This week’s lesson brought to you by the letter “DUH”
To say I’ve been a little dissatisfied with Murray’s and my jumping lately would put it lightly. We’ve just felt… off. But not off with a clear reason, i.e. being terrified of fences, but off like not on. The jumping mojo has almost been there, just not quite.
(Oh man, you guys, probably my favourite scene in all Austin Powers is when he’s waking up from the cryo-freeze the first time and he gets covered in the goo and then just can’t really do anything.)
During my jump lesson this week I took my new rule of responsiveness firmly in hand and made sure that Murray was ahead of my leg from the very beginning of the ride. After my lackluster attempts to build power next week, I approached power from a slightly different angle: first I created energy, and then I could contain the energy. Right off the bat I gave Murray the chance to add energy to his canter and open up when I asked with my legs, and if I didn’t, well, in the words of Alli, Hello Mr. Sticky. (It is coming to my attention how much I talk about hitting my horse. I uh… well… yep. You go out with a bat for a reason, right?)
I also raised my stirrups, and committed to a light seated canter. Last week I was trying to get back to my half-half seat and just ended up pumping with my body a ton and looking like I was flopping around in the saddle. I wanted to still my body but get the energy that I was working for — and that energy doesn’t come from one’s upper body, it comes from legssssssss.
Lesson The First: When you get your horse ahead of your leg, finding your takeoff is way easier than when your horse is behind your leg.
When Murray is behind my leg, he tends to back off progressively with every stride approaching a fence. Shocker: this makes it incredibly difficult to find a consistent takeoff point. When Murray is behind my leg, he doesn’t react when I put leg on to get a better distance to a fence. So having him ahead of my leg meant that if I needed to put leg on for a better distance — which I did, repeatedly, and without much subtlety (pony kicks ftw), we actually got that distance. And, ahead of my leg, deep spots and long spots all ride better. Yep. Ride right. Get results.
Aside: What’s your definition of “ahead of the leg”? For me it’s always meant having my horse in that balanced, forward-thinking gait (super hard for me at the walk, barely achievable at trot, possible at the canter) where he responds immediately to any addition of leg or hand. It isn’t about speed, it’s about reaction time, though in my case being ahead of the leg generally means moving with a little more speed than Murray generally wants to move.
Lesson the Second: Getting Murray listening from the very beginning of the ride will has positive effects for the entire rest of the ride.
When you start with your horse ahead of your leg, he will be more ahead of the leg for the entire ride. I really don’t have anything else to say about this.
Lesson the Third: Even when you are sitting up in the saddle, you can still fold over the fences, even if it’s not super dramatically.
There are many tweaks I still want to make to my position, but one thing I have felt in the past is that when I am sitting in the saddle instead of hovering barely above the saddle, I can’t really follow the movement of the jumps as well. This, it turns out, is false. If I’m sitting and in balance, I can follow the movement just fine. It also puts me in a way better position to approach combinations, because I’m more upright through them automatically. This was super helpful when Murray got a less than perfect spot to the first fence, because then I wasn’t rocked out of the saddle or thrown onto his neck approaching the second fence. I stayed upright, and even if a weird spot was coming up, we were just fine.
These observations made me think back to how much better my riding, and jumping, was this past winter. And it makes a lot of sense. In the smaller indoor we always had a lot of grid work, and I rode more carefully and technically to the grid work. I got used to this better riding, and it carried over to the single fences. In the indoor we also used the corners and turns to our benefit, building power around them, instead of letting things get loose and floppy on the long, sweeping approaches.
So, for the future: CONTINUE TO TIGHTEN THAT SHIT UP. More leg on, more power, more connection. Set the tone for the ride, and keep it. Work on fitness, because Murray likes to be a lazy sack and checks out after about 40 minutes because he feels like it. More riding right.
Lesson the Fourth: I have garbage hands. WTF ARE THESE GARBAGE HANDS. Gotta figure out this weird little hand lift/wiggle I do in the stride before some of the fences.