April 15, 2011

Breakthrough Over Fences

If we had been riding to a soundtrack during our warmup yesterday, it would have been classical music.

That is, until suddenly Mac stumbled, tripped, tried to right himself, failed and went to his knees.  From the canter.  Then the soundtrack changed to the canned "just dropped a piano off a ten story building" sound the cartoons use when someone gets an anvil dropped on his head.

The Jen of a few months ago, riding with my center of gravity tipped forward, would have been thrown headfirst into the wall/gate junction.  The Jen of today sat up straight and leaned away from his neck, and rode it like a champ.  We were both shaken up, but despite that setting the tone for our ride (I told her I was trying my hardest to come off yesterday!) we made big strides (ha!) over fences.

This is a good example of how she breaks things down for me.  This was yesterday's lesson:
  • Warm up focusing on shortening and lengthening (read: getting exact control of) the canter
  • 5 trot poles between standards 
  • 5 canter poles between standards, picking up the canter on the long side and coming around to the other long side
    • I got tense, as we identified last week, and he got rushy because I was tense.
  • One canter pole between standards
    • Still rushy, still tense
  • One canter pole between standards, picking the canter up on a 20m circle and coming at the poles when I have a relaxed canter
    • I would have the best canter in the world, but would tense up as we turned toward the "fence" and he'd rush.
  • One canter pole between standards, picking the canter up on a 20m circle and coming at the poles when I had a relaxed canter, but with my fingers hooked underneath a side rein tied around his neck
    • Still tense
  • Break
  • Work on a 15m oval (there were other jumps in the way, so it was a squashed 20m circle at the A end of the arena) first at trot, then canter, with a trot pole on the circle
    • At first we were getting there too early, too soon, never at the right time.  The rail was a couple meters short of X due to the jumps that were in the way.  I had to get roughly three strides coming off of the rail in order to hit it, and failed miserably for a while.  
  • When I finally got the striding right, she turned the canter pole into a crossrail
Let me stop here and say that I was downright scared of this crossrail.   It came up so fast after the turn, and the arena wall came up so quickly after it.  More than once we hit the wall off-balance and with me five feet above the saddle.  She kept telling me that because of those constrictions, I had to ride it like the jump wasn't there, and like it was just one more canter stride in a series of even canter strides.

Finally, I realized that I needed to sit up and ride this horse.  I needed to make him go deeper in the corner, make him adjust his stride, and make him hit this jump right on, or else I would continue to live in fear of that stupid, tiny crossrail.  So I did.  More inside leg, more outside rein, (ha, Dressage, right?) and a half-halt and there it was: a balanced fence with no 90 degree turns on the other side.  There it was.  Control solves my fears.  Thinking about my ride creates control.  This is the essence of my riding weaknesses distilled down into a single moment.

She never lets me quit after getting it right once.  I did it again and again, until I felt comfortable doing the jump and was doing it correctly.  Then we went the other direction after a break.  By the end, I realized that she'd defused a year's worth of fear and anxiety in a single lesson.  It's still going to take a while until the fear is completely gone, but I have the tools I need to control it now, and that's all that matters.


  1. Jumping problems can turn into difficult problems. Having trouble with a canter and it's no big deal. Throw a pole on the ground and it is suddenly an issue. Good for you for working through it.

  2. You're absolutely right, Barbara, and it's something I want to overcome. I have this strange relationship with jumping, I enjoy it, but I'm terrified until we land on the other side. I'm hoping I'll start enjoying it all the way through with good instruction.

  3. wow! What a great lesson and a great coach! I'm glad to hear that you had such a nice breakthrough - and the best part - you actually realized what was going on and how you could fix it!

    I've had a breakthrough in a lesson and then couldn't repeat it when my instructor asked me what I did! D'oh!

  4. Laura, I'm with you, I will get it right once and then fail five more times before getting it again. It's why she makes me keep going. It's a lot different from what I'm used to, but it's making me a better rider to have to do it multiple times. Once can be an accident, two or three times begins the muscle memory required to keep it in my brain permanently.