Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Keep it Simple

On Friday I got in the jumping work that I had originally wanted to do Thursday. And by jumping, I mostly just mean cantering over a pole. Back in December, I had read a post by Denny Emerson on the Tamarack Hill Farm Facebook page about the elusive "seeing distances." Emerson did a series of posts about the rider's eye and how to learn to see a distance. The moral of his posts, and this is a common theme of his, is PRACTICE. (Side note: I highly recommend following the Tamarack Hill Farm FB page if you aren't already, but only if you can handle a little wry wit ;) Emerson is constantly posting some great opinions, tips, and photos)

But how do you practice? The simplest thing to do is to canter over a pole on the ground and try and see a distance to when the horse canters over the pole. Even if you're just doing flat work - stick a pole on the ground and canter over it every time you ride. I had heard of this technique before and have practiced it a fair amount on my own. One thing that Emerson said in his recent post that really stuck out to me was this:
"Aim at a rail on the ground, and when you think you are three strides away, say "three" "two" "one." You will either be just right, too long or too short."
For some reason the fact that he suggested counting down, "three" "two "one", jumped out at me. Probably because whenever I practiced the same exercise, I had been counting up, "one" "two" "three". I'm not sure why this difference stuck with me, but I knew I wanted to to give it a try.

So after I tacked up and made it to the indoor on Friday (and fortunately had the ring to myself), I placed a single cavalletti on the ground just off the track. At first I placed it on it's lowest setting, so that it was merely a ground pole. After a nice warm up at the walk and trot I asked Maggie to pick up a canter and pointed her at the pole. When I though we were three strides away I counted down out loud..."three" "two "one"...and Maggie cantered over the pole nicely in stride.


We came around in a twenty meter circle and I pointed Maggie over the pole again. I counted down out loud again...and got the distance right again.

Well, whadaya know.

I kept working at it in both directions, and I sure flubbed it a couple times by counting too early, but I definitely got it right more times than I got it wrong...which is a vast improvement from the way it was before! I'm not really sure why - it's probably some kind of mental thing - but counting down to the pole seemed to make it much easier for me to get the distance right.

After some practice with the ground pole, I rolled the cavelletti over to it's tallest position - only about 18-20 inches tall, but enough to make it an actual jump. When I got the distance right, it made it easier for me to relax and focus on my position instead of worrying if I was going to get jumped out of the saddle. In addition to counting down, I also tried focusing on keeping my lower leg on Maggie's sides and moving my hips back. And heck, I even felt myself give a really good release on the last effort - actually following with my hands and elbows instead of just slipping the reins, which is what I always tend to do in a panic (better than snagging her mouth at least.)

If you want to see Mr. Emerson demonstrating this exercise and the importance of a good canter, he also posted a link to this YouTube video. It's well worth a watch!

I'm not saying that this one little thing is going to change my life and make me an amazing jumper instantly. But if it helps at all (and it does) then I'm going to stuck with it and keep practicing, just like Mr. Emerson says.

Have you ever tried something just slightly differently, and had it make a huge difference?


  1. That's a great exercise! Guess what I'll be doing once the mud clears up ;)

  2. nice! glad it's working out for you! i agree 100% that practicing with a single cavaletti or ground pole definitely helps - and i do it alot!!

    the counting strategy thing has been more elusive tho. my previous hunter trainer (who i LOVE) drilled the 1-2-1-2 counting style deep into my brain, and that's how i count, period. (it occasionally turns into 1-2-1-2-3 if we're right at the fence)... and i just saw an anne kursinski exercise that recommended counting up from 1, like you were doing previously, bc she believes that counting down promotes a backwards ride... but then i've also heard ppl say that the counting isn't really what matters - it's the quality of the canter...

    so... uh... not sure why i'm rambling so much here except to say i definitely struggle with this too - and glad you found something that's working for you!!

    1. I counted 1-2-1-2 for a while (and I still do when I'm just cantering around on the flat) but when I count like that approaching a fence it doesn't help me tell when the horse is going to take off. Dunno, it just messes with my brain! Interesting, the thought about counting down creating a backwards ride. I agree that it isn't really the counting that matters, but it sure helps us baby jumpers lol. Quality of canter definitie is the most important! Still working on that though... ;)

  3. I have to count or else my brain floats away into micromanage mode. Not only great for distances, but reminds me to keep the same pace going around.

    1. I count all the time on the flat for pacing - really helps!

  4. My trainer says if you're not looking for a distance, you'll never find one! Sounds like common sense, but I've caught myself not looking more than once!

  5. You know, watching the Ann Kursinski free videos on distance counting, she said she likes riders to count up because she thinks counting down makes them think "backwards" (she didn't explain more, perhaps she meant hold more instead of maintaining a steady pace?). However, I literally CAN'T count up -- I can count down strides correctly (well, almost correctly) all the live long day, but up baffles me! So this is my story about agreeing with you regarding counting down. ;)

    1. Yeah, I don't know what it is about counting up that baffles me so much easier! Emma (^) mentioned the Ann Kursinki videos too - I will have to look them up! I think, at least for me, that counting up makes me more backwards and I anticipate the jump more, like I'm thinking "1-2-3-GO" whereas with counting down I felt myself just relax and stay steadier. I'm a big proponent of whatever works for individuals though!