Thursday, September 17, 2015

Two Lessons in One Week? Madness!

Don't get used to it's a bit of a last hurrah before the final event of the season and before I'll barely be able to afford a lesson a month. I had previously set up an XC lesson for Tuesday and then as my calendar for the weekend unfolded I realized the only time I could fit in a dressage lesson was Monday, so back to back lessons it was!

I have no dressage pictures, so enjoy this beautiful XC field.
We'll start with dressage: Silly Maggie got spooked by the lesson going on in the indoor as we walked past it and was high stepping and snorting as I lead her to the mounting block, so I knew we might be in for an interesting ride. She was definitely tense and a little challenging, but it wasn't too bad. 

Since she was a little full of it at the start, we picked up the canter pretty quickly and Trainer had me practice going up in a half seat, asking her to move out and lengthen her stride (which she readily did since she was jazzed up), and then bring her back to a working canter by sitting back in the saddle, sitting tall, and slowing my seat. A good exercise for tuning her into my seat.

Next we ran through the test (BN A) once and immediately identified the area that needed the most work: the downward canter-trot transition coming off the right lead between M and B and the trot leading into the final turn down the center line. Maggie gets tense and strung out coming out of that canter which then means the trot after it is sloppy and I don't have her on my aids enough to get an accurate turn down the center line (we overshoot, as evident in our last test).

What we ended up figuring out was that in my efforts to keep Maggie cantering until M (she really really, wants to drop back to a trot in the corner after C) I'm egging her on too late and then asking for the downward transition too soon, thus a messy and rushed transition. I need to add more leg sooner rather than later (like before or at C instead of after it) in order to help keep her going enough to reach M.

After we practiced this a few times I thought about it and said to my instructor, "You know, I think if I just can't keep her going though I'd rather that she break early rather than late. A late transition is just going to end up rushed and then it's going to mess up the whole trot and center line afterwards. But if she breaks early then at least I have a nicer more relaxed trot to work with."

To which my instructor replied, "YES - that is exactly right! If you have the option of making a transition early or late, always go with early - it will result in better scores for the next movements." So I thought that was a really useful tidbit of information - and I was pretty proud to have made that conclusion on my own as well! Something must be clicking.

The next day, I trucked out to the Myopia Schooling Field to meet up with the other trainer. Thanks to some last minute electrical work by my husband, he got the brake box all hooked up and tested the night before and ready to roll for Tuesday. I really can't thank him enough for his work on it, especially because this turned out to be a really excellent, confidence-building lesson full of good things for me to work on.

Successful maiden voyage!
We started out trotting and cantering in two-point in an area of the field with a little slope before we moved on to an 18" log and then strung some 2' and 2'3" fences together. Here are my biggest takeaways from the lesson: 
  • Probably the most essential thing when riding XC is for the horse to respond to your leg when you ask it to go. Maggie is a little lazy and doesn't really respond well to me asking her for more yet. The biggest takeaway from this lesson is that I need to work on getting Maggie to respond instantaneously when I put my leg on - and it's going to require practicing it a lot and being firm with her, but we'll get there.
  • When cantering downhill don't be afraid to let her go a little more so she can find her own balance. Most horses don't want to fall on their face, so if you stop trying to balance for them they'll balance themselves.
  • I need to be less restrictive with the reins as we approach fences. Particularly when jumping uphill, I don't need to be hanging on her face trying to balance her on her hind end as much - it just gets in the way of the jump. She wanted to see me moving my arms a lot more as we approached a fence and even said to think about flapping my arms like chicken wing, though that would be a little least it would keep my arms from locking back!
  • I also need to be less restrictive with the reins in general. For one, I need to do some two-point work so that I don't have to rebalance myself with the reins (bad bad). I was able to get a good feel for the kind of forward, but controlled canter/gallop that is appropriate for XC. Breaking news: It's different than a show jumping canter (shocking, I know). It was more forward than I had initially thought/ realized, but as the same time it was controlled and fluid. I'm really glad I got to feel it and now I know what to aim for. Balancing on the reins inhibits that nice forwardness.
  • Trainer discovered my very real and very bad habit of jumping ahead and gave me a lecture (a friendly one) about how it unbalances the horse over the jump and makes it harder for them, which I already know and it's easier said than done, but I'm really glad I now have someone to get on me about it. One jump we tried was a small brush box on a slight uphill approach. It was after our first pass over this fence that I earned the lecture about jumping ahead. I mentioned to her that I think I'm subconsciously really afraid of getting left behind and popped off over a jump and she said that made sense judging by the way I ride. She assured me though that it's actually really hard to get left behind and basically you won't unless you either are on a horse that just totally takes you by surprise and jumps when you're not expecting it or you totally mess up really badly - which is actually kind of hard to do to that degree. So that was reassuring and the next time over that fence I did my best to wait it out and indeed I felt that we got a smoother jump out of it.
The offending jump is the smaller one on the right. We were to jump that then take a left and make a loop to go over the rolltop to the left of the bush in the same direction.
I left the lesson feeling really happy and like I learned a lot - this is the first true lesson I've ever had over XC obstacles before. Sure, I been schooling with friends much more knowledgeable and experienced that myself and I've had my fair share of arena-bound lessons in the past, but I've never actually had a trainer on the ground with me for XC so I've never really worked on these different principles. It was a great experience and I'm really looking able to doing it again sometime! Might not be a  while though, since it's the end of the season and you know, money and stuff. But I'm really lucky to live in an area with some really awesome places to ride too.

I'm getting really pumped for the event on Sunday. Provisional start times got posted and I barely have a half an our between dressage and stadium so that'll be a quick tack change, but I'm sure it will work out. I'm feeling really good, but I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much. I know we can do great at dressage if we're relaxed and I know we can jump clear if we're forward - it just all has to come together! Isn't that always the trick though?


  1. yay i'm so pumped for you! that dressage lesson sounds great - i love a good strategy session before riding a test, and seems like you've got a pretty clear understanding of how to get the most points out of it. also, awesome xc lesson! i struggle with being too restrictive with my reins too - a very difficult habit to let go of (puns lol). knowing is half the battle tho!

  2. Woohoo!!! All of the adventures! Glad you got to take the truck on its maiden voyage!