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Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Day Two)

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Day Two)

Day two of the Daniel Stewart clinic almost didn’t happen… Coach Stewart went out for a jog Sunday afternoon and was almost hit by a train, LOL! Apparently where he’s from trains are almost nonexistent and when he went for a jog on the tracks he didn’t expect to actually encounter one (fun fact: 13 people were killed by trains in Washington state last year). Luckily, he took his headphones out at just the right moment and was able to get off of the tracks…

Anyways, prepare for adorable barn cat pictures, because I forgot to take pics Monday morning. 😉

Coach’s Introduction

After telling us his train story, Coach launched right into his opening speech. He wanted to address a common misconception that most riders have: that equestrian sports are a solo activity! He talked a lot about the unseen team behind every horse and rider pairthe diligent trainer, the strategic farrier, the supportive parent, the hardworking stall cleaner, the caring veterinarian, etc. In reality, equestrian sports are a team activity. Being able to communicate with your fellow team members is a key part of being successful.

Coach Stewart told us the story of a young girl who was taking virtual coaching sessions with him. Despite having a great horse at a fancy barn, she wasn’t progressing as well as she should have been. Everything appeared to be in good shape… until Coach asked her trainer if she had friends at the stable.

“Of course not,” her trainer said, affronted.

“Barns that separate and create competition are no good,” he told us.

The ideas of teamwork and friendship led right back to one of his main points from Day One’s seminar: we perform better when we’re happy! On top of that, Coach also asked us to expand our idea of what a teammate looks like.

“Everybody you learn from is a teammate, even your opponents.”

With that thought in mind, Coach Stewart explained Day Two’s game: Cracking Codes! Riders were told to set aside the changes and links they had been working with on Day One. Instead they would be competing in teams of two, with their goal being to systematically discover the two numbers that he would write on his piece of paper before each game began. Each rider would be given a number of jumps and an optimum time (plus they had to count up to all of their jumps), then the first two fences they went over would be counted as guesses towards the code.

Confused? IMO, this game was more complex than the Chain Link Fence. It was hard to keep the numbers straight, especially if you were without pen and paper like the riders were.

Here’s an example of cracking a code in four rounds:

Rider #1 starts her course with fences 2 and 4. Coach tells her “nothing”neither of those numbers are in the code. Rider #2 knows it can’t be 2 or 4, so she starts her course with 3 and 1. Coach tells her “one in”one of the numbers is in the code and in the correct place. Rider #1 has to narrow down which number (3 or 1) is correct, so she starts with 3 and 5. Coach tells her “one out”one of the numbers is in the code, but not in the right order. Rider #2 knows that both 1 and 5 are out of order, so she does 5 and 1.

Coach tells her that both numbers are correct and she’s cracked the code!

Now do that without a spreadsheet while cantering a course of jumps without going over/under optimum timeand don’t forget to count down to every jump, too. 😛

The penalty for picking up faults? MORE SIT-UPS, OF COURSE. 8 to 10 faults would earn the team 50 sit-ups and 11 or more faults would add 100 sit-ups to their total (with all of the sit-ups to be done after their session was complete), BUT 3 or less faults would remove all of the team’s potential sit-ups. Of course, the team that cracked the most codes was relieved of their punishment, which put more pressure on the participants to play the game to the best of their abilities.

Day Two was all about TEAMWORK.

I’m going to be real with you guys, by the time Day Two kicked into gear my brain was fried. I got the concept of the game, but my execution left something to be desired. Apparently the Show Buddy was in the same boat, though, because once she and her partner started riding, it was pretty clear that they didn’t get how Cracking Codes was supposed to be played. Their courses looked good, but their guesses were far off the mark, to the point where Coach Stewart heavily criticized their teamwork.

I wish I could say that tSB and her partner made a comeback, but the other team trounced them. But while it was sad that team SEC didn’t represent in Group One, I was super happy to see that Pilot and his rider made huge improvements! They were so much more confident, it was amazing to see someone make so much growth after only one session with Coach Stewart.

Honest moment: I don’t remember Group Two. 😳

Group Three, on the other hand, was unique. Coach Stewart let both riders (there were only two in Group Three on Day Two) play the Cracking Codes game once to get warmed up (while counting to their jumps, of course), then this happened:

Coach brought all of the auditors into the arena, split us into two groups, and teamed us up with one of the riders! With all of us together the game became both easier and harder. We had more people to help remember numbers (which was nice after Coach got both teams in trouble for using phones 😆 ), but we also had more people shouting out ideas.

We ended up confusing each other, to the point that not a single one of us heard Coach give a ten second warning when it was Instructor A’s turn to ride. The other team stole a point out from under us. We were furious! But Coach challenged us to rise above our anger and use the tools we’d built the night before to get back into our Goldilocks Zone, and Instructor A found her rhythm so that she could come back with a last minute victory, tying up the game and saving us all from doing sit-ups. 😎

With the riding portion complete, we moved onto the

Fitness Bootcamp

(Fitness isn’t really my forte and I didn’t take pictures, so enjoy a cute picture of Instructor A hugging Kody’s handsome face and a pic of Mrs. Potts, a Belmore pony that was on a diet.)

Coach Stewart sat us all down in the tent for a brief break before we really got into the “bootcamp” part of Day Two. He talked about how equestrian athletes aren’t really recognized because they don’t have an “ALSO”. Soccer players don’t just play soccer, they also run drills. Football players don’t just play football, they spend hours tackling dummies. Equestrians need an “also”!

“We focus so much on taking good care of our horse that we forget to take care of ourselves,” he said. “If we want to be treated like athletes, we have to act like athletes.”

But working out isn’t enough. If we want to truly become better riders, the exercises we do have to have what’s called “sport specificity”—they have to look like our sport! That’s why all of Coach Stewarts exercises 1.) resemble horseback riding (especially the two point), 2.) overload the muscles specifically used in riding, and 3.) are pliametric (involve jumping).

Coach Stewart took us out to the back of the barn, where he had a circuit of thirteen exercises set up for us. One of them simulated leg yielding a horse, one of them had you twist your hips like you were doing flying lead changes, one of them put you on a board that balanced on a tennis ball (in two point, of course), one of them used a resistance band to simulate going over a jump, etc. Even the wall sits were in two point!

All of them, unfortunately, made the joints in my knees and feet feel like they were threatening to disintegrate into ash, so I wouldn’t recommend them for someone whose family has a predisposition for early onset arthritis. 🙁

At the very end of the day, we all gathered back under the tent and took a P21a pledge to live the next 21 days focusing on our health and happiness by looking into our lives and finding behaviors that don’t belong (battling for the closest parking spots, drinking soda pop, eating any and all junk food that ends with the letter ‘o’).

“Ask yourself: ‘Would I let my horse eat this before a clinic?'” Coach Stewart advised. “We have to treat ourselves the way we treat our horses.”

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Seminar & Homework)

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Seminar & Homework)

Day one wasn’t over once the last horse was untacked, though. We still had Coach Stewart’s

Post-Clinic Seminar!

Everyone gathered at the tent that the auditors had been sitting under. Belmore very graciously provided lunch (linner? it was late by that point), so we settled in with food to eat and water to drink while we listened to Coach Stewart speak.

Here’s an overview of some of the stuff that Coach covered:

More on the Goldilocks Zone

Part of the fun of our sport is the challenge! The draw to live in your comfort zone is strong, but when you stay in your comfort zone you don’t learn, you plateau. Likewise, you don’t want to be in the danger zone. That leaves the Goldilocks Zonehaving the right amount of success and the right amount of failure.

Mental Shifting vs. Mental Chunking

Coach also touched back on Mental Shifting (the ability to shift your focus from one thing to another) —and how, despite what he’d told us at the beginning of the day, Mental Shifting is actually a bad thing and we shouldn’t do it!

Instead we, as riders, should be doing what’s called Mental Chunking. Mental Chunking is the process of practicing a task so many times that four different steps become one. For example, when you’re first learning to put on a bridle you have to remember all of the different steps and pieces, but when you’ve chunked that information together it simply becomes “bridle the horse”.

Overloading & Push to Failure

The technique known as Overloading is when athletes intentionally make their training sessions harder so that the competition feels easy (for example, a runner that trains with ankle weights and then takes them off for the big race).

Part of Overloading is practicing the idea of Push to Failure. Like a man lifting weights, it’s important to push ourselves so hard that sometimes we fail—because mistakes are what make us stronger!

Ducking the Ducks & Quieting the Caveman

Coach told us the story of a high level competitor that was riding her cross country course when she was hit in the chest by a duck. Physically she was fine, but she was so shaken up that she withdrew from the competition!

Ducking the ducks is all about keeping your focus even when your brain is trying to psych itself out. Our brains are built to focus on the negatives. The survival mechanisms we’ve inherited from our ancestors know that focusing on trouble, problems, and danger is what keeps us safe, but it also makes it impossible to be happy in our happy place. It’s our job to silence that inner caveman.

Carthartic (Strategic) Laughter

Always laugh, even if you have to fake it. Children laugh more than adults, that’s part of why they’re happier. Laughter forces the body to release endorphins that can increase your happiness.

Athletic Anthems & Athletic Acronyms

Positive affirmation sentences aren’t as cool as positive affirmation songs! Musical motivation can pump us up, calm us down, and make us happier.

Athletic Acronyms are a form of Mental Chunking. They remind us of a bigger concept. (Example: BLAST – Breathe, laugh, and smile today.)

Finding a Flow State with Targeting & Cadences

A rider’s goal should be to always ride in their Goldilocks Zone. Part of that is getting your mind into a focused and positive Flow State (remember all those times I talked about doing a flow warmup with Ezhno and zoning out?).

The easiest way into a Flow State is through Targeting. Targeting is when an athlete focuses on rhythmical sounds (think sneakers hitting pavement, the whirring of a bike chain, or, even better, the hoofbeats of the perfect canter).

When there’s nothing to target (or you can’t hear the thing you usually target), you have the option of building a Cadence. A lot of us already use cadences in our riding (ever count the rhythm of you canter?), but being aware of cadences and how we use them can make this skill even stronger.

Power Posture

When we get nervous, we have a tendency to get small and closed off. Not helpful coming up to a jump! Make it a habit to get big instead by opening through your chest, straightening your spine, and lifting your chin.

Some final quotes from Coach Stewart’s seminar:

“Love of horse and sport is stronger than rears, tears, or fears.”

“We have to be better than other athletes because we can’t take it out on our equipment.”

“Your success is not determined by one class or clinic. There are no comebacks without setbacks.”

HOMEWORK: Building a Brand

  1.       Find five or six athletic anthems. Take a look at the lyrics of your favorite songs to find a common theme between them, then use those songs to make a pre-ride playlist.
  2.       Make an athletic acronym using five or fewer letters that you can use to boost your spirits in the saddle.
  3.       Chunk all of them together with a common theme to make a “Brand”, then create a logo (something you can put in a saddle pad!) to represent that Brand.
  4.       Think up a series of words that have a rhythm to them to make a Cadence.

Coach told us that tomorrow would be all about teamwork, then dismissed us for the day. We loaded up the horses and made the short trek back to Rainbow Meadow to tuck in the horses for the night. We took some down time in the shade of the trailer (despite my not so subtle suggestion that we go check out the cross country course—next time for sure!).

Once our motivation was back, we all squished into the truck and went to get poster board, markers, and letter stickers, then took our materials with us to dinner at the Rock. After a scrumptious meal (pulled pork, baby), we got started on our homework. Instructor A honed in on a theme of flying, tSB focused on climbing to the top, and I chose the idea of finding clarity in the saddle.

Looking at my poster now, I’m not 100% satisfied with what I came up with, but I do think this is an exercise I’ll do again in the future (possibly alongside a blog redesign???), and I’m still mulling over the stuff Coach Stewart covered in his seminar.

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Day One)

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Day One)

Let’s kick off this post by introducing our clinician:

Olympic Coach Daniel Stewart

“Daniel Stewart has been a successful international trainer and instructor for over 25 years. In addition to the US, he’s trained riders in Spain, Portugal, England, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Belgium, United Arab Emirates, Greece, England and the West Indies. For many years he coached riders on several US Equestrian Teams at World Championships, World Equestrian Games and Olympics.”

You would think an Olympic level coach would be intimidating, but that’s far from the truth for Coach Stewart. There are three things you notice about Coach right off the bat: he has a silly hat, he likes white pants, and he’s very, very funny.

Coach’s clinics are renowned for being “designed to help riders match their strong leg and seat with equally strong confidence, willpower, and focus”. It’s his goal to find every rider’s inner greatness by emphasizing the importance of matching physical strength with mental strength. Riding is a tough sport and Coach always promises that his exercises won’t be easy, but that he’s confident that his students can prove that they’re as tough as the lessons he plans on teaching them.

On top of teaching thousands of students a year in his annual summer clinic tour (that spans more then 50 cities in 60 daysI think he said we were number 27!), Coach also runs Pressure Proof Academy (“the world’s first online site for equestrian confidence, conditioning, and coaching”), has many published magazine experts, and is an expert in equestrian sport psychology for the USEA, USPC, and USHJA.

Coach is also the author of several acclaimed books on equestrian sport psychology and rider fitness, including:

Pressure Proof Your Riding

Ride Right with Daniel Stewart

Focus and Fitness in 52

We picked the horses up from Rainbow Meadow Farm and rolled into the clinic grounds around nine o’clock, an hour before the clinic was set to begin. We had to take a pretty tight turn to get our big gooseneck into the driveway, then we were guided around a shed and into the back pasture, where we were able to swing our rig around, set up camp, coo over the neighbor’s goats, and unload the horses for the day. Then we got a good look at

Belmore Equestrian is much smaller than the SEC. From what I can tell, it has one main barn that houses about four horses, and then a couple of smaller auxiliary barns with turnout paddocks. They have no indoor arena, just a 126′ by 200′ outdoor arena with perfectly jump worthy footing and a set of standards/rails that I suspect were recently crafted (judging by the temporary pencil pins they were using for their jump cups).

Honestly? I loved it. It’s the sort of place that feels a little backyard (in a warm, inviting way), and I liked how small and intimate the setting for the clinic felt (the auditor’s got to sit ringside under a tent instead of watching the clinician from the top of a grandstand, which I always appreciate).

Most of the horses at Belmore were big draft/TB crosses—breeds that, while not as svelte as Teak an Kody, are respectably hardy and level-headed—and a lot of the riders were middle/high school aged, which makes me think they must be building up a pretty respectable Belmore Equestrian IEA Team. There was a little bit of natural segregation between the riders from the Belmore team and the haul-ins, but everyone was friendly and polite and we appreciated their hospitality. 🙂

Coach’s Introduction

After the first group of riders had gotten a chance to warm up, Coach Stewart called all of the clinic participants (including the auditors) into the arena for a powwow. Coach places a big emphasis on getting a rider’s inner greatness out by matching the great physical with the great mental, and this clinic would focus on the mental aspect of the rider. He talked about how the brain can hold the body back, and how it’s important to foster a sense of confidence, willpower, optimism, and focus.

“Goals can get us into trouble,” Coach warned. “This is our happy place. You can’t be upset in your happy place. You’re 34% better at what you do when you’re happy.”

The course set up in the arena looked straightforward, but the exercise he’d devised for the day was far from simple. Coach called the exercise the “Chain Link Fence”, and he quickly introduced two very important terms to us as a group:

CHANGE: when a rider uses one of the inside two fences (5 or 6) to change directions

LINK: a combination of jumps from an outside fence to an inside fence (or vice versa)

Riders would be designing their own courses on the fly, with coach providing stipulations (such as “two links and one change over four fences in twenty-five seconds”) after they’d already picked up the canter, leaving them very little time to plan. That meant that the two biggest skills that day one would test were mental shifting (the ability to move your focus back and forth between problems) and mistakability (the ability to avoid becoming frustrated and cranky“franky”after making a mistake). Coach’s ultimate goal was to cause “stress-induced amnesia” (forcing the rider to rush and be forgetful under pressure)—this exercise was a type of simulation training to help the riders discover what pressure does to them as an individual.

And if the pressure of scrutiny of an Olympic coach wasn’t enough, riders received 1 fault for a chip/long spot, 5 for the incorrect number of links/changes, 3 for any downed rails, and 1 for every second over/under the optimum time. If you went over 8 faults in a round, you were immediately told to dismount your horse and perform 50 sit-ups before you could continue. End your clinic session with more than 30 faults and you had to finish up with another 100 sit-ups. 😯

“Riding is tough, so the exercises won’t be easy. Hard is our sport.” He looked each of the riders in the eyes and smiled. “Prove you’re as tough as the lesson I’m going to teach you. The pressure goes up, you calm down.”

Day One was all about PRESSURE PROOFING.

Group One (Intermediate)

The first group of the day was filled with riders that were confident coursing up to 2’3″which included the Show Buddy and Teak! On top of that, tSB was also lucky enough to draw first position in the order of go, which means she warmed Teak back up, demonstrated a couple of important jump combinations that Coach wanted them to remember for later, and then got thrown right into the exercise with a course of:

“Two links, one change, over four in twenty.”

Teak was being his typical rocket pony self (I keep trying to convince tSB that he wants to be a jumper, not a hunter 😛 ), so tSB pulled him up at the end of the course and put him into a rein back. The rein back is a staple correction at our barn for a horse that doesn’t listen to seat/voice aids telling them to slow down because it reinforces the ignored half halt, though Teak’s rein back can be a little more frantic than normal. Coach put a stop to the correction and considered the horse/rider combo.

“You don’t need to slow that horse down, you need to calm that horse down.”

Coach called tSB out for being tense and suggested that instead of trying so hard, she “try softer” instead.

“Survival is the brain’s number one job, but the brain isn’t always right. People under stress either fight, flight, or freezeand you’re a fighter,” he told the Show Buddy. “The brain doesn’t know enough to turn off that safety feature. You have to tell it to fight less. You have to watch out for that electric seat.”

The Show Buddy came back for her second and third round with a quieter mentality, and under the guidance of Coach she rode a much softer, more organized course. The Show Buddy’s real moment of honor, though, came during her fourth course, when she lost an iron mid-ride and chose to kick her foot out of her other iron and carry on without theman ability courtesy of a strong core/lower leg built up by many stirrupless sessions done during her time with Trainer M.

Coach applauded her gutsy move, but was also quick to find where her course had gone wrong. He pointed out that tSB had picked a bad distance to the jump that knocked her off balance, and how that bad distance had translated into a poor downward transition once her course was over. He reminded us all that, “Everything is connected.”

Group One also included a big draft horse cross, an Appaloosa mare that was very green over fences, and a wonderful gray gelding (Pilot!). Pilot’s rider had barely jumped before and he was such a gentleman with her, I really sort of fell in love with the pair of them, but all of the horse/rider combinations did a great job and made a lot of progress during their first session. 😀

Coach ended the first group with some choice words of wisdom:

“You can succeed without being perfect.”

Group Two (Beginner)

The second group of the day was dedicated to walk/trot beginners, and unfortunately it started off with a fall. 🙁

The Appaloosa mare (she was very cute, see left!) from Group One got handed over to another rider in Group Two, but she was so amped up from the jumping that the preteen that was supposed to ride her took a tumble during warmup. Coach Stewart was kind and compassionate. He took a moment to console her, then sent for a different horse from the Belmore lesson stringa horse that would allow her to learn.

“It’s okay to be upset and cry after a fall, that just means you care about the sport. Never be afraid to be emotional.”

The rider in question ended up on another draft cross (seems to be a favored style in those parts!), whose name was Tater Tot. Tater Tot was a great choice of horse for hershe was safe, but she was also just disobedient enough to provide a challenge. Tater Tot very much wanted to stay in line with her friends instead of trotting over ground poles. At one point the rider was on the verge of tears again (poor girl!), but Coach Stewart helped her harness her inner “GRRRR” and get the job done.

Several riders in the beginner group were tasked with finding their “GRRRR”. One of them, a young girl riding a teenage Thoroughbred gelding whose work ethic bordered on Ezhno’s, even found herself being chased by a clapping Coach!

“Aggression doesn’t belong in our sport, but sometimes you’ve got to be cruel to be kind,” he told her. “Sometimes you should get cranky. Sometimes you’ve got to find your GRRRRR.”

It was during Group Two that Coach Stewart introduced one of his favorite concepts:

The Goldilocks Zone

“There’s a mental mindset where you’re neither too lethargic nor too anxious; too confident nor too worried; too fearful nor not fearful enough. This place is called your Goldilocks Zone because the emotions you experience in this mindset are ‘just right’.”

Getting in and out of the Goldilocks Zone (not to mention being able to stay in that zone while under pressure) soon became one of the main focuses of the clinic, to the point that we were even assigned homework on the Goldilocks Zone—but more about that later. First we’ve got the highlight of the day to cover. 😉

“It’s our job to make the horse his best. Whatever you want in your horse, you must first create in yourself.”

Group Three (Advanced)

The final group of the day was meant for anyone competing at 2’6″ and up, and Coach Stewart had preemptively warned us that Group Three would be something none of us would want to miss. The basics of the exercise would be the same, but on top of having to keep track of links/changes, number of fences, and the clock, the riders were also required to end their courses on specific fences and count down to their jumps.

In the words of Coach Stewart, he wanted the riders in Group Three to juggle a chainsaw, a cactus, a hotdog, and a kitty. 😛

But before they could even get into the exercise, the riders were already in trouble. Coach Stewart asked them if they wanted cross rails for warm up and they used the only three words that riders aren’t allowed to say in his clinics:

I don’t care.

Coach teased them for starting out their lesson with a lie, then shared another snippet of quote worthy wisdom:

“When you start to say ‘I don’t care’, the most confident thing you can do is think about your real feelings and tell the truth.”

Coach Stewart left a couple of fences down as a cross rail and put the others up to about two feet, though he didn’t give them much time to prepare. Instructor A only had three minutes to get the lay of the land before she, like the Show Buddy, was thrown to the wolves as the first rider in the order of go.

It’s hard not to take a liking to Kody and his fourteen foot stride (though I must say that those of us in the audience that know him got to have a chuckle when Coach thought Kody was a bit fast; he looked like he was going pretty slow on the Kody scale to us!). But Coach Stewart wasn’t blinded by the shine of Kody’s coat. He noticed right off the bat that Kody has a habit of rooting (grabbing onto the bit and stretching his neck down, thereby pulling on his rider), and he called Instructor A out for letting Kody linger in an unrhythmic “tranter”.

Instructor A came out for her next round with a much more decisive outlook. While her round was done at a faster pace (at one point she did a 35 second course in 18, LOL), this time she and Kody fell into a more cohesive rhythm. They cruised around their course with confidence, and coach praised them for the improvements and challenged them to go even further to find their Goldilocks Zone by “thinking calm”, “landing lazy”, and “starting slow and ending strong”.

“Adrenaline is the chemical that makes you rush. Pressure changes us. Pressure makes us forgetful.”

Coach also warned against “analysis paralysis” (overthinking something to the point where you can’t make a decision), especially for the adult riders. “The older we get, the more we overthink things,” he said. “We get in our own way!”

The other two riders in Group Three were both riding draft crosses. One of them was the daughter of the owner of the facility, and both of them were good riders on competent horses, which made them very fun to watch!

As the last clinic session came to a close, two out of three riders (including Instructor A) were sitting above 30 faults total, which meant they had 100 more sit-ups to look forward to.

To really put the pressure on, Coach Stewart gave the sit-up free rider (the barn owner’s daughter) the chance to save the other members of  her group from anymore sit-ups. All she had to do was ride a round with less than eleven faults—but she had to do it on a completely different horse! 😯

She put her game face on, dismounted, and collected the other rider’s draft cross, a horse that she had some experience with four years ago, but hadn’t ridden since. Coach gave her sixty seconds to warm up and she went out and rode a quick course while practicing counting down to the jumps on her unfamiliar steed. Forty-five seconds later, she declared herself ready to go.

The result? Well, I think I’ll just go ahead and end this post with this:

“We get better by observing. Learn from the mistakes of others; you don’t live long enough to make them all.”