After we had walked around for a bit and the horses were loosened up, Day One started out with Jeff asking us to form a semi-circle around him, while he came around and inspected everyone's tack, making minor adjustments as he went. (Stirrups up or down a hole, a flash one hole looser, a martingale an inch longer, etc.). As he came around he learned each of our names, asked us what division we show in and what height we school at, what bits we were using, etc. When Jeff came around to me I said a silent prayer that Tucker would not frisk him for treats... thankfully, he did not. Small miracle.
We started out on the rail at a rising trot and Jeff worked on our positions. Things I heard: stretch up taller, sit on your imaginary back pockets, quiet hands, thumbs up, elbows in, left rein is longer than your right (a relic of my formerly completely twisted position). I also heard, "Stetch up taller. Taller. Taller. There." (Yikes! That hurt.) About half way through our trot warm up as I was circling around Jeff he said, "Do you feel what your left hand is doing, right now? You're nagging him. Do you feel yourself doing it?" My honest answer: "No. But now that you point it out, yes." Jeff explained how critically important it is to have quiet hands, because otherwise the bit becomes a punishment and the horse never gets a reward for being soft. Especially on a horse that wants to be as soft as mine. I vowed to fix this.
Jeff had us warm up in the canter and work on full seat, half seat, and two point. Not surprisingly, my "full seat" is really a half seat, and my "half seat" is really a two point, and my two point is just standing way too far out of my saddle. We worked on this with a little 18" crossrail at the end of the ring. By the end, if I tried my hardest to demonstrate a full seat, I could pretty much get the half seat Jeff was looking for. Still have some work to do on that....
The first jumping exercise we did was basically a serpentine through the ring, landing and halting straight after each fence, and then turning, picking up our canter, and on to the next one. By fence three, Tucker was convinced he was in trouble. Landing and halting straight surely was some sort of reprimand and Tucker was on the verge of a melt down: "Oh no I don't know what I did but I think maybe now everyone hates me and I'm a bad horse and I never do anything right and, and, and... oh wait, she's patting my neck. She wants me to go forward. I think maybe I'm not in trouble. Ohhhh. This is just part of the exercise. Okay, I get it. Stop and go. No problem. This game is easy."
This exercise got Tucker sooo light up front on the way to the fence that I actually had too much bridle using our normal jumping bit, and had to switch to something lighter for Day Two. I worked on not overjumping with my body, and keeping my thumbs turned up, which seemed to be the two most important pieces I was missing. Jeff seemed pleased with our progress after a few tries. I was amazed at how each horse improved as we did the exercise a few times.
The next exercise was a simple two stride off the left lead, set on the quarter line, but instead of landing and continuing left around the end of the ring, we had to land and turn right, into the wall, and back up the long side. The first time, Tucker was completely caught off guard. The second time, he landed right and I swear he was making the right turn even before I asked. Here again, Jeff pointed out that the turn was really nice and soft and I picked at him with my right rein. (I did? Do I really do this all the time? [Answer: see video footage. Yes, I do.]) Next time through, I was soft on my right rein, and Tucker executed a brilliant soft right hand turn, followed by a circle right, back up the two stride, and then a lefthand turn into the wall, and then over an end jump. This probably requires a diagram:
That isn't exactly drawn to scale, but hopefully you get the idea. The goal was to get the horses paying better attention, because we were asking them to turn in the opposite direction from what they were thinking. Tucker, being a child prodigy, picked up on the exercise immediately. There is no fooling him. But it did get him light as a feather, so that when we added two long approaches to oxers after this, he went forward, extended his stride where I asked, and stayed engaged and really light in his front end. Brilliant!
One other thing Jeff worked on with me and another couple of riders who were having trouble getting the right pace right from the start. He'd say "gallop!" and we'd ask the horse to canter off right from a halt in the corner, come really forward around the end of the ring, and then when we got straight to the fence he'd say "now cool it." And wouldn't you know, the perfect distance was right there every time? Get the right pace and the right forward rhythm right from the start, and the rest works itself out.
I loved these exercises. Even though this was the 3' section, the jumps were small (2'6"ish) so we could concentrate on the exercise and not worry about the jump itself. Jeff wanted simple changes if needed, nothing fancy, nothing too elaborate. He was also quick to compliment the riders who "worked it out" even when it wasn't pretty, and pointed things out that applied to the entire group or applied to another horse, so that we all felt like we were still learning, even when we were just waiting around for our turn.
At the end of Day One, I felt like I had a lot of new things to work on (and some of the usual issues too), but overall I was pleased with my riding and overjoyed with my clever horse. Think I could get one of those "Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student" bumper stickers for Tucker's butt?