Short & Quick, or, Eventing Is Hard - A Lesson Recap
|I present to you: Body Clip, Phase 1|
We did our pre-lesson warmup with two other riders, and Dino was typically sticky and snarky about the whole thing. By the time my trainer was ready for us, the other riders had gone out for a hack, so we had the whole arena to ourselves, thank goodness!
My trainer had us start in free walk, which is how I've been trying to begin our rides at home. Starting with stretch & forward seems to do good things for EuroPony. As I gathered up the reins to put Dino into a working frame, my first instinct was to start kicking him up into a faster walk - I could feel him slowing down the tempo as I began to package him together. However, my trainer shut that down that thought process pretty quickly. "I don't care if he slows down!" she said, "As long as he's slowing down into a frame, that's fine. He's tracking up, he's lifting his back, it's OK if he goes slow."
Hm. Well, then! It was really hard for me to restrain myself from trying to chase my pony into a faster walk. Forward has been my top priority with Dino for so long that I can't quite bring myself to be ok with slow, even if it is correct. As I rode Dino up into the bridle a bit more and got him a bit rounder, my trainer wanted me to move my arms, seat, and legs simultaneously and SUBTLY. No one piece of me was to move too much (no driving with the seat, chasing with the leg, or fussing with the hands), but each aid was to soften and allow Dino to step up and into the bridle in the 'slow' walk. And, what do you know, she was right again and Dino responded with some very, very nice walk, and transitioned up obediently into a trot when I asked.
It's super exciting for me that Dino is now consistently round for our flatwork in lessons, and we don't have to spend the entire flat portion trying to get him in front of the leg and bending - I ask, and he goes round. My trainer has actually been able to help me finesse our dressage instead of helping me deal with the pony'tude, which is awesome!
The trot was a little lackluster at first, BUT, it was consistently round! And we had bending! From the very start! We worked again on riding a 10m circle and then bursting forward down the wall of the arena, which did great things both for Dino's impulsion and getting him to really balance and push under himself with his inside hind leg. I'm becoming a big fan of that exercise. Position-wise, I had to focus hard on not getting stuck behind the vertical and hanging too much with my hands while pushing too much with my seat. My trainer had me think "chest up, shoulders back, hip closed" and it really helped me to get in a more balanced dressage seat, but lordy it took a lot of focus to get there!
When my trainer finally asked me to move up into the canter (on our crummy left lead, great) I was skeptical about Dino a.) picking it up promptly, and b.) it being round at all.
EuroPony proved me 100% wrong and he stepped up into a beautiful, round, light and fluffy left lead canter when I asked. Since the canter itself was pretty perfect for us, we just worked on maintaining it without driving - a challenge in itself for me! While Dino's been offering more and more self carriage in the canter lately, it's still SO hard for me to just be soft and let him do the heavy lifting - I want to sit back and push him with my seat instead of following and letting him do his own job. But I had to focus on the same good position we worked on in the trot - upright upper body, long drapey legs. I left Dino alone and worked on keeping my position until he made a mistake and broke to the trot, then put him back into the canter and left him alone again. It was hard work, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We finished the canter work with some hand-gallops down the long side followed by sitting and putting Dino together with a light, LIGHT hand on a 20m circle at each end of the ring. We needed to prepare our jumping canter, which is very different from the collected, smaller dressage canter we started with! I got exactly the canter my trainer wanted for jumping, and could definitely feel the difference when we got there. I love being able to dial in on the different canters we need for each phase!
The jumping portion of our lesson was yet another deceptively simple course with a lot to teach us - two cavaletti set on opposite diagonals, an oxer and a vertical set in the center of each long side, and a skinny made of barrels sitting right on the centerline at one end of the ring.
|super not to scale...|
We started by jumping the two cavaletti on a figure-8, and as usual for us, the theme of the day was GALLOP! Dino started out annoyed that his break was over, so there was a lot of irritated trotting, but I insisted that he jump the little fences anyway. He was NOT getting away with stopping just because he was cranky! Once he got in the jumping groove, the exercise rode really well and just flowed so easily - all the distances came right up out of our good forward canter. Success!
The first time we incorporated the other two jumps into a course, however, was pretty gross. We had to jump the cavaletti on a big curve instead of a figure-8, then turn left to jump the vertical and right to jump the oxer. Dino was behind the leg and definitely trotted a few fences. Although we got it done, it wasn't pretty.
The second attempt, however, was pretty perfect! We had a great canter going into the course, and maintained it throughout the entire thing. All of the distances came up absolutely perfectly, I was riding boldly to everything, and galloped away from the backside of every fence. It was awesome! We did it again backwards, adding in the barrels off a left turn at the end of the course. It went pretty well until the oxer, at which we had a bit of a flyer. I was a little wishy-washy on the way to the barrels, and picked up a stop there. I should have focused on riding straight instead of looking for a distance, as usual. After a couple more attempts, (riding STRAIGHT and halting in front of the barrels) Dino and I jumped it beautifully. Good pony!
We ended working on the turn from the vertical to the oxer off the right lead - I kept wanting to either hold with my hands too much through the turn or drive aggressively to the fence, resulting in a rather IMPRESSIVE long spot to the oxer. We left out literally at least a stride, and Dino supermanned it over the oxer, miraculously clearing the entire thing! Dude's got scope, if nothing else.
My trainer, as astounded as she was at my pony's abilities to jump an oxer from over 12' away, wanted me to ride softly around the turn and let Dino get us to the base all by himself. No holding. No gunning it. Just quietly maintaining a balanced, forward canter and leaving my pony alone to get us to the right distance.
While we managed the appropriate ride to the vertical, both Dino and I were still making the bid for the long spot at the oxer. My trainer gave us a close placing pole - only about 7 or 8 ft away from the fence - and FINALLY I was able to let go, soften, and trust Dino to get us to the base. It was a good way for me to feel the kind of ride I needed!
In summary, I've got three canters at this point: Long & Quick, Short & Slow, and the coveted Short & Quick. While we've been working hard on Short & Slow in dressage, for jumping, Short & Quick is the name of the game. I can get Quick - but it gets LONG, and then Dino and I end up taking flyers to everything because it seems like the only option. While better than me riding backwards and actively placing my pony as close to the base as possible, we need to find a happy medium in order to be able to jump bigger jumps. There are a lot of canter poles and short distances in our future to help develop a jumping canter with a shorter stride length and more power!
I also need to continue to work on giving Dino more responsibility for things like balance, pace, and self-carriage. I should be able to ask him for a certain way of going and be able to leave him alone to maintain it. In our many misses at the oxer, it became very clear that he doesn't quite know what to do without my constant input - a manifestation of my need to feel like I'm in control of everything all the time. I need to feel more comfortable with letting him go, riding softly, and letting him get us over the jumps all by himself.
And lastly, eventing is hard! As soon as I feel like I have a good handle on my position and technique for one phase, it ends up screwing me up in a different phase. All of the constant switching back and forth between jumping, dressage, and XC is REALLY HARD! But the more I work at it, the better a rider I'm becoming, and that is worth it!