A lot has changed since I got back from Greece a week ago. Obviously we’re making plans which is all well and good, but the big change here is: we’re working HARD to get there. Even harder than before.
Because here’s the deal: I can get away with a decent amount of weakness at 1m. Francis is scopey enough and tall enough that he can get out of trouble with very little assistance from me at that height. Obviously it’s much smoother and cleaner when I ride strongly, but there is a decent margin for rider error.
I cannot get away with weakness at 1.10m and up. My leg MUST be there. My hand MUST be there. I MUST make decisions on course. I will still make mistakes and I will still miss, and Frankie will still be able to make it over, under, or through- but only if I am strong enough to help him out.
So this month of training is not just to kick-start Frankie’s fitness and ability at the higher heights, it’s also to kick-start my own. As my horse becomes better and better schooled and more responsive, I have to rise to the occasion and give him a ride that supports that training. Luckily, the best way to learn how to ride strongly is to….ride strongly!
So here’s what I’m thinking about:
At the walk- insist on a forward walk with poll high, on the contact. Frankie has a BEAUTIFUL swinging forward walk….when I’m not touching his mouth. As soon as I pick up his face he assumes he should either a) walk very slowly or b) start jigging/trotting. He needs to continue that forward swinging walk while accepting the bit.
At the trot- SHORTEN MY REINS. Gone is the era of a light contact. Now it’s time to feel my horse and have a much quicker way of communicating. Half-halt more strongly with my legs to get him up off his front end and rocking back and up into my hand. Push hard inside leg to straightening outside rein to get straightness and power. He will start out with his nose in the air- that’s ok. Once he realizes I mean it, he drops down and gets to work. Don’t give up the contact. Don’t give up the leg.
At the canter- get in his way. No more half-seating around. Sit and drive with my seatbones and legs, and insist that he push from behind. Develop a more staccato, active canter behind. No overbending around the corners- that outside rein still needs to be there. Dropping down onto my hand does not equal roundness- get that poll higher and pushhhh up into the bridle. STOP WITH THE HALF SEAT. We ain’t doin’ the hunters. We are doing the jumpers and we have to ride like ze Germans. This is what works for Frankie.
Downwards transitions- he must stay light. If he tries to bear down and coast to a stop, we rein back and then try again.
Jumping- quick recovery off every jump. This means auto-release and maintaining a feel over the fence. This also means landing and immediately deciding whether to move up or woah for the add. Either will work as long as I ask ASAP. Get to the close spot- no leaving it out.
And there you have it! We are upping the ante and putting both of us to work. Hence the muscle soreness. I love it.
My lesson this week was really tough since we are striving for more than we did before, but oh so insightful. When I got the right canter, I could actually hear the difference in his footfalls. When I got the right trot, I could extend and collect IMMEDIATELY. When I kept my leg on more strongly, I could adjust my striding in a line and get a much quicker reaction. His responsiveness and adjustability is improving in direct correlation with how strongly and actively I’m riding.
HUH WEIRD. IT’S ALMOST LIKE HORSES RESPOND BETTER TO BETTER RIDING. WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT. MIND BLOWN.
What’s a time that you or your trainer decided to up the ante?