Crossrail with rail set 9 feet in front, and 9 feet behind
Needless to say I was more than happy to see, when I pulled up to the farm, that Kathleen was in the process of setting up the very same gymnastics I had in mind. We modified the exercise slightly to work with our ring dimensions, but the purpose was the same -- to get the horse to work out his balance himself and jump correctly, and to correct and steady the rider's position. We also had a five-stride outside line set to be a little bit forward, so that we could practice collection in the gymnastic and then going forward again in the line.
Tucker was a superstar. We had the exercise pictured above at the end of the ring, on the short side, and then down the center line we had a gymnastic of four x-rails in a row, set 18 feet apart, with a rail nine feet in front, nine feet behind, and exactly in the between each jump. In other words: ground rail - 9 feet - crossrail - 9 feet - ground rail - 9 feet - cross rail, and so on. I would jump the exercise above on a circle, then down the long side of the ring, and up the center line through the gymnastic, landing and turning the opposite way and repeating that in the other direction. Tucker was very clever about it right from the start, read the distances and regulated himself accordingly with very little assistance from me.
I worked on keeping my thumbs on top of the reins (per Kent Farrington), sitting on my "fanny" (per Anne Kursinski), and not getting ahead of the horse (per Mclain Ward). Incidentally -- in case I needed more absolute proof that I haven't been working hard enough as of late -- my core is aching today. My back, my sides, and my abs feel like I was rock climbing or maybe dead lifting yesterday. But, at least I'm pretty sure that means I was doing it right!
Once the gymanstic was flowing easily, we added the five-stride outside line to the exercise. Here, I had to go back to what I learned recently from another great mind, Eric Horgan, and get my "magic canter." The first time I headed to the line I crawled out of the corner and Tucker came to a pitiful slow motion stop. He would have jumped it (saintly horse that he is), but I pretty much begged him to woah as I realized we were about to leave from a dead halt. I struggled down the line once or twice and had to leg him out of it, but after talking it through with Kathleen, I came back around with a more engaged, more forward, more flowing canter and then found the right distance out of the corner every time, and easily cantered down the line. That's the thing about getting your horse willing and accepting of your requests to collect... you have to turn your brain on and ask him to go forward again when you need it. (Can you picture him rolling his eyes at me when I finally figured it out?)
When we made the crossrails bigger (we opted for huge x's instead of making them verticals), Tucker got himself into trouble the first time through, but it was a great lesson for him. He tried to give himself more room when the jumps got bigger and drift to the left instead of collecting -- which is a common Tucker solution -- but in doing so, found himself having to jump out over the high side of the last x, which was about 3'6". He managed to get himself over it, but the next time he came around and didn't even think about drifting one way or another... which was exactly the lesson I wanted him to learn. Kathleen reminded me to help him and "be part of the team" (another piece of advice we got from Kent F), so I found a better distance to the first ground rail, and then used my voice to help him slow down in the gymanstic. We did that a few more times and since Tucker was so good, we quit on that note.
So, all in all, a wonderful school, both for me and for Tucker. As I mentioned in my last post, I highly recommend watching the Horsemastership clinics on the USEF network. It's like auditing a clinic from some of the country's best trainers and riders, for free, in your pj's (with a glass of wine in hand, if you're so inclined). Tucker also recommends setting up some of the simple exercises they use, if you and your horse are up for it. Tucker feels that they are not only good for horses, but also great for their humans (who, sometimes, tend to be slower learners than their equine partners).