The Accelerator

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gymnastics clinic with Jimmy today, Wow.

My Bird gets very strong after fences. Everyone agrees he loves to jump and this is part of the reason. I have been a bit accepting of this behavior and I realize I need to address it. I’ve been trying to make him pull up willingly after I jump. You’ve heard it before, it seems like the harder I try to pull up, the faster he goes. I’ve been struggling with this for a while and I found the magic potion today. It’s something I knew all along, but just hadn’t put together on this horse. Here’s how it goes….

Birdie is strong to the fence, but that’s another issue – sort of. After the fence he just wants to keep going and what do I do? I pull on the reins – I mean the accelerator, I mean the reins. That’s what it does, it makes him go faster, just like racehorses. Oh dear, I already knew that. So I say to myself I need more leg to push him into the bridle. It’s not easy to apply leg to a horse that for all intensive purposes is running off. I do it anyway and still no prize. If anything, he’s worse. So Jimmy says to me why are you getting on your toe? I think to myself, I really don’t know. So I drive home thinking “Why am I getting on my toe?” I think about applying more leg and then I realize I don’t have strong enough legs to push him into the bridle. I have strong legs too, but the reason I don’t have enough leg is I AM STILL PULLING ON THE REINS TOO MUCH!!! In an effort to squeeze harder, I’m getting on my toe. I have the wrong balance of aids. Wow.

Here’s the thing, I’m going to jump a fence and my Bird is going to cut and run and I’m going to soften the reins and apply leg. Now I know why people think horse people are nuts. The thing is it works.

Now for the approach to the fence. I learned something about that today too. It also has to do with the balance and application of the aids. Well doesn’t everything? Bird wants to run to the fence and throw himself over it. We know that’s wrong, but he is very successful at it, at least up to 3’6″. Jimmy has been working with me all winter to change that and it has changed immensely. So now he’s been ragging on me (and rightly so) to ride in the moment. Ride the horse of today not yesterday. The horse of the moment, not the horse as he was a moment ago. So here I am cantering to the fence and the Bird is strong. I ride quietly and he produces a rhythmic, balanced canter. As I get to the fence, maybe four strides out, he breaks into the most disastrous trot. It’s crazy, so I abort, circle and pick up the canter again. This time as we approach, I soften my elbows and he speeds up and jumps. I get yelled at. Jimmy said, “You always let him sucker you into letting him run at the fence.” And I do, Jimmy is right as always. So, I figure I needed more leg to hold him together. Wrong. This is the way it is. As we approach the fence in a slow rhythm, Birdie basically says, “If you won’t let me run at it in the canter, I’ll run at it in the trot, so there!” I, the human need to wait, wait, stay the same and wait until the moment, the infinitesimal moment when it’s time to jump and then soften. Not one stride before, not two strides before, but the moment. Every time. I know everyone knows this, but there’s knowing it and knowing it.

By the way, I figured most of this out from my dressage lesson yesterday and then Jimmy asking the right questions today.

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