Many of you, Dear Readers, have been following along since I was riding the DragonMare. Which means you’ve seen plenty of videos and pictures and read plenty of long descriptions on how we did NOT do the add step. Ever. Even fitting in the normal number of strides was enough of a struggle, we never came CLOSE to fitting another in. Unless we trotted in. But even then.
Now I’m on a very different horse- one who is much less anxious about jumping and doesn’t rush fences, who is very adjustable, who is very obedient to my cues.
And who is 17hh, has super long legs, a ground-covering stride, and has been taught to go for the hunter gap…because, you know, he was a hunter.
So yeah, the add step is still not something that comes easily to us.
But last week I had to change my lesson time around and ended up with a group that’s working at a lower height than Frankie and I usually practice at. “Pssh, this will be easy, we can trot crossrails in our sleep.”
HUBRIS, FRIENDS. HUBRIS.
First of all, that flatwork was no joke. I’m used to basically WTCing each direction as a warmup and then moving into the jumping. But these kiddos did SO much more flatwork. SO much more work on extensions and collections and moderating pace. These are things that I work on extensively on my own time, but having my trainer get after me while doing these things was intense. I was ridiculously out of breath from that.
And then the jumping part. Warming up over a couple crossrails was similar enough to how we usually warm up, nothing major there. But then we were told to do the outside line. The kiddos were told to trot in, and then press press press to canter out in four strides.
I assumed I would trot in, and hold hold hold to canter out in four strides. Sounds reasonable, yes? Frankie has a much bigger stride and more pep in his step, so trotting in and putting the four in would be a challenge.
Except Trainer told me to canter in, and then put in the four. THE DREADED ADD STEP.
Luckily BrontosaurusRex is a Very Good Boy and sat back when asked. But holy moly, that took so much leg. So. Much. Leg.
And then Trainer upped the difficulty even more: she had me canter into a line and put four strides in. But this time, the line was set towards home and the jump in was a little more substantial.
All praise to the Very Good Boy who obligingly put in four teeny strides. It was like riding a carousel horse- he has a very active canter and all that energy was just cycling up and down instead of forward. Super cool feeling. SO MUCH LEG.
The key to this exercise was not to over-release over the first jump. Of course I don’t want to hit him in the mouth or restrain him, but there’s no need to shove my hands up his neck over a 18″ crossrail that he’s barely picking up his feet for.
This ties back to what Trainer has been telling me since we brought Frankie home: auto-release is the name of the game with him. Keeping a feel on his mouth not only helps us steer in the air (like we talked about last week), but it also allows us to land and adjust our pace immediately instead of waiting for a recovery stride.
Frankie has infinite good qualities, but he is not a sensitive horse. He is not the type to turn and burn, or to immediately adjust based on light pressure on his mouth. However, he is very happy to maintain whichever stride I set him at. Which means that the key is to ask early and ask firmly so that we can focus on maintaining our step down the line instead of fussing the whole way through.
We finished up by galloping up to a long approach single oxer to let him stretch out and take a mental break from the collection. We were both much happier with that, but the damage was done. My core and legs were so sore for days.
Worth it to add another option to our toolbox!
Do you love the add, or when in doubt do you leave it out?