Sunday, January 24, 2010

The no-longer-quite-as-elusive One Stride

For the longest time, one of my biggest issues with Val has been my complete inability to get the typical "horse" stride- 12ft- out of him. The key word in that sentence, sadly, is "my". He has no issue whatsoever with getting a "horse-sized" stride with other riders. So, it's clearly something I'm doing to hold him back.

We've tried many things- my trainer has even watched as I "pushed" him right after landing, clearly asking for him to speed up and take the jump in one stride, and seen him ignore my signals and take it in two. And she got on right after that incident, and he gave it willingly to her! It felt like even if I was doing everything right, he was convinced I wanted two strides. Which, when I was a less forward, less confident rider, I did! I wasn't ready for him to be that forward. That's not the case anymore.

So, today, we tried a different approach- I had a lesson, and after I jumped a simple cross rail a couple times, we turned it into an oxer and built a cross rail in front of it. It was set on a short one-stride distance- 18'. Gradually, we built it up all the way to 22', an-almost-standard one-stride distance, and not once did we get two strides! That was definitely a good moment.

My lower leg position was much better today, and my toes were even pointing in the semi-right direction! Unfortunately, my upper body had become locked and stiff. I wasn't hitting Val in the mouth or landing on his back, but I was like a completely rigid board he had to carry. By the end, I was bending- bending in my elbows, bending in my hips... getting closer to a more fluid jumping position.

The only negative part of the lesson was Val's inattentiveness, at times. He was so excited to be jumping, and so confident in his abilities, he felt that he could go as fast and disorganized as he pleased. He didn't need MY input; he knew how to jump! Well, we set that straight with a few circles before and after the fence, and he had calmed down and was just taking me to them instead of rushing towards them at the end. A very productive lesson, overall.

Yesterday, I had planned to jump some little stuff, but the arena was terribly crowded and both Val and I were sick and TIRED of being inside. It was a fairly nice day, and although it was incredibly muddy, we decided to head off into the wild blue yonder for a trail ride.

There is something about being alone while you're with your own horse that's amazing. When you spend as much time with them as I do, you feel like you know them inside and out. You know when they're tense; when they're going to spook at something. You know if they have devious thoughts of barreling back toward the barn at a gallop. And you also know when you can trust them.

I trust Val. We were out in the open, for the first time in several months, and I didn't even get on or canter him once inside the arena. I took him off the cross ties, bridled him, and hopped on. And I had a fantastic ride. We went in and around some of the light woods at the back of the property. We rode a little near the pond. We even "schooled" water via going through puddles. I even let him canter a little when we turned around. We were on the back stretch; not the actual path that led straight to the barn, but I could feel him thinking "barn!" and I let him pick up a slow gallop anyhow. And when I asked, he came right back down. He thought about not, but the thing is, he did.

Sometimes I wonder if I trust him too much. But other times, I think that a lack of trust in your horse is what causes some of the worst accidents, especially jumping accidents. If you're pointing you horse at a fence and you're simply not sure if they'll go or not, it is incredibly easy to pass your uncertainty on to them. And one thing I know about horses is that they (at least all the ones I've been acquainted with) aren't big fans of things their riders are unsure of. Anyone that rides cross country has got to trust their horse; we owe it to them to not create some self-fulfilling prophecy with our own doubt.

And that's my deep thought of the day, I suppose. Sadly, I have to stay at school very late this week for newspaper, which pretty much means I can't ride, not with the amount of homework I have to do. Best case scenario, I'll get to ride again on Thursday. Ah, well.


  1. I love riding outside. I went on a hack on Saturday, the nicest day we've had in ages - up the road and down the road, past the Terrifying Horse-Eating Goats...heehee. Pandora gets so tall when she's nervous. We did a nice little prance-sideways all the way past them, but she went.

    I'm glad to hear your jumping lesson went well! And trust me, Val isn't the only one who occasionally wants to tune the rider out when jumping ;) Pandora does it sometimes too.

  2. Those issues that are obviously your fault are the worst... I'm glad you're getting them worked out. Val sounds like quite the trooper, though.

  3. Knowing and trusting your own horse is definitely a special feeling. When I trim my horse's feet a get that feeling. I am in such a precarious position, but he knows that I am helping him and so he tries not to squash me!
    As for the jumping challenge...try mobilizing and loosening your own shoulders throughout the jumping exercise. It is very common to hold tension in the shoulders and it will translate right to the horse's shoulders, preventing the reach and lift needed to complete the task. This is something that I work on for myself and I have been amazed at how soft and free moving my horse becomes. Congrats on your personal best!