Grids let me find my happy place… and stay there!
That also means that I lose a little something when I’m not in a grid, or if I haven’t warmed up in a grid. So, last night, there were no grids. There were courses!
I was trying to remember the last time we rode a course. Hunter Hack at the Fuzzy Show didn’t count, because it was only a line (and I botched it terribly). I’m pretty sure our last real courses were at our Starter schooling in June!
|Read the recap of our first Starter event here!|
But, we don’t need to practice courses to get better at courses… We just need to practice dressage!!
We have a hunter/jumper schooling show next weekend. (OMG! I can’t believe I still get to show about once a month and it’s the middle of winter!!) So, we got an eventers crash course in hunters. Which is great for me, because I’ve been trying to learn all I can about what makes a top hunter! I also liked that Coach didn’t say, “This is what the judge is looking for!” Instead she said, “This is what I want to see!”
Let’s face it, we’re riding eventers, not hunters. We have to start somewhere, so we must prioritize what we are showing off, here.
“I want to see focused warm-up. Trot each fence both directions, then if you feel comfortable, start cantering some of them.”
I love warming up by trotting the jumps! Fancy Pony approaches relaxed and confident from the trot. Always. We establish quiet rhythm with trot. She never takes a long spot from the trot. The trot just plain sets us up for success. Kudos to me for already having and using this tool!
I also got the break down on how to show the warm-up circle, as well as how to use it to establish balance, pace, and rhythm.
“I want to see the same rhythm before, after, and in between every fence! I want to see large, sweeping turns that use the entire arena! I want to see straight diagonals!”
Got it. Ride the rhythm. Connect the lines… Well, I needed to make bigger turns. And at the end of our first diagonal line, Fancy Pony wobbled because she wanted to swing around to take the second jump on the rail… This mare loves the jumpers questions! Angles? You bet! Roll back turns? Bring it on! Bending lines? She is all about it. Basic hunter pony courses? BORING!
On the up side, we did a pretty good job maintaining our consistent pace!
outside line… diagonal line… big sweeping turn to my next outside line…. CHARGE!!! LAUNCH the cross-rail!
**Um, excuse me! I don’t care what size the fence is, we are not finishing this line and taking that jump from THIS disrespectful canter!!**
I think she was just excited, but there are more respectful (and safer!) ways to channel that excitement than galloping headlong over the jumps with no adjustability (or no brakes).
We tried that line set up again. This time, I felt like I had to nearly set her on her ass every other stride between the fences on the outside line, but at least she was listening.
My half seat leaves something to be desired. I lean forward. Then, when we jump, I duck even further. If Coach yells at me to sit up, I fix it immediately! This will be an ongoing challenge until the new muscle memory is established. There is also the ongoing problem of my hands being stuck in my lap…
If I ride the entire time with my hands halfway up her neck, my elbows stay close and my hands follow her neck over the fence. I also sit up a little better. However, when I let me hands work between the fences in their normal position, they sometimes get stuck when I get to the jump. Fancy Pony, being the honest soul that she has become, jumps anyway. She just packs me over the fence and waits ever-so-patiently for me to figure it out.
So, my exercise was to keep my knuckles on her neck for the entire ride. Knuckles at the base of her neck as I ride between and around the fences, then slide the knuckles to half-way up her neck for the jump, then slide them back down to the base of her neck for the next flat stretch.
This entire lesson, I wasn’t so much focused on the jumps. I was focused on perfection between the jumps. Fancy Pony will jump the jump no matter how well or how poorly I set her up. My ultimate success lies on that 90% of the course that happens between the jumps, and I’ve known that for a while. I think this is part of the reason my hands get stuck in my lap… I’m still riding between the fences…
-- end aside --
So, I didn’t *actually* keep my knuckles in contact the entire time, but the point was well made, and my hands became more mobile at the appropriate times.
ROUND 4a (or something like that):
The fences went up when I wasn’t looking. That’s OK (I told myself), just keep riding your rhythm.
One… Two… One… Two… jump… Oh, crap! I lost 4 inches of my outside rein! …One… *gather, gather* …Two… Why can’t I get my rein together? …One… *tangle, gather* …jump… (never did get that outside rein back) …One… Two… One… finally get my reins together as I sweep around to take the diagonal line …Two… release …One… jump… *sigh* I had jumped ahead.
She could totally have run out on the second fence of the bigger line, but she stayed true and straight, even after the second fence when I still didn’t have my reins back. And the diagonal when I jumped ahead, she could have easily dumped me if she wanted. I can *FEEL* when I’m not right, which is an excellent start, but I really need to get more consistent.
This is where I save my horses legs and continue to visualize, feel, and internalize the memories of our best jumping efforts when I’m between rides or away from the barn.
Over a few of the courses, I had breaks to the trot because I asked her to come back to me with more gusto than I needed. I was cool with that after the galloping charge we had. I rode a few more connected lines, and I could really feel her adjustability between the fences.
And, there was one course where my chosen line took me over a random pole on the ground. My horse (who never acknowledges poles on the ground while also never kicking them) JUMPED the pole on the ground as if it were a 2’ fence!
All in all, I'm thrilled about our ability to work together better and better between the fences. And I love that I don't actually have to worry about the jumping part!!