Today, Brego and I headed down the road to a beautiful cross country field tucked away in Lyman, Maine. The clinic was taught by Steuart Pittman, a great upper level rider who focuses on the quality of the rider. In general, I found him to be bright, interested, constructive and helpful. Even though we were in one of his lower level groups, he took our needs and concerns seriously and really guided up appropriately for our level. In short, if you get a chance to work with him, I HIGHLY recommend it.
Steuart kept the skepticism about Brego off his face as he asked for our verbal history at the beginning of our session. I talked about Brego being green and needed to be more forward, and his looky tendencies. I mentioned schooling 3' and I didn't see any recoiling in horror at the idea. Steuart is an open-minded professional.
After a few fences, Steuart turned to me smiling and said, "Wow, he's the best purebred [draft] jumper I have ever seen." Then we got down to business.
We worked on jumping over terrain and reinforced a lot of the things I have been learning recently, namely, ride my horse over the course, not an imaginary Thoroughbred. Brego's style is to get a bit deeper, but he is safe and careful. So I need to ride him to his style. This is reminiscent of what my jumper trainer taught me on Thursday. Nice to get more validation.
We also worked on using downhills to build up momentum for propelling up the inevitable upswell to fences. Instead of holding Brego up on the downhill, I learned to let him really get going. The upswell will back him up on my behalf, so less work for me, less holding of his face, and he had more forward impulsion to the jump. This was a big lightbulb moment. Terrain questions are very new to me, coming from Texas.
We schooled banks and Steuart was happy with my form both up and down. He was also pretty happy with my jumping form and told me not to worry too much about my elbows, they will sort themselves out as I get my balance further back. I had dropped my stirrups to their original height and I felt much more secure and my leg was more forward. Steuart did not mention anything about my form being unsafe. I think he felt like I was appropriately secure for my level. He used my upright style with slipping of reins down banks as an example for the other riders. I was very honored.
He gave me a great tip to ask for more go on the landing of a fence than before the fence. Three strides before the fence, I have what I have, and I need to be quiet and let Brego figure out the fence. Any nagging I do before the fence is a distraction. But if I can pop him after a particularly sticky fence, he learns he needs to come away strong and I can make up time, if needed. You make up time away from fences, towards fences is quiet and steady.
The final course was a bit of a disaster. The one bad thing about group clinics is that you sit for 10 minutes between rides. A horse like Brego goes to sleep. Then I need to really get him going again. When I started my course, he was not going at all and we had some really awkward fences, including a near stop at a horse-eating stone wall, until he woke up and started striding around the course. I was pretty disappointed. Riding him when he doesn't want to go is like riding a cow, he is just not impressed and nothing I can do, short of a cattle prod gets him going (and believe me, I have thought about a cattle prod). He's just not a self starter.
Steuart did give me some good pointers about how to get Brego going at the shows. He said to warmup very little and go straight from a big forward warmup fence into the start box. Then, once we began the ride, to override like a wildman to the first fence, get over it, then pop him on the landing and ride like a wildman to the second fence. Once Brego starts to get his blood going, usually after the third fence, he was self-propelled and we really had a nice rhythm.
I did the first half of the course again, with very little break time, and Brego was amazing. He jumped nice and round out of stride, he got his leads, he powered up the hills, it was effortless and fun. Steuart really liked what he saw at the end and emphasized training Brego to start strong. I need to get him trained that when he leaves the start box, his job is to run like there are cougars at his heels. He needs to know that cross country courses require concentration from the beginning.
Steuart also made an interesting observation that draft horses usually don't have good riders who teach them how to get off their forehands. Drafts get the husbands or the super beginners, because of their brains, but then don't get the help they need to jump. He was very impressed with my ability to ride Brego and he appreciated the training we had done to get to this point. It was all very positive, a great confidence builder for both of us, and I think I am getting well prepared for the upcoming events.