Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day Two: Slip-Slidin' Away Cross Country

Did I mention that it thunderstormed ALL NIGHT Saturday night? And that the trailer rocked all night, and that Lucy (one of Jennifer’s cute dogs) paced and worried all night? Well, it did, she did, and we weren’t perhaps quite as rested as we might have been in other circumstances. But Jimmy Wofford does NOT accept whining/excuses, so on we went.

Neither Jennifer nor I had ever ridden cross country in the rain before…remember, we’re from Lubbock, where it’s sunny, arid, and flat. I had warmed up at Coconino in a light drizzle sheltered by the tall trees last fall, but the rain stopped and the sun came out before my ride.

The sun did nothing of the sort this Easter Sunday.

Nonetheless, I walked all over the XC course with Jennifer, and she with me. Given our 7.5 hour drive home, however, neither of us braved the final group, and I’m sad about that; I learn so much when watching other groups go.

The cross country lesson definitely built on the stadium jumping, and I was able to “see” the results given that we had more room to achieve—or muck up—the consistent pace before and after our fences.

He started us out by asking us to stay in galloping position at a trot down a hill, post at the foot, then canter up in galloping position. Once again, he emphasized that our stirrup leathers MUST be perpendicular to the ground, and that meant that if the ground went downhill, our stirrup leather needed to “follow” it to be perpendicular; same thing for going uphill.

Jim noted that he hated to see riders “post the canter”…and I’m afraid I’ve been doing that! I need to make sure that my “following” seat comes more from my legs and less from my waist. Something more to work on at home!

He started us out with a tiny log on the ground, trotting over it then turning around and cantering over it. Like the rails before, he wanted to make sure that we were balanced and consistent and NOT making the horse unbalanced by shifting our positions.

Of course, PC was a bit wonky about it all: cold, rain, mud the color of blood (which freaked us both out!), and he decided to “look” at the first three or four fences, including the tiny log. NOTE TO SELF: He’s going to do that. I need to recognize it and sit quietly, waiting for him to get over himself and get into the groove. If I flop and make a big deal about it, I’m simply feeding into his “wonkiness”. If I’m quiet, it will feed into making him quiet. If we pump with our elbows, upper body, the horse thinks we’re going to hit him in the mouth, and he’ll continue to be upset; if we’re quiet, the horse will settle.

He showed us a single bridge for galloping, and showed us how to wrap rubber reins around two of our fingers to keep them from slipping once our gloves have gotten totally soaked in the rain (so we could reign with our reins in the rain)…!

We soon put several fences together, and we practiced galloping position, sitting up/getting into three point, then jumping in rhythm. I was amazed at how smoothly horses jumped (even when they got close to the jump or took off long) when they were in rhythm! I know what PC and I have to do in the next couple horse trials. And yet again I’m saddened that we don’t have a hunt close by; I can see the benefit of doing that on a regular basis.

Going up and down hills, a lot of the riders (uh, including me) were in balance, but then we “let down” when we were done. We MUST find balance when we’re done! Hips over knees!

Riders also need to be careful that they don’t sit so tall—even back—that they don’t lean forward enough, then plop back too early (I think George Morris calls sitting down on the horse’s back before he lands the “cardinal sin” of riding). I fear I have been doing that in my attempt NOT to lean too far forward when jumping. I guess the latter is better than the former!

Jennifer needed to “let go” before and during the fence. She (and many others!) was concerned about the footing, and wanted to make sure they “controlled” the horse before the fence…but by doing that, the rhythm was lost, and the horse was MORE likely to slip/have a bad jump. He encouraged her to grab mane before the jump, then hold on until several strides out. I think it’s good for ALL of us do to that—after all, doesn’t William Fox-Pitt ride with a neck strap on some horses, even at the highest levels? I think it’s a great “recall” of how to balance WITH the horse, and I’m going to do it more. I’d started feeling proud of myself that I didn’t “need” to, but I think I’ve started to “separate” from my horse, and I want to be with him, to help him balance….and if grabbing mane helps, I’m THERE.

I think learning to event is like learning music, or even grammar: Some people do really well learning the mechanics: the notes, the parts of speech, and so forth. Others learn better by ear/immersion. Jimmy seems to teach the latter way—sort of a Suzuki method for eventing—but he continues to talk about the mechanics WHILE teaching us the “feel”. That way, when we’re ready, we can understand the mechanics, and “name” them—but only after we’ve felt them. When I learned to play piano, I wasn’t very good at the notes…but I could figure out the notes because I knew what the song was. So I’d memorize it by playing by ear first, then impress the instructor. That only worked, however, when I knew the song!

I do think that Jim’s approach won’t work for everyone, but it certainly resonates with me, in part because that’s how I learn. It’s like the theory/practice split as well; I “hear” theory, and it makes sense after I see how it works with practice—but at least initially, the practice comes first. Only after the practice is comfortable can I see the theory—and then, eventually, I can read the theory, contextualize it in my “feel” of practice, and apply it before I feel it. But I had to be comfortable in my practice first.

My History and Theory of College Composition students struggled with these concepts in their blogs, too, last fall. They couldn’t understand why we had to deal with all the theory and history as context for their teaching; they wanted to know what to do on Monday in their classes! I think I need to give them a better mix next time. For I really do believe that some of them need the comfort of the practice before they can understand theory. Feel before understanding.

One of the things I LOVE about this man (besides the fact that he can ride/write/teach) is that he reads, he remembers what he reads, and he can cite vital insights of others at opportune times. It's like clinic-ing with 20 people rather than just one. Talk about more bang for your buck!

Thanks again to David and Laura, Woodland Equestrian, and especially to James C. Wofford. I hope I have the opportunity to ride with you all again in the future.

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