We trotted and cantered an X to warm up, then moved on to a small log. I focused on keeping him rhythmic and balanced up to the jump in both the trot and canter, and any time he locked up on the left, I was to flex him left immediately. After a few times over the log, we practiced coming out of the starting box and jumping a different log. A lot of horses get REALLY amped in the start box (Cash was one), so we just walked out and then picked up the trot.
My first mistake of the day was when we moved up to a slightly larger log - I started leaning at the jump and got loose in the tack. That combined with Paddy's giant leap made for a not-so-classy landing, and I didn't reorganize well enough so he stopped at the following fence.
This brought us to three giant take-home points:
- Before every jump, you need to have a conversation with your horse so that he knows what he's supposed to jump. It's different with every horse, but you can feel the moment when they "lock on," and you know they're with you. I remember Cash used to "lock" on to fences 10+ strides out - he was totally point and shoot. Well-trained horses do this almost automatically, whereas green horses like Paddy need more help and time - even if that means coming down to a trot 15 strides out so he can see it and focus on it. Getting that "lock" doesn't mean you can stop riding because they are going to jump, but it means you're on the same page. If you don't get that "lock," you'd better be prepared to ride hard, because your horse is probably off dreaming of carrots, or staring at the jump judge. Paddy never understood that we were jumping that second log, and I didn't ride him positively enough, so we didn't make it.
- If approaching at the canter, sit UP and put your butt in the saddle. Pretend like you're riding canter in a dressage test - no two-point, no half-seat... SIT DOWN. Ride up and forward to the jump, keeping steady. This works shockingly well.
- I cannot be a passenger and hope that he jumps. He's bold, he's forward, and that's great, but forward does NOT mean that you're going to go over if you're not really riding to the fence. Early on, I felt like I was riding OK but was definitely not pushing him to the fence, but toward the end of the ride, I kept my body up and back, my leg on, and rode all the way to the base. The difference was AMAZING - I KNEW we were going over, because I felt him lock and I rode him all the way there. I have to make that the "norm" instead of the occasion if we want to jump All The Things on the first try.
Haffies are so awesome they can jump with their eyes closed! Also, my equitation got a ton better after I started riding for realz.
After that little discussion, I really got after myself. I got focused, I kept my leg on and out in front of me. I made sure HE was focused too. And damn if it didn't work. We hopped over a little white coop, blasted over a roll top, went through the water and over another log, and finally took a tiny ramp. I swear he splashes more than any other horse I've ever ridden - I was positively SOAKED after three trots through the water! We ended by doing a small course of 5 jumps, and I was very pleased with how I rode him and how he went.
Overall, it was a great clinic and I'm really glad we had the opportunity to school one more time before our first event next weekend. I wish we'd had more time and could have schooled more jumps on the course, but again, it's hard with a group.