It took me more years than I care to admit to train my brain to not shut off on the flat. I’m still a more reactive versus proactive rider than I’d like, but I’m a heck of a lot better than I used to be when basically my brain would go on vacation as soon as my butt hit the saddle. By the time I retired Gem, I had gotten fairly good at reading her subtle body language cues that informed me she was about to slow down or speed up, cut a corner or hollow and with that early warning system I could then proactively shut whatever she was about to do down and keep us on the trajectory I had planned.
Eeyore is a little harder for me as he tends to not really pre plan his actions and instead is a tad ADD about the whole thing. I haven’t been riding him for as long and he is a bit more erratic. I’m getting better at it on the flat and am finding myself catching him before he hollows or cuts a corner or slows down or speeds up before he actually does it more and more often these days.
This, however, all flies right out the window once we start jumping and my brain reverts to heading off on the cruise ship to hang out with a martini on the pool deck.
Trainer AB is done with allowing me to do this and so our lesson last weekend was focused on getting me to actually ride while jumping. To this end we began with an exercise that annoys me in its simplicity while being extremely difficult for me to replicate well. A simple set of two ground poles set at 5 canter strides. The goal was for me to count the strides out loud and be able to tell her what I felt and how I countered it after each pass through.
It was hard. We’d come in too hot and get 4 strides then I’d over compensate the next pass and shut him down to get 6 strides and only realize it after it was too late to make the adjustment between the poles. It was a great way to get my brain functioning though and by the time I was able to get 5 strides both directions, I was was getting the hang of thinking and riding at the same time.
From there we did basically the same thing only with a cross rail 6 strides to a vertical with the same goals: count the strides, influence the horse to make the striding, then tell her what I did. I’ll tel you that the first time I came in and actually felt him being too slow, put my leg on and got those 6 strides?? It felt freaking AMAZING. I was grinning like a fool. I felt my brain kick in, made a decision and got it done. Wow.
After that she had me run through a course twice before calling it a day.
I learned a lot this lesson. Like A LOT. One of the biggest points for me was to pick up my canter way earlier coming into the exercises/course. I tend to pick it up only a couple strides out because I worry a long approach will allow him to get on the forehand and rushy. However, with only a few strides before the fence I don’t have enough time to get him into any sort of rhythm or balance and found myself fighting to get what I wanted all the way to the base. When I picked the canter up way earlier, sure he could get rushy and on the forehand, but I still had time to influence and change that so we could approach the fence the way I wanted which in turn led to a much nicer effort.
Also, brain – keep working!!!! I generally rode into the exercises way better than out of them. It was like my brain punched the time clock then headed straight to the water cooler to gossip. This perpetuated my feeling of not being in control and that leads to my jumping fears. When I settled down and rode, added leg when I needed or re-balanced and slowed when needed, everything not only rode better but I felt more in control of what happened and that grew my confidence as we went around.
Yet another wonderful lesson in the books and a lot to continue to work on. Hopefully the weather dries out and I can sneak in another lesson soon.