The USEA Instructors Certification Symposium (ICP) West Coast presented by Chris Bartle took place at Galway Downs, Temecula, CA January 16-17th. Barb Crabo from Area X and Lauren Billys from Area VI share their impressions of the dressage and jumping sessions during the two days and how they benefitted. Listen here.
Chris Stafford: This is the United States Eventing Association's official podcast. Hello, and welcome to the program. I'm Chris Stafford. The 2015 West Coast USEA ICP Symposium with German dressage trainer Christopher Bartle, was held on January 16th and the 17th at Galway Downs, Temecula, California. This was the first of two ICP Symposiums that Chris conducted, the second of which took place at Longwood Farm South in Ocala, Florida, on January 19th and the 20th, which we will feature on next week's program. In California, 16 riders took part in dressage and jumping sessions, including Barb Crabo and Lauren Billys, who shared their experiences of the Symposium. First, we'll hear from Barb Crabo, from Area 10, who rode Over Easy.
Barb Crabo: It was fantastic, although we didn't know what to expect from it, obviously riding with the team coach for Germany, so there's got to be something good there, right? But I had no idea what to expect and I was very, very pleased. I really liked the way he taught and I liked the results that I got from it.
Chris Stafford: Well, tell us about your expectations going in, and first of all about your horse, what level was he, how much experience had you had as a partnership?
Barb Crabo: Okay. I was riding Over Easy, who is coming 9 this year, and I started her, so I've had her since she was a baby, so I've brought her all the way along and we've done up to the 3-star level, but last year in New Jersey we had a little fall in the water and it took away a lot of her confidence, so since last May we've just been competing at the preliminary level just to make it fun again. I'm planning on bringing her back out on her first show in a couple of weeks as an intermediate, she feels great.
So, I signed her up for this, and basically when we were signing up you had an option of 1 star and below, or above 1 star, so I signed her up for above 1 star not really knowing what to expect, and then I found out I was put in a group of advanced horses and I got pretty worried. Because, my gosh, sometimes you can ride with clinicians and they just make the fences huge, then ask you to do all this really big, difficult stuff and I was really concerned going in that I was going to end up messing up everything I've worked on for the last 6 or 8 months trying to fix, and it was not that way at all.
He was technical in what he was wanting you to do, but he is very much into a soft contact and everything comes from your body, very little comes from your hands, which was just wonderful. It was exactly what we were needing, and the fences didn't get huge. They got to about to Prelim height, but I never felt like I was going to be asking her to do anything that might make her second-guess herself or me. She got so much better and I learned so much more of what to do with my body in order to get the right bend, or the right feel, or the right connection, without it just coming into the hands so much, and I felt like both Easy and I came away much smarter.
Chris Stafford: So, what helped you, then, from the flat work that you did to going over fences. Were there tools there that you were able to pick up and translate to with your jumping?
Barb Crabo: Yes, absolutely. His big emphasis was straightness and really actually turning the horse's head to the outside, which was almost feeling like a counter-bend, but then when you were getting it it wasn't a counter-bend, it was just so incredibly straight, which was making the horses so much more connected. On the first day when we were doing the show jumping, he was having us jump and then get that feeling that we had just gotten ten minutes earlier of that extreme straightness and and connectedness that we were in when we were in when we were in the dressage arena, and transferring that to the ride you had in between your jumps.
And it was amazing how much more rideable it made the horse in between the jumps, and how much more balanced you were going to the next jump. That was probably his biggest thing, it was straightness, and what he would have you do with your body was ... Actually, we were joking about it, I was joking with a couple of friends, that he would have you isolate every single part of your body. Like he just starts firing off these commands, slide to the left side of your saddle, open your hip, relax your hip, raise your gut, tighten your glutes, and relax your arms, all at the same time. And you feel like a pretzel, you feel like trying to isolate every muscle group in your body and then you feel your horse just come up underneath you, and you think, oh, my God, that's amazing.
But to hear him just firing off these commands of what to do with each muscle in your body, it was a little overwhelming, but when you start to put it all together it starts to flow better, but it's definitely going to take some practice and I'm hoping that I can reproduce that at home without him standing on the ground telling me what to do with each muscle in my body.
Chris Stafford: So, what did you feel that you needed to work on, then, in terms of rider bio-mechanics?
Barb Crabo: You know, I didn't really have it in my mind. I wasn't thinking, WOW, I really need to work on isolating these different parts of my body. I knew I needed to work more on getting the connection with my horse, and getting her connected and through, but I had no idea what we were going to be working on, and to be honest with you, I had no idea about isolating so many parts of your body and making them all work independently of each other. So, like I said, I really had no expectations going in.
Chris Stafford: You obviously came away with lots of tools that you didn't expect, that you're now putting into practice.
Barb Crabo: Even this morning ... I've ridden a couple of young horses and actually practicing what to do with my body, and yes, I immediately feel them respond the way I want them to respond. Like, oh, my God, that just straightened this guy out. One horse, Young Sir, that I'm riding, we’ve been struggling with him tilting his head, and I shifted my position a little bit, and boom, his head straightened out. I said, oh my God, how awesome. So, I'm definitely working on it and feeling the horses respond to it. With Easy, like I said, I haven't worked her yet since the Symposium, but I'm very much looking forward to continuing where we left off.
Chris Stafford: What would have been those biggest takeaways from the Symposium?
Barb Crabo: Straightness and connectedness, and really being through, and obviously those things, people are going to be listening that's going, duh , of course, those are obvious, that's always the most important, but finding it and being able to get it without feeling like you're getting in your horse's way or blocking the horse, that's different, and I felt like I was able to really find that with Easy. Putting it into words is hard. For instance, on the second day when we were working on cross-country, he was really having me get her connected with lots of impulsion, but not get her stride bigger; I felt like I was just in her face in the beginning and trying to find all this.
I kept trying different things, and I wasn't finding the feeling that I knew he was looking for, and I was having trouble figuring out how to get it, and as we were continuing we're missing distances, and I just felt like I was getting in this horse's way. But, as we were going on I tried something different and suddenly the horse said, oh, that was what we're looking for, and it all came together. Once again, I think so much of it is just finding the right amount of contact, having most of it being in the outside rein, coming from that inside leg, and having your weight to the inside, and it just all came together and that feeling is what I took away from it, and I apologize because I don't know how I can put that feeling into words, but I definitely felt it and I memorized it, and hopefully, like I said, I'll be able to reproduce it.
Chris Stafford: Well, I'm glad you enjoyed the program, and thank you very much indeed for coming on the show and telling us about it, Barb.
Barb Crabo: Thank you for having me.
Chris Stafford: Lauren Billys from Area 6 rode 2 horses at the Symposium. Her mare, Ballingowan Ginger and also a new horse.
Lauren Billys: Yeah. The newer horse I have is named Castle Larchfield Purdy, here at the barn, and he's a syndicate-owned horse that I just got to ride in June of 2014, so I got the honor to ride with Chris on that one as well.
Chris Stafford: Tell us about that experience, then. What were you expecting, what were you hoping to get out of the symposium?
Lauren Billys: Well, I also was coming to the Symposium because I'd like to become an ICP-certified instructor. It kind of was like I got the best of both worlds in that way, because not only did I get to watch how effective his training was on the ground, but I was able to gain a lot in my own riding and training by riding with him. I kind of came open-minded because everyone teaches so differently, although they have the same concepts, but I was just so impressed by the end of the weekend, just with his overall instruction, and he was very clear in what he wanted. It was a really great experience, both on the ground and on the horse.
Chris Stafford: Did you have anything specific you wanted to work on with him, Lauren?
Lauren Billys: Well, he's a large horse for me. He's almost 17 hands, and I'm pushing 5'4. He's a killer cross-country horse, but we at home I've been working on getting him to jump over his back over the fences, and helping me become the most effective rider I can be, so definitely I'm at a disadvantage just because of our size difference, but Chris, specifically on the cross-country day, really opened my eyes in a new way to become a more effective rider on that horse by starting with just shortening my stirrups. He said, "The stronger the horse you have, the shorter your stirrups are."
The night before, he did a cross-country presentation on his basic rules for cross-country riding, and the first thing I saw was, when I was watching the video, was he showed a shorter rider, Sandra Auffarth, and the first thing I saw in the video was, okay, he's going to want me to shorten my stirrups for sure tomorrow, because he was talking about how to just changing the weight in your body can change the balance in your horse, and as a shorter rider you can become more effective with a shorter stirrup without having to pull on the horse's mouth. He started us off just galloping, looked at our position, changed our stirrups, and then had us ride again, and it was incredible.
This horse has a gigantic gallop and he had a fabulous jump, and we worked really harmoniously just by changing my balance in the saddle, and helping me become more secure on a shorter stirrup, particularly over drops in the water. He was really working on us sitting further back and slipping our reins before the jump so the horse should have the ability to round over the fence, and then we weren't caught forward because the reins were too short. It was a real eye-opening experience, and getting to do it on 2 horses was even better, because I was able to repeat the exercises again, and found them to be both effective, not only on my larger horse but on kind of a smaller mare that fits my size.
Chris Stafford: What were your takeaways, then, with that horse overall, Lauren, and specifically, what would you do differently as a result of the Symposium with that horse?
Lauren Billys: Well, I will be riding with shorter stirrups cross-country, that's for sure. I will be galloping in shorter stirrups just on a weekly basis to become more comfortable in that position, and then I think where I need to find out where the happy medium is how I can transfer that over to show jumping, because obviously I'm not going to be in such a short stirrup in show jumping, but I still want him to jump as round as he did for Chris. So, I'll be able to go home and work with my coaches here on how we can find that in the show jumping as well.
Chris Stafford: As you say, you rode Ballingowan Ginger, a partnership that you've had for a little while now. Were taking any little quirks with you that wanted Chris to work specifically with that horse?
Lauren Billys: Yeah. I've really been challenged with straightness on that horse, and he was really adamant about, you want to see the line as you're coming to the fence. You want to be on your line as you're jumping over your fence and as you're coming to the fence, so he had us do a string of jumps through the water and he was making sure that, from the stride, that we were straight to the fence, we were on the line for the rest of the exercise. He also was having me sit further back on her with a longer rein, and I got so much straightness out of that, riding her forward into the contact, and just preparing on her before the combination happened, making sure that the turn prepared her to be straighter. So, yeah, I definitely took away some really good pointers for her as well.
Chris Stafford: What sort of tips and tricks do you think that you've taken from riding both of those horses that will apply to any horse that you ride? You talked about the line and how important that is, obviously, and then also the weight and slipping your reins, and getting your weight back, letting the horse bascule and use his neck. But there are lots of, obviously, techniques that you will have built up as well from those times of working with Chris. Tell us about those and how you'll apply them to other horses.
Lauren Billys: He really was ... It was great to watch because he works with a lot of different horses at a lot of different levels, and there are some very specific techniques that he wanted us to continue from horse to horse, specifically our balance in the saddle. In dressage, he was able to bridge the gap between dressage show-jumping and cross-country, and so, particularly he was really working on staying over inside hip bones, inside shoulder forward, outside shoulder back, keep the horse balanced to the turn, and to also keep them engaged from the hind leg, specifically the inside hind, and so it made turning, not only turning cross-country to jumps making them straighter in the cross-country, but also in the dressage as we went from the long side to the short side, and he would have us do various lateral exercises in that positioning in our body.
He worked with us also on changing direction. It was really cool because he had us ride in the dressage arena in that positioning, riding really shoulder fore in our body so the horses were also shoulder-fore, and then going to the jumps and then returning back to the dressage arena only to go back out to the jumps, just continuing to reiterate the effectiveness of good position. I think on a daily basis, riding not only my 2 horses, but in all my horses that I can practice those kind of position techniques and those will become my instinct, just to ride that way naturally. I think that was the biggest thing we learned from day 1.
Chris Stafford: You also mentioned you went there for your own advancement as an ICP instructor. What were your biggest takeaways from that experience, Lauren?
Lauren Billys: I think probably sitting down and getting to talk with my peers about the overall clinic, I think the things we were most educated by was that he had the same techniques and the same rules for the way the horses should go, for each horse. It was awesome to watch how those rules and position techniques were successful for each type of horse that he trained in the day, and so when I walk away not only as a rider but as an instructor, it leaves a little bit of a question mark of teaching out because he really put a science behind successful riding.
Taking away those key points, like position, giving the horse the rein to have the stretch over the top of the fence, a secure landing position, and knowing where your line is, and the techniques that we can ride ... The techniques in our position that can make those things achievable, works the same from rider to rider. And so, as I go back through my notes, I see those points reiterated, and those are things that I can send forward to the people that I teach, because they're very clear, concise, and effective, from horse to horse and rider to rider.
Chris Stafford: I would imagine this was all confidence-building for you, too, in many ways.
Lauren Billys: Yes. Absolutely. It was confidence-building in a few ways because, 1, I found that the things he was having me do weren't that far out of my comfort zone, and 2, they were things that I had heard before, so it made me confident in what I not only have done, but also in the training program that I'm involved in. But I'm very fortunate to be working with instructors that have already instilled a lot of confidence within my training program since I was younger. I've gotten the very fortunate opportunity to work with Bea and Derek DeGrazia and Lawrence Henry, and these are techniques that they've instilled in me for quite a while now, and so, being able to work with a different instructor that has the same techniques and ideas and then having him reiterate them and specifically target specific points gave me more confidence in my ability and my training program at home.
Chris Stafford: Hopefully it gave the inspiration, too, to further your development with the ICP program. What is next for you on that route?
Lauren Billys: Yeah. I think what I need to do next, and what I will do next is to find out when the testing is and start studying over Chris' tapes that are going to be available on the US Eventing website, specifically his cross-country lecture, and we were fortunate enough to have some people come and videotape our ride this weekend, so going and studying those points over again and making more concise notes after watching the videos is kind of my most immediate goal. Then, going ahead and getting the testing done and the certification done has been a goal of mine for the last couple of years, and now I'm finding the opportunity to do that.
Chris Stafford: Well, the very best of luck with that, and thank you for coming on the program this week, Lauren.
Lauren Billys: Yes, thank you so much, Chris.
Chris Stafford: On next week's program we will be talking to riders who attended the ICP Symposium at Longwood Farm South in Ocala, Florida. That's coming up on next week's show right here on the USEA's official podcast, which you can, of course, download from the iTunes store to your smart phone podcast apps and listen to the show on the go. You'll find the transcript of this podcast on the website at useventing.com. Thanks for your company, until the next time. Enjoy your eventing.