Graduate Riding School (visit their Facebook page) hosted yet another fantastic jumping clinic with Waylon Roberts this past weekend. Once again, Waylon drew a crowd – this time despite the occasional snowflake on a cloudy, windy day outdoors (proving the GRS gang can’t be deterred). Almost everyone that rode in the previous clinic was back again and excited to learn more and to build on what was learned previously. Waylon had lots to say about both horses and riders who had improved since his last visit. The ring, barn and horses were prepped to perfection thanks to coach Lauren Cude, her parents and many helpers and riders. And despite the unexpected cold weather, the crowd stayed all day – wrapped in blankets, hot chocolates and coffees and cameras in hand.
The focus of this clinic was jumping courses: especially to prepare some riders for the upcoming show season but also to get some helpful input about riding courses and just to get some more miles on a young or excitable horse for other riders. Mission accomplished! Waylon emphasized straightness, good rhythm and an alert and actively-thinking rider – all solid basics but often hard to put together when jumping a series of fences instead of just one!
The show group rode excellently! Being the first group out, their horses were fresh and took some focused concentration to gain their attention and respect on the aids. For some horses like our dear Lissy and Bella, the goal was to package up their energy and get a round and steady canter rhythm rather than the running, eager rhythm the girls would rather have given their riders in the early brisk morning air. (Great preparation for show day!) With horses like Jack and later Nick, the goal was to get them moving out and forward, freely and ahead of the aids. Like Lauren always says, “Find a rhythm that you feel you can jump a 3′ fence out of!” Waylon wanted to see Jack coming through and forwards, activating his legs (“We want him to have Bella legs!” he said at one point.) – not necessarily “fast” or “speeding up” the rhythm but increasing the tempo of the footfalls. For Jack, increasing the tempo of his legs, getting him to activate his body and energize his rhythm creates a better scenario for success on course; he will be more respectful of the aids (because he’s better prepared to answer more quickly) and he’ll be better prepared to lift himself and his legs over the jumps on a good stride, decreasing the chance of a knock-down.
The courses were the same through the rides, which was helpful to watch as you not only got to ride the course but you got to watch rider after rider repeat the same exercise, ingraining what you learned as the day progressed.
Feeling a little nervous for my ride, I was extremely happy to get the opportunity to watch another rider take my horse into the ring first. Louis is a fairly new horse for me, and also a fairly new “type” of horse than what I’ve been used to in the past few years. Jumping is a fairly new thing for Louis – an older horse who for most of his life has been a beginner hack horse – walk, trot and the occasional cross-rail – put him on the buckle and he’ll go round and round just fine. Since he’s been at GRS, however, Louis has been exposed to the fun world of dressage and jumping (gymnastics, courses, related distances and all that fun stuff). Prone to speeding up and racing when he gets off balance (looking very much like a trotter with his speedy little steps) and still figuring out where his feet go, Louis has taken a little bit of courage (not normally needed) for me to get on and work through both his and my gaps in training. One flaw (made most noticeable by riding Louis) in my riding-instincts is a tendency to buckle forward and clamp up when nervous, two things that I have learned (and learned well) are very counter-productive to riding through a problem on an off-balance horse (or any horse for that matter)! This goes especially for a horse like Louis since the shifting of my weight forward and a tightening of my hands and legs just escalate every issue with him – putting him further on the forehand and off balance, giving him the bit to plow down onto and getting myself off balance by clamping my legs making me prone to losing my stirrups. Not that we’ve really had many scenarios that ended up like that, but there are moments that begin to feel a little hairy because we’ve taken steps down that road! Not something you want to be thinking about happening during what could be a complicated course in a jumping clinic with a bunch of people watching you, including a well-respected international rider!! Hence the nerves!
What I love about Waylon’s teaching style (not so very different from our coach Lauren’s) is the simplicity with which he teaches. Sit up straight and tall, balance yourself! Long legs, loosen the knee! Hands up, straight line from bit to elbow, no matter where the horse’s head was at (Dixie’s rider had a time getting used to how high her hands had to be for that!). Get a solid reaction from your aids and get it right away – get respect first, be sure to give, then you can soften your aids once you have the respect. Straight lines – on the flat and over fences – pick your line and stick to it, demand it if you have to. Eyes up, bodies back, knees off so the leg can go long and deep into the stirrup, sit tall and make a difference.
So Louis and I got to ride in the last class. After watching the other rides and Louis’ previous ride, I knew what had to get done. I had some things I wanted to be sure I asked, and went in feeling a lot less nervous and actually a little confident! And really, I find by the time you’re stepping into the ring, you just have to shrug your shoulders at the butterflies and smile, because it’s going to be fun whether you have a hairy ride or an easy one, and there’s “no going back now” (or at least, not for me). In the end I could also just say to myself, “you’ve done it before, just do it again”… and off we went. The flat work was geared to get the horses moving off our aids – especially off our leg and seat – Waylon wanted to see horses and riders relying less on the reins and more on the legs and seat to direct the horse. The riders that reverted back to steering off the reins found problems later on course with broken lines and turns to tricky fences. The canter work was where I wanted Waylon’s help as I have yet to be able to pick up Louis’ harder left lead (that being said, I really have only tried it once in my last lesson!). Waylon came down to the end of the ring to give me a hand – he got me to more or less exaggerate my aids, put my inside leg forward and firmly against his barrel, lift up on my inside rein and ask when the trot rhythm felt balanced. Remembering too from my dressage lesson this week how hard it was for me to get my hip forward I tried to also exaggerate my inside hip coming forward (literally picking it up and moving it ahead, which having the leg forward also helped). We picked up the lead on the first try (‘Surprise myself’ moment #1!) The canter exercise was a circle at either end, coming off the track to the quarter line and riding straight. Some riders simply turned their horses to the quarter line. Being a little fearful of what a sharp turn would do to our canter and his balance, I asked Louis (just to see what I’d get) to move more sideways off my leg. ‘Surprise myself’ moment #2 came when he stepped sideways almost immediately and we carried on through the exercise without breaking to trot and with a very good canter.
The jumping went very well! Probably one of my best rides on Louis to date! I felt balanced and in control and Louis felt engaged and listening quite attentively to my aids. We focused on rhythm and straightness, trot or canter (basically whatever we ended up with that was balanced). My goal was just a quiet easy rhythm and straight approaches and straight lines before and after our fences. The course was fairly open, nothing too tight or difficult which was nice for this horse. The first time through the outside line (one of our only related distances) got my nerves back up a little (having had a hairy moment with Louis in a lesson where the distance ended up off, coming in forward and he stopped). But as soon as we landed after the first fence I must have been grinning because we landed very balanced and soft on a nice easy canter and I looked ahead and knew our distance was right and I wouldn’t have to change a thing. ‘Surprise myself’ moment #3.
The courses rode well and for the most part something got better each time around or I at least had a new ‘aha’ moment each round. Just for reference sake, since not everyone that may decide to read this (and has got this far) was at the clinic… I took far too long and drew the course out:
My aim for Louis was either to keep the balance in the canter if it felt right before or after a fence, or to bring him back to a balanced trot and organize him well before our turns and/or well before the next fence. The nice part about being outside was that there was plenty of room between most of the fences, the corners for the most part did not come up fast and I found only really one tricky spot on course for getting him balanced after a jump.
The warm up was done over fence 1, then added on fence 3 – rolling back to the outside of fence 6 for a long easy approach. We had few issues here, the first round I learned I needed to set him back and organize the trot a little sooner before we needed to start our turn and thereafter we had a nice organized and rhythmic approach to fence 3.
After that we moved to jumping fences 1, 2 and 3, then adding on fences 4 and broken line to 5. The broken line was a tough one for many. Waylon didn’t want to see any slow gradual rounded turns to the second fence he wanted to see a definite change from one line to the next. For some riders this proved a little hairy – some over shot the turn and then made the turn a little too drastic, others like myself didn’t give any warning signals before the turn to get the horses ready and so the turn became a little too harsh on the first try, while others didn’t quite make the turn significant at all and simply rounded off the turn which ended up in some refusals and run-outs or just sloppy approaches and take-off’s. Where you really saw the effects of a straight line approach and a good turn was on the other side of the fence. Riders who miscalculated the turn and turned too early had a shallow corner afterwards, whereas the riders who got straight to the fence could go deep and balanced into their corner. Chelsea and Lissy had this down to a science in the first class!
Next we added on the liverpool. The trick to this fence was to stay on the outside line as long as possible and then make the same kind of definite turn (as to the bending line) to the liverpool so the horses got on the line straight. This fence rarely caused problems except for when a rider cut in too early and rounded off their corner or came off the outside with too much gusto and fell in on the forehand after the turn. Louis and I just found the turn afterwards which was tight between the oxer on the outside and the edge of the ring, it was a little hairy the first couple of times until I got him setting himself back a little bit early and got his hind end a little more underneath himself.
The in-and-out came after a rather tight approach off the rail and the corner. Louis in his earlier round had a tough time getting straight to this combination and had a couple of run outs from turning too early to the first fence. With that in mind and Waylon’s earlier coaching on the bending line and the line to the liverpool, I tried to make the approach with a definite turn, lots of outside aids and leg on looking ahead down my line. Albeit probably a little easier from his first ride since he’d seen it already, the first time or two through was a little uncertain showing up in the landing side being a little forward and slightly more unbalanced. This was my one trouble spot on course. After the in-and-out that seemed to get him a little charged-up, I had some trouble setting him back. It usually took me to the first corner at the end of the ring to get his canter under control and back down to a trot, then not much room to organize the trot before the turn to the skinny. The first couple shots at the skinny were definitely “hairy” to say the least. We overshot the turn the first time and nearly had a refusal – he stalled pretty good but we got over it. The second time we were still just a little too on the forehand with legs flying a little too erratically to get over it clean so we ended up punching out the rail. (Sorry Waylon! Poor guy had a cast on his leg and this was the furthest fence in the ring!)… After those two times I was figured I needed to set up the in-and-out better so he would land a little less enthusiastically and unbalanced. I tried to stay slightly more upright in my body between and over the second fence, focusing on getting the canter balanced earlier and back to the trot well before the first corner so that I could truly focus on the turn to the skinny and not still be trying to get a good trot as I’m turning to the fence.
In the end we had a few really great rounds with no obvious flaws, other than it wasn’t all done in canter. Waylon was really happy by how steady and rhythmical the rounds went (goal #1) and how straight and connected our turns and lines were (goal #2)… and hopefully there aren’t too many grimaces on my face in the pictures!
By far one of the best rides on Louis I’ve had to date and a great clinic!