It isn’t my lower leg position.
It isn’t my fluid elbows.
It isn’t my shoulder posture.
It isn’t in the use of my seat as an aide.
It isn’t in the more consistent rein contact.
All of those things are important and visible changes that have made big impacts on the way I communicate my wants to Gem. Each has come with a lot of hours of practice and retraining muscle memory, however none are the most important change I’ve made to my riding since I started taking lessons.
In fact, the change wasn’t even purposeful on my part or taught by Trainer. It isn’t visible. It isn’t easily tracked in pictures. The single most important change in my riding has been my ability to think while riding.
I have found myself with a near constant running conversation in my head as I ride on the flat these days. “Shoulders back, you are leaning forward” “Oops, I’m hanging on the reins, let go and soften.” “Turn those shoulders into the bend” “Crap, Gem’s getting fast, half halt”. With so many new tools in my box to work with, I am now able to problem solve instead of being reactive to her behaviors. Not only does this allow me to be a proactive rider, it forces me to analyze in real time what is working and what isn’t so that I can make positive changes and turn a not so great start to a ride into a good ending.
Sounds pretty silly to put in writing, but it is true. Being able to sit there and analyze is a big improvement for me because not only does it mean that I have the ability to fix some things, but it also means that Gem and I have reached a point in our work together where I don’t need to focus my entire attention on her and can now allow some of those precious few brain cells to think about myself, my position and my aides. It is a really big step for us as a pair.
This new habit of actually thinking while I ride instead of having crickets chirping upstairs became obvious during my jump lesson for the fact that it was absent. When I jump my mind tends to go quiet and I return to my old habit of being reactive. This is mostly due to the fact that Gem requires all my attention still over jumps. I need to give her support and a straight entry while making sure she sees the jump and is focused on it and then I need to focus on giving her a big release and following her regardless if she pops straight up over it, stalls out in front or takes a flyer. After it is all about the big huge pats and praise for a going over to build her confidence. This all leaves me no room to focus on my position and I am back to being reactive.
My goal over this coming winter is going to be building enough of a foundation over jumps that I can reach the same point where I am on the flat. I’d like to be able to plan better, make sure I’m sitting well in my two point and not supermanning it over and preparing my exit strategy a little better. I believe we can get there and that it will be a pivotal point for us moving forward into next show season.
How about all of you? Any major breakthroughs lately?