Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lunch Talk: On the Way to XC!

Lunch Talk Day 3
Karen and David made sure we knew that XC was the part of our sport that we practice the least, but the one that had the most profound consequences if we made a mistake. We needed to make sure we could apply what we’ve learned the last few days.

Just as Stadium is won or lost between the fences, so, too, is Cross Country made safe—or not—between fences. There are three parts of a XC course:

1. Galloping from jump to jump
2. Setting up/getting ready for a jump
3. Jumping

All of these things are amplified by speed, terrain, type of jump, and so forth.

Just as there are three parts of XC, so, too, there are three positions we need to know, to practice, and to MASTER:

1. Galloping/Cruising position
2. Preparation/Balancing position
3. Jump or “C” position

David noted that we’re working hard out there, but it should FEEL effortless. And while the rider’s body seems still (I’m thinking of Peter Atkinson’s helmet cam now!), the rider’s body is constantly changing with the terrain.

Make sure that in XC galloping position the seat is OUT of the saddle! Karen admonished several riders not to “post the canter”. Keep that rear end UP!

The rider’s foot is further in the stirrup than it is in stadium. Not on the arch, but right behind the ball. Also—they both made sure that we weren’t so far down in our heels. Interesting.

There are three points of contact in XC:

1. The feet in the stirrups
2. The knee area (some below—depends on horse and rider conformation)
3. The hands on the neck

Karen wants us to use a simple bridge, and our knuckles leaning on the horse’s neck right in front of the withers, pushing where our rings would be.

David made sure we knew that our job was to be in the middle of the horse at all times. Jimmy Wofford talks about how if the horse was removed, we’d still be standing. David demonstrated with a couple rulers.

We get closer to the horse to gallop, and we open our position, standing in the stirrups, “opening the sail” to balance. (as Karen says, “the hip goes higher than the turbulence, where the air is smooth”) We need to feel engagement, and work on helping the horse to know that opening the sail means balance. Then, before the jump, we lower our seat, choose a spot, and ride to it. The slower we go, the closer we are to the horse.

Every jump is different, and it’s up to the rider to feel how much the jump is holding the balance, and how much the rider needs to. I’m reminded of a Leslie Law clinic where he talked about an imposing trakehner having “a built in half-halt”.

We need to make sure we’re landing on a slightly longer rein, and that we land on our feet to absorb the concussion.

Our speed is determined by several things:

• How vertical the fence is (more vertical = slower, more collected)
• How the fence face is shaped (slanted face = more speed)
• What is behind the fence (water? Drop? Another fence?)
• The width of the face
• The terrain (up or down a hill?)

David had us stand up, then get our head closer to our feet. “How did you do it?” he asked. We didn’t do it by putting our feet back—but by sticking our butts out. That’s how we have to do it in XC when we’re trying for the “C” position over fences…..keep the leg still, but move the butt up and back so we are in balance before, during, and over the fence.

My job is to make it easy for the horse to jump.

Some things they prefer: knot the reins. Where boots. Where a breast plate. Karen loops a rubber band over the whip and has it on her finger.

We need to be all the horse being safe (once again, it’s not about US…it’s about THEM).

Decide what you want to do. Make a plan. Then do it. We are limited only by our imaginations.

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