Dino and the Search For the Magic Gallop
Riding horses is hard, you guys.
After my ill-fated attempt at moving back up to BN without sufficient preparation for the cross country phase, I decided that the next month and a half before returning to competition in September (at Intro!) needed to be all about XC for us.
More specifically, all about the canter. Because you can't have a good jump without a good canter, and a poor canter is generally where 99% of jumping problems lie. And a good canter, in turn, helps me feel more confident, which helps me ride better, and instigates a cycle of positive improvement. When we have a good canter, I don't feel the need to stare at the jumps because Dino gives me the wonderful feeling that he's on board with what's happening and will take care of the actual jumping - all I have to do is pilot him to the fence. And when I don't stare at the jumps, Dino doesn't stop, and we build each other's confidence round and round. The Magic Gallop, I believe, will be the answer to our problems.
While my original plans for a training ride for Dino soon after our last HT went down the tubes (couldn't make our schedules mesh, agh!), I have been working on finding that Magic Gallop on a near daily basis in our rides at home, and I think, perhaps, I'm getting closer to discovering how it feels.
Emma, reading my mind as always, recently published a post about what the "perfect jumping canter" feels like, and it echoed many of my recent thoughts about the subject.
In lessons past, I've caught glimpses of what this canter should feel like for Dino and I on cross country, but I'm still struggling with being able to consistently achieve the right feeling. We had it, for sure, on course at Fair Hill! Dino was forward, up in the bridle, balanced in an uphill posture, and really taking me to the jumps. It was a canter that made me feel like I could jump anything from any distance, and it would all work out great. I've also really nailed this type of canter in the stadium arena - again, uphill, in the bridle, forward and taking me somewhere.
But at Fair Hill, Dino essentially offered me that perfect XC gallop from the start, and when he didn't do the same at Burgundy Hollow, in the moment I was at a loss as to how to manufacture that balanced feeling of Dino pulling me to the jumps. We'd vacillate between too slow, under-powered, and behind the bit and too fast, too downhill, and too heavy on the forehand. Which, honestly, feels terrifying to ride. I struggled mightily with finding that Magic Gallop on course.
So we've been galloping a bunch at home. And not flat-out, bat out of hell galloping, but just picking up a forward canter, riding out around the farm, and figuring things out. Can I adjust his stride? What do I need to do to get Dino up in the bridle, tucking his butt under, pulling me along, taking me somewhere? Can I move from a "cruise control" gallop to a more uphill-balanced jumping canter easily? What does it take to do so? What are the qualities of a canter that makes me feel like I could jump the moon? How do I ask for it? How do I maintain it?
One thing that's helped me capture the feeling of the Magic Gallop is riding up one particular long hill on our property. The uphill slope sets Dino in an uphill posture, he naturally 'pulls' more going uphill, and I can get a feeling for how he should feel underneath me. At the top, we crest the hill and then begin heading down again, and my task becomes maintaining that uphill, pulling, in-the-bridle, going-somewhere gallop.
I haven't nailed it down yet, but I'm figuring out that it's got a lot to do with riding Dino's hind legs up underneath him, and then holding that power in my hands as he takes the bit and moves forward. This makes sense, because it's generally how I have to ride him in dressage and show jumping too, but on cross country everything seems different, and my academic understanding of what needs to happen on course is still woefully lacking. But, I'm slowly figuring it out!
My barn owner's husband also did an awesome thing and built us a new XC jump at home! It's about 2'4", a nice friendly stacked log jump, and is pretty perfect for me to use to practice just the feeling I'm looking for in our search for the Magic Gallop. I've done a couple productive schooling sessions with it, and slowly things are starting to come together for me. Even so, I'm counting down the days until my trainer is back in action and can help me again!
What's helped you learn the right type of canter for your jumping discipline of choice? I'd love to hear what worked for others!