Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Evolution of My Eye: Part 3

So I had an interesting thing happen last year, I had a pretty reliable three stride eye and I started seeing four strides. I wasn't actually trying to see four but I would every once in awhile see four instead of three. This sounds like it would be great but, it wound up being a bit of a rough patch for me seeing my distance.

When I approach a fence in my head I say one, two, one, two, three, two, one and then we jump. I start counting one, two somewhere around 6 or 8 strides out to get the rhythm I want. This worked really well for me until I started seeing the occasional four strides. I then started getting confused, thinking there were three strides when I actually saw four (usually the result was me running) or thinking there were four when there were only three (causing me to ride backwards). I talked to Sue Berrill about it and she had said she went through a period like this as well. It made me feel better to not be the only one that has had this problem, but I wasn't quite as confident seeing my distance as I had been.

The way I got through it was just trial and error, with lots of poles and hoof prints when I wasn't jumping. I just started to make myself realize when I was far enough out that it was in fact four strides. This phase lasted the entire spring, summer, and fall. I didn't often bring it up, I didn't want to make excuses, I think it was chocked up to me missing the distance (which I was). It wasn't something anyone could help me with it was just something I had to figure out on my own. This fall I didn't jump any of the horses for about two months, they all had time off and when we started jumping this winter, I all of a sudden had a reliable four stride eye.

Now I am not saying I can see four strides and make the distance be perfect every jump, but I am much more reliably seeing the four strides and changing the horses canter to make the distance fit. I never dreamed I'd have a four stride eye, I was so happy when I finally had a pretty good three stride eye. I have to say though, seeing the distance one stride sooner gives you, what seems like, so much more time to fix the canter and change the stride if needed.

So, moral of the story, you can develop a three or four stride eye if you practice! It is a lot about the quality of your horses canter and how rideable they are so that you CAN make changes when needed. If you work at it all the time, even when you are doing flat work (using hoof prints) you will get better!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Evolution of My Eye: Part 2

So you have cantered an endless number of poles, hoof prints and jumps. You are starting to usually see three strides but, sometimes you can see it is going to be long, sometimes it is going to be short and every once in awhile you nail it. Well, now what do you do to change the distance? This was a big step for me that took me a long time to really work out.

What really did the trick for me was having a casual, bold horse. That sounds like a contradiction but in all actuality it is the perfect kind of horse. A horse that is low key enough to 1. let you ride them and 2. not get upset when you mess up, because you are going to mess up! The horse is, however, bold and clever enough to jump from wherever so you have the opportunity to experiment. I am very fortunate to have had the chance to ride and compete Nicole Diana's horse Chequers Superstar a few years ago. He truly is a superstar and did wonders for my confidence jumping.

In the past I was afraid to mess up so I would just stop riding or I would chase for the long one. I didn't want to make the wrong decision and didn't know how to help the horse fix the distance so I would often do nothing. With Chequers I was able to say ok, I see three strides but it is really long. I could then try and move up or ask him to wait and change the three to four strides. Like I said, I could mess up and Chequers wouldn't hold it against me, he would just jump from whichever distance we happened to get to. Now, trying to change the distance and not really knowing what will and won't work will cause you to mess up, a lot if you are anything like me! It is important to keep the fences small at this stage so that if and when you make a mistake it isn't a problem for your horse.

Something that quickly became apparent was the quality of canter I needed when jumping. Denny often talks about how Jack Le Goff always said when jumping you need a canter with enough speed, balance, and impulsion. Speed is just the speed needed for the level and/or height of the fence, Intermediate speed is much faster than say Novice speed. Balance and impulsion, however, are contradicting qualities. Often one overpowers the other. Usually either the horse is too balanced with very little energy and the rider riding backwards or the horse is just running on its forehand with no balance. To get a canter with both qualities creates an adjustable canter that you CAN use to adjust to the appropriate distance. If your horse comes running to a fence with very little balance, your only option is the long flat distance. Conversely, if you come down with little impulsion you are likely to get deep and the horse will have to crawl over the fence or you will get a long weak distance.

Once I really thought about this I was able to analyze my canter after a bad fence. Ok, I got really deep to that fence and the horse had to crawl over, I probably needed more impulsion. So, next time I came to the fence I would try coming with more gusto. Maybe that time I would be too quick and way too long and flat, ok I need a better balance while keeping the forward momentum. Once you know what you are looking for you can start to play around with the canter and work on adjustability.

This isn't something that you are going to get overnight. It takes hours and hours practicing jumping hundreds and hundreds of fences. Every horse is a little different but once you can start adjusting the canter and trusting your eye it can give you an amazing amount of confidence jumping.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Evolutioin of my "Eye" Part 1

I went through many years of jumping, just cantering at the fences. I didn't know what or how to see a distance, or that it was something I could even do. Some people believe you should see your distance and help get the horse to the correct distance so the horse has the best ability to jump the fence. Others believe you should get a good canter and let the horse figure out the distance. Then there are those that tell you to just canter down without worrying about the canter or the distance.

Now that I can (usually haha) see my distance, I wouldn't want to jump any other way. I find it gives me great confidence to know when I am three or four strides out that the distance is going to work, or if it doesn't that I have time to change the canter to make it work. This year I am becoming very confident at seeing my distance four strides out, it has taken me a very long time to reach this point. There were many learning curves along the way for me, my eye has definitely evolved over the last several years. I'm going to break this up into a few different blogs, they will be about the different turning points while developing my eye.

This first part is about starting to recognize what three strides looks like.

Denny was very adamant about learning to see your distance. He had told me that in the past people told him it wasn't something you could teach, you either had an eye or you didn't. He learned to see a distance and now teaches all of his students how to. So I began learning about seeing a distance by cantering a pole on the ground. When I thought I was three strides out Denny would have me say 3, 2, 1. Sometimes I started too soon, sometimes I started too late but it started to give me some sense of what three strides looked like. Denny is also a great believer in what he calls "the hoof-print game." You pick a hoof-print, a leaf, a stick, anything and you try and see three strides to that. Now when I started this I got it right every time yet when I jumped a fence I would mess up! I then realized I was picking a hoof-print three strides in front of me, I wasn't looking far enough ahead and then riding the canter. Once I figured that out the "game" became very useful. I still think you need to test yourself over poles because you can cheat a little with the hoof-prints and just "sort of" get it right without something there to "jump" over.

So I started to recognize what three strides looked like over poles and hoof-prints and took this to actual jumps. It was slightly different for me because there was a certain amount of nerves when actually jumping, if I messed up the consequences were greater. Also, when you canter poles on the ground you don't have to have as much impulsive as you do when jumping bigger fences. So I needed a slightly different canter when jumping, this was when I started to realize how important the canter was to seeing my distance.

The next blog on seeing my distance will be, about the canter and realizing I had the wrong distance but how do I fix it?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Goals

With the end of one year and the beginning of another you can't help but reflect on the past year and create goals for the new year. Riding wise, 2013 had its ups and downs. Overall, I think it was a very positive year and a lot was accomplished.

In 2013 I, for the first time, jumped clean around an intermediate cross country course. What a feeling that was! Rosie moved up to training successfully, I started competing Simply, and Jumbie worked through some cross country issues and was able to finish the season successfully at novice. Overall it was a great year, the horses all improved through the season and each finished the season confident and ready for more.

With each horse I have specific competition goals and many other training goals. I think it is good to have many small goals working toward a bigger goal. This makes the big goal seem more attainable and you have little "victories" along the way. For example, we are hoping to move Rosie up to prelim this year. Rosie moved up to training last year and completed three events with no jumping penalties. So my smaller goals with her are to school some harder cross country, jump around a 3'6"-3'9" show jump course at home, improve her dressage, and complete a few more harder training level events. My small goals will all help me achieve the bigger goal of going prelim.

You always have to be ready to adjust and change your goals. Sometimes (with horses often) your plans don't work out, and you will have to go to plan B. You may even need plans C, D, and E and that's ok! You just have to keep looking forward and when things go wrong you have to be willing to make adjustments.

So bring on 2014 and a new season of goals!! Happy New Year!!