Saturday, April 11, 2009

Day One: Grid/Irons

Jim began each session by asking each rider for his/her name, and then ONE SENTENCE ONLY about our horses. I thought it interesting that he didn’t ask us about our goals, but only about what we’d done.

He began the BN and N groups both by talking about where our foot should be in the stirrup for Stadium Jumping: the ball of our foot needs to be on the tread of our stirrup, with our little toe on the outside branch. The knees should be about at a 90 degree angle, and we test this by making sure when our legs “dangle” our stirrup tread hits right at or slightly above our ankle bone.

The stirrup leather should always be perpendicular to the ground, no matter what position our horse is in. That means if we’re doing flat work, our leg is under us. If we’re jumping up, it’s going to be behind the girth (“forget George Morris!”). And so forth.

Think about it this way: If our horse was removed suddenly, our feet should be on the ground.

We DO need to grip with our knees, but the inside part of our knees. We also need to grip with our lower legs, about ½ way down the calf. DON’T grip with heels. DO THIS until it’s muscle memory.

The rider should look where the horse looks—between the horse’s ears. Look at the jump until it disappears, then look where you’ll be landing. Focus on something—a knot, a crack, a discoloration—on the rail, and it’ll help you concentrate.

When horses and riders make different mistakes, there’s a separation. When they make mistakes TOGETHER, there’s harmony, even if it’s not perfect. Jimmy gets angry when a rider says “well, we brought the rail down because my horse chipped.” Because usually the idiot on the horse’s back jumped ahead, CAUSING the chip.

Great quote: “If you make the same mistake as the horse, it’s not a mistake….it’s an adjustment.” Reminds me of the old software talk: “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”

The point being, if we stay WITH our horses in balance—not getting left, and not jumping ahead—then they will be better jumpers EVEN IF THE STRIDING ISN’T PERFECT. Wow.

There are five types of jumps:

I Vertical
II Parallel
iIi Pyramid (hogsback)
iII Staircase (triple bar)
\___/ Ditch/Spread

Where we look depends on the type of jump it is. For the vertical and parallel, we look at the first/top rail. For the hogsback, we look at the center (highest) rail. For the stairstep and the ditch, we look at the back rail/back of the ditch.

For those of us who are learning new things, it takes 10-15 THOUSAND repetitions to “get” something….and twice that many to UNLEARN a bad habit. Dang.

He began all the SJ sessions by walking a horse over two rails on the ground on a loose rein. Then the horses trotted over it. His goal was for riders and horses to stay in rhythm…and it was AMAZING how many RIDERS mucked up the rhythm by stopping/hesitating in their posting! He encouraged riders to let the horse lower his head/neck to “use” his body. Riders weren’t to change posting motion or position; they were to help the horse with his balance and rhythm.

He eventually created a very small one-stride bounce using the ground rails, less than 2 feet high, asking the riders to trot in, canter out.

Jim reinforced that the jump position was merely the “up” part of the posting trot. Several people were, as he said, “jumping a 3’6” fence over a 1’6” fence!” meaning, of course, that we were bending our bodies too much and placing our chins on our horse’s manes, thus throwing the horse off rhythm.

“Think about being taller in the air.”

When the horse lands, we “follow” with our elbows. I was reminded of Karen O’Connor’s adamant statement: “There are no crest releases in cross country!” For Jimmy, our balance needed to be fluid enough so that we could follow our horse’s motion, staying in balance with him.

Several riders had trouble with their horses speeding up. “Don’t chase your horse to the fence,” Jim warned. “Squeeze at the base of the jump.”

“You don’t have to MAKE this happen. You have to LET it happen.” The horse is responsible for take off, landing, and staying poised and balanced. WE need to stay in rhythm and stay “with” our horses, and then let the jump come to us.

Jim insisted on a “light three point” for all of stadium jumping. Two point is good for galloping, he maintained, but we have more “influence” in our light three point. Two point: only have legs and hand; Three point: have legs, hand, AND body/weight. The key for me is to remember that it’s a LIGHT three point; I still need to have weight in my stirrups, close with my knee/lower leg, and NOT “plop” down into the seat at ANY time.

When Paycheck wanted to play after the jump (I had obviously “let down”, telling him he didn’t have to listen anymore), Jim had me give him something to do—a 90 degree turn as though going to another fence. Amazing how giving him something to do/think about kept him under control!

Once we’d done several grids, he had riders do a figure 8 over a single vertical, asking the horse for the correct lead over the fence. As the horse takes off, the rider looks in the new direction, leads a bit with the rein in that direction, places the outside leg back, and very slightly leans into the landing shoulder. Amazing how we could SEE when riders were doing these things…and when they weren’t. When they did, their horses ALWAYS took the correct lead. Jimmy warned that only landing on one lead—a “favorite” lead—would break a horse down early. So we needed to practice lead changes over fences often.

Several people (uh, including me!) were put in “bike reins”—that is, we had to hold our reins like we were holding the handlebars of a bicycle. It felt TOTALLY weird—and that was the point. It made us aware of how we were using our reins.

Jim talked about the desire to “ride deep” into the jumps, “yet we don’t want to chip”. What’s the difference?

It’s all about power. A chip is a powerless jump where the horse “throws up” at the base of the jump, and they land slower than they took off. They’re likely to have rails, and what Jimmy calls a “hinky” jump.

Riding deep to the base of a jump means that the horse is in front of the rider’s leg, and the rhythm on take off and landing is going to be the same/similar. IF the rider is with the horse, it’s likely NOT to bring down rails.

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