Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jeff Cook Clinic Recap

Wayyy back in November, Tucker and I took a lesson with Jeff Cook, one of my favorite trainers, at our friend's beautiful farm, Stoneleigh (Tucker and I have farmsat there a few times).  Since Tucker was just getting back to work after time off to recover from popping his splint, and wasn't quite at his usual fitness level, we took it easy but still got some valuable feedback from Jeff, which I've been meaning to share with you.

You may recall I was a little MIA for a while because of a trial that lasted all summer... this had the unintended side effect of leaving Tucker looking generally like a wildabeast.  So, before we could go anywhere we needed a little Extreme Makeover: Horse Edition.   

Before:

(everyone always looks grumpy in the before photo)

After:
So much better!
I'm not sure Tucker fully appreciated my efforts given that it was a little chilly that morning for a bath, but you know, the price of beauty and all that....  Thankfully it warmed up by the time we were ready to ride, and ended up being a crisp, sunny fall day.  Perfect weather for horse stuff, if you ask me.

Since the last time I rode with Jeff in the Spring, I've been working on getting my leg position more solid, sitting up straighter, and making my hands quieter.  Jeff was really complimentary of my leg position and my upper body posture at the posting trot (yay!) but still wants me sitting more "on my pockets" and opening my chest at the walk, sitting trot, and when I sit the canter.  My hands have definitely improved (I swear my left hand used to fidget of its own accord), but apparently I still fall back on a little left-right-left when Tucker braces, especially through transitions, and I am still dropping my left hand.  But... last time I saw Jeff he told me "quiet hands" every time he glanced my way, and this time he only commented on my hands twice.  So I think my hands have improved even if they still need work.  (I'll take it!)

As for Tucker, we need to work on getting him to work with his nose in front of the vertical rather than behind.  Thankfully this is pretty much exactly what we are working on in our lessons with Cindy, so I suspect over time all these things will come together.  Nice to know that Jeff and Cindy's advice is in sync though, right?  (Confirms my belief that good riding is good riding, in any discipline.)  I also noticed in the clinic that his canter to trot transitions were really weak, although those have improved over the past couple of months as well.

In the jumping portion of the clinic, Tucker was a downright angel. To be honest I had no intention of jumping, and came out with no standing martingale in a plain loose ring snaffle.  But when I told Jeff that Tucker hadn't jumped since coming back to work (assuming we'd be on the same page about not jumping during the lesson), Jeff responded with a cheerful "oh okay, we'll just jump a little bit then!"  (Insert moment of panic here.)

Thankfully, I had absolutely no reason to worry, since Tucker decided to wear his halo that day.  We were conservative and probably didn't do more than a dozen jumps, but enough to make me fall in love with the big brown horse all over again.  He was soft, and responsive, and quiet, and landed almost every lead like he hadn't missed a beat.  Such a great horse.

Also -- and here's what got me super excited -- he is straighter!  The dressage is working!  One of the exercises was to canter up the quarter line and then about midway, turn up the diagonal to a little oxer.  When I first saw it I inwardly groaned because I was sure I'd lose his outside shoulder on the turn.  But I just remembered our "quarter turns" on the haunches, pushed his shoulders in with my outside leg and seat, and rode from one straight line to the next... And it worked!!  Lightbulb Moment Number One!  (There are more, but I'll fill you guys in as we go.)

As for me, Jeff repeatedly said I am a "beautiful two point rider" which made me beam like a little kid, but (how come there's always a "but"?) that means I need to stay still at the jumps because otherwise I'm jumping way ahead.  Also, when the distance is tight, then I need to get into a half seat in front of the jump so I'm out of Tucker's way.  I could feel myself jumping ahead and was able to fix it a couple of times, but... apparently the three months off took more of a toll on me than Tucker, and while he came back swinging, I was pretty darn rusty. 

All in all though, we had a great day.  After the clinic Tucker hung out in the barn (he loves visiting Stoneleigh) with his ice boot on and the girls went to lunch and talked horse, and then we sat on the deck in the sunshine with some wine and talked more horse.  Absolutely perfect. There is nothing like getting your horse home and all ready for bed after a good day's work, is there?

Someone was a bit tired.