Today was an AMAZING day to be me. To start, I got to ride three horses with Buck Davidson – can’t get much better than that! Except, of course, if all three horses are fantastic, which they were. The morning ride was Poof in the Advanced group, then Bear in the Training group, and finally the young Boots, an OTTB, in the Beginner Novice group. I was definitely physically tested today riding a wide array of horseflesh over challenging questions, but I really came out with a new perspective.
Today’s exercises were gymnastic and show jump questions that pushed us to ride accurately. Buck emphasized that the accuracy with which we ride our dressage tests is just as important – if not more important – for the jumping phases. Our first exercise for the day challenged us to mimic our canter down centerline: Buck demanded us to be balanced in the turn to the exercise with a straight horse (no trailing/falling haunches!) and an uphill, forward canter out of the turn. We built up the line to include 1stride-1stride-bounce, and then another balanced turn, three strides to an oxer.
We then worked up to include a line of square oxers, set 30′ apart with place rails set at 9′ in front of each oxer. The initial oxer of the line, however, was a low, wide oxer with a place rail set at a “coming” one-stride. The concept of the ride into this line was to mimic your extended canter down the long side of the court, but it was not without challenge! The forward first stride and the low wide oxer caused the horse to jump into the line deep, at which point the horse was then demanded to rock back quickly in order to negotiate the rest of the oxers without grief. It was HARD at first, but it had incredible benefits. I think this might single-handedly be the best exercise I have ever done with Poof; by the end of the ride I was able to push him deep to each fence with both legs keeping him coming and he was setting himself back to clear the (rather LARGE) fences. This is in great contrast to our usual ride, in which I feel like I have to hold him off of the front rail a bit. As Buck pointed out, always better to feel like you can keep legging your horse up to the fence and have him sit back in front of it on his own than to have to hold your horse off of it and pray for a clean go! (Buck credits Aaron Vale for this exercise.)
Boots, the last ride of the day, is a green horse. Although we altered the height and technicality of the exercise for the Beginner Novice group, the demands were the same: straight, balanced, accurate. Boots really forced me to ride “belt buckle” first and not get left behind with my hips/ahead with my shoulders because he was prone to spurts of energy, as most green youngsters can be. By the end, I felt like I had gotten a really good feel for my own balance in order to let him negotiate the fences successfully. I am really grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne and Hawley Bennett for letting me ride this one today!
Today really “clicked” for me, I think partly because I am such a perfectionist in my dressage work and today was all about “dressage with speed bumps.” I was able to carry over my talents in the dressage court to my weaknesses in the show jump ring and I think I found some ways to fill a few holes!