Monday, June 15, 2015

Cross Country Schooling and the Mental Game

I DEEPLY APOLOGIZE for not having any pics from the XC school itself. That's just how it is for me these days. If one of you wants to move to my area and go on fun adventures together, we can take pictures for each other. In the meantime, I'll have to make do with what I've got.

After the disaster that was the "cross country" at Loch Moy (I still can't quite bring myself to consider Intro to be actual cross country--if the horse could do the whole thing just as easily at a walk... But this is helpful to me because I have tiny XC issues, which we'll get to in a moment).

Reusing show pics because I paid for them, dammit.

Last Wednesday M and I took Mo to a local farm to use their wonderful XC course. But I should back up: the week before we went on our XC school, we had a jump lesson in the ring that SUCKED A LOT at first and then was fabulous, and it all depended on how I was riding. This is how M put it: if I was riding like an amateur, spending my mental energy worrying or being hard on myself, I could hardly get the course done. If instead I thought like a professional, just thinking about what I needed to do and what aids to use, it went great. It wasn't a hard course--about 2'6", no crazy lines, well within his ability to trot or canter, and certainly not at the top of my skill set. After the warmup, which was just okay, I jumped through the course once. It was a mess. I was micromanaging his pace instead of just letting him canter boldly forward, if I didn't see a distance (and who could see a distance out of the shitty canter I was producing) I'd just kinda be all "Jesus take the wheel." When I pulled up at the end, I was near tears.

And then as I was giving him a walk break and trying not to totally lose it, M said: "You need to ride like a professional. You DO ride like a professional. I don't know what that was all about just now." And then she let me think for a minute, and I used that minute to change the mental tape in my head from "goddammit how come I can't do this basic shit" to "what this horse needs is for you to sit up, put your leg on, and keep feeling the corners of his mouth until he's in the air, and that is going to have excellent results."

So the second time through the course, I did that. Instead of being all "FUCKING HELL I MESSED THAT UP" I was like "send him now, open the right rein here, stay connected, good boy, balance through the turn." And holy shit did that ever work. The second ride through the course was brilliant. My little horse can really use himself well, and when M yelled "Make his canter feel like a grown up show jumper" as I was getting started, everything just clicked into place. I had a horse I could ride for real. Of course he's far from having a lead change (although because he is a goddamn genius he will sometimes just do one), but cantering through courses in jump schools is making his canter better, and if I rode him leg-to-hand like a real horse, he responded appropriately. Damn.

Back to XC schooling: I have never really fallen in love with XC. I'm confident enough in myself as a rider, and in Mo as a really excellent horse, to try again. I'm riding with M, after all. If she can't turn me into an eventer, it simply cannot be done. And even if I do ultimately want Mo to be an A/O jumper or something, I think some time in the lower levels of eventing will teach him quite a lot. If I fall in love with eventing along the way, yay. M is always saying that he's a Rolex horse (though we can't really know that because he's so green, but it's fabulous to hear that she thinks he has that potential, and she'd know). I think what he is is a really quality horse who could go any direction.

We took Mo over to the XC schooling to see how he'd handle himself with M on the ground to holler at me when I was messing up and with the ability to repeat the same jump endlessly until it was boring before moving on. He started out fine as I walked him back and forth over a very tiny log. When I asked him to trot the log, which was seriously 12" high at most, he was like "FUCK THIS I'M OUTTA HERE." We got over that a few times until he calmed down, and then a couple more little logs, and then M pointed us at a jump that was a pile of logs and a good early fence for a BN course. No dice. After a few refusals, M was like "we'll get back to this" and moved us along. More logs, some better than others, and then the faux ditch, which had weeds growing out of it that he thought he should clear, ha. The actual ditch was no problem. Up the bank, down the bank--no real issues there, though it was a little nerve wracking at first. Turns out Mo LOVES water and thinks trotting in it is really fun. So there's the holy trinity of eventing taken care of.

Then she had me string a little course together that involved both ditches, up the bank, over whatever logs I found, through the water, a couple more logs, and the BN jump we couldn't manage in the beginning. I tried to give him the sensation of really being on course, of going forward and looking for the next jump. That seemed to work, and I rode confidently to the BN jump which he hopped right over this time. M liked what she was seeing now and had me trot him to a little dog house: "It's a new shape for him, but stay connected, and if he stops he stops, but give him the pro ride." He DID stop the first time, but M assured me that I had ridden correctly. With that positive feedback, I just rode him exactly the same way the second time and he jumped it. We jumped it a few more times, and then headed to a bench, and I replicated the sensation I had at the dog house. His confidence had gone WAY UP at the dog house, and he was taking me to the bench. Then the BN hanging log. Then all four BN fences in a row and one more time through the water as a reward.

He isn't this baby horse anymore.

The horse I got off was a much better horse than the one I got on that day. He trusted me more, and my faith in him went up too. He learned that he can do things he hasn't ever tried, and jump things he hasn't seen. I don't know what will happen the next time we try XC, but I sure have a lot of reason to believe that he'll own it if I give him a positive ride. And it won't be long before he can canter in the dressage ring, and then we'll find ourselves graduating from intro. And you know what? I'm starting to think of that as exciting instead of scary.


  1. You and Mo make SUCH a good team. I love how M so carefully coaches you in the best direction and gives you confidence that you can do this, because you totally can.

  2. sounds like an awesome outing - like it really clicked for him!

  3. What a fantastic outing! So happy for both of you. :-)

  4. Yay!! Sounds like such a great outing!