Friday, December 24, 2010

The No-Handsy Challenge

The one aspect of Jazz's jumping style that has been bugging me is that he's rather flat, no sexy bascule (that's French for "I look great over jumps"). Video review implicates the usual culprit... me and my lame attempt at a short release.

Today, after a few warm-up fences, I decided to challenge myself to ride Jazz more like a hunter by not "touching" his mouth at least three strides out. To be clear, I'm not talking about dropping my horse three strides out, but lightly releasing the contact.

The immediate payoff was that I didn't invert my poor horse before every fence and he could begin to feel the sensation of not having to brace against the bit over every jump.

The bonus prize was that so many other skills that have been struggling with were automatically there:

  • DISTANCE — I know, I know... you're supposed to judge the distance and stick to it. By taking away my hands, I had to stick to my guns, which made me realize that I never really knew what it feels like to NOT second guess my eye at the last second, scaring the hell out of my horse for the long spot, or choking him into a pathetic chip. Somehow our horses always forgive us, but that doesn't make it right.

  • PACE — Don't even try to shrink a stride without your hands if you don't establish a pace — the laws of physics don't allow it. And forget seeing a stride without an even pace, your brain needs at least two even strides to start doing the advanced calculus required to determine your takeoff spot.

  • BALANCE — The stop-ripping-on-your-horse's-mouth challenge forced me to longitudinally balance Jazz on approach to the jumps with my back muscles, seat and legs, not arms and hands. In short, if you use your seat, your horse can use you to maintain his balance, if you use your hands, you're using the horse to keep your balance. Guess which one your horse prefers.

  • STRAIGHTNESS — Purposely giving up lateral controls at least three strides out requires the rider to get the horse straight through every corner using outside aids. Once the lightbulb went on, I realized that, on a good day, I occasionally use the corner before the fence to get my horse straight, but I ALWAYS give up the corner AFTER a fence. If you are coming off a diagonal fence, then you usually have at least two corners to the next fence. If you get the horse straight on the first corner, your work is practically done for the next corner — who knew?!

I realize that most teenaged riders figure this out of in one afternoon without ever having think it through. However, I'm a middle-aged novice who requires creative methods to convince my body parts that everything that the Old Masters preached is true, at least since Caprilli.

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