Friday, November 6, 2009

Day 2: Stadium and Related Distances

Isn’t the second day always more difficult? Your brain is full, your body sore, and your expectations either much higher or lower depending on Day 1 went? Of course, your horse and you have both had a day to acclimate, so theoretically, we should all be more comfortable. Hmmm….maybe it’s just me.

One of Karen and Cathy’s purposes today was to reinforce that “horses do what we ask them to”…and it’s our job to make sure they are straight (direction), going the right speed, with the right rhythm and balance.

Right off the bat, she told the prelim group that “you won’t coax a prey animal to do ANYTHING”. They need LEADERSHIP. Wow. That’s huge for me. Of course, this goes back to my first experience teaching (I wanted to be Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music…if they loved me, they’d all be good!). Ha. Try THAT with 8th graders….!

But I think I do that with Paddy….I love him, and I think of him as my pet…and I treat him like a pet. Julia Denton and I have discussed this problem, and it IS a problem as you need to ask the horse to step up at the higher levels…..and you can’t really “ask” in the sense of asking your pet… YOU need to tell the horse what to do, and to give him the confidence to do it. Karen and Cathy were adamant that if you can control the hind legs, you can do just about anything…and I’m becoming a believer. As Karen said several times to various riders: “This is NOT a democracy! He needs leadership!”

The second day was going to be mostly about related distances, with some accuracy questions. But, before we began, we worked on some basic moves: like trotting a vertical, then stopping. Later, we trotted a vertical, went back to a trot, then trotted an oxer and stopped. Finally, we trotted in over a vertical then cantered out over the oxer, and then stopped. Simple, right?

Well, it should have been. But somehow, we all find ways to complicate what should be simple.

The instructors added to the complexity: we had to stop after the fences to teach the horses that they need to be asking “what now?” after every fence—they need to be LISTENING to us (as leaders). But stopping was harder than many of us thought, and a stop wasn’t enough; we had to push into the halt so that it was round. Sort of goes back to the “expect more” thing I’ve been struggling with….!

“Don’t just practice what you’re good at” Karen reminded us.

The horse and rider needed to be on the same line (there’s that direction thing again!) or the jumps didn’t turn out well.

Before the riders started work on related distances, Karen quizzed the riders on all the variables that influence the number of strides. Some of the answers are:

  • Length of the horse’s stride
  • Terrain
  • The take off spot
  • The height/width of the fence
  • The speed
  • The impression of the jump the horse has (scary? Busy? Etc.)
  • The line/direction
  • The size of the field/stadium

And so forth. The thing is that related distances are all about lengthening and shortening strides, and that’s something that has to be done in ALL THREE PHASES. So why don’t we work more on it??

Once again, we were reminded that the horse should fold our hips for us; we don’t need a big move. What we need to do is to stay in the horse’s center of gravity.

Karen reprimanded riders for using a crest release—we need to be using the automatic release so that we can keep contact with our horses before, during, and after the jump. The crest release tends to give your horse too much rein, and it puts the rider ahead of the motion. We should follow and allow what the horse needs, and no more.

In stadium, we use two “seats”: two point and light sitting (what Jimmy Wofford calls “light three point”). In two point, our breeches should barely touch the saddle. In three point, our weight is still in our heels, but also in our seatbones and pubic bone. We need to practice BOTH.

If a horse is above the bit, we need contact—but we need to PUSH the horse into contact rather than pull him into it. Once we have impulsion, Karen said, it’s “just cruise control”. I like that—I don’t need to keep fussing.

We should be able to lengthen/shorten in two point.

She asked one rider who just had a rather awkward transition “how often do you ride your horse?” The rider responded about an hour a day. “How many hours are there in a day?” “Twenty-four” said the rider. “If you’re only giving your horse only an hour, shouldn’t you give him your FULL ATTENTION?” Point made!

When a horse says “I can’t do that!” We need to show him that he can—that means WE have to be straight, be in a good rhythm, speed, balance, etc. So the rider responsibilities really do extend into helping the horse learn HE CAN.

Both Cathy and Karen would say “you’re letting him out the front door!”, which means that we’re sending the horse forward, but not into the contact. So instead of building power, we’re letting the horse squirt out between our legs.

A few riders, when they had a bad distance, etc. got what Karen called “the car wreck” look on their faces—I wonder if you can control that?

To get a better canter, she had one participant do canter-walk-canter-walk transitions.

The take off spot is critical to what the horse does before, during, and after the jump. We need to make sure we understand that.

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