Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Little Inspiration

You all will be happy to know that keeping up with my blogging is my New Year's Resolution. Let's see how long I can keep it!

The past few months have given me a lot of time to reflect on my riding, particularly at competitions. Obviously, something in my riding needs to change to achieve the double clear cross country rounds that we used to consistently get so easily. 

Don't get me wrong, I think we ended the 2013 season on a great note. But it was Beginner Novice and we still had a stop. I feel like recently I have been right on the brink of finding the one thing that needs tweaking in order to finally get back to the bold, confident cross country rounds that we used to have. 

I got to thinking about the one most important thing necessary when riding, particularly in a discipline like eventing, and that is forward.

Ben is not a lazy horse. In fact, I often have to worry about speed faults. He moves quickly, he moves from his hind end, he covers a lot of ground with his strides. He may be physically forward, but I don't think he is mentally forward. He is always looking around at everything else and preparing to slam on the brakes if need be. He needs to know that this is not an option. He needs to have one, singular focus, and that is the path right in front of him: straight to the jump, straight over the jump, straight after the jump. Jump judges, spectators, dogs, decorations, invisible monsters, and the like should not matter.

So then I began thinking about how to achieve this mental forwardness. Well, how do you achieve forward? You put your leg on! Duh! I never use my leg aid on xc, because I was always convinced that because my horse was going fast, he was going forward. Not true.

Another thing is that whenever Ben tries to stop to look at something he goes sideways first, and then stops. I always attempt to correct the sideways movement first but I never put my leg on to tell him to keep going forward.

Lately I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos of hunter trials and also the European Pony Eventing Championships. These kids are quite incredible. They start off guns blazing, constantly driving forward. The horse are trained to land and gallop on. The horses never think about stopping. The riders don't worry too much about distances, they just gallop strongly down to the fences and a distance comes to them because they have the energy to safely jump from any spot. 

Now, not every horse needs this kind of ride and not every horse will tolerate it either. Ben, however, needs this kind of ride. He needs to know that the only option is up and over. I need to put my leg on and actively use it, because he is trained to know that leg on = go forward. Why did I never think of this before?

Here's a couple videos that demonstrate a bit what I'm talking about:

So obviously I won't know if it works until we get out there this spring, but I definitely am hopeful about this and I really think he just needs an overall more aggressive, active ride instead of me passively sitting there waiting for him to do something bad. 

Only time will tell!
(Can we tell I'm already getting cabin fever and its only January?)


  1. You may want to try fox hunting... It will get him forward and focused forward... It helped me tremendously with out galloping.

    1. I have definitely considered giving foxhunting a try. My only concern is that while it may work well for him when he's with a group of horses, I don't think it will 'stick' once he's alone on xc again. He xc schools like an angel, alone or with others, its the added distractions of a full blown competition that get to him. Thanks for the tip, maybe I'll give it a shot just for the fun of it!

  2. Do you have a coach you work with?

    1. My coaching situation is rather complicated at the moment! I do currently have a regular dressage trainer who is fantastic. She also has experience working with PMUs like Ben and she has prior jumping experience. She understands that our issues are an attention problem and we have been discussing ways to get and keep his attention.

      I do technically have an eventing trainer but I have not taken a lesson with her in months, due to a number of logistical issues with finding the time to trailer there. Unfortunately, now that I have moved barns I do not think I will be able to lesson with her anymore anyway, as we are much farther away. She also rarely actually attended events with me.

      I have plans to look for another jump trainer this spring before eventing season starts that I can go xc schooling with and that will come coach me at events. I have a few people in mind already, and once it gets warmer I absolutely plan to find a regular eventing trainer that I can work through these issues with.