. One is that I felt at camp that it was easy to be my real self, the one that isn't subservient and is just as competent as anyone else, one that isn't so aware of hierarchy and (my own lower) social status: I love riding horses! And I would have gotten on any horse there and given it a go. I was surprised at the range of riding ability/experience and at the range of horses (from plain to fancy) at such an expensive clinic. But it absolutely makes sense in that dressage is the basis, what all else is (or should be) built upon, and dressage can improve every horse and every rider.

And did I forget to mention the voodoo dolls?

Oh, yeah, the t-shirt! I'm so happy to have the t-shirt!