Posted by: shannonc | September 2, 2010

Things are worse because…they are better?

Lesson report


Two kinds of crazy today.  I will leave you to determine exactly what kind and to what degree of crazy…


Crazy part 1.

I took a very interesting and thought provoking lesson with Denise yesterday that resulted in some new and different hypotheses about the mysterious behavior of the little pony.

After the 411 portion of the lesson, she first suggested the obvious, which is do you think he just needs his butt handed to him?  He is a pony after all, there’s nothing screaming wrong with him, BN is not all that much to ask, and I have brought him along slowly enough that he should not be scared.  I said I really didn’t think so, but I couldn’t rule it out totally.  I think he is worried, not naughty, but I don’t know why.  She said okay, let’s see what he gives us.

Right away in my warmup she made some adjustments in my riding.  In the trot we worked on me not helping him so much with my post.  Post more slowly, concentrate on making him push me out of the saddle, and go to my leg first when he drops back rather than posting bigger to send him on.  The result was a trot that felt really, really slow to me, but which covered more ground.  Also, it made him come up over his back more, so I got stretch in that part of his neck right in front of the wither that is so hard to muscle.

In the canter again she first wanted me to change my seat.  I am helping him way too much with my seat.  Yes, that was appropriate when he was leg salad pony, but he needs to own the balance now.  So I needed to really relax my lower back.  A lot.  It was very hard.  Part of it I think is my conformation – my pelvis slants back anyway, so to get less arch in my lower back I really had to feel like I rolled my butt under and rounded it.  She also wanted me to release more in my lower thigh.  Yeah – lower thigh, who knew.  I’m not pinching with my knee, but in an effort to keep my lower leg back in that saddle on the flat I’m sending my knee toward the ground and holding in the area right above it.  So I had to consciously stick my knee way into the air and focus on putting my ankle on him.  Felt weird, but wasn’t as hard to achieve as the back thing.  And actually, his canter was really good yesterday.  I did feel like his hind legs were more underneath me once I sort of got out of the way.

He did want to break some, which was a good sign that it was hard for him to carry himself, but he can do it and he needs to, and I have to not let him talk me into doing the work for him.  He also swapped once which worries me more but which I think is another topic.

The good thing was that she said I was making whatever change right away, so I’m capable of it.  I think it is going to take some reminding for awhile till I form new habits though.

So then we started jumping, just a little xrail at first.  First time over, he did his get quicker but shorten stride thing right in front of the fence.  She showed me the footprints and it was really obvious.  So she had me come back in a sitting trot, asking for “collection” so I had him on my aids enough that he really could not change anything in the last couple strides.  And guess what, he had absolutely no idea how to get over the fence that way.  He got there and sort of sprung off the ground deerlike and inverted.  We did the same thing again and he jumped slightly better.

She thought it was interesting that he seemed to genuinely not know what to do with himself out of that balance, so she put 6ft placing poles before and after the xrail.  First time through, messy, then he figured it out, so we went to a small (2’3″) vertical and the canter.  He was quicker to understand what to do and we were able to reproduce it without the placing poles, then we slowly added a couple more jumps one at a time.

She was very strict about my eye and line.  She has a rule that once you look at the fence, you may not look away.  I had no idea how much I was looking at the jump, back to the turn, then at the jump again, until she started calling me on it.  She said that every time you look away, your brain has to reset and recalibrate your eye to the fence.  She also had me concentrate on riding a straight line after, which I am really bad about, and it allows him to fall onto my inside leg.  It was not that hard to fix once I actually worked on sending him straight (duh).

She was also very particular about the fences being “clean.”  She said if I am not jumping something from both directions, take away the ground poles on one or both sides, especially in an oxer.  It will mess up his eye and possibly mine too.  Right now he does not need anything to mess him up.

For the same reason, if I got the wrong lead on landing, or landed for any reason in a sub-optimal canter, I had to walk and “cleanse” it, then pick up canter again and continue.  Another way of saying don’t practice bad behavior.

He never stopped, but he did some interesting things.  She laughed at me at one fence that we met on a half stride and got crooked to fit in a last one.  She could see from the ground what I was doing even in my head – her comment was “you both totally agreed to that.”  Then at one fence I got left behind.  I saw the distance but it’s a distance we’ve been missing so I thought he would put in an extra – however, because he’d come with the right power and balance, he was able to leave the ground in the right place.  She pointed out that he wants to jump off the tips of his toes behind – that’s one reason he wants to make the change 2-3 strides out from sitting down.  But when I get him in correctly, he can bend his hocks and power off flat feet. 

We worked up to a course of 4 “perfect” fences.  Talk about riding every step.  It really did feel like slow motion.

At the end she said she does think he is very worried and has lost his confidence.  I was wondering why, because it’s not like some big disaster like a crash has occurred, and she said that it could very well be that his canter has changed so much that he’s not confident in how to organize his feet out of the better canter unless he meets the fence on a perfect distance.  And even when he is going to meet it well, he worries and wants to change the canter right in front of the fence, which of course changes the distance, and then we have a bad jump anyway.  In the lesson we actually had to create his confidence at meeting the jump on a perfect distance while staying in the good balance – so, she said, it probably would have unraveled if she’d asked me to say, meet it on a forward stride instead.

She said he is ready to learn these things, or sort of relearn them with his “new” canter, but that he needs time and work on them to get confident again.

So on course, he might start out well, or warm up well, but then he meets something from a place he doesn’t like – or mentally changes the height of the fence if it is scary looking, which changes the distance too – and he gets more worried about leaving the ground from then on.  It explains the one constant I’ve been able to figure out from the bad trips we’ve had, which is things get worse as the course goes on instead of better.  Even at ENYDCTA, where he was clean, I remember thinking on xc that it was weird how I had to ride the end of the course harder than the middle. 

Footsoreness would explain it too, and he’s getting blocked tomorrow, as well as having the left stifle/suspensory looked at, which flexed mildly positive and which he’s sore on for about 10 strides after it hitches, not a good thing if the jump is 5 strides out.

Denise said she often sees it happen that a green horse is willing to do things when green (like find some way, any way please!, over a jump when asked) that it’s no longer willing to do when not so green.  I thought that was interesting.  I’ve never come across a horse that began to stop as its education increased, but then I have not usually ridden a princess.

So the million dollar question — okay Denise, this is all fascinating but how do I translate it to King Oak in 2 weeks?  She said well, you’re going to have to make sure that the distance to every single fence is perfect.  And if it isn’t and he stops, you need to retire before you get eliminated, because there are only so many times a horse will tolerate going out and having no fun.  He’s a good mover and a very cute jumper and I wouldn’t risk ruining him if I were you.

That sounds to me like a scratch.  She said, well, you could take him and just do dressage, or you could play it by ear, but if you have even one single bad fence in the warmup, I wouldn’t take him in the ring.

Hello, can anyone say King Oak stadium?  Perfect distance to everything:  not going to happen.

Sooooo….that brings us to the shorter crazy, 

Crazy part 2.

Think Blue wants to go run a BN?



  1. Yeah, that KO field is challenging. Although, they could perhaps put stadium in the sand ring, not that you would know about it beforehand.

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