I had back-to-back lessons with head trainer Stacie this weekend. She has been at Brownland, TN the last few weeks showing, so I haven’t had a lesson with her in a bit. I ALWAYS look forward to Stacie lessons due to her eagle eyes and her insanely amazing ability to change the smallest thing which results in a big change in our ride. I’ll save you guys the play-by-play from both lessons, and focus on the main themes.
- Relax your knees
- I never even realize I am doing this, but I get tense and stiff in my knees more often then not. I don’t necessarily grip with my knees, they just get kind of get stuck. When Stacie reminds me to relax them and allow them to move, it immediately improves the cadence of our canter. I cannot explain this magic, but it’s real.
- Don’t use so much outside rein in turns
- This may sound the opposite of what most people do, but bear with me. Of course you don’t want to ONLY turn with your inside rein and have your horse sliding out their outside shoulder. But, I have taken this to the extreme and I tend to use way too much outside rein in turns which is shutting down the natural flow of his canter and causing us to struggle with distances out of tighter turns.
- It is ok to take a firm feel when Rio’s canter stride gets long and strung out, just do it with a soft seat and relaxed body
- For some reason my natural instinct when pulling on the reins is to tighten up my body. This is no good for Rio. He is VERY sensitive to my seat/body, and if I am tense when I try to shorten his canter, he cannot relax his own back and shorten his stride. Instead, he will just get tense and fight my hand, or drop to the trot. If I am soft with my seat with and relaxed through my body though, he will shorten and soften his stride into a better balance.
- Straightness is KEY
- We worked a ton on straightness this weekend. Starting in our trot flatwork, Stacie had us hold our reins so close together that our thumbs were touching, forcing us to change the bend with only our legs. For example, we would have inside bend through the turn to the long side, then straighten, then outside bend, straighten, and inside bend again, all with our hands touching which forced us to make sure our horses were responding from leg pressure and not an overly dramatic rein aid. Rio EXCELLED at this actually, which made me realize that I should be able to keep him straight to jumps too with only my legs. It was, of course, tougher when we started jumping, but it really drove the point home.
- After the jumps, fix MY body first before adjusting Rio
- This one may be obvious to some, but I am still in the phase where I need to actively think about sitting back up, rounding my lower back some (I over-arch which tightens my back), relaxing my knees, and then I can think about changing Rio’s balance.
- Don’t abandon Rio between the jumps
- Staying in a correctly balanced canter is hard for him. It always will be. Hunter courses often have longggg stretches of cantering between jumps. I need to lightly remind him every few strides to stay balanced and to keep some oomph in his stride, aka use a combination of hand and leg. It doesn’t work well to give him zero instruction until 5 strides out from a jump.
- Having a soft elastic position doesn’t mean leaning forward
- My trainers are always reminding me to be soft and elastic through my arms, and not perch in what I perceive to be the perfect Eq princess position. In my attempt to be soft, I sometimes just relax forward with my upper body and lengthen my arms.
- To drive this point home, trainer set up 2 cavelettis 3 strides apart. The distance was normal at first, and she slowly spread them further apart, making it a very open 3 strides. Rio has no issues with his, but it became apparent that as the jumps got further apart that I wanted to lean my upper body forward. After the “in” caveletti she would remind me to stay back with my body in the correct position, but be soft and elastic through my arms. This allowed Rio to maintain a much more correct balance on his hind end. It was pretty eye-opening, and I can see how it is a much better position to get a balanced yet still powerful canter.
Whelp, that is all I can think of for now. I am sure their are 10 other little things that I am forgetting, but you get the gist of it. SO MANY GOOD POINTS! If only we could retain all the things we learn in lessons, am I right?