Let me just start by saying that I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to ride with 2 very talented professional riders twice in one month. While I love working with someone on a regular basis, I also think it’s important to branch out because filling up your tool bag comes in handy when bringing up a green horse. I really feel like my tool bag is bursting right about now. It was hard to give Pilgrim Tuesday off because I just wanted to practice, practice, practice.
Sunday in Aiken was the YEH/FEH competition, which was really interesting to watch because I’ve never seen it in person before. Most of the horses were incredibly nice- lots of suspension, very engaged…they were impressive. I don’t know that I AGREE with YEH/FEH, though, and I don’t think it’s a completely accurate prediction of the horse in the sport (give me a plain mover that’s trainable over a fancy nutjob anyday). In the YEH competitions, 4 year olds jump 2’3″-3’3 (depending on the time of year. The later in the year, the higher the fences), and the 5 year olds jump 2’7″-3’6″. To me that’s high for a growing horse, especially since competing means that they’ll no doubt be practicing it at home. Among other things. But still, it was interesting to watch the horses and then see the scores/remarks each received.
It was a nasty day in Aiken- very different from the 90 degree, sunny weather of the day before. Sunday was in the 60’s, windy, rainy, and just gross. So I texted Lellie (Paradise Farm’s owner who I was going to take lessons with) in the morning to see if the rain would prevent us from going XC. She said no, the footing would be fine and that we could do a lesson after the competition was over. So I hung out and watched, talked with the riders/trainers, and grazed P. Then one by one, around 2:30, all the trailers were packed up and headed back home and it was just me and Pilgrim. By 4:45 I still hadn’t heard anything from Trainer L so I texted her to see if we had to stay in the show stabling since P was NOT happy to be the only one there. No answer. So I read my book, cleaned tack, grazed P, but by 6 I still hadn’t heard anything, so I texted her to let her know that I was going to head back home before Pilgrim destroyed her stall and maybe we could meet up another time. I assumed she was just busy doing post-competition stuff and didn’t want to keep nagging. I got a text almost right away saying she was sorry she hadn’t seen my other text and she thought I had left (another person was also supposed to stay and do lessons), and that she was hopping on one horse quickly for a training ride then we could go XC. Also P could go to the main barn…thank goodness.
So I unpacked my stuff, got us ready and we went down to warmup and watch her ride this naughty little pony for his owner. Then we started heading towards the XC course and I was immediately thrown into Hurricane Trainer L .
Pilgrim was jiggy, unfocused, and balked going into the field because there were horses in the paddocks behind him and he didn’t want to leave them. She was in her 4 wheeler, yelling at me to kick him, get his mind back on me and make him go STRAIGHT- I was not allowed to allow him to go anywhere but straight. She honed in immediately and said to stop just sitting there, passively letting him drift every which way, and to ride him with a purpose. So I did and we headed to the water.
Each of the entrances to the water in the picture (far side of the complex) above are lined with logs and so the first exercise she called the “roller coaster” and she does with all levels of horses and all levels of riders, from beginner to advanced. You want to go straight up and down and across the ramps, keeping the horse perfectly straight. We started at the walk and as we “got it”, progressed to the trot. It really showcased how much I let Pilgrim drift and also showed me how I need to set him up for it rather than turn him in the general direction of where I’m asking him to go and then expect him to take me there. Very cool exercise and MUCH harder than you’d think.
Then we went and started jumping. This is where I got a crash course in my seat bones, something I know is important but hasn’t come up in any lessons so I’ve kind of ignored them in favor of using my legs and hands and shuffling my weight around hoping I’m being effective. Trainer L had me put my hand under my rear end to feel where my seat bones were. Then she had me tighten them and think of them as “baseballs.” Tightening them one at a time was very telling, as it was easy for me to tighten my right one independently, but not the left. So something to work on. She had me remove my hand but continue to make sure I kept my baseballs connected to the saddle.
We headed over a little log and I was to “tighten my baseballs” and let him carry me to the fence. My leaning forward is what is allowing Pilgrim to stop, so while I’m not to “drive” him to the fence, keeping my seat connected to his back to the fence would make it harder for him to stop. And if he were to stop, I’d be in a safer position than I would if I were doing my usual crawl up his neck. Pilgrim had never seen this jump, it was a BN jump, and he hopped right over it.
We did a few more jumps, including the sideways white house that was in the Starter course (picture in yesterday’s post), which P thought about stopping at but because I was in a good position, he hopped over. Then we finished in the water, hopping over a log in the middle of the water complex a few times. Trainer L remarked how athletic he was and said he’s a NICE mover (yep, I know), and made the comment that he’d be able to trot Advanced jumps.
The next day, Monday, we did SJ first. There she continued on with the baseballs connected to the saddle, which helped me really sit the canter for the first time since breaking my ankle. Then she zoned in on my hands. She said she recently participated in a McLain Ward clinic and he was big on lifted hands. She made the comment that since pulling away from eventing she’s ridden almost solely with dressage riders and show jumpers, and the main difference between eventers and show jumpers is that eventers are typically just happy when they make it over all the jumps whereas show jumpers need every jump to be perfect. So something she learned at the clinic and has been using it with her students and her horses was keeping a lifted hand. Not just your normal carrying of your own hands, but keeping them lifted, especially before jumps. McLain will lift his hands particularly through a turn to keep the horse on track and prevent falling in and then starting 3 strides before a fence, with each stride his hands get higher. This keeps the horse’s shoulder lifted and helps to teach them to use their hind end.
It was a very strange feeling because this is my go-to position:
Can’t say that I was perfect at this, but it DEFINITELY helped me remain upright, therefore finally being able to sit the canter. It was majikal for sure and I had a big grin on my face over each jump.
Then P & I had a 3 hour break before heading back out to XC, where I stuffed food in my mouth, packed, and Face Timed with the husband and kids.
I thought for sure Pilgrim would be tired but being the TB that he is, he was jigging and prancing the entire way to the field. We went out with another one of Lellie’s students and Trainer L herself on one of her young horses. It was an absolute blast and very confidence building. Bonus, I managed to remember my GoPro AND I remembered to turn it on! I used the chest strap and it’s pretty noisy, but I like the angle better than helmet cams.
I edited it to show my husband some of the XC course and each jump so the thing is like 13 minutes long (out of about 1.75 hours). And of course I had to keep the clips in there where she said I ride well AND where she answered my question about whether she thought BN by this fall was a realistic goal. Her response was, “Yes, everything you jumped today was BN. This horse does not need to be doing Starter, you could easily aim him at Novice now.” While I don’t think I’ll be doing that, it was nice to hear.
All in all, it was a very educational and fun weekend, despite my error in the competition. I’m going to try to get to Aiken hopefully 1 weekend a month to continue working with her. Her method of training was one of the best and I can see why she’s so highly regarded. The way she explained the things she was asking us to do just clicked with me and I felt like I really piloted Pilgrim, rather than just sitting there and half-heartedly reacting to what he was giving me. Even though there were 2 refusals, that’s much better than refusing every single new obstacle.
For now I’m going to hold off on showing. It was freaking miserable the day of the competition and I’d rather spend my time (and $$) schooling. There are quite a few XC schooling places within about 1.5 hours away from us, so I’m just going to plan on hauling around and schooling unfamiliar fences as much as possible.