Sunday, January 10, 2010

Simple, but difficult

A gymnastic exercise is such a challenge, and such a valuable tool, because it's simple, but difficult.  And isn't that a lot of what riding is about?  It's not particularly complex and complicated.  It's actually very simple in most cases.  But despite this simplicity -- or maybe because of it -- it's very difficult. 

I had a lesson yesterday after not riding all week (new job started on Monday) and things really clicked.  Our flat work was good, his shoulder-ins were not just correct but also fairly easy to accomplish, and his canter was really good.  I was able to concentrate on what my body was actually doing (amazing when that happens isn't it?) and push my hips forward and use my seat to keep his canter connected and his stride the same. 

Then we moved on to a gymnastic and it was definitely our most successful gymnastic effort to date!  We jumped through the same gymnastic that all the other horses were jumping -- no moving the distances out for Tucker to fit!  I can't tell you what a huge accomplishment this is for him.  A year ago, we couldn't even jump a single 21-foot one stride.  Now we are doing gymastics with 12-foot bounces!

Here's how the gymnastic is set up:  It starts with a trot rail on the ground, 9 feet to a cross rail, then a 19-foot one stride to an oxer, then a 12-foot bounce to a big cross-rail, and then a 21-foot one stride to a bigger oxer.  There's a rail on the ground halfway between both one-strides, and about 10 feet after the last big oxer. 

Alicia built it one element at a time.  First it was just the trot rail to the first cross rail to a rail on the ground where the oxer would be, and then the rail became a vertical, then an oxer, and so on.  Tucker was sensational.  Usually thorugh gymnastics he gets worried about whether he's going to fit and he starts rushing through it and drifting hard to the left -- to the point of taking down the left standards.  He also starts trying rrreally hard, pushing off like a rocket from behind and over-jumping everything.  Many times I have come away from a gymnastic seated firmly on his neck because he jumps me loose. 

Yesterday was major progress.  Alicia told me to just think about staying completely relaxed and holding my upper body away from him with my leg beneath me, and let Tucker worry about the rest.  Usually this is hard for me psychologically because I want to help him, but yesterday I was able to really just leave it all up to him to figure out.  And of course, he figured it out brilliantly.  He's super smart, so of course he's up for a challenge.  But as he starts thinking and trying, he tends to try too hard and get a little too excited about it.  So yesterday for the first time I figured out how to combat this.  When he starts to try too hard, if I just stay relaxed and keep the tension out of my body, he will take the cue and relax himself. 

In gymnastics in the past, I think I was so concerned about not getting jumped loose that I was hanging on really tightly, which in turn was creating more horse, thereby increasing the chances of me getting jumped loose.  Yesterday, I was relaxed, and he was jumping really round, swinging through his shoulder and reaching down with his head and neck, but he was also staying soft through his back so I didn't feel like I was going to be jumped loose.  (Ohhh.  So that's what Alicia's been trying to tell me for over a year now. . . .)  I couldn't have been happier with him.  Alicia even told him she was so proud of him! 

This acomplishment was particularly important right now because the last time I rode (at the horse show last Sunday) I did the exact opposite.  Were you wondering why there was no post about the horse show?  It's because I wanted to spare all of you the pain of reading yet another post where I go on and on about not being good enough for my horse, giving him to Alicia, and taking up golf.  Don't worry, I won't do that here. 

In sum, the horse show went like this:  Alicia schooled him, he started off fresh and then she got him to relax.  I got on, he jumped the first fence quietly, then the next line was a little forward and coming toward home, I let go (but was likely holding my breath and generally being about as soft as a 2"x4") and we did about five and a half instead of six, and after that point I am pretty sure I held my breath until I came out of the ring.  It got worse every trip, until finally I had wound him up into such a state that he landed from that same outside line in the last course and bolted -- tail on fire, running away from mountain lion-type bolted -- around the end of the ring.  By that point he was so fried that I even felt like I was going to get run away with in the flat class. 

All around -- especially from the perspective of a perfectionist like myself -- just a disaster.  But yesterday, maybe for the first time, I was able to accomplish the feeling I need to get at horse shows: when he wants to rev up, I need to relax, and then he'll relax.  Unfortunately, I've had more than one experience at horse shows where he's done something that really scared me (like the leaping), and right now my fear really gets the better of me when he's fresh at a horse show.  I want to trust him, I don't want to be scared of my wonderful horse, but -- it is what it is. 

The goal, of course, is eventually to take the feeling I got yesterday through the gymnastic and apply it in the ring.  For now, I think I need to wait to show him until it's warmer and I can lunge him outside the ring to take some of the edge off.  Eventually of course I want to be able to show him without needing to lunge first, but I think that's more than we're capable of right now.  We'll get there.  Someday.  We have to, actually, because I really don't want to become a golfer.