Locked & Loaded: XC Schooling
|Throwback to our first HT! My galloping position has changed a lot since then...|
My eventing buddy and I headed out to the horse park on Monday afternoon to do some XC schooling. We've developed a pattern of going schooling the day after recognized horse trials, which has been great since the course is all set up and flagged, we know exactly what we're jumping, the fences are 'legit', and we can compare questions between levels.
Dino was his typical super-chill self, and while he warmed up pretty well once we got out into a big open field, he was not feeling super inspired. I, on the other hand, began getting apprehensive as my friend and I started looking around for some smaller fences to warm up over. Since the HT the day before was recognized, there were no Weenie Jumps to be seen anywhere - everything was a solid BN fence or bigger.
Immediately my negative inner dialogue started, and I found myself wondering if schooling was a good idea, if eventing was a good idea, if I should just get off and go home now...
And then we spotted a smallish BN pheasant feeder that looked like it wouldn't eat us for dinner. Praise the Lord! I let Dino walk up to it and check it out, more for my benefit than his! I'm sure he would have jumped it just fine without the nose-to-fence introduction. He didn't really care. I watched my friend jump it successfully a couple times, and then picked up my canter, balanced it up, and pointed my pony at the feeder, which he jumped in the most perfect and uneventful manner.
OK, yeah, my pony is pretty perfect. Cross country is fun. This was a GREAT idea!
After jumping the feeder a couple times, we moved on to a log which had been the first fence on course. Again, Dino was 100% PERFECT and I was able to stay present and ride the pony underneath me instead of letting my imagination get the best of me. Dino is really becoming a professional when it comes to the straightforward XC fences; He takes the bit and pulls me to the jumps, and all I have to do is stick with him and keep us balanced.
|Check it out, I have a galloping position now!|
One of the biggest factors in my jump-related anxiety is feeling out of control or unbalanced. As I started jumping yesterday, I noticed that I felt unusually secure and in-control on approach to the fences. After taking a minute to think about what I was doing with my body, I realized that I had figured out (finally!) how to sink into my thighs as I entered the "preparation zone" before each fence. This effectively 'locked' my leg in place, and put me in the perfect, secure position to balance the canter without driving from way behind the vertical. As a result, my canter felt an awful lot like the great jumping canter we have been working on in our last couple lessons.
This was a HUGE moment for me! From then on in the schooling session, whenever I felt like our canter was getting a little wiggly or unbalanced, I'd just think "THIGHS" and lock into this secure, powerful position, and things would work out just fine every time.
It helped immensely when Dino and I approached the first fence I really felt iffy about - a stacked log jump that I'd jumped many times before, but for some reason I couldn't seem to get the canter just right, and made a lot of circles trying to get that forward, connected feeling. I finally dropped into my thighs, put my leg on, and rode a little more aggressively, and Dino hopped over without any issues whatsoever. On landing, I 'galloped' on to jump the feeder again, and while Dino was none too pleased about leaving his buddy, he did what I asked and once he understood that we were jumping the feeder again, he locked on and committed to it. Good pony!
After splashing through the water a bit (will Dino EVER be totally confident in the water? EVER???) I galloped out and followed my partner in crime over a BN log and into the woods, where we encountered a biiiiiig wide table full of straw. It looked pretty intimidating for a BN fence! My friend popped over it first, and commented that while the jump appeared to be 'normal' sized from far away, as you got closer it seemed to grow considerably. Gulp.
But, I got the best canter I could and aimed Dino at this thing. He got seriously googly-eyed; I'm sure the shadows cast over the table as the sun was getting lower were not helping. I sat in my strong position and kept my leg on, giving the pony a little tap on the shoulder, and after doing a stop-and-prop at the base, Good Boy Dino hopped over the table, clipping it with his hind legs.
|Cute little tiny coop|
After my friend jumped a rather terrifying Novice log pile in the woods, we moved on back through the water to the next section of the course. After schooling the ditch once or twice (Dino was perfect, as usual) we strung together a series of 4 fences: A produce stand, longish gallop to a ramp, 6ish strides to the ditch, then downhill to some barrels.
The produce stand had scared the pants off me in the past, but as I cantered up to it from my newly-discovered "locked & loaded" position, I felt... fine. Just completely fine. Dino jumped it great, landed and galloped on to the ramp, which was biggish but I also felt fine about. We popped over the ramp, nailed the ditch, and then things got weird.
I don't know why downhill terrain always seems to surprise me, but I lose my concentration every time things start sloping down. Dino and I collectively went, "Oh shit!" and I sort of awkwardly pulled him up before we got to the barrels because I felt really discombobulated and my brain momentarily left the building.
But I was not going to let myself get away with quitting! I came back around, picked up a canter, and got locked into my thigh. Dino jumped FABULOUSLY over the barrels and we cantered on down the hill, no problem. After that success, we jumped the feared Green Bench of Doom, and you know what? That thing did not scare me one bit. Dino jumped out of his skin over it, and then spooked at a large boulder on our way to a hanging log because he was PRETTY SURE it was actually a monster waiting to eat him. I let him touch the boulder, and we re-approached the log, which he jumped great.
We ended our schooling with another splash through the water, and my friend and I were both grinning from ear to ear. The horses had been SO good, we as riders were getting braver, and it had just been so much fun to jump around together. And while I didn't totally dominate every single fence, jump with no fear, ever, and start eyeing up the Training level jumps, this was a really significant schooling for me. I discovered the Locked & Loaded balancing position, which made me more secure in the saddle, better able to influence the canter, and allowed me to approach each jump with confidence. When I started to lose my nerve, I was able to quickly and calmly regroup, assess the situation, make the appropriate changes, and jump the fences that were making me anxious.
Dino was WONDERFUL, and is learning the cross country game really well despite his fumbling rider. I love the way I can feel him pulling me to the fences, and especially the economical way he's starting to jump XC - even the jumps that I thought would ride 'big' didn't feel big AT ALL. The BN fences are starting to feel like skipping around Elementary. The fact that Dino enjoys himself when we're out there running cross country makes it all the more fun for me! There's still loads for us to work on, but every time I go schooling I unlock more confidence, and that is a marvelous thing!