How to take the leading role in your own video production…
The electronic age now has us traveling along at fax speed. Almost everyone has access to computers, microwave ovens, fax machines, videotape players and recorders. Who wants to wait for a letter when we can e-mail our friends and get an answer almost instantly?
However, there is one creature that isn’t surfing on the internet: the horse. Quite fortunately for us, horses go along at horse speed. They allow us to slow down the warp engines and move at an easier pace, enjoy the scenery on the trail and drift away from our electronic world so that we can face life’s reality with greater calmness and serenity. Perhaps this is one of the greatest benefits of riding besides the sheer pleasure in having your friend nicker a greeting when you arrive at the barn. And while most of us leave the cellular phone at home when we head out on the trail, there are times when the electronic age can be of great benefit to the equestrian.
If you are passionate about your riding, you probably want to ride your best. However, not everyone has access to quality instruction or can afford regular lessons. Others need more than just words to help them understand the concepts the instructor is attempting to communicate. For more exacting disciplines and competitionsuch as dressage, jumping or roping, slight shifts in balance can cause critical mistakes. Enter the video camera, stage right.
Home video can be an extremely powerful tool for examining your position and how it affects the performance of your horse. With prices dropping over the last few years, most of us now have access to a video camera. By recording as little as 5 minutes in some cases, riders can sort out a variety of problems. Here is how you can begin to take the leading role in your own home video.
When planning your video session there are a few things you will want to keep in mind:
If you board at a large stable it is best to plan your session during one of the quiet times at the barn. The distraction of other people riding in front of the camera and watching you during the session can be very distracting. Send the dogs away so that their playful antics do not create unnecessary background sound and so that the camera person does not have to chase them out of the ring.
Hopefully the weather will cooperate on the day you have planned to make your film debut. Trying to capture an accurate example of your riding in a howling gale is a formula for disaster. Have an alternative day scheduled in case the weather does not cooperate especially if you do not have an indoor arena as backup.
Outdoor lighting is ideal. If you need to film indoors adjust your camera for low light when necessary. Remember that sunlight coming through the doors and windows will create a back-lighting effect each time the rider passes by. Close the doors if necessary.
While you will not always have a choice of background, keep it as simple as possible. Recording flat work while weaving in and out of a dozen or more stadium jumps will be annoying when you watch the tape. Avoid locations near major roadways or schooling areas where there is a lot of activity going on.
Roadways and airports create a tremendous amount of background noise also, so find a quiet place if possible. This will enhance the camera’s ability to pick up comments from the rider and the instructor. If you are unsure about the surrounding sound, stand quietly with your eyes closed and listen. Are there honking geese and Saturday afternoon lawn mowers roaring in the background? If so, listen for a time of day when things settle down while the light is still good.
The Camera Crew:
Perhaps the most important ingredient for success is a camera person with some video experience. Images of riders swimming left, right and skyward across the screen can make it impossible to analyze the video. So find yourself a steady Eddy who (if possible) does not have shoulder problems, is not terrified of fancy equipment and will be patient with the process. Provide lots of treats and feed them well for their services and they may do it again! Here are a few tips for the camera crew:
• Be familiar yourself with the camera, extra equipment and its use ahead of time especially if it is not your equipment.
• Keep the rider within the viewer at all times. Videoing the dogs chasing each other or losing the rider on the screen breaks up the continuity of the video.
• Video from different angles. You will want to stand in the middle of the ring for certain activities such as jumping grids. Also stand on the outside of the circle or in a corner of the ring for end-on shots. From these positions both sides of the rider will be visible.
• Keep zooming to a minimum. Zoom in smoothly and gradually as the rider is traveling away from you and zoom out as the rider moves towards you. When filming a jumping gymnastic, find a setting for the entire series, then leave the zoom alone.
• Keep the camera steady. A tripod is a good idea if you are going to be filming for extended periods of time to alleviate stress on the shoulders and neck.
• Avoid camera stress by taking breaks. Remember, as the camera person you will be largely removed from the action being taped. Once you begin recording you are often unaware of your surroundings. Be careful to avoid a situation where horses are milling around or can approach you from behind. Keep your back to the fence so that you cannot be run over in an busy arena.
• Keep the sun to your back to avoid back lighting. Silhouettes are artistically pretty but difficult to analyze.
• Keep filming segments short. When filming for analysis vs. capturing a dressage test or show jumping round, you only need a few minutes of action for each activity. Rider issues will show up quickly and often are accentuated because the rider is nervous about the camera. Long, repetitious segments of horse and rider circling quickly become uninteresting and are unnecessary.
• Keep it simple. Lots of new features are offered on the latest video cameras such as fading, still shots and quick zoom. However, you can get carried away with all the features and wind up with a piece of tape that no longer shows what you set out to accomplish.
• Avoid chit-chat during filming. You may regret talking about Suzy Snob when she is standing there watching the tape later on.
• When possible, if there is an instructor present, stand near the instructor to capture directions and comments on the tape.
• Pack extra charged batteries and film. There is nothing so irritating as running out of either in the middle of a session.
• Remember your job is filming not watching. Keep your attention on the technical aspects of videography, not on what the subject is actually doing. The rider will be grateful that you did because the tape will clearly show any rider errors without the irritating distractions of an incompetent camera crew. The only faults the rider will observe will be his/her own!
• Keep a record of your sessions by having a tape for each rider and record the date at the beginning of each session. Then you can quickly look back over a series of days, months or years to review performance and improvement.
Locate all the necessary equipment and make sure it is in good working order before you head to the barn. There is nothing so frustrating as getting all set up and finding out that the camera doesn’t work. Here is a list of things you will need:
The newer 8mm format video cameras (minicams) are preferable over the old VHS format mainly because 8mm are so much lighter and easier to handle. VHS format cameras are more difficult to keep steady without a tripod and are tiresome for the camera person. However, for home viewing, VHS is more convenient since most people own a VCR. The 8mm format can easily be converted to VHS if you want to send a copy of the tape to someone who only has a VCR. Hi-8mm format is slightly more expensive. However it gives you greater resolution and better quality if you are going to make VHS copies.
If you have waited patiently for camera prices to come down and are now ready to jump into the market, I recommend the new view-screen cameras. These cameras make instant replay so convenient that they are worth the extra cost. The action can be filmed and then immediately played back in color without straining to see through the black and white single-eye viewfinder. The 4″ screen is large enough for rider and ground person to watch and critique the ride during the lesson. With view cams there is less eye and shoulder strain because you can hold the camera in front of you and watch the screen.
Make sure you have a blank tape with you before you head out to the ring. The type of camera you have will dictate whether you need VHS or 8mm.
There is nothing as frustrating as getting halfway through the session and running out of batteries. So, make sure you have charged the batteries the night before to avoid this problem. Some cameras require that the batteries are totally run down before you can recharge them. This can make recharging inconvenient so it is better to have a spare battery which is fully charged if you aren’t sure how much is left on the one in the camera. The newer cameras use lithium batteries which can be recharged without having to discharge them completely. After each use the battery can be fully recharged regardless of how much it has been used, thus avoiding battery roulette.
Another solution to the battery issue is to have an electrical outlet and electrical cord handy in case the batteries run out. Temperature will affect battery life so this will become more necessary in cold weather. Be sure to bring your AC adapter with you! Remember, you have to be extremely careful with the extension cord running across the arena.
A tripod is helpful for steadier shots, smother panning and decreases shoulder fatigue on the camera person especially when filming long training sessions. The down side is decreased mobility for the videographer (which can be important if a fractious horse decides to careen toward the camera), and having more equipment to carry and set up. You may still experience camera fatigue usually in different areas of the body and there is the possibility of knocking the tripod over.
Other objects, such as the fence, can be used to support the camera. However, panning across the ring will be more difficult if the camera will not move smoothly. For short sessions you may find that you are fine without a tripod, especially with the view screen cameras, as long as you relax your shoulders and breathe.
Most of us are extremely conscious of those extra few pounds hanging around our hips and waistlines. We spend hours attempting to deny the bulges with large sweaters, untucked tee-shirts and dark colored britches. Unfortunately this is just the material for disaster in trying to evaluate yourself on videotape. So….you are either going to have to shed those pounds before bringing out the camera or finally accept that this is the way it is for right now (and make a firm resolution to get rid of that bulge for the next video session). Here’s what you need to get the most from the videotape:
• Wear light-colored, well-fitted riding pants. It is difficult to see what is happening in hips, knees and ankles when the rider is all dressed in black on a black saddle on a dark brown horse. While it is a great way to hide things from the judge, it is counter productivein analysing problems.
• Wear a well-fitted shirt or jacket. A well-fitted shirt tucked in will allow you to see what your body is doing.
• Avoid bright colors. Some bright pinks appear to glow on your screen and can be very distracting when watching the tape. Consider the color of your saddle pad and the polo wraps on your horse’s legs as well.
• Keep your hair neatly tied back. While it may feel luxurious to have a long flowing mane while cantering around the ring, it will become distracting later on.
Before you head out to the barn take a moment and create a script for the video session. Have a rough idea of what you want to accomplish and then communicate this to your camera crew so that everyone is working toward the same goal. If your problem is falling in around the turns and the camera operator only films you while going down the long side, your joint efforts will be wasted. Remember any small problems at slower gaits and larger circles will be greatly magnified when going faster or during more difficult maneuvers. Record all three gaits to give you a progression and the opportunity to see mistakes while moving slowly before attempting faster action. To simply capture your riding habits on film at walk, trot and canter, five minutes of recording time can be plenty. For more specialized exercises such as jumping, you may need more time. Here are some general suggestions for your session which will give you a good overall picture of your riding.
• Have the camera at the end of the long side of the arena. Ride toward and away from the camera at all gaits to determine whether you are straight and in the middle of your horse.
• Ride a large circle in both directions at all gaits to determine if you are leaning on the turns.
• Ride transitions at all gaits to observe any stiffening or loss of balance through the transitions.
• For jumping, video over poles first then gradually over larger fences. Get a frontal shot to determine if you are ducking over the horse’s shoulder or pressing harder into one stirrup.
• For specialized activities such as sliding stops, extensions, flying lead changes, etc., you will want to get two different angles if possible, one from the side and one straight on to check out both your position laterally and longitudinally.
• Record actual competitions to see the effects of the competition environment.
Once you have created this masterpiece it is time to head to the TV to see your efforts. If you own a view cam you can instantly play back the recorded tape, watch what happened, make an adjustment and film the next take immediately!
If you had to wait to see the results on the TV at home, the anxious moment has arrived. Will you and your crew receive an Oscar for best documentary or is it just another unintelligible piece of magnetic tape? Even a poor video job will give you some information. However, you will quickly become nauseous if the camera person moved around too much or too fast.
Review (or the good, the bad, and the ugly)
Before you begin tearing into yourself, remember that the goal is to look at what you are doing well and expand on that. So send your negative critic on a trip to Hawaii and be kind to yourself. Here is a list of things to look for when reviewing the tape:
• Is the saddle in the middle of your horse’s back or is it sitting off to one side? This will affect not only your position but how your horse will respond to your aids.
• Are your stirrups even? Many people are unaware that one stirrup is longer than the other because they become accustomed to the feeling.
• Are your hips, shoulders and hands level?
• Are you even on both sides of your rib cage or are you collapsing on one side?
• Are you looking where you are going or is your head tilted down and eyes staring at the horses ears?
• Are your joints free and supple or are they locking up instead of following the movement, especially in transitions and jumping?
• Over fences are you straight and staying with your horse’s movement or are you ducking over one shoulder and getting ahead or left behind the movement?
• Are your aids in the right timing for the horse’s movement or occurring when he can no longer respond?
• Are your seat, leg and hand aids independent or are you “karate-chopping” him in the mouth every stride?
• Are you breathing well or have you held your breath?
At first you may not be able to see stiff joints or breath-holding. It takes a skilled eye to see some of the more subtle issues. Review the tape several times and have your instructor or a friend watch it with you to look for details you may have missed. Make it fun and be ready to laugh at yourself especially if the camera has captured a less than complimentary angle or an embarrassing moment. Look at the tape from the perspective of an objective observer. How would that person describe your performance and what would they say that was positive and constructive?
Once you get beyond the fact that its you on the tape you will begin to see lots of areas where you can improve your position and, as a result, your horse’s performance. Suddenly, you will want to rush out to the barn to practice and schedule another taping session so that you can see your progress.
Discuss the technical aspects with your camera person calmly so that the retake will resolve any technical difficulties you encountered. Remember to acknowledge your camera crew, they are who make the session possible. If it is your riding buddy that is helping, you can return the favor by videotaping them.
The next time you set up a recording session you will have a much clearer idea of what you want to accomplish as a result of the previous video. Review the plan with your camera person and perhaps show them the tape so that they understand the new requirements. Discuss any changes you wish to make in camera angle, length of recording or lighting. You may want to continue videoing on the same tape you started so that you have a complete history of your progress (or you can do this if converting the 8mm to VHS at home). You will find that your efficiency improves with each session as you refine the process and become more focused on what you need to look at in order to improve. Allow some time to pass between each session so that your camera crew doesn’t revolt from getting stuck behind the viewfinder.
How to improve your position:
Now that you have gathered all this information about your position and become aware of some of the major issues; what do you do about it? Over the last 20 years riders have become increasingly awareness of how much position and balance affect the horse’s performance. Many books and videos offer suggestions and exercises to help you become more aware of your position. Local tack shops often offer video for rent as well as purchase. Here are some simple exercises and Centered Riding® techniques to help improve your position:
Saddle off to one side
This could be caused by the horse’s back being unlevel, a crooked saddle or a crooked rider. Very few symmetrical horses, people or saddles exist so chances are great that all three may be contributing factors to the overall image on the tape. Look down your horse’s back and determine if his shoulders and back slope off to one side. Examine your saddle to see if the panels are on straight or if there is a twist throughout the entire saddle. Look at your self in a full length mirror to see if your two sides are even.
One leg looks longer than the other
• Measure stirrup length to see that they really are even
• Stand on a two bathroom scales first, with your eyes closed. Then open your eyes and read the scales to see if your perception of equal weight on both legs is only in your head.
• When riding, consciously “sift sand” from one leg to the other to balance the two sides.
• Consciously lighten the amount of pressure on the stirrup bar in the leg that is lower.
Collapsing or leaning in on turns and locking joints during transitions
• Ride with one arm over your head (usually on the same side that you lean or collapse) to lengthen you throughout your ribcage and balance the weight in the middle. Let your fingers reach towards the sky with your elbow next to your ear and your thumb facing the tail of the horse. You can use this exercise at all three gaits. Notice if the horse goes more smoothly and stops cutting corners. Experiment with both arms to see which one works the best.
• While mounted and holding your reins in two hands, place a stick or crop underneath your thumbs and on top of the rein as it comes across your index fingers. Place your hands about six inches apart on the stick. As you ride keep the stick level.
As you begin experimenting with some of the exercises, your body’s feedback mechanism will tell you that something is no longer familiar. Our habits, good, bad and otherwise, are the comfortable patterns which we unconsciously accept. As we begin to change these patterns the feedback from the body tells us something is different and right away our mind wants to say it is “wrong”. Practice the exercises for awhile and adjust to the new feelings, then tape another session. Look at the video and decide which is better for you. Once you become familiar with the process you may find that you really enjoy the process and most importantly the improvement in both you and your horse.
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