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Use Your Brain

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.

I feared the lesson would be canceled due to soggy footing everywhere, but instead Trainer had me meet her at a local covered for the day.

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.

We are trialing a new to us pessoa bit. Trainer AB educated me on her choice of this bit adn I really liked her thinking. Eeyore seems to like it. Nothing magical but it is doing the job we wanted it to.

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.

And because I failed yet again to get my Cambox to capture anything but the sky, here is a pic of my two girls snuggling in the sunshine

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.

10 thoughts on “Use Your Brain”

  1. My brain does this too! Which is kind of bad because I do dressage and it’s all flat work, but when I ride by myself, my brain goes, see ya!

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    1. It’s a hard habit to kick and one I fight all the time. I’ve found that talking out loud, while a bit weird and annoying, really helps me get used to thinking while I ride. I go around the arena saying “we lost bend, inside rein to get his attention back on the circle, ok now he is about to slow down add leg” it has helped me a lot

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  2. Full disclosure, I used to hold my breath while jumping… I did so to the extent where I had ZERO recollection of what happened over a course of fences. Just a giant gaping hole in my memory. It does get better hahah.

    Interesting choice of bits. I use the same bit with May on hunter paces, but I do use two reins. It’s a solid amount of leverage, but a fairly mild mouthpiece. In regular XC and SJ, I use a myler level 1 with hooks. It’s WAY more for balance than it is for speed regulation.

    Bits are interesting and very much an individual horse type situation.

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    1. I had a myler level 1 when I first brought Eeyore home as that was what they rode him in where he came from. It didn’t go very well mostly because of the amount of play in the bit and my uneducated not always super quiet hands. Trainer had a solid theory about this bit choice which I’ll share eventually once I have more rides in it to see how it goes. Basically she wanted to give me a bit more oomf in my communication when Eeyore decides life is way too exciting to slow down

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    2. Emily, that was ME. The really sad thing is I never even realized I was doing it until I’d been riding for ten years. I still remember it – I was on an outside course, zooming around way too fast and ineffectively, and my trainer hollered at me as we flew past, “BREATHE!!!” It was a total light bulb moment. Hey, no wonder I would be bent over gasping after jumping, with no strength remaining. You kinda need oxygen in your muscles…

      Unfortunately as a re-rider adult I continued with this bad habit. I know that lack of oxygen (coupled with not sleeping the night before) led to going off-course in my last jumping class, of my last hunter show. Ugh, so embarrassing!

      Nowadays I’m doing AQHA Hunter Under Saddle, i.e. only flatwork. I have learned how to breathe better, FINALLY, but still must remind myself to do so when cantering. I wish this had been addressed when I was a child but I guess nobody knew!

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  3. Oh man this is so relatable tho. Staying active in my ride is a constant struggle, esp when we do things that are really hard or kinda scary. My biggest goal as a rider is to commit everything to muscle memory and mindless habit, but that’s obvi very hard too haha. Sounds like a great lesson – and that’s so awesome that you have the covered ring as an option now too!!

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