I was set to have a boring day today at work and then was given the priviledge to audit a lesson of one of the top junior event riders in the entire country. I learned so much and wish I had my laptop IN the ring while she was riding so I could jot down everything that was said. We'll have to make do with what my memory managed to recover, but wow, what a super learning experience. C is truly a brilliant trainer with a wonderful ability to figure a horse out in about 5 minutes. And the rider, well...Lizzie Snow is 19 years old and is one of the most talented young riders in our sport. It's not every day that you have a chance to watch a lesson with a rider of this caliber. She was riding Coal Creek, a horse of Amy Tryon's who won Fair Hill a couple of years ago. He is a tall, well made, coal black gelding with a kind eye. This pair hasn't been together long but you wouldn't know it by watching them go.
One of the first things C recognized was Lizzie's habit of letting her reins get a bit long and keeping her hands closer to her crotch. I also have this problem, so it was good for me to watch the difference when she put her hands out in front of her and kept her reins shorter. Now that she had a steady contact with his mouth, she could push him up into the bridle and get him truly FORWARD to the fences without letting him become flat. I could see that when she softened her hands in front of a fence, Devon would forget to use his back and would hit the rail every time. When she kept him up in front of her and used her leg to keep the engine going into her hand, he jumped powerfully and correctly. He's a horse that likes to bulge left, especially through right hand turns. She worked on straightening him through her outside rein rather than pulling on her inside rein, and riding him forward through her turns so he didn't back off or lose his rhythm. Sometimes he would get a bad spot and have an awkward jump, but since she rode him the same way to EACH fence, he could land and continue in the same rhythm and set himself up better for the next fence. This is something C stresses to all his students....ride every fence forward, and the fence will happen. If you come to a fence going backwards, no matter how good you think your spot is, it won't be a good jump. I got to see examples of this and the correct approach and the difference was like night and day in the way Devon would jump. What an amazing horse. Here's a short video clip of Lizzie coming through a one-stride:
These tips can help on the flat as well. Rather than letting your horse suck back and plop along, it's important to get them forward and kick them up into the bridle. The forward comes from the hind end, and when contained by the hands, the back can come up and the horse can work correctly. This was what we were starting to work on with Aidyn...and it was SO hard for me NOT to soften my hands forward when he wanted to give! Then he'd immediately fall onto his forehand and lose the forward. It's so important to give the energy somewhere to go, into a steady contact, so that doesn't happen! It was such a good lesson and so informative. I plan on stocking this information away for when I find another horse and start jumping again. :) Fingers crossed for tomorrow! I am trying not to get my hopes up, but I'm still so excited! God Bless,