I’m making a conscious effort right now to have a more productive attitude toward jump lessons. Even if I’m not jumping big things, there are always aspects of my courses that can be improved, if they’re accuracy or flow or balance or what have you. So I’ve decided that, regardless of height, I’m going to really work during my lessons to perfect every course I ride.
To that end, last Thursday I spent my ride with Murray working on trying to build some power in his canter. (Aside: one of the professors I TA for commends her students by yelling “POWER” at them, because she believes [rightly so] that knowledge is power. Sometimes I also yell POWER at my students because of it. It’s fun.) One of the things I struggle with is feeling like Murray isn’t ahead of my leg — sure, maybe the speed is there, and he can usually clear the fences without struggle — but I lack the feeling that when I put leg on he will REALLY PUSH or if I rebalance that he’s recycling the energy instead of just letting it go. Just half-halting through the canter doesn’t always work with Murray (he becomes frustrated with the game too quickly), so I set up a canter pole to a low vertical to get him really thinking power.
This turned out to be more of an exercise for both of us than I had anticipated. Despite the easy approach, we biffed the distance to the pole, and resultingly the fence, more often than not. However, when we did make the distance the exercise worked as intended: it added spring and power to Murray’s canter step before the fence. What will be helpful, I think, will be adding a set of canter poles without a fence so that building a bouncy, powerful canter becomes more natural to us.
In my lesson on Friday I tried to recreate this powerful canter, but it was (slightly) hot and Murray was not at his most enthusiastic. So add a whole new challenge level to my goals: motivating my un-motivated, hot, furry horse. That must be done — somehow. We coursed a somewhat-tricky bending line to start (the green oxer to black tires), the hardest part being that you wanted to take the fences at an angle, but that screwed your approach to the next fence. So you had to take the first fence angled away from the second fence to give yourself time to make the turn and line up the second fence. An interesting question.
The biggest challenge came in the form of the combinations. I remember that at one point I was super gung-ho about combinations with Murray — he would go and it was awesome. We are no longer so gung-ho. I’ve had enough stops (in and out of combinations!) to back me off to them. For the most part as long as I ride straight and add leg, Murray goes. But if I give him any excuse to refuse — get a little ahead, drop him at the base — he’s is like “oh this is a better choice.” Which is funny, because I make terrible choices to single-fences not irregularly and Murray saves me over those fences. For example, during this lesson I suggested that Murray take the long spot to the brown skinny (crossing the arena) and leaned at it — you know, like ya do — and at the last minute I was like “this is a terrible choice!” (the spot I “saw” was about 12 feet out from the fence) and just kinda froze above the saddle. Murray’s response was “no, you idiot” and while his stride did get a little flat, he didn’t take off early and he saved my butt by taking the closer spot.
The best part about this lesson was that I got some video. While it was overall a successful lesson — Murray and I got past the stickiness into the combinations — I noticed in the video that there is some weird shit going on with my riding. For one, I am well entrenched back in the land of the waaaaaaaay too long of stirrups. Those puppies need to go back up. I’m also not adding leg as effectively as I think I am — I seem to add a little leg and then pump with my upper body and be like “wtf why am I seeing no effect?” Well, duh, because you’re not really squeeeeezing, are you, dork?
I also noticed myself doing some rather odd things with my hands. I thought that I was just pushing my hands forward before the fences for that auto release, but it turns out I’m doing a complicated wingardium levio-SAH hand waggled before the fences, then just leaving my hands at Murray’s withers for the actual fences. Yep. Exactly what I thought I was doing.
This has reminded me that there are lots — LOTS — of reasons to ride in my jump saddle and do jump exercises on non jumping days. I get a little myopically focused on one thing at times — okay, all the times — so tend to let things fall by the wayside. I will have to make a conscious effort to do jump-related exercises at least once a week outside of my lesson, and once again really work towards tightening up my riding. Less flail would be ideal.