At home in his stall at camp
Taco and I reported in for our cross-country pace lesson with Dorothy Crowell at 9 AM. It was held on the lovely galloping track at Come Again Farm, to Taco's OTTB delight. As we waited for the previous group to finish, we stood watching in a group in a pasture next to the track, where Dorothy gave us a mini-lecture on the five gears of XC riding (5 being flat out and 1 being a coffin canter). Our first exercise was to ride around the track at about 350 meters per minute at around 3rd gear, one at a time.
When we all moved out to the spot where we were to begin the exercise, Taco fired right up! Four other horses riding off together was very exciting. When I first got Taco, Annika was very clear that I might wish to avoid foxhunting and large group rides, and I was reminded of her admonition at this moment. Megan was there watching and put a hand on T's bridle to help get us to where we were supposed to be with a minimum of jigging and jumping sideways. Then we were off, and met the pace easily, despite a couple of little bucks.
Then Dorothy taught us the in-between fences, exercise-jockey position. Wow, it felt weird! Stirrups all the way home, toes down, very short double bridge, elbows straight. This is useful, she explained, because it requires the horse to use very little energy in the topline and can help preserve both the rider's and the horse's energy around a longer course. Even at Training level, it is possible to be fatigued at the end of the course, and conserving a little bit of energy helps. First we practiced this position at the trot and canter, and then we added it to a longer exercise: gallop position along the back side of the track at about 450 mpm, "come back" aids (moving the hips under and doing a little hop in the saddle to change the position of the stirrups) around the curve, and then the sitting C approach position to a little triple bar halfway down the next stretch, to be jumped in 3rd gear.
I failed at this exercise the first time. I did the galloping position and the come back position OK, but I never tucked my hips under enough as I approached the triple bar. As a result, Dorothy explained, if Taco had done anything but jump the fence in his usual honest way, I would have been in danger. So she made me do it again. This time I was better BUT, she pointed out, I have little flexibility in my lower back and my sitting C was barely a "C". She recommended stretching my lower back before riding.
After I managed to pull Taco up (he was having way too much fun), Dorothy changed the jump to an ascending oxer, to be jumped in 2nd gear. I had the sitting C concept down a little better and managed to accomplish this fairly well. We ended with that.
That afternoon, it was on to our showjumping lesson with Lauren Kieffer. I watched a couple of lessons before mine and saw that she was doing very basic stuff. Everyone warmed up over a crossrail and then moved on to practicing adjustabilty and winding up over a little course. When I got out there, our warmup fence was an oxer. I got a little nervous and asked Nancy if I had somehow gotten placed into the Prelim group. She said she didn't know, but that she guessed we both would have to step up if it were a Prelim group. I decided I could do that and, what do you know, everything was fine.
Actually, it was more than fine. After our warmup, we were instructed to ride a six-stride line in seven strides to work on our thinking skills and adjustability. Then, in Lauren's words, we played a "turning game." Three fences on a sepentine, basically. I was a little skeptical that I could do it, but when I followed Lauren's instructions and concentrated on the next fence in the air over the previous one, it was actually much easier than I expected. It was fun! I was pleased because I have been having trouble focusing on what's ahead instead of what I just did in my jumping.
We ended over a course that included some more turning questions, plus the original question of putting 7 strides into the 6. This last one caught me out and I had to repeat it. Horses do tend to get longer as the course progresses, I learned, and this line was headed back toward the barn. But I nailed it the second time. Taco was perfect through all of this and Lauren gave him a nice pat when we finished up (as did I, plus many carrots upon returning to the barn). One of the other people in our group told us that we made the exercises look easy! And a little bird told me that Lauren said our group had been fun to teach.
On Wednesday night we were the guests of Janssen Veterinary Clinic, where we were fed in grand style and treated to a lecture on soundness in sport horses. After fruit parfait, several glasses of lemonade, and cookies, I was on a total sugar high. Egged on by Megan and Nancy, I was an active audience participant. My favorite part of the lecture was a series of three case studies that allowed us to follow along the diagnostic trail of bread crumbs to diagnosis and treatment. We three geeks in the front row had a great time, and then we got a personal tour of the facility (wow!) afterward.
Thursday was cross country day with Peter.
Peter helping me buck up my courage-- it worked!
The lesson was a continuation of what we did in our gymnastics session two days before. He was very adamant that we stand up at the point of takeoff (up, up, up!), thinking of putting our belly buttons in front of our chests (we used a different word but this is a family-friendly blog). Because the front of the horse jumps (the back end provides the energy, but it is the front end that must get out of the way first), we need to free it up as much as possible. Legs under us or a little bit forward and squeezing to the base. Then hips continue to push forward on landing. Hallelujah, it worked. I felt really confident and I'm sure Taco appreciated more freedom from my lumpy self weighing down his shoulders.
We got to do a lot of jumping, and after working on ditches and banks, we moved on to some Prelim questions: skinnies! First we did a little palisade, down through a swale, and around a turn to a skinny palisade. I had to do this twice because the first time I didn't ride straight (i.e. forward) enough after I made the turn.
LAZ's beautiful palisade skinny (she built this one herself!)
Up and over (mutant right leg starting to look a little better here!). Megan's photo.
Then Peter asked us if we were "happy" to jump the skinny Prelim rolltop chevron thingy (see below).
I gave him an honest answer: no. He said that was fine, and had me watch the others. Of course I got antsy and decided that I could do it. On the video (below), you can hear Megan and Peter debating over whether I was going to jump it or not. In fact, I believe Peter was taking bets. When I finished the exercise, he gave me a big hug!
We ended by doing a terrain exercise (one downhill fence followed by an uphill one) and then at LAZ's brand new water, which is not finished yet but had a nice bank for us to jump off of.
Here is the video (thanks Megan!)
I was then scheduled for a steeplechase lesson with Dorothy, to begin right after XC, but we had jumped more than I'd expected to with Peter and Dorothy assured me that I had gotten the skills I need for steeplechase in the pace lesson with her on the previous day. I do want to do a clinic with her someday, though, because I'd like to work more with her on jumping.
Wow, we were tired at this point. Taco and I spent the evening relaxing. Here we are chillin' in the barn with Peter.
(Friday and Saturday posts to come...)