Horse Life

Hands Forward!

That was the theme of the clinic yesterday.

After the cluster-F that was the CT, we (I…Pilgrim couldn’t have cared less) dusted ourselves off and went back to the same venue, this time for an xc clinic with KFP’s resident trainer, Dana Cooke. I was in the BN/N group with 3 other riders- one was going Novice and had a super packer pony who was just adorable, one was an older lady who was hilarious (“when I jump stadium, Jesus weeps”) on a 6 year old firecracker QH, and the other was a Pony Clubber who was on this gorgeous palomino QH. Pilgrim was the youngest and greenest, and boy, was I just nervous after the last couple of days.

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After we were wired in (each rider had an earpiece that clipped to our vests and pants), Dana started off asking everyone about ourselves and our horses. I explained about my accident and that I was an eventing re-rider and so this was our 4th time on an xc course together. P was super nervous and dancing around so I (gasp!) let him eat grass while we watched Dana demonstrate 3 different galloping positions that belong on an xc course.

The “go faster” position gets you off the horse’s back and is similar to jockey-style, in that it encourages the horse to increase its speed. It’s also the position you use when you land from a jump, to encourage the horse to move forward after landing. This was the most natural position for me, although I tend to use it even when I want P to slow down. I confuse my poor ponah…

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Once you reach your desired speed, the “cruising” position has you standing pretty much straight up in your stirrups and completely off your horse’s back.  This was tough for me and my fetal tendencies, but P was super happy to stay forward when I was in this position so I’ll definitely be practicing this.

7381731_600x400Then the “preparing to jump” position has you sitting in the saddle (sitting, not hovering, KC) to encourage the horse to drive under with their hind end and lighten their front end. I struggled with this one as well, since it requires sitting back with your shoulders open. Again, not the fetal position. I’m seeing a theme here…

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So we practiced galloping around the field with Dana having us alternate between positions. I could definitely see a difference in P when I was doing each right and felt, for the first time in a long time, that he was in front of my leg without me having to nag. We only had one racehorse moment, when he saw a horse in front of us and zoomed off, so I count that as a win as well!

Then twas time for some obstacles. We went to the baby log first, and she had us walk up towards it, then about 10 feet out pick up the trot and jump it with completely loose reins. Like, on the buckle loose reins. Umm, commence inner panic attack here.

Let me talk about this a second. I’ve been told by trainer PW that P needs a supporting rein while jumping and to not lose contact before a jump. Her theory behind this is that it makes it easy for the horse to throw their head down and slide to a stop before a jump when they have nothing keeping them together. So when Dana told me essentially to drop my reins and not pick them up until after the jump, this definitely crossed my mind:

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But hey, she does this for a living, so maybe let’s listen to the pro eventer…

So I dropped my reins and Dana chanted “hands forward” over and over until I actually pushed my hands forward and P jumped- no refusing!

ziwjeuWe did it a few more times and each time got better and better. When I sat up and looked up, I was able to better stay with P when he jumped…what a concept!

So then we moved onto the ditch. P has been super about ditches so I replayed our successes in my mind until it was my turn…which was a bit hard because besides the packer, the other 2 horses had mental breakdowns when asked to approach it, so of course, self-doubt started to creep in.

P said “no worries” as we approached it at the trot with, again, completely floppy reins, and popped right over. We went back the other way and the only bobble was that he wanted to duck right and race back to the herd and since I was hanging onto the almighty buckle, I couldn’t pull him up in time. Then she added a small vertical 3 strides after the ditch and had us canter back and forth over both…again, P was super. This was seriously the best trust exercise ever.

Then we went to the banks…P and I have schooled UP a bank and there was an UP bank in Aiken. We have not yet attempted a DOWN bank. So we went up the BN bank, then she told me to trot down. First time I totally leaned forward. Second time, I just concentrated (since I had no rein contact to worry about) on shoving my feet as forward as I could, which meant they were in exactly the right place. P had zero hesitation, just plopped right on down like the champ that he is. So then she had us go down the Novice bank…uhhhh, okie dokie. Should I have worried? No, P never took a wrong step.

Then she added a vertical before the bank so we had to jump the vertical and then 3 canter strides to the bank. We kept missing the distance to the up bank, but he got it right every time on the way down. I can’t stress how truly awesome it felt.

The last exercise was the water. At first she had us just trot through the water. The other horses (besides the packer, of course) were hesitant and dancing and Pilgrim went straight in. Good boy! Then she had us canter a vertical 2 strides before the water, canter through and out of the water, around the mound and back into the water, then out and over the vertical.

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We did moderately well at this one. I definitely struggled with the no rein contact (because I apparently balance on my reins…BAD KC) so we got an awkward distance, but P tolerated me. So she had us canter the baby log we started with, around to a stack of logs INTO the water, through the water and over the vertical.

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P was super zoomy over the baby log and through the turn and so of course I practically pulled him to a stop right before the stack of logs and he refused. So we backed up and he jumped, but I was so off balance that I pulled him to a stop in front of the vertical…another refusal. Both were totally my fault. So we went around and tried it again- P took off after the log again, but I took my time this go around, making sure I was asking him to slow with my seat and my voice before picking up the reins. It was still not enough to safely jump, so I just circled him and then headed for the jump. Meanwhile, Dana is practically screaming “hands forward!!!!!!” in my earpiece, so I listened and he jumped the log stack perfectly, cantered through the water and popped over the vertical.

She had the Novice rider do a different combination- jumping the vertical into the water, right lead canter out of the water and around the mound, over the stack of logs into the water, then make a right turn out of the water to the Novice log. After we all did our exercises, she asked if I wanted to do the Novice combination. Super flattered…but I had to decline. After the terrible rides I had Friday and Saturday, I needed a confidence booster and wanted to keep it super simple. But it felt GREAT that she thought we could handle it!

I wish I had media, but the football game was on so husband and kids were at our friends’ house to watch the game. Husband had to deal with kids all day Saturday (from 7AM-1PM at the horse show, then again that night- plus 3 more kids- while a friend and I went out to dinner), so I had zero argument for him coming with me. But I seriously need a helmet cam. Ok, not need. But really, really want. There was a guy taking pictures, but I’m not sure if he was a parent or an actual photographer. I was too busy pushing my hands forward to see if he was snapping pictures of me.

All in all it was a great ending to the weekend and yet another weakness (fussing with his face before jumps) to work on.

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3 thoughts on “Hands Forward!”

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