Sunday, September 5, 2010

Awesome Lesson is Awesome

After the pony received an entire bath on Friday just so she would be presentable, McKinna I headed over to Devin's place for a jumping lesson yesterday. This was our first jumping lesson in..well...awhile. I was hoping wonder-pony and myself hadn't forgotten how to jump!


We began with some really nice flat work. Even though we hadn't jumped for awhile, our schooling in the dressage department is clearly paying off. Devin seemed pleased with the degree to which McKinna was willing to give me a nice, light contact. We worked on my riding: not rotating my wrists to the inside was first. All along I thought she'd meant something totally different - I thought she meant I was bending my wrists so that my knuckles were facing each other too much, but what I was actually doing was rotating in a weird way so my first-finger knuckle was kind of pointing down. Anyway, we got that straightened out.



Then Devin instructed me to really keep a steady contact, shortening my reins so that my hands weren't in my lap. "She wants the consistency," said Devin. "Don't let that 'bounce' in the contact happen. I don't want you to cram her into a frame, I want you to keep a steady contact and encourage her to stretch forward on her own." It's the same stuff I was talking about in my last post, just having an elastic feel and not fighting her down but letting her realize that it's easiest to just work with me. After a few minutes schooling this with Devin, I was rewarded by a beautiful, steady, workmanlike horse. No bobbing around in the contact, no poking the head up every three strides, no stickiness in the trot followed by wanting to dive on the forehand. Just steadiness, a new swing in her step, and a willingness to stretch forward into my hands when I added a little leg and asked for it.



Very nice. This is another one of those rides where most of the time I'm just going around grinning like an idiot, just thrilled to pieces with how fun my horse is to ride.

McKinna's canter work also impressed Devin (and, quite frankly, me and my mother too!). Again, our work in the lesson kind of paralleled the things I'd done out in the field over the past few days. Devin had me cantering on a circle, schooling the half-halt: don't force her head into a frame, don't brace against her, just half-halt and release, half-halt and release. "Get your point across, then soften."

I rediscovered the weirdness of our half-halt: I close leg/hand/core, then I do this strange thing where I kind of soften my abs - stop holding with them? - but don't relax my whole core, and focus on following the motion without being too loose in my hips. It's very hard to explain, but it's this feeling that I know. When I do this thing after I half halt, THAT is the moment McKinna relaxes, balances, carries herself, and gets this wonderful light-feeling canter.

Don't ask me why it works, or how it works, or even what 'it' is. I just know that I half halt then do the release-thingy and it works. As we school it more and more, she rebalances herself when I kind of tighten my core and then relax it. Very cool.

Then Devin took me through the same process in a light 3-point seat, just to show me that I don't need to be sitting deep to do an effective half-halt. (Good news, since we ride jumping courses without sitting deep!) By the time we finished, all I had to do was lift my shoulders and close my ring finger on each hand to get a rebalancing lift. It was awesome. THEN, we worked on using half-halt and leg to create a longer step that was still lifted in front and balanced. This is relatively new territory for us.

Developing that adjustability of stride without losing balance is going to make us worlds better on course. McKinna already has a remarkable ability to compress herself and add in a stride (or two) to the horse distance if she wants or the situation calls for it. She can get the horse striding if we're really rolling and it's not a long line, but it's still a stretch. Eventually, she should be able to lengthen and compress easily, thus lending more versatility to the ride.

Anyway. The canter work was great, that's my point.

Then we started jumping, and McKinna was great! She was ready go to from the first warmup fence and brought the same great attitude to the fences as she had to the flat work. Devin talked about keeping my upper body tall, remembering to really use my half-halt, and looking into my landing track as we come over the fence.

Our main issue right now is getting the right canter. Like I mentioned, McKinna can usually add a stride in a horse line, but she can also make the horse striding...which means that sometimes we end up right in between, which is never good. McKinna prefers to add up if she has to, and I need to remember that - but she also needs to get more confident about leaving the ground from a slightly long spot instead of hesitating. And I need to be able to think fast to make a decision about how to ride her!

Through perfect distances and less-perfect ones, McKinna was willing and cheerful, willing to save our collective bacon if the spot got ugly and jumping with textbook-perfect form over everything else. We were able to get 6 or 7 in the 6-stride, 2 or 3 in the 2-stride, and 4 or 5 in the 5-stride without too much effort - though the 2 in the 2-stride required a very forward, confident ride! I am really pleased with McKinna's growing ability to open up her stride without ending up running on her forehand. She still gets to spinning her wheels a little bit on landing, but not nearly as bad.

Unfortunately, a little technological malfunction means I don't have video of our last round, which was practically perfect and included a big, solid 3' hogsback XC-type fence that came in from Devin's field. In that last round, I was really able to apply the lessons I learned about revving up McKinna's stride without losing the balance, but still recognizing her desire (and ability) to take the short spot if we come in on a half-stride.

But, I do have video of the round before. You get to see the ugly shuffle-step into the 2-stride line (where we get 3), and the big long spot in the 4-stride line - a result of a reasonable jump in, but me not realizing I needed to make a decision about changing the stride length in order to add or come forward for the 4. Remember how I said she saved our collective bacon? If you look, you can see me petting her neck after that ugly one, going "Thanks for bailing us out!" You then get to see us come all the way around and jump it again, this time with me adding a little leg to get a better distance.



So, overall, I am pleased as punch with the little grey mare. We're really coming along and I think she's glad to be back to jumping after a bit of a break. I'm not worried about the distances, especially since we had a practically foot-perfect last round where I rode on a bit of a larger step the whole way around. I know it's just the next step in our education. I could tell through the whole lesson that McKinna was happy and willing, and that's really all I need!


Such a good girl.

1 comment:

tangerine said...

She looks like she's coming along so nicely! Doesn't look like you took a break from jumping at all. I love her little pony-ness!

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