Well, I’m still here, which means I survived my lesson last night with Doug Payne! (PS if you haven’t watched him Rolex helmet cam with commentary click that link- very interesting!) I’m going to go ahead and apologize for the long post, which is mostly for my own benefit to keep the lesson fresh, and the lack on pictures/video, of which I didn’t get any.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a proper jumping lesson, and it’s been a struggle to find a trainer willing to come out to the new barn for just one student, so I was exceedingly happy when Doug offered to make the drive. I gave him a brief run-down of where we were, and after watching us warm up briefly he gave me an assessment.
Not a huge surprise here- Foster balances himself with the base of his neck, which in turn makes him a little hollow through the back and short-strided. This then causes some of our issues with getting the true ‘horse’ distances, because when I put on leg he will more likely put in more quick, short strides than lengthen.
We continued from there with a 20 meter canter circle over a pole, focusing on keeping him straight through the shoulder and getting an active, through canter. Canter poles will definitely be in our future, since as simple as the exercise sounds, we were not as successful as I would have liked! Foster was a bit dull to my leg and feeling pretty tired, and I was a little worried moving forward to the actual jumping.
Luckily, there wasn’t much cause to be concerned. Doug set up a smallish oxer on centerline, so that I would canter over it and alternate turning right and left. Foster really woke up then, and was taking really big strides after the jump which made the turn thereafter quite difficult. What was happening is that he was becoming a little on the forehand leading up to the jump, which caused him to land out of balance and quicken his stride in order to catch himself. When I sat up and properly balanced him, he landed much more softly and the turn became easier to make.
This led us into the next exercise, jumping a decently wide 3′ oxer on a circle. The geometry of the circle helped me keep him balanced, and as long as I didn’t stare at the fence we got pretty good distances. This is also where the whole ‘weight the shoulder to get the correct lead’ idea kicked in. It is now blatantly (I guess I’m a slow learner) obvious that I have been in the habit of leaning in the direction I intend to turn, which then means he is going to land on the wrong lead because I’m essentially blocking him from picking up the lead I really want. I especially do this going left (will tell story of how my left side is absolute poop later).
When I kept my shoulders back and square to the fence, then shift my weight to the outside, we were able to land in balance and on the correct lead. Doug warned me not to put all the pressure on myself though, and to allow Foster to make mistakes, and to occasionally take down poles. He praised him for being smart enough not to make the same mistake twice, and his willingness to put in another stride for a deep distance rather than launch from the long spot as some horses are wont to do.
After a bit of this, we put together a baby course that included a 2 stride over a 3’ish vertical. I was really pleased that Doug made us revisit the circle fence again, to make sure the idea had cemented itself. Definitely still a work in progress, but I was glad that he was willing to stay a few extra minutes to make sure the lesson would stick.
Overall, here are the main takeaways:
- Be patient with my shoulders
- Don’t let him get overbent in the neck
- Maintain an active canter with a through topline- have the confidence that he can jump 5′ out of a quality canter
- weight the outside shoulder to get the correct lead on landing
- keep him balance before the fence, the quality of the canter after the fence will tell how successfully balanced he was
- Don’t stare at the damn fence
Obviously I learned a lot, and was impressed with the attention given to both horse and rider equally. Impressed enough that I have signed up for a second lesson Sunday! Even though we won’t get a schooling ride in in between, I’m looking forward to further cementing these ideas and hopefully getting more takeaways to keep in my pocket for the show!