Thanks again to everyone who responded to my request for video input. Also, thanks for all the wonderful and generous comments supporting this crazy endeavor. I appreciate every one.
On Thursday, I had a jumping lesson with the resident trainer at my barn. I have watched him work with children in the hunters, and I am so scarred from hunters that I was immediately turned off. But after hanging around with him at the barn and unofficially discussing technical matters related to Jumpers (and not the "crest release over 18" cross rails"), I slowly learned that my bias was keeping me from a great learning opportunity.
So I signed up for a lesson and I asked that we focused on technicalities. Brego is very strong and brave, but neither one of us have the technical skills to get around a jumper course.
The lesson was largely successful and I was buzzing from what we had done. I learned four major things, all worth the price of admission:
- A "chip" and a "deep distance" are the same thing, ridden differently.
- Ride the line for the horse, not the horse for the line.
- Big impressive jumps are fun to watch, but hurt your ability to recover and turn to the next fence. Ride deep to fences on turns.
- How to ask for your leads off the ground.
Brego is a notorious chipper and it's frustrating. When in doubt, he adds. I have been worried about this for a long time. Will he ever be scopey enough to jump from a regular distance, you know, like a Thoroughbred??
Well, it turns out, Brego is not a Thoroughbred. And he's plenty careful and powerful, he can just power over a fence from a deeper distance. Expecting him to jump like a Thoroughbred is not only going to leave us frustrating, it's going to take rails. He flattens out when he reaches and is less careful. So for my horse, I need to ride deep and let him jump up and over the fence. A "deep distance" becomes a "chip" when I give up. When he doesn't take off from this mythical Thoroughbred distance and I drop him and stiffen, in anticipation of the "terrible" jump. Every time I chip, and it's me chipping, not Brego, he rubs or takes a rail. Every time I sit up and help him off the group with my leg from a deep distance, he goes clean and looks nice and balanced. This was a lightbulb moment.
Along the same vein, when I ask Brego for big, flier fences, it takes twice as long for him to recover his balance. If we have a 4 or 5 stride bending turn to another fence, that's 2 strides instead of 1 that is lost just in recovering from that huge effort. If he's strung out on this forehand, regaining his balance, no amount of outside aids is going to bring him around. But, if I can "ride deep" to the jump and curl him around it, I gain a stride on the recovery to make my turn easier and he lands in better balance. Writing this, it seems painfully obvious. But in my hatred of "chips", I was making both of our jobs harder in real courses. For my horse, going clean means conservative, well balanced fences. Leave the photo ops to the Thoroughbreds. :)
Ride The Line for the Horse, not the Horse for the Line
This isn't freakin' hunters anymore. I should not care if the line is supposed to be ridden in 5 strides. If it is slightly uphill and late in the course, I will ride it in 6. This lesson taught me a whole new way of looking at courses and cross referencing the layout with what I know about my horse. He can collect easier than he can extend. He tends to be sloppy over fences he is not impressed with. And his conditioning is a constant battle. Even the slight slope of the arena had effects on my horse I had not realized before. The object is to go clean and make Brego's job as easy as possible, not mold him into a convention. Neither one of us are conventional.
Get Your Lead
Finally, we worked on leads. Although Brego is probably ready to start working on his changes, I have not focused on them because he does tend to auto swap when he's paying attention and needs the balance. I have a video from our first ever jumping round and I think he did 4 or 5 swaps in it, all by himself. I was certainly too freaked out to cue them! Anyway, getting simple changes, which is becoming habit for us really messes with his impulsion. The fences after a simple change are almost always sloppier and more likely to take rails or be from off distances. So until can confirm his changes, I MUST get my leads in the air. So we worked on that. If I could remember to ask, Brego was perfect. I just need to ride jumper courses and technically thoughtful as dressage tests.
So the lesson was wildly successful. I felt my confidence increase throughout the lesson and we studied some very technical concepts with few jumping repetitions (a very good thing for Brego). We worked on rider questions. Brego already knows how to jump and he listens, so he doesn't need to school endlessly over fences and make him bored and hate his job. It was the perfect style lesson, a real thinking exercise, sprinkled with some practical application. And I made enough mistakes to drive the points home, but I was always treated positively.
On that note, this trainer is Mr. Positive. He glowed about Brego and talked about what a great Jumper he was, not what a great Draft Horse Who Can Jump. He talked about his conformation and his balance, how he was honest and well trained. It's funny, I think trainers are always 25% skeptical when we start, even if they have seen Brego before. But they always finish up being impressed. I, myself, was impressed that we're finally at the level that we can work on technical questions without overfacing either of us. It was FUN!
And then I watched the video. I had punched another hole in my leathers and brought my stirrups up one more notch. I don't know if my body can't bend that way, or I am not strong enough for the shorter stirrups, but my leg was terrible. Especially when asking for the lead off the ground, I was bringing my "new" outside leg back 45 degrees! And my arms! Good gosh, can I throw my elbows out anymore. I don't care what they say about how we made the turns, etc, that is poor riding. I need to get my elbows and hands back in control so I can give a proper release. It's a good thing my reins are too long or else Brego would get popped over the fence.
I think I am going to drop my stirrups again and see if I am more comfortable. Maybe I can get out of the tack more with my slightly longer stirrup if my leg is properly positioned under my body. Because raising the stirrups one hole did not get me out of the tack, it got me back into swinging my legs in odd ways. More fun to experiment with.