When I am teaching show jumping or cross country I have a mantra I always bang on about. Why? Well the answer is two- fold. Firstly if you are going to be a coach you need to have your own philosophy on things and your own way of explaining things (Drive that bus Christa!), otherwise sure we are all just going to stand there bored reciting lines from a book. I have a list of my own choice phrases some of which are only adult appropriate. Secondly, banging on about something is the only way it will penetrate the massive level of noise the average human hears daily and embed itself into their brain. When that happens you have some hope that it might be recalled by the rider when you are not there or in competition. I know it works as it is what most religions and the Irish educational system in the 90’s was based on. I can’t remember what I did last week but Jesus I can remember some amount of random stuff from school simply because it was drummed into me day in day out. I haven’t a clue for example who Zacchaeus is for example but there is a song in my head for the past twenty years from school that says he was a greedy little man.
So, when teaching jumping for riding club and pony club and riding school my mantra is that you must have the right line and the right canter. If you have both of these and are not on a dishonest animal the fence should come up reasonably okay for you. Most problems therefore can be diagnosed as originating either from the wrong canter (too fast, too slow, too flat, too erratic, no rhythm) or the wrong line (crooked, too long an approach, too short an approach). When it comes to the canter, look to the training scale. Riding is like dancing, if you don’t have rhythm, you don’t have anything. When it comes to the line – as Jonny cash said, walk it. Then ride it. You might ask what about leg? Look, if you don’t have leg you don’t have the canter or the line! What I learned last weekend is there is a third element that I often forget about – the trust.
I rode at 90cm for over twenty years. Some times on good horses, sometimes on quirky horses and often on horses that would stop / duck out / create their own adventure if you didn’t glue your legs and ride them like you stole them. I had no experience at all of horses with real scope as it just wasnt what I rode and I was always loaning or catch riding so I never put my hand in my pocket and bought one. Now I know it is no scope no hope but sure I wasn’t hoping to do much! My own relationship with show jumping is complicated. I managed to get myself to the dizzying heights of jumping a metre last year and this year to jumping a metre without jumping something else first. However at home unless I give myself a major shove I drift towards flat work simply because I love it and I do that.
I did two dressage tests on Sunday and my horse was clearly a) high as a kite and b) dying to jump. So on the way home I called into a show jumping competition. I’d done the same the week before only to go home as it was an hour at least to go before my class and I have no patience for waiting. This week I had no excuse as the class had started. So I entered and tacked up and looked at the course as the course walk was finished, Now I know we all get doubts when we are nervous, its normal but I’ve an over active imagination and when I am bricking it my brain goes full on Spielburg. When my irrational thoughts reached the pinnacle of ridiculousness at “but, can Sammy actually jump that high, what if he can’t lift his legs that high” I told myself to shut the f**k up and get into the warm up. What didn’t help was several competitors falling off or having refusals while I was learning the course. When this happens I honestly think, ok let’s take a photo of the course, Instagram that baby, go home, drink wine and pretend we did it yeah? #iloveshowjumping #clearround.
I went in, jumped number one, headed for two which was an oxer off the pocket and overrode as I thought he would lose impulsion on the corner and he didn’t. We knocked it, he scarpered, ran, we knocked the next and he panicked. I pulled up to a trot and honestly told myself either retire or stop riding like a lemon. I went on, sat up, rode and the horse was fantastic. We managed the difficult line without issue. Once I was calm and strong the horse was happy. I have been told in many lessons to ride around the corner, sit up and allow the horse to balance and then jump but all the lessons in the world cannot force the lightbulb moment, we as pupils have to gain that for ourselves. I learned a huge amount on that course. Why did I come round the corner riding my horse as if he was going to try and avoid the fence when he was dying to jump? Simple, I was way way out of practice having not jumped for over a week.
The lovely lady who won the class was chatting to me after and said every Saturday she sets out her poles X strides apart to get her eye in. I was embarrassed as it is what I get anyone I teach that has trouble with distances to do – canter poles to get the rhythm and the right canter and the eye in. I’d be cross at a pupil who didn’t jump for almost two weeks, didn’t do their pole work and then didn’t walk the course. Yet there I was doing exactly that and struggling with related distances.
So this week’s lesson for me quite simply was trust 1) in my horse and 2) in my own advice. Everyone else’s lesson from me this week will be the holy trinity – the canter, the line and the trust!