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We Are Flying Solo

December 13, 2011

Someone Slap Me!

Encore has discovered his jump.  His big, powerful, sit-on-your-butt-and-leap jump.  Holy mother of cod, I had a lot more horse under me than I expected on Sunday!  But it felt really REALLY good -- he saw a jump, locked on, came up in front of my leg in a strong, balanced canter (where I sat up VERY tall so he was not tempted to dash at it), found his distance, and soared.

His confidence was just plain fun and we even tackled a couple skinny brush boxes, about four feet wide each.  It took a couple tries for him to understand, but we got the light bulb and finished with a very proud pony.  He is jumping regularly at about 2'4" to 2'7" these days, which is mind-boggling to me since he jumped his first vertical in September.

It was a welcome relief for me, as I had found myself unexpectedly frustrated the last few weeks.  Starting out with Encore, I knew he was green, so I expected little and just rolled with it.  I was relaxed, it was fun, all was good.  Then he made great progress, I started making plans, I got an agenda, and I pushed.  It didn't help that stress from other areas of my life piled on.  And on and on and on. 

Of course, this did not become clear to me until we had a dressage lesson on Saturday, during which Priscilla was forced to give me a mental slap in the head.  Everyone should get smacked in the head from time to time, it does a world of good.  I felt like I just remembered to breathe again.  As Priscilla reminded me, when I am wound up tighter than a tick's belly and trying to shape my horse with sheer willpower, I will only make things worse.  For me, I have to take a deep breath and tell myself, "It just doesn't matter, it just doesn't matter, RELAX, IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER."  Obsessing over the little things, fixating on details, wanting problems fixed now, can put my brain on overdrive.  Fail.   

I also watched a session from last week's USEA convention, ever-so-helpfully uploaded by John over at Eventing Nation and one section in particular brought everything back into focus.  The videos encompass a Q&A session with 4-star riders, open to any audience inquiries.  Someone asked how much correctness they should demand from a young horse; does everything have to be right right now or do you just focus on one thing at a time?

If I obey the Law, will my horse do that?
This is my problem, I epiphanied (it's a word now, baby) to myself.  This is where I need to refine my approach to youngsters.  Buck Davidson summarized it best:  make a goal for the day and when you achieve it, be done.  Even if it only took ten minutes.  Don't go out and do your transitions and then do your ten meter circles and then do your canter work and then do your lateral exercises.  You will overwhelm a young mind if you just keep piling on.  Leslie Law (at right) agreed and elaborated that, if pony "loses his fizz" after 15 minutes, that's ok, do some hacking instead and just relax.

Clayton Fredericks, Phillip Dutton, and Karen O'Connor also reminded me of the cardinal rule:  ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS KEEP HIM IN FRONT OF YOUR LEG.  He can be counterbent, he can be hollowed out, he can be cross-firing and swinging his head and swishing his tail, but he better be in front of your leg.

For us, that means picking our goal for the day and sticking to it, resisting the temptation to practice everything at once.  That means overlooking what is not-quite-right and keeping my eyes instead on the incremental progress.  That means not letting Encore get lazy and behind the leg (not much of a problem with that one, who still transitions to canter like he's leaping out of starting gate, ha!).  I feel calmer, more focused, and better prepared to go forward from here.

Now if it will just stop being dark all the damn time...


  1. in front of the leg... what does that mean exactly? If it is as important as you say for jumping Bodhi and I better get on it! We jumped a cross rail the other day (we cleared it!) and now we have the jumping bug!

    Congrats on your baby making such great progress! Sounds like he is really starting to enjoy his work.

  2. Thanks, Golden.

    As for your question, see if this makes sense -- I think of the horse having a ball of energy in them. When they are kind of shuffling around being lazy, say at the trot, it feels like the ball is back towards their hips, behind you and there's no real energy coming up through the shoulders and into the bridle.

    When the horse is in front of your leg, he is moving forward with activity and that ball of energy shifts forward so it is in front of your lap and you can feel that energy coming up and out through the bridle.

    It's a bit feely, but maybe that makes sense?

    Or you can think of it like a spraying hose. When the horse is behind your leg, the water (energy) is coming out weakly and kind of just drooping down to the ground. When the horse is in front of your leg, the pressure is cranked up and a powerful stream of water/energy is flowing up through the withers and forward through the bridle.

    Does that help?

  3. ETA: in the horse analogy, the hose nozzle would be located in the horse's hindquarters with water spraying forward.

  4. (Hi -- long time reader, first time noter. :) )

    I really need to go check out that clip, because it's exactly what I need to hear and have reinforced. Reveille and I got into an argument that really pissed her off because I was asking too much -- we should have been done!

    And having the horse in front of your leg is critical. If I have to work at posting the trot -- I used to! -- Rev doesn't have enough energy. That was a big breakthrough.

  5. In front of the leg--yes, that seems to come up a lot with us. :D Sounds like you guys are doing fabulously.

  6. Oh ok that does make sense.

    I may be wrong but in the ball analogy as a dressage rider I often feel like I am shooting for the ball of energy to be perfectly underneath me. Would you say there should be a difference in energy amount and energy flow like that between the two activities?

  7. Rinsie, do it, it's wayyy worth watching!

    GP, you want the same feel of "horse in front of your leg" for dressage -- energy flowing out and forward, up in front of you. You do want the horse's balance to be directly beneath you, though.

  8. Love it! I know what you mean about the youngsters, though. I constantly have to remind myself, "Keep doing what you're doing, slowly and patiently, and she WILL pay ARE making progress. There is no emotion here, no emotion. Do you hear me, NO EMOTION. Wait, that was emotion. No emotion." hahahahahaha. But it's good for us!

  9. haha yeah I guess so huh? I suppose I am confusing energy and balance in our metaphors. I was never good with them! I was thinking about a ball and then I started thinking of those yoga balls and how hard it is to sit on top of one.... and yeah....thanks! :)

  10. My coach always gives me homework; one thing to work on for the month until my next lesson. I literally trotted circles for a month working on rhythm only. I am now working on moving off my inside leg into the outside rein on a circle. A month of this.

    One day at a time. :)

  11. One day, indeed!

    Ahhh, sparks, I wish I could master "no emotion" LOL!

  12. I am definitely go to go watch that video it sounds amazing! I just wanted say if behind your leg is never a problem but the opposite of struggling to keep that ball of energy in the arena and not flying into the next county what do you do with that without discouraging that amazing forwardness?

  13. Amy, I make a whole lot of circles.

  14. Perfect. I needed to be slapped also.
    In front of the leg. Check.
    Everything else: uncheck.

    I like the pick one thing then quit when you've been able to get it. I actually did that last week (it almost killed me) I finally got not just the huge forward walk from behind, but relaxed and stretching into the bit. Which made me want to do it at the trot and canter!
    More More!
    Luckily, my right mind kicked in, and I wrapped up the walk and got off. It helps me to say "what do I want to leave in his mind today?"

  15. Jane, I had exactly the same thing two night ago. We had good trot work after some rushing, and I wanted to do canter. BUT I stopped and accepted the trot and got off. It was hard!!!