Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Riding

Cloud's Honor Riding

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two Days With Lucinda Green

Lately both Jimmy and Elizabeth have been focusing on developing my leadership skills when it comes to riding Birdie. I am not to bully him, but I am to ride him. This means I am not allowed to settle for less than what is asked. Incidentally, this starts with asking in the first place, which I still regularly fail to do.

What a surprise to find that the theme of Lucinda's clinic was take control. The first day was excellent and Birdie and I got so much out of it. If you ride with Lucinda be prepared to get yelled at and when she tells you to do something, she means it. She's not going to settle for anything less. This was good for me and the Bird.

Elizabeth is right, he is happier when he knows I am in control. It's too much pressure for him to have to be the decision maker. Now let me make clear this is not encouragement to over ride my horse. To the contrary, one of the things that makes it so difficult is that it's the correct amount of aids to get the job done. No more and no less. Jimmy has been on me about this for the past 60 days.

Isn't it amazing that these three great instructors see the same hole in me and my Bird? It's the greatest thing in the world for us. Three experts working on the same problems from different vantage points.

Now for the best part. Yesterday was Christmas in April and I haven't even gotten to Rolex yet. I leave tonight. Ditches, our burden to bear until yesterday. I am proud to say that my Bird no longer has a problem with ditches. I realize, he's going to have some apprehension, but still. We jumped nearly every ditch in the place. We did a trakhener. At the end Lucinda had us all make courses and when she got to me and asked, I said I think I should do the two that concern me. That's code for scare me a bit. The Wheldon's Wall and the ditch she said was so big everyone would be afraid to try it. Lucinda made a course for me and WE JUMPED THE WHELDON'S WALL AND THE BIG DITCH WITHOUT A MOMENT'S TROUBLE, in addition to some banks, other ditches and jumps. Now that IS Christmas in April. Me and my Bird sailing over ditches without a care in the world - well almost without a care anyway.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I remember very clearly the first time I heard this term. It was the third day I was on the farm learning to gallop when we came to the 1 1/2 mile gallop at the Merryman Farm. I was with Johnny Bosley and Ann Merryman. At the bottom of the hill, which was the beginning of the gallop, Johnny turned to me and said "Rate her." I said, "What is rate?" He said, "Stay behind us." Two strides into the gallop I was in front of both of them and opening up. I could hear Johnny yelling at me as we pulled away. I thought, so this is what running off is. I was lucky because I didn't feel any panic. I knew the horse would tire and pull up, so I periodically tried to get her to slow and eventually she did and she stopped. I was much more concerned with what Johnny was going to say. I really wanted to learn to gallop racehorses. He was mad, really kind of mean about it. He told me she was an easy horse to gallop with a good mouth and I was messing her up. I left the farm that day thinking "If she's an easy one, there is no way I can do this." I had ridden five years with a very good dressage trainer and I was thought to be a good rider. I now found myself leaving the farm that day considering giving up on the notion of learning to gallop racehorses.

I was used to being taught by someone who knew what I was capable of. Consequently, if Greta told me to do something I knew I could do it. I didn't question it. Johnny on the other hand - he was a different breed and I didn't know it yet. I've said it before that I am no quitter, so I showed up at the farm the next day on time and ready to suffer some more. Several days went by and I had no incidents, but I was quiet and uncomfortable as I waited for the other shoe to drop.

About four days later I arrived at the farm and only Ann was there. It was steeplechase season and Johnny had somewhere else to be, so it would just be us. During our ride Ann looked at me and said, "I just have to tell you something. The horse that ran off with you has a horrible mouth and she runs off with Johnny all the time." There must be something wrong with me because instead of feeling irritated, I was joyous. I realized I just might be able to exercise racehorses.

Over the next six months I kept coming back for more and Johnny did some really nasty things to me, but he made me ready for the track. The racetrack is a tough place for riders. I see riders come in all the time who are not prepared and they have a very rough time. Some don't make it. They have the ability, but are not ready. I use what I learned from Johnny every day that I ride. He is a truly great horsemen. Now I'm really off topic of what I wanted to talk about.

I've talked in the past about how strong Bird is after fences. I've been working on it and it's gotten much better in the ring. I thought I had that problem licked, until yesterday. On a hill, in the wind, schooling cross country fences presents a horse that is sharp and strong. As usual, Birdie winds up as we jump, not down. He was getting away from me after some of these fences. He wasn't dangerous. His approach to the fences was nice. I was doing my best to pull him up, but it was hard. The tougher he got the harder I fought him. What a dummy. I know better than anyone that doesn't work.

About halfway through the two hours it occurred to me that I need to let him depart the fence, relax him and then pull him up. It will probably take longer than I would like, but his response will improve as time goes on. In the ring this winter, Jimmy stressed how important it is to get the good canter back after a fence before you stop. It has made all the difference. Cross country, I need to do the same. Birdie is strong after fences because he loves to jump. The better I ride him, the happier/stronger he gets after the fence. At this point he's expecting a fight after the jump before he pulls up. What I need to teach him is to expect to get back the relaxed gallop and then pull up.

Johnny made me learn that years ago by putting me on strong horses before I had any ability to fight them. I wasn't a strong rider yet, so my first instinct was to find other options. He told me once that 99% of galloping racehorses is bullsh**ting them into doing what you want. Think about it, how are you going to force them to do anything.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I had a dressage lesson yesterday with my dressage instructor, Elizabeth Madlener. This was the day after cross country schooling at Morven Park over the Training Level course. I know what you're thinking. What did you do that for? Well they say, good event horses have a tough time with the dressage partly because they want to focus on jumping and I think a dressage day after is like a return to planet earth.

Birdie may have been a little tired, but a nice relaxing dressage lesson should help work out the kinks. My last lesson was the best I've ever had. I rode well and he was a star.
We always start by longeing him and on this day he was rhythmic, balanced and relaxed. I got on him and he came on the bit, then came off, several times. It's not going well. Maybe he's tired, maybe I'm tired.

Since I got Birdie he's had a very inverted frame. I've worked hard to get him to a point where he doesn't carry his head up in my face. I'm proud of the fact that his head has come down so much, but I've never been able to do a free walk with him. He gets tense and scurries off. I just thought I would never be able to do this with him, or at least it would be a very long time.
So Elizabeth sees that our lesson plan isn't going to happen. She also sees what he really needs and begins to work on that. By the time I left that lesson, Birdie was doing a free walk on a long rein. His head was a foot from the ground. He was so relaxed he acted almost drunk. When I got off of him he just stood there. Totally relaxed, like jello.

This type of thing has happened before with Elizabeth. I arrive there and she has a lesson plan. She sees that's not going to happen today. Instead of having a day where nothing is accomplished, she reads the horse and we work on exactly what he needs and is ready to learn that day. I never thought Birdie would be that relaxed and do such a beautiful free walk. It's a long way from a show, but it's an even longer way from where we were on Monday.

To me, this is a brilliant instructor. I've never had an unproductive lesson with her. My horse always leaves better than when he arrived. We always have progress.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Learning a Lesson In a Lesson

I had a lesson with Jim Wofford on March 26. I've been feeling low about my riding. I'm not doing badly, I'm just not where I wanted to be at this time. I failed to achieve my short term goal. Part of it is that I am so overwhelmed. Trying to keep up with my riding and do all that I must to place and rehome retiring racehorses. There is always pressure.

I got to Sharon's early and had the pleasure of watching Jim work with her. I love it when that happens. I'd made up my mind I was going to be softer with Birdie and use my core to slow him, not my hands. I don't think I'm a handsy rider, but I am for Birdie, if that makes sense. It was wonderful, he was relaxed and I was soft. We were easily getting the four stride in four strides, not the usual three. Jimmy wasn't yelling at me. This is going to be the best lesson I've ever had with Jimmy...

Jimmy was dressed in camouflage for hunting or fishing. I just assumed he'd come from or was on his way to fish. Maybe he was, but he decided to stop by Sharon's and shoot down a rider who needed to focus on learning more, not what they had recently put together. A lesson is for learning new things, not showing off what you know - you know.
I purposely do not allow myself to think about the fact that fences are being raised. I am aware they are raising them, but I've seen how it creates anxiety in other riders. So I don't allow myself to do it. It only matters what height they are when you are approaching and jumping them. Not when you are sitting on your horse. So the fact that Jimmy was raising the jumps on a line; vertical, two strides to hogs back, two strides to an oxer, didn't have much effect on me. After all Birdie and I had just jumped that line beautifully. I know Bird will be able to jump anything Jimmy points us at.

I'm 10 feet tall.
Right lead - beautiful rhythmic canter, soft. We make the turn to the jump and Bird sees the hogs back is higher - much higher. Me, I'm sitting there fat, dumb and happy. Birdie isn't dragging me to the jump. He's relaxed and not rushing. This is going to be great.


Bird wants some support, the height of the second jump has backed him off and his rhythm has slowed. Bird being the Bird he is, doesn't quit. He tries to jump it and does something he rarely ever does. He knocks down the rail. Now I'm out of balance and aware I've lost my left stirrup. Bird is a trooper, he's still going to get the job done. He tries with all his Bird might to get over that hogs back, which is higher than the vertical. This wonderful horse jumps it with me completely a burden by now. By this time I am complete with sound effects. Sort of like the ones you hear in an old cartoon. I really wish I'd stop doing that, but it's likely I never will. At any rate, Bird is still trying to jump the oxer, but luckily I steer him away. He would have been so upset if I'd fallen off, and one more bound may have been one too many. So now I am grappling to pull him up, and I do.

Poor Jimmy what must he think? All the work he's put into me and this is what he gets?
I'm now 3 feet tall.
Jimmy says, "He's crazy but he's not stupid, when I raise them he reacts to it. Let go of the reins don't expect to get a TOW over bigger jumps. Now come again."
Now, I'm 6 inches tall.
We come again and we get through clean.

Everything was going so wonderful. Why did this have to happen? Why couldn't Jimmy just let me have this one good day? One day when I don't feel like a complete and total failure?
I remember what Sharon told me the previous week. You have to take your anxiety and bad feelings and put them aside. You can't ride with them. I decide to get my head together. The rest of the lesson goes great, mostly because I return my mind to where it was before the mistake.

Towing? Birdie has to tow me? I thought I was getting much softer. More tactful. Better. Maybe I should just resign myself to the fact that I am an ordinary rider, capable only of ordinary things. This horse is too good for me. He needs a great rider to be able to shine the way I know he can. Towing.

I watch the video that night. Towing. It's an accurate description. I tell Diana that I don't know how to ride a horse to a fence. She reminds me that Birdie is the horse I've learned to jump on and until recently he ran at everything. It's not easy to learn to ride to a fence on that kind of horse. That's my excuse, but for me it's inexcusable.

I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a quitter. This works well for me most of the time. There are times that it causes me a lot of grief. Still I can't help it, I'm just not a quitter. So I turn my attention to March 31, 2009. Schooling at Morven Park. Jimmy is coming to work with two groups. Preliminary and Training. Cherie organized it and did a superb job. The only problem is "Cherie, Training? Are you nuts?" She assures me that most of the people are Novice level and planning to go Training. Still Diana and I think, well I don't know what we thought, but we're going.

Towing. I know what Training level fences look like and I know for a fact towing isn't going to get me and my Bird to the other side. We get there early and I watch part of the Prelim group. They're good and it's fun to watch. I need to get to the trailer to get my Bird. I want to stroll around and have plenty of time to get my butterflies flying in formation. From the start I must do what Sharon has said. I must not allow myself to have anxiety or feelings of failure. It's a choice to have them. I know how to put them out of my mind, I did it for 20 years while galloping racehorses. I'm going to do it today. I know that Birdie is going to question the approach to these bigger fences. I must give him the rein length he needs to jump and I must keep him straight to the fence with my legs only.

The first two fences are just logs and though I am nervous, it goes well. On the other side of the road there is a more substantial log and a jump further along that I immediately don't like the looks of. We jump the substantial one and on approach, Birdie is iffy. I use my legs and soften my reins. He responds and takes off. I have to slip the reins to give him enough, he is so round. He is happy. "My human let me jump!!"

Next it's both the substantial and the one I don't like. Thanks Sharon, I'm not going to screw this up by reacting. I have the formula and I'm sticking to it. It's a Bird, we can fly! He is so happy. I am so happy. Thanks Sharon, I'm going to stay focused and think about jumping.
Back to Jimmy, "You're flapping your arms to the fence, use your legs not your arms." Yes I was and I worked the entire day to stop. The video clearly showed:

a) it's really ugly when you flap your arms, and no matter what someone says when they tell you
about it. It's far worse when you see it.
b) It won't help the horse jump.

The only problem I had all day was at a really big jump that everyone had issues with. Birdie ran out because - you guessed it - I started to flap my arms. "Human, why would you choose now to do your chicken impression? It's not a good time." So I stopped doing it and he jumped it beautifully. In my opinion he jumped it the best of every horse there. I love my Bird.
So here's my point. I had a wonderful day at Morven Park. Absolutely wonderful and I learned a lot too. I am sure - I am positive - if I hadn't had that lesson on the 26th with Jimmy, and if he hadn't raised that fence and taught me that lesson, I would not have had a wonderful day at Morven. I would have had a wonderful lesson with Jimmy where I learned nothing, and then a horrible day at Morven. There was no way my Bird could have towed me over those jumps. Thank you Jimmy.