Today was really a break-through ride for Johnny and I today. In preparation for the show this weekend I set up a small course of jumps to let him jump around a bit and see where we were at...he hasn't jumped a full course in a really long time and my biggest worry for this weekend is that he's just going to loose his focus.
He was quite fresh starting out. He really has only been hacked once since last Friday because I have been sick. Our ride started off with quite a bit of "dolphin-ing" and leaping in the air at the canter, but I've learned that if I just sit back and slip Johnny the reins he finishes playing much quicker when he realizes that he's allowed to. This was a big realization for me, the fact that Johnny isn't one of those horses who like to be "mirco-managed" around the ring...a big change from Emmy who needed you there for her all the time.
Anyone who rides knows that, as riders, our trainers are always stressing to us the importance of "position" on our horses. With my first trainer (whom I occasionally still take lessons from) I got the dressage aspect of position infused with her unique interest in the mechanics of horse and rider working as one. In the early stages of Johnny's training, we benefited from her lessons because Johnny had so many physical problems to overcome. My first trainer helped me to understand the use of my body as his physical therapist, helping him to balance backwards when he wanted to just throw his weight forward and fall into a running trot. For a harness horse who has only ever known to throw his weight forward into the harness, the concept of lifting the shoulder and rounding the back can be very intimidating.
When I came to college and started riding with M, I began to understand more of the hunter aspect of position...of what she called a "neutral position" in which the rider did not interfere with the horse's natural movement and in doing so, allowed the horse to move freely underneath the rider. This was a concept that I understood well in theory, but could never quite transfer over to my rides with Johnny. Granted, I rarely rode Johnny under the watchful eye of trainer, and although I soon learned how to best influence his trot, I could not find the same happy medium in canter and I could rarely find it to a jump, because I rarely saw a distance on him. If I micro-managed, we chipped. If got into my half seat and left him alone, we went long. There seemed to be no in between. For a long time, I attributed it to his green-ness over fences. His own inability to judge the distance to the jump, his lack of athletic ability and maybe just lack of experience to adjust his stride. In reality, that was only part of the problem. The main problem was that I couldn't find that neutral balance where I could best let him do his job.
That is where today's ride comes in. It was a real break through for Johnny and myself. For Johnny, he LANDED HIS RIGHT LEAD CANTER OVER THE JUMPS (over the jump on the diagonal he landed the right lead every time and he landed it once off an oxer on the quarter line, then another time landed in a cross canter and did a SIMPLE CHANGE to the right lead! WOOOHOOOO!!!!) For me, it was learning to stay out of his way. We cantered into a two stride and literally hit perfection...we got the perfect distance to the first jump, two perfect stride between, a perfect distance out and then landed in a well balanced canter on the back side which he held for two entire laps around the ring. I finally realized the true meaning of a neutral position on him where I just let him do his job. Johnny is happiest on a longer rein, with me an a three point position...not quite sitting, but not quite a half seat, with a supportive, hugging leg. From this position, we can do anything...including simple lead changes! He cantered his right lead so much today...so willingly too! It was one of our best rides to date and I think we learned a whole ton from it too!