Sadly, torrential rain made the XC course was too wet to be safe for Sunday’s rides, therefore cutting our weekend short. While definitely a disappointment, I still got a lot out of even just one day with Buck. I came away with lots of things to work on, got a much needed confidence boost, and made some new friends. That’s a win.
Saturday was a stadium lesson, and we started out with the typical “tell me about you and your horse” part. I told him a very brief version of my and Henry’s history, then told him that our stadium has gone off the rails a bit lately and that I felt like I just wasn’t riding well in general.
Then we went out on a circle as a group and did some w/t/c work. The main exercise we did here was putting our reins on the buckle and then collecting/lengthening the gaits off of only seat and leg. I’d like to say we were good at this, but no… not so much. It didn’t help that Henry was quite excited to be there and ready to GO. Enthusiam, he gots it. Then we went back to a normal rein length and worked on adjustability in the gaits a bit more. Point made – we depend too much on our reins to adjust the horse.
After the warm-up we moved on to jumping. We started with a simple 3-jump serpentine exercise that really stressed the importance of rhythm, pace, having a plan, and executing that plan. It’s always the simple exercises that highlight those issues immediately. Luckily we didn’t have too much of a problem with the serpentine, except Buck wanted me to really keep Henry bent more around the turns (which ended up being pretty much the entire theme of the lesson for me). He stressed that it’s the rider’s job to get the right pace and keep a good rhythm, but we shouldn’t let ourselves become obsessed with finding a distance – that once we start trying to hunt for it we inevitably mess with the rhythm, the pace, or both. He was also big on always finishing the exercise no matter what happens. His reasoning was that you can’t stop at a horse show to regroup or start over, so you have to learn to ride through mistakes. Then we added the serpentine before and after some other fences.
Once the serpentine exercise was conquered, we moved on to other courses. He had us jumping on a more open, forward pace than I’m really used to. The first course or two went fine, and then Henry did pretty much what he did to me at Greenwood where he totally just flipped me the bird and basically locked his jaw and took off. He was like “You want forward? WATCH ME FLY!”. There was a fine line between forward and running, and Henry crossed it. I really could not get him back, either. He braced his jaw and just pulled me around. I have to admit, when I pulled him up I was very very frustrated. Henry’s tail has just been LIT ON FIRE lately and since it’s something he’s not done before, I’m at a bit of a loss about how to fix it. Buck suggested that when he starts pulling on me like that, I need to really overbend him to the inside, get him around my leg, and then give with the inside rein to break the cycle of pulling vs pulling. Once we did that he got a lot better.
We also did an exercise where in the middle of a bending line we had to reach up and pat the horse’s neck first with one hand, then with the other. Again the idea being softness with the hand, while steering off the seat and leg. Pretty much all of us got very crooked in this exercise – highlighting the fact (again) that we’re depending too much on our reins.
Luckily there was someone with a really nice camera and great eye taking pictures, so hopefully I should have some nice non-iPhone pics next week. Here’s a preview snapped off of her camera’s screen.
A few other key points from Buck:
- When you soften, the horse softens. When you tighten, the horse tightens.
- When the horse needs a correction, make it clear and concise, and then move on. Don’t continue to nag them.
- Use your body to help with turns after fences.
- Coming out of the turn, it’s common to pull on the inside rein and then cause the horse to be crooked down the line. Think of funneling the horse equally between both reins for straightness and use your legs to turn.
- If the horse is bulging out around the turn, you’re using too much inside rein.
But the main point of the day, and something Buck said to us over and over: You know how to ride, so just ride the horse. It really is that simple. Meaning: be a thinking rider, make sure that you’re riding every step, focus on the task at hand, and ride the same way at shows that you do at home.
After the lesson I pulled Buck aside to get his suggestions for exercises that work well in a small arena and we got to talking about other things too. He scolded me a bit for what I said in the very beginning during our introductions and told me that I should never say I don’t ride well – that I ride very well, I just had to believe it. I have to say, I got a little choked up when he said that. While I don’t talk about my emotions as a rider very much, I’m extremely self-critical. I know that 99% of whatever problems Henry has are directly because of me, and there’s no doubt my confidence took a huge hit at Greenwood. We’re in a bit of a tough phase right now so it’s easy for me to feel lost and, honestly, sometimes borderline incompetent. I, much like Henry, internalize everything and it tends to fester. So while Buck doesn’t know it, the words he said to me in private were exactly what I needed to hear right now. If he has confidence in me, I have no excuse for not having confidence in myself. I need to suck it up, ride the horse the way I know how to ride him, and stop second guessing everything.
Thanks Buck – for the lesson and for the psychotherapy. 😉