Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cross Country Schooling

Today, Brego and I headed over to a nice farm in New Hampshire and met up with another rider who we met online. She brought her absolutely gorgeous Friesian mare. We are all entering the show at the farm in a couple of weeks and we wanted to get a good schooling in before we made fools of ourselves competed.

My goals for the day were to get Brego over everything and to put together a course so that we can work on rhythm. The Friesian rider was very cool and nice so after exchanging a few pleasantries, we hit the course.

We ended up schooling for over two hours, but with the low humidity, Brego had plenty of energy, even in the hot sun. We worked on cantering through water, sometimes including a small bank into the water. We trotted over a small ditch with no problems. We jumped coops, benches, logs, three-step banks. Brego was a pro at all of it. No looky loo problems. And as the day wore on, he got more in front of my leg and really started cantering. Jumping in wide open fields is more fun for him than stuffy arenas.

The course itself was really fun. It started at the top of a hill and wound down the hill, mostly along a tree line, with jumps set up every hundred yards or so. It was very straightforward and fast, although the hill was fairly steep at places.

The camera is not crooked. That is no Texas hill.

At the bottom of the hill, you jumped a couple of jumps and swung back up, jumping three fences until you get to the top. At the top of the hill was a log. And when I say "log", I don't mean a little birch log laying around, barely visible above the grass. I mean a LOG. A maxed out Novice log. At the top of the hill, so it looked even bigger than it was. And it was big.

After two hours of schooling various questions and working Brego along the complete course, all thirteen fences, simulating a real run (read: the boy and I were getting tired), I decided I had lived a good enough life and I was going to jump the LOG. So we went back down to the bottom of the hill and up we cantered.

Now I had a plan. A few strides out, I was going to make an executive decision and if Brego looked funny or felt like he was sucking back, I was going to open my right rein and guide him over the smaller, much less deadly log right next to it. Then we can say it was a steering error to present to the LOG in the first place. So we're cruising along, about to get to the top of the hill and four strides out Brego's ears went forward. I opened my chest and raised my hands and waited. Three strides out he was still in front of my leg. About two strides out I suddenly realized we were going to jump the LOG. One stride out my mind went completely blank, no visions of rotational falls, no final words, just nothing. Then we were up and over the LOG. Brego never thought twice about it. I had the mental capacity to deliver him at a perfect distance and damn! if the boy didn't make it look easy.

Brego can fly!

I jumped off, amid praise and hugs and thankfulness for my unbroken body. I loosened his girth and walked back to the LOG. From the ground, it looked even bigger. Now I am 5'9" and Brego is no tiny pony either. That jump was huge. He cleared it by at least a foot and didn't even looked stressed about it. And, I can testify that although that was the biggest solid thing he's ever jumped, it was not his biggest jumping effort. He's made jumps that made me dizzy from the thin oxygen up there. I am just in awe.

Not no pansy Birch log!

So those of you really paying attention to the pictures will see some pretty glaring riding faults. I seem to have controlled my elbows, but my knee is completely rolled off the saddle, my toes are straight out, and I have slid/fallen back into the saddle. The only good thing I can say about the jump is that my hands are in contact but not grabbing his face.

I spent the last week off from riding by studying books and video. I watched my rounds in painfully slow motion, where every jiggle is apparent, and I came to a shocking realization about my riding: I wasn't hanging on. I would throw my upper body forward, almost like one would in a gale to head into the wind, and turned my knee off the saddle and I just tried to "balance" it out. When Brego was particularly thrusty, I would be thrown to the back of the saddle before we even got to the top of the fence. And of course, this resulted in my hitting the saddle on the way down, undoubtedly causing some discomfort to the old boy on the back side of every fence.

So with this in mind, I figured I needed to start holding on over the fence. Friday, it was very hot and humid, but I jumped enough to feel like I made progress. I turned my toe in and gripped with my calf up my thigh. I shortened my stirrups a hole and got out of the darn saddle, and used my abs and legs to stay out on landing. I felt tighter in the tack. Real progress.

Now all those lessons went out the window over the LOG. Remember, my mind completely blanked. But I still feel like I am on to something, even if just cerebrally at this point, until I can retrain my body.

I made another interesting observation during schooling. Brego and I had a lot of trouble with distances on the smaller jumps. I don't know if I ride them less "up" or if he really can't rate them, but we would blow the distance time and again. That really messed with our rhythm. When I would try to add or substract on an off distance, he simply did not respond. I think it's because he was just cantering the smaller fences and made no jumping effort. He was not prepared to do any adjustment from the canter. Maybe four strides out from a smaller fence (unlike the LOG), he is still thinking about cookies. He does not perk his ears on smaller fences. Maybe when he gets to the fence, he's surprised at its sudden appearance under his hoofs and just clobbers it. When we started jumping larger coops and of course, the LOG, he rocked back and made adjustments as needed. He thought about the fence. The larger the fence, the easier the ride because he started to get into the rhythm of his stride.

So I wonder if small cross country fences are as demoralizing to us as small arena fences. Which is a big hole in our education. Brego's jumping ability far surpasses his and my technical ability, so we need to school gymnastics and other technical aspects. And the most effective schooling is at lower heights to save his legs. So we both need to "turn it on" for even the smaller fences. I talked to the jumper trainer at my boarding barn and explained the situation and he gave me some good exercises to try to teach him to respect tiny fences. He can still canter them (instead of jump), but he must be ratable and hit the stride I dictate.

Also, during my long study break, I came across some dressage epiphanies as well. But that's a topic for another day. I have so much swirling in my head right now, and we're both showing real progress. It's a fun time to be learning.

Next weekend, we will do a Hunter Trial and then on Sunday head back to cross country schooling with our new Friesian buddy. I want to get my position stronger by then, but still have much dressage to work on. Busy, busy summer days.


Chris said...

There's some great shots here and a very impressive jump!

Tell me, for the ignorant - what's sucking back?

Maybe Mae said...

LOL! I loved reading about your journey toward The Log. That thing looks huge! How high is it? Bravo for Brego (and you!).

Daun said...


When I use the term "sucking back" I mean if the horse is resistant to going forward towards a fence and drops behind the leg. You get the sensation that a giant vacuum is sucking you backwards instead of forwards. It's pretty annoying at low levels but can be very dangerous at upper levels.

Eventers always strive to keep the horse forward and in front of the leg. It's better to make a mistake going forward than going backwards.

Maybe Mae,
Thanks for your comments! A maxed out Novice log would be 2'11". It looked bigger than that, but they had cut away the middle in order to get it into regulation size. It was still plenty big. To me, anyway. :)

When I go back next week, I am going to measure it just to see.

I put a link up to your blog on mine. I am really enjoying it!

Beckz said...

Oh very cool. Very cool indeed. I had a moment because in NZ our Novice is the equivalent of US prelim and I was like OMG shes gonna jump an epic log and that your brain had fallen out, but it hadn't I was just on a different page. He looks fantastic eh. Good old Brego. Your conditioning must be working really well.

Daun said...

Ha! Over hear in the US, I'll be very happy if I can get my horse around a 3' course. A little sad by International standards, but that would be far more than anyone ever expected of a draft horse.

Maybe Mae said...

Thanks for the link and the kind words! Yes, that thing looks way bigger than 2'11" (which is high for me, anyway!). I was thinking more like 4', ha! But still, kudos for jumping something that looks so scary.

Strawberry Lane said...

That is one serious Birch log! Brego needs a huge cheer for clearing that!!