Posted by: shannonc | November 1, 2010

Half bridge to Terabithia

The pony and I participated in our second Eric Smiley clinic last week.  It was our first big cross country outing since the eliminations, the shoes, and the starting over rocking out sticks on the ground, so I was both excited and nervous.  My major goal was for the pony to have a confidence building experience at what’s likely to be our last xc effort of the season. 

Like last year, Day 1 was a mix of flat and show jumping exercises.  Eric had us emphasize balance and responsiveness in the flatwork and precision and straightness over poles and small jumps.  He pointed out that our canter needs more gears, and that the pony jumps through his right shoulder.  I know, I know.

Sometimes I enjoy a clinic because I know what to expect and the similarity in agenda from year to year makes for easy progress measurement.  For example, when I ride with Lucinda I can be pretty sure I’m going to be tested on arrowheads.  In this clinic, the philosophy was consistent, but the exercises differed from last year, so we left with some new tools in our toolbox. 

Eric’s energy and expressiveness were also consistent, and just as fresh as last year.

The pony and I were in the first group on Day 2 at Scarlet Hill Farm.  During warmup, as the pony is slipping behind on just about every hill and turn, Eric pulls me up and tells me he feels I was a bit tentative yesterday and wants me to really get the pony going today.  I nod and think to myself that I’m in big trouble – if he thought I was tentative yesterday, in this footing he may find me positively comatose.  I do confess to him that I am concerned about the slip sliding away and he reminds me that horses slip all the time.  Not to worry.  Eeeep.

We begin over some itty bitty things and the pony seems happy.  Same as we progress to small and then BN height.  The others aren’t having any trouble, either.  The TB/PerchX mare in my group did N earlier in the season, and the cute bay TB is coming back from an injury, before which I think he was jumping N/T.  Today he is wound like a spring and takes off bucking up the hill after one of the early little birch log fences.  They make their way back with the (now somewhat pale) rider saying “well at least it was uphill!”  Eric cheerfully exclaims, “that’s good!  He needs that!”  Hmm…at least one of them did.

The other two horses then jump a biggish airy square telephone pole oxer (at least N height) in the fenceline, which I elect to skip because I know that in spite of my best efforts, I will come down to it saying “I really don’t know about this,” the pony will then stop, and I will have created a problem.  I feel slightly cowardly, but I can live with it. 

We jump the ditches teeny, small and big in the front field and it takes the pony a try or two to get casual about them, but he settles and is good.

Eric then has us jump a red coop by the water downhill, but at an angle so it’s slightly less downhill and we land cantering along the side.  I consider bailing here since my imagination is running wild with slipping over images, but I suck it up, telling myself we have at least  jumped it before in the other direction.  The pony is putting in some of those pat the ground strides and I don’t have him 100% balanced so that I can really move him up to things, but he isn’t backwards, so I’m not complaining.  I’m just too worried to take the really hard check. 

Then we go down to the bigger ditches in the lower field.  We skipped the actual water, I’m not sure why.  Eric has me practice a half bridge in which I hold the stick in my right hand and the bridge part in my left.  He wants me to give the pony a little smack to sharpen him off the ground as an act of confidence on my part, designed to inspire him to be more confident as well.

Well, the first time I try it, over the big open ditch, I make two mistakes.  I hit him too late – he’s already committed to leave the ground – and I don’t tap.  I wallop.  Ooopsie.  The pony takes off shaking his head and gives a little kick out afterward and I apologize to him profusely.  I hear Eric calling from behind me, “ENCOURAGEMENT Shannon, not punishment!”  Poor pony.

I bring him back and I’m ready for him to be pissed – to overjump, give me a little buck, bolt, pin his ears, whatever, but no, my good little pony puts my bad behavior behind him and pops over like he’s forgotten already that I’m an idiot.  See why I kept giving him the benefit of the doubt on the stopping?  When it comes right down to it he’s really pretty generous.

Next Eric tells us to jump the other big ditch one stride (18′) to skinny log (2’6″?) with no wings.  I feel my eyes slightly goggle – mostly I am worried about a runout, because we do have a crookedness issue.  But the pony locks on and he gets 2 strides, but never feels like he is going to do anything but jump.  It feels like he is just thinking.

Then Eric informs us that we are going to jump it the other direction and my eyes fall the rest of the way out of my head.  That is a BIG question for my little guy.  We just did it forwards for the first time ever and now we’re going to do it backwards too?  I’m thinking there should be a month, or say maybe a season in between.  Eric asks “what is the issue with this?” and I say “they can’t see the ditch,” and he says “but if they have confidence in the rider it should be fine.”  Uh oh, that sounds a lot like the kiss of death to me.  I take a deep breath and go before I can reconsider.

Off we go. The ditch and skinny log are ahead, just to our left.

The pony pops right over the log and gets to the ditch and does a ditch dance.  Now would be an excellent time to try my little tap thingy but instead I choose to just kick.  I’m thinking “keep the feet moving, keep the feet moving” and Eric yells from behind me, “mean it, mean it!!” so I kick again, more Thelwell-like, and the pony hops on over.  Good pony, pat pat pat.  I would actually like to do it again, but he doesn’t invite me to.  I don’t know if it’s because he’s worried it will unravel, or because we’re running out of time.

He directs the other two to jump the small steps up and gives me the option.  I think steps are fun and we’ve done them before, though not for awhile, so we go ahead.  I give the pony a decent canter because I’ve made the mistake before of underpowering him to steps and it wasn’t pretty.  He loses a little momentum in the middle and I stay back and kick – he pops up and Eric says I encouraged him well but don’t need to stay so far behind him, so I go do it over, have more faith to fold, and it’s better.

Finally we do the big bank up, easy right turn to a nice natural rolltop.  The pony feels great and when I come back Eric laughs and says, “don’t look so smug!”  I’m not sure which of us he’s talking to, but then he looks right at me and says, “Shannon, you have your pony back,” and I realize that one comment is probably powerful enough to carry me happily through the winter hugging the pony and feeding him unprecedented quantities of carrots.

In our wrap-up, we talk again about the half bridge – the PerchX mare’s mom comments that it feels awkward and Eric says yes, it will until you practice it until you’re…articulate…with it in both hands.  He knits his brows and asks, “is that the right word?” then cocks his head and searches for another until I pipe up “adept?” from my position walking the pony in a circle around him.  He spins toward me. 

“It sounded like you were looking for suggestions…” I say.  “Yes!  I knew it started with a!” he exclaims as the other two riders let out a breath.  He asks what I do and I tell him I write.  “So you can proofread my next book?” he asks.  “I found 3 mistakes in the last one.”

I tell him yes, and plan to see if I can hold him to it.



  1. Wonderful writing as always! Takes us there to that day.

  2. YAY!!!!! Nice to end the season on a good note!!!!!

  3. Great end to the season and perhaps the beginning of a … new book? (hee hee)

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