I love gymnastics. I seriously could not love them more. I want to do gymnastics all the time.
No seriously, think about it for a minute. If the striding is set up correctly, you only have to find one distance: to the first jump. After that, as long as you stay straight and keep your leg on (or in my case, leg on and half halt every 0.3 seconds), you’re set up for the rest of the exercise. And that lets you forget about steering, remembering courses, counting down to a distance, any of it.
You can just straight up work on your position. And get into all the oogly details. And I love that.
Let me take a step back to the start of our lesson. After finding a tick on Addy, removing a tick from Addy (aka someone else removing a tick from Addy because EW), and tacking up with lots of nose smooshes, we hopped on under a beautiful rainbow. We warmed up with some no-stirrup work, half-seat, transitions, etc. with lots of walk breaks to catch our breath in the heat. I think my no-stirrup work lately is starting to pay off- I still feel the burn, but I can manage a lot more than I used to.
We moved on to extended-collected canter transitions with a few canter-trot transitions thrown in there. Hello lovely giraffe, so nice to see you. Yes we are trotting, no we are not cantering, and yes I promise to let you know when that changes.
We also schooled walking a little bit. I know, sounds silly. But if I’m walking on a loose rein and start to gather them up, Addy will move off into a nice canter. For those of you who ride horses that require a lot of leg, this may sound awesome. And to an extent it is. But Addy reeeeally needs to learn how to walk on a contact instead of assuming she knows what’s going on. She got very wiggly and jiggy when I asked her to just walk, so that’s something I’m going to work on with her. Contact does not necessarily equal moving out. It equals listening to me.
And then it was jumping time! We had the choice of trying out a new course that Trainer set up or doing a gymnastic and I immediately called out “GYMNASTIC DEFINITELY” with an apologetic look back at my lesson buddy. She assured me that was totally cool with her.
So we trotted over a crossrail a couple times. Addy got a little crooked coming in- for some reason she was very look-y about everything yesterday. But we popped over it and then built it to a one-stride. It was a nice short one stride, so we had to package up and balance coming in. Addy ran through flat a couple times, so my focus was on getting her to the base so that she would jump up and around instead of just across.
Trainer then added a third jump that made it a one stride to a bounce. This was only the second time I’ve ever done bounces, but Beastly Unicorn said NBD. I practiced my auto release through there, which was weirdly hard. I seem to get more off balance over the smaller jumps even though I don’t have a problem with it over bigger jumps. I’m thinking that’s a sign that I need to work on my stability and rely less on Pretty Pony to keep my balance.
Then the last jump went up so that it was crossrail, one stride, vertical, bounce, crossrail, one stride, vertical. Woohoo! No joke, I literally “woohoo”-ed after going through that because GYMNASTICS ARE THE BEST EVARRRR.
Turns out you should never “woohoo” in front of your trainer during a lesson, because then she thinks you’re having too much fun and tells you to do it without stirrups. I asked her if she was joking because it sounded kinda like a joke, but she responded with, “If the exercise is too easy for you, then we have to make it harder. You’re not learning anything if it’s too easy.” Touche.
It wasn’t as much of a hot mess as I anticipated! The combination of no stirrups and auto release proved to be a bit too much for me- no feet AND no mane to grab?!- so I moved back to a crest release for this. That’s another homework point: work on half-seat with no stirrups to develop that leg and core strength so I can have truly independent hands.
After doing that a couple times, I made another mistake of telling Trainer that she has ruined my ability to judge fence heights by (1) lying like a dog about what height a jump is and (2) making me less scared so 3′ doesn’t look that big anymore. Seriously, she’ll tell me something is 2’9″ when it’s actually closer to 3’3″ (and she darn well knows it!). She took that to mean that the last jump was too low at 2’6″, so she bumped it up a couple holes and had me jump it sans-stirrups one more time.
You’re waiting for a disaster here but there wasn’t one. It felt pretty much the same, just a hair more hang time. Sorry to disappoint. It was pretty cool to know that I can hang on decently over a fairly substantial height though!
While I was working on no-stirrups and auto-releasing, my lesson buddy had a very interesting exercise. Trainer actually duct-taped her stirrups to her girth to force her leg into position. She told me she felt like a floppy fish out of water, but it actually looked great! My old trainer used to do that exercise with me to re-train my leg into place. If it doesn’t feel weird then it’s not making a change, right?
It’s often just the two of us in our lesson “group” and I absolutely love that. The two of us are pretty closely matched in terms of riding ability and what we’re brave enough to do (so far, everything they’ve asked), and our mounts are pretty similar in athletic ability. We get to do lots of fun and challenging exercises instead of waiting for another person to play catch-up, and we both get tons of personal attention to fix our individual problem-zones. It’s fantastic. 7pm-Wednesday-Lesson-Besties 4ever.
Even though Pretty Girl was blowing pretty hard and sweating a TON by the end, she had so much pep in her step and just wanted to keep going. Seriously, the work ethic in this mare is incredible! We walked around outside for a while to cool them off before a nice cold hosing and throwing them outside.
I’m SUPER super wicked excited for June, because my lesson buddy/show buddy/bestie is starting a partial-lease on the horse she rides in our lessons! Which just so happens to be Addy’s best friend- aka the only horse she doesn’t make ugly mare faces at. Addy loooves Gracie. I’m so ridiculously pumped to get to hack around and have fun with our ponies together! We’re totally starting the amateur-adult-half-leasing-please-can-we-do-the-jumpers club. It’s just us at the moment, but give it time.
I was about to say that I’m surprisingly not that sore, but I don’t want to eat my words when the muscle aches start later today. I will instead end this here: I am so extremely grateful for a trainer that cares about the little details and pushes us to get better, and I am so extremely grateful for a horse that gets just as excited to play around as I do.
PS- I posted a video of us going through the grid without stirrups on my Instagram page, so check it out if you haven’t seen it yet!
How do you feel about gymnastics? Any tips on improving stability without stirrups?