Saturday, January 21, 2012
A Horse, A Rider, A Trainer, and Two Wooden Poles
This past week, I finally got the chance to schedule a lesson with Erika Adams at Road Less Traveled Eventing here in Knoxville. I have not been in the saddle for any length of time since Eddie and I rocked the starter division at a local combined test the first weekend of December, so I am in rough shape. Add to that my total abandon in regards to excessive carbs, sweets, and alcohol in an extended holiday season....and you've got one struggling rider.
I've asked Erika to assist me and Eddie with our jumping since we need some help bringing together all of this flatwork we've been doing and incorporating it into our schooling over fences. Kyle helped me get a head start on this back in November, and now we are gettin' our 2012 on by training some at Erika's. We started out just wandering around her "very scary" indoor, with the "Eddie-eating" wet spots in the far corner. Once we fully inspected and (over)analyzed every inch of the arena, we started warming up at a leisurely pace. After about 5 minutes of this "leisurely pace," I was beat. Whooo! Out. Of. Breath. This is the sad reality of it here at the onset of the new year. But, instead of being bummed and mentally berating myself on the drive home, I'm looking forward to this as the chance to have a "Before" and "After" moment at the end of this year. Just you wait.
Anyway, after more trotting and huffing-and-puffing, we were ready to start working over a simple crossrail. The crossrail is the essential basic to every jump school warm-up. But, the difference between previous crossrails and this crossrail is that earlier crossrails have just been a simple means to an end: I jump a few crossrails, then a vertical, then maybe a small oxer, and then I'm ready to go ride some cross-country. This crossrail, however, was a way to say, "I'm serious about doing this right and we are ready to go." Unfortunately, what the crossrail said to Eddie was, "If you focus on accurately approaching and popping over me, then you can't concentrate on all the big, scary, spooky creatures that are just waiting to attack you when you land on the other side, trotting towards the EVIL, DARK end of the indoor." So, like any smart horse would do, Eddie listened to the little voice in his head and he concentrated on the EVIL, DARK end of the indoor, and he forgot about the crossrail right in front of him. Dead stop. Say, wha? [exasperated sigh]. I pony-club kicked him once or twice and he sullenly walked on over it, but I was less than excited about that anti-climactic initial effort to what I was hoping would be a year of looking forward and no looking back.
After I came around the arena and we inelegantly hopped over the crossrail a few more times, Erika really helped me get down to business. One of the things I struggle with is "the metronome effect" (Erika's term), whereby if Eddie listens to me one time when I cue him to -- say -- flex at the poll and step forward underneath himself and carry us through a corner, then as long as he is going along and trotting, trotting, trotting as we continue around the arena, I get lulled into this complacency that means I have completely forgotten to keep asking him to flex at the poll and step underneath himself as we progress. So, we worked on my leg position and contact through the turns in our approach to the crossrail in order for me to keep Eddie in a nice frame and coming forward into the fence, then the jump just takes care of itself. I also worked on making almost no position change over the jump and just slightly standing taller in the stirrups and softening with my hands. I tend to get all crouchy and perchy over even the smallest jumps, so this was a good exercise and something I will keep working on here at home until it becomes second nature, no matter the type or height of fence. You can take an eventer out of the hunter ring, but it takes a lot of work to take the hunter ring out of an eventer.
We worked a bit more on incorporating my dressage turns (think "rising trot E to K, at A turn down centerline") to the crossrail in the center of the arena, and I really started to feel a faint connection forming for me and Eddie, with our dressage finally meeting the jumping in a visible, tangible way. Erika gave me a few homework exercises to practice at the trot and canter with small fences, or even ground poles, to help us solidify the concept of pace and balance and letting "the jumps just get in the way and take care of themselves." After we finished our positive work over the crossrail, we were almost out of time, but Erika was going to have me do a small vertical at the canter a few times. As I started to collect my reins, she looked at us and said, "Or, you can stop right there. If you want to end here, it's a great place to stop." Of course, a part of me wanted to continue riding and get help with Erika while I was there, but I felt a satisfying relief when she said this. It sounds crazy, but I felt like we'd made a lot of progress just working over a simple crossrail, and I wanted to process that sense of accomplishment and make some mental notes for my next ride. As I started to dismount, Erika noticed that Eddie was looking brighter, more enthusiastic, with his head up and ears pricked, so it seemed like he felt good about our lesson, too. What a great feeling....to have my horse excited about our progress, as well! I'm sure everybody is probably saying, "Oh, why don't you do something really productive, like get out there and just jump a 4-foot oxer already," but that would defeat the purpose of the WORK. Eddie and I can jump a 4-foot oxer, if we are galloping wildly down to it and forced to jump, but the real question is, "when it really matters, can we do it right?" And, that's what all the crossrails are for. There is no need to hurry up and cut corners anymore: you can't run [correctly] before you can walk [correctly]!