It seems like it’s been a long time coming, but the moment is finally here to discuss how our first Training course went.
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s talk about the warmup. Lizzie Snow handled warmup, and I was glad for it. I won’t lie when I say I was fairly shaking in my boots with trepidation the whole week leading up to this, and visions of destroying my horse’s confidence by landing him in the middle of a meter-high fence plagued my every other thought. So the first thing I did when I got to Lizzie was tell her- I’m anxious about this, this is our first try at this level, and please don’t let me die (OK, so I didn’t say that last bit). Thankfully Lizzie exudes a kind of quiet confidence, and kept us going and talking us through each and every fence.
One thing we talked about before warmup was the approach we would be using that day. Instead of riding the cross rail, then the vertical, then the oxer as I normally do, she wanted each rider to start over to oxer. It could start at a small height and grow to the competition height, but jumping the oxer would help horses start thinking forward, and help the riders not focus on the spot. Also, an ascending oxer would help horses with their shape over the fence, but ending with a square oxer as you will typically see in the ring was key. We would finish over the vertical before going in the arena to reinstate balance, and that was it. A lot of what she also focused on with me was getting the forward canter (Foster feeling quite on the sluggish side, as per usual) and not losing energy through the turns. We also revisited the vertical a couple extra times because I started pumping to it, and Lizzie wanted me to have a quiet upper body and get a balanced ride to it before going in the arena.
After that, we caught our breath for a hot second before starting our course. At this point in time I think we were both a little tired, but I was not going to quit now, and did my best to keep the forward pace through the course. Where I got into trouble was the second one-stride combination coming out of the corner. We lost impulsion at the last stride, making it over the vertical but not forward enough to jump the second element. Totally understandable refusal, and after standing about like a deer in headlights thinking the clinicians would talk to me about it (they didn’t – whoops), I picked up my canter and re-approached.
Following the course, Bobby Costello talked to us about how it went. He thought that Foster was acting a bit like a deadhead (which he maybe was that day) and that I needed to give him a lot of extra support in the energy department. The big observation he made was regarding my elbows. While in my mind I am following his mouth, every time my elbows come back I am actually taking a little of his forward canter away. In Bobby’s words, even if it’s only 1% that I’m taking away, over the span of the course that adds up and eventually saps my forward energy. Instead, I need to think about pushing my elbows towards the fence. He praised Foster for being game going through the one stride on the second go, and decided we wouldn’t revisit that particular element. Instead, we went back through fences 1-6, which included the oxer-to-vertical one stride, focusing on pushing my elbows to the fences.
Although he took out the last fence, the second course was a much better ride. It felt much less sticky, even though Foster ignored my ask for a simple change up to fence 3. Bobby’s advice on this was that we need to get the lead immediately after the fence (2, in this case) and if we can’t get it, canter on. Foster will absolutely be visiting simple change bootcamp soon, because that nonsense doesn’t sit well with me. I also realized that I am not helping with my tendency to lean left, essentially blocking him from picking up that lead after fences. Responsibility on both ends, I guess.
Before we left, Marc also chimed in, saying that it would ride smoother if I remembered that bending lines are like combinations, and not to ride them as completely separate fences. This particularly applied to the ride from fence 1 to 2.
For myself, I think increased fitness would have made this task a lot easier for both of us. Looking back I really did squeeze in just a few jump schools to get ready for the event (my calendar says 3-4 jumping days since November) and that probably wasn’t enough to get us in jumping shape. Foster and I both came off the first course winded, and after the second course we definitely earned our couple days off. But improving our cardiac fitness (and my calf strength, ha) should make getting the forward canter easier, and leave him with enough leftover energy to be more responsive to my cues.
And so we end our recap of the clinic, with a bevy of information to ponder while the winter storm keeps us locked away. All in all, I found the clinic to be a massive success in that we didn’t die, I didn’t wet my pants, and we have a lot of homework that will prepare us for success our next time out. Huzzah!