Being surrounded by great riders is incredibly informative and motivating. Today was very interesting for me. I watched a rider I had never seen before school her horse over fences. She didn’t have any jump crew so she just jumped everything that was set up in the arena. The jump height varied from 2’ to 4’6’. She jumped all the fences without adjusting one height of any fence. She didn’t gradually go up in height, she just cantered around and jumped what she felt like or that’s what it looked like to me. She made her ride look effortless on a horse that did not look like a million dollar grand prix horse that could make any rider look good. She just cantered around and jumped a 3’ vertical and then a 4’6” oxer. It was impressive. I always wonder how some of these riders can just make everything look so easy and it looks like every jump is in stride without the rider making any adjustments. This is exactly how I want to look on a horse.
So here starts the point of my blog: what are these riders doing differently from the others? Well I started paying attention to my own ride as I was riding around and trying to notice what parts of the ride that is actually challenging that this girl is making look easy.
Here where some of my key points:
Her arms never locked throughout her course. Now I know this sounds simple but really look at your ride. Having a soft, following elbow is crucial to feeling and adjusting your stride. This means even if you are asking your horse to steady the elbow has to follow the stride while it shortens the horse’s step. Reflecting on my own ride I like to lock my arms through the corners and when I choose to steady. When your elbows aren’t locked you just flow jump to jump through each turn. This is much harder to do than it looks.
Her rhythm was incredibly consistent. By consistent I mean through every turn and direction change. Her forward canter looked as easy as her collected canter. There was definitely no chasing or choking up to the fences. As riders I think one of the biggest ways we hold ourselves back is we never ride forward well. If we school lengthen we just focus on that but by schooling forward I mean that every movement should be done and can be done forward. Lower level riders always want to bring the horse to a slower pace. Be honest with yourself…are you always bringing your horse back to a slower pace to solve the problem? Some of the biggest resistance we get as coaches is to get riders to start to be comfortable riding forward.
She never let her horse’s movement pop her above him and this rider did not have perfect equitation. But what she did really well is stay with her horse. Once you get popped above your horse you end up riding with your hand….and then you choose to slow your horse down so you both feel better! Following your horse’s movement requires you to pay attention to your hip. Your hip’s job is to absorb the movement of the horse. Test yourself in some harder moves to see what you are doing…canter rails, flying lead changes? Are you lightening your seat during this? Do them forward and challenge yourself, everyone can sit a slow pokey trot, but can you sit an extended one?
It is also very hard to stay with our horse when in a light seat or two point. Good riders are always ‘with’ their horse in any position. Check your position…are you too far ahead in your two point? How does your horse respond when you lighten your seat?
So here are some key take home messages that you can work on by yourself by just being observant. And I will tell you almost everyone needs work in these areas so you can bring your riding up to the next level by focusing on the basics.
Always make sure the elbows are soft and following. Pay attention to what you are doing in turns, corners, collected moves, any areas that get easy to lock your arm.
Rhythm is really everything and chances are you are continually working in a pace that you find comfortable but it actually too slow to be productive for your horse. Teach your horse to be rideable forward and quit slowing down to solve problems.
Pay attention to your rhythm through your turns this is an area that it gets really easy to lock your elbows.
Watching great riders is as good as getting a one on one lesson if you can pick a few take home points. I always go with the presumption that I could work on anything basic because the better my foundation is the higher my learning can be! I love that I make myself mini lessons after watching some of these great, talented riders jump.
Improvement in these three areas will improve you and your horse in leaps and bounds.
You want to be a better rider? Do the basics better!