Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lesson Recap: Discovering My "Bail Out" Mechanism

As with all lessons from my jump trainer, she started out by asking me how things were going. I said that I was still trying to really work on my lower leg and keeping Maggie forward and responding to inside leg in particular. I told her I was having more success at the trot - we had been doing a lot of trot work and I felt like we doing some pretty ok work. The canter, however, was another story. 

She likes her window

Earlier last summer during dressage lessons I had started to feel like we were actually starting to be able to canter properly and do trot-canter transitions that weren’t a total mess. However, since going forward has been our primary goal as of late (rightfully so), I had been feeling kind of incompetent at the canter and that it was flat and just running. Trainer assured me that that’s ok for now. We’ve got to get the basics back of being forward before we can have a pretty canter. 

Cantering is not Maggie’s favorite gait - that’s for sure. Trotting comes much more naturally for her. It was really assuring for trainer to tell me that she could definitely see improvement in Maggie’s canter (even as flat as it currently is) since she started teaching me at the beginning of the summer; particularly that it was much, much stronger overall. Eventually, after we continue to build her strength, she’ll be able to hold the canter for longer and we’ll be able to go back to really working on collecting it and having it be a proper working canter.

So we started out the lesson with Trainer giving me a few exercises to work on at the canter:

1. Posting The Canter

I feel a little bad writing about this, because Trainer told me to never tell anyone that she taught me to do this because it would ruin her reputation as a trainer. She said that if someone ever sees me doing it, just tell them “I’m messing around” or “I’m experimenting”, because this is something to never, ever do for real in riding/ showing for real…unless you play polo.

The reason she recommended the exercise to me however, was because she’s seen Buck Davidson teaching it to a student with a similar lower leg problem as mine. Emma used to work on this as well (but for a different reason), and has previously explained it probably better than I can, but essentially you just sit for a stride and rise for a stride. It took me a few circles to get it, but it totally clicked when I did and I think I said aloud, “Oh, THERE’S my lower leg!” 

So yes, it’s an excellent exercise for helping me to find my lower leg. It clicked when on the rising stride I figured out that I needed to be a little straighter in my posture than one is when in a true two-point in order to keep my balance and get in and out of the saddle quickly enough with the rhythm of the canter. And in order to keep Maggie cantering, my leg had to be stuck to her side in the proper “on” position, plus I had to be sure that I was looking up and ahead. More of this exercise will help me to develop a better feel for where my lower leg is and when it’s in the correct spot.

2. Super Fast Trot/Canter Transitions

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but guess what? Transitions help the horse build strength! The next exercise we briefly worked on was simply transitioning back and forth from trot to canter again and again on a circle. The aim was to make the transitions as quickly as possible. By the time I got Maggie cantering I should already be thinking ‘trot.’ This exercise served to: 1.) Build strength, as I previously mentioned; and 2.) Increase Maggie’s responsiveness since she tends to be on the lazier side at times. Adding these rapid transitions into our schooling at home should help Maggie eventually achieve a strong enough canter so that we can eventually get a nice balanced dressage canter. 

After talking about and working on my canter woes for a while, it was time to go back to the ground poles again! We did the same grid of 5 ground poles set at one-stride (18 foot) distances and I was super pleased that Trainer was impressed with how we handled it right off the bat! She said that I did a great job of keeping my body quieter and my leg on throughout the whole thing. I don't recall Maggie breaking into the trot once!

And then she raised the first, middle, and last poles...

...and I just could not seem to get a good distance to the first jump (all of them were tiny verticals, by the way) which messed us up for essentially the rest of the grid. Trainer thinks the turn into the grid was messing up the distance I was seeing. Whatever it was, it was messy. I did however learn something.

When things go to pot over a jump my “bail out” is to throw away the reins by letting them slip and essentially say to Maggie, “You’re on your own kid! Save yourself” This should also not really come as a surprise to anyone, but that is not the correct response to messing up a jump. 

Instead, I need to keep contact while not being constricting - I need to give with my elbows, which is a common theme lately - and not leave Maggie on her own to balance the both of us. I need to help out and support her. 

I got some good practice regarding this (thanks to the fact that I couldn’t get the right distance to the first jump throughout the entire lesson), but Trainer had to yell at me a couple times before I really committed to maintaining contact. Flubbing the first jump also made completing the rest of the grid messy work and I got a lot of “KEEP GOING! LEG, LEG, LEG, LEG!”

Overall, even if we didn’t jump very prettily, there were a lot of good takeaways from this lesson for things to be mindful of and practice on my own. Trainer was also really complementary of me, saying that she could tell I had been doing my homework - so that was a really great feeling!

Do you have a "bail out" mechanism? How did you overcome it?


  1. sounds like an awesome lesson - challenging, sure, but lots of good exercises to work on! these are all pretty much things i should be working on too lol. that 5-pole exercise definitely sounds tricky (i've done something similar, but with only the middle pole raised to a vertical) but theoretically you should see exactly how it improves the canter bc that first pole should become easier and easier to find with repetition (theoretically lol). also fwiw, if you watch carefully, you'll see jumper riders (or eventers during their stadium rounds) post the canter for a stride or two before they turn to approach a fence - it also really helps regulate pace.

    1. oooohhhh yeah, now that you mention it, I've totally seen riders do it before stadium rounds! When my instructor said post the canter though, I immediately thought of you and was like - I have to go back and look up her post on this!!

  2. I just got yelled at today for dropping Bobby in front of the fence and hoping he got us to the other side alive instead of that magical leg thing as well. Stupid leg. Why don't you just go on automatically?!