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Balancing: You vs. the horse

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  • Balancing: You vs. the horse

    First, let me say that Jimmy Wofford is my absolute HERO.

    And I think that, as I learn, I understand what he says in different ways.

    So I'm trying to understand his "fifth leg" and "let the horse figure it out" vs. the rider making sure that a jump goes well without over-controlling.

    This past weekend, I watched a lot of Training rides, since 1. my trainer's daughter was riding one of my horses T, and 2. I'm going to do my first Training in a month.

    Here's what I saw: about 2/3 of the riders (or perhaps slightly over half) simply "ran and jumped". Or at least that's what it looked like. They took almost all the jumps as "fly fences"--and they all (I think) went clean.

    About 1/3 or so of the riders sat back well before the fences, pushed the horse into a frame, and in a few instances when the horse didn't have enough impulsion or looked at the fence, gave him a little tap on the rear to emphasize that he needed to have power AND "up". These horses, too, went clean.

    The fences I watched were tables, logs, a weldon's wall (that was the one that warranted a tap a few times--never a big one), barrels, and a log into and out of water.

    I know it's our job to have the horse in the right direction, in a good rhythm, and balanced. Were the "fly fence" riders balanced and I just didn't see it? Were the other riders too controlling?

    In a clinic a few months ago, I finally felt (consistently) the controlled power/impulsion that I saw with the riders who brought their horses back before fences then pushed. It was amazing. And that's how I'm going to try to ride my T course for the most part.

    For those of you who've ridden the upper levels, how do you do it (consistently, successfully)? I realize that every fence, every terrain is different....but can you give me an idea of the balance between you choosing it and your horse figuring it out?
    --Becky in TX
    Clinic Blogs and Rolex Blogs
    She who throws dirt is losing ground.

  • #2
    Can't comment on the generalizations you saw on the weekend. Here is what I do with my horses (warning-long):

    I try to teach them to balance themselves when they are green. E.g. trotting or cantering a circle, I will go in 2-point and put my hands on the neck, and expect them to maintain the same speed & balance. Of course, in the early stages they can't do this. So I half-halt, then get off their mouth and try again. It has to be built up.

    I take them out on trail rides and don't hold them up when we are going up and downhill or across uneven terrain. But I insist they maintain the pace I have chosen - with half-halts. I will pull them up and halt if they're not listening. If they stumble consistently, I kick them in the gut - it is their job to pick where their feet are going and to PAY ATTENTION to their feet - not mine. (Having said that, I am careful about good footing and try to avoid rocks and holes.)

    On green/young horses, this takes a bit of gumption - because they will stumble, they will slip, they will start trotting on their forehand down the hill. But if I always hold them up and package them and save them and tell them where their feet should go - how on earth can I expect them to make smart decisions about where their feet should go in a light-to-dark drop jump, or a bounce combination on XC, or on slippery footing, or if they stumble before or after a jump?

    When I start them jumping, I let them pick where they take off at trot and canter. I get the most balanced gait I can, and I give them soft reins for the last 3 or so strides. I sit up and expect ugly jumps, stumbles, crashes, pecks, long spots and short spots. I do tons of grids and give them loopy reins and stay out of their way. I make small corrections (like leg-yielding or a guide rail if they're off the line) and praise them when they improve. They have to make mistakes in order to learn.

    I take them outside and jump fallen trees from weird lines and distances and get them to deal with avoiding the big rocks and gullies and branches etc. I let them land and decide what to do with their feet around all those things and pay attention to the trees that we are weaving around. If they make a stupid decision or take off or spook or swerve, I will make corrections like pulling them up or leg-yielding or even doing it again and giving them a chance (or me, if I got a bad line) to make a better decision.

    This is all done at 18" - 2'6, starting with things the horse could walk over if it needs to, then gradually increasing until they are confident and making good decisions.

    As they get more broke, I can help them more - but have to remind myself not to always do that. I always force myself to do some weird lines, or to jump things that aren't on a set distance, so we practice being "not perfect" - I think it is the ability to deal with things when they're not perfect, that sets a competent rider at a level apart from one that is scraping by or potentially a danger to themselves.

    I feel that as they get more broke, I am usually moving them up a level, so even though I can get the perfect speed & balance and see a distance and help them get to it more easily, that is just part and parcel of having to jump bigger/more complex jumps. I still need to feel confident that if I royally screw up, my horse will get us out of trouble, and vice versa.

    The worst feeling is coming into a big jump or complex with a horse that is not in balance, is behind the leg, or that is relying on you to do all the work. If a horse gives this feeling consistently, I will reconsider its career.

    I usually sit up 5-10 strides beforehand and check our balance, then ride the fence accordingly (keep the rhythm and speed for a fly fence, or establish a coffin canter and elevated forehand fora complex).
    Blugal

    You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Kairoshorses View Post
      For those of you who've ridden the upper levels, how do you do it (consistently, successfully)? I realize that every fence, every terrain is different....but can you give me an idea of the balance between you choosing it and your horse figuring it out?

      Can't say I've ridden at the UL...only solid Prelim but brought several horses to that level. Basically...other than keeping them straight and balanced....I usually don't need to do much more than that at training level and below. Sorry..the questions just are not that technical...even today. (although keeping a green horse straight isn't always easy! ) If the horse feels balanced, and the fence is holding them...I don't need to take a tug or set them up any more for most fences that I see at training level. I DO need to make sure that *I* don't make a move or jump head and keep my own balance as well so I don't throw them off.

      A log into water I will want a shorter more powerful canter (not just gallop at it) but the rest of the fences you described sound like basic single fences. You just have a good canter and come down to them.

      It sounds like you are making it more complicated than it needs to be. You need your horse listening to you...but how much you need to "set up" depends on your horse and their own natural balance. If they are running on their forehand and pulling downward....yeah, they might need more set up. Ideally though, novice and training is the time to teach them how to get into a rhythm and jump out of the rhythm....and sometimes if you are too controlling....you will loose that (pulling them in and out of the rhythm) and you will have trouble making the time.

      But as Bugal has said...you do a lot of this training at home...getting a good canter/gallop and teaching them to hold their own balance (and getting them strong enough to do it). Not setting them up perfectly and picking every distance....but laying the ground work for a ridable balanced horse.
      ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **

      Comment


      • #4
        Well, I've just barely made it to prelim but also jump judge A LOT at a variety of levels, so I see a lot.

        I honestly think it depends a great deal on the horse and on the rider.

        I watched Leslie Law ride a training wall (big simple fence, but in a treeline/light to dark) on several horses this summer -- each time he set the horse up quite distinctly, but MUCH further out that you might think -- perhaps 10-7 strides -- and then let it be. I saw plenty of folks who never changed their stride and it rode great. I saw some who SHOULD have changed their stride, and did not, and it was ugly. I would assume Leslie was riding fairly green horses, and he was making sure they understood the question (but it was far enough out that the horse still had to carry the balance himself).

        My big horse, to take another example, is hardly ever downhill or going too fast, and tends to "set himself up" to his fences. As we got more confident at Training, I found I had to do hardly anything unless he really got rolling down a hill to a coffin or something like that. When we moved to prelim I was doing a lot more, but I am not so sure I needed to -- he was very, very careful and the more I did, the harder it was to make time. Learning to trust him and letting him learn how to adjust for those complexes at Prelim was our next step, but then he got injured

        Riding my young horse at Novice last weekend, perfect example of how easy it can be at that level -- again, I never had to do a thing, he was able to just get into a rhythm and rolled right around the whole course. He did not USED to be like that -- was often behind my leg or not in real self carriage...got around novice, he's big and athletic, but I would think, wow, he is SO not ready for training...now he is!

        I think that one of the real tricks of determining when you are ready to move up is understanding when the horse has developed the ability to carry his pace and balance all the way to and over the fence, adjusting himself as need be, for the questions he is facing...at least for Novice to Training and Training to Prelim.

        At that point, yes, you DO need to actively participate, but not every horse needs a lot of handholding through Training, once they are confirmed. That being said, I suspect there are horses that will always benefit from it.
        The big man -- my lost prince

        The little brother, now my main man

        Comment


        • #5
          I think this is a great question and I'll think on it a bit and get back to you.

          In the meantime one of my favorite Wofford experiences was walking a Rolex course. The sunken road was to be ridden as a big sweeping turn down the hill (riding toward the camp grounds.) We were way out--about 20 strides--and Wofford turns to his students and says, (paraphrasing!) "a lot of riders are going to start adjusting their horses here. They're going to get to the first element and miss, because there is no one riding this weekend that can ride 20 strides without screwing up."

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by subk View Post
            I think this is a great question and I'll think on it a bit and get back to you.

            In the meantime one of my favorite Wofford experiences was walking a Rolex course. The sunken road was to be ridden as a big sweeping turn down the hill (riding toward the camp grounds.) We were way out--about 20 strides--and Wofford turns to his students and says, (paraphrasing!) "a lot of riders are going to start adjusting their horses here. They're going to get to the first element and miss, because there is no one riding this weekend that can ride 20 strides without screwing up."


            Great quote..... I think what the OP is struggling a bit is the "when" part of riding....which there isn't a black and white rule. You don't adjust just to adjust....but you also don't sit like a lump on a log when you should be making an adjustment. The learning of "when" to do something or nothing is really hard (trust me...sitting quiet and doing nothing can be harder than doing something!). I think it can be harder to figure out than actually learning "what" to do!

            Did that make any sense???? I think I need more coffee.
            ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by bornfreenowexpensive View Post
              The learning of "when" to do something or nothing is really hard (trust me...sitting quiet and doing nothing can be harder than doing something!). I think it can be harder to figure out than actually learning "what" to do!
              100% agree.

              It usually kicks you in the butt when you hop on a green horse after a spell of broke horses, and you try to adjust 3 strides out from the fence - Mistake!!! Sit still and don't interfere - they don't have the ability to adjust anyway! Then you think to yourself - "Clearly, I have been interfering too much on my broke horses lately."
              Blugal

              You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng

              Comment


              • #8
                Awesome thread!!

                I think that was part of my issue when we moved up. Things were great at Novice cause I just let him roll and we went! He was happy, he was balanced (albeit maybe a slightly downhill balanced, but perfectly capable at novice heights and questions). Then we moved up and our first run was an easy schooling show and... it was incredible!! I was too nervous to do much that point and shoot and good ol' Fleck took care of the rest. THEN... I started to worry... and started to fuss, and started to mess with him and that really screwed us up. Then all heck broke loose and who know's what really happened but it all fell apart. Now... we are getting back to it and it's really been sorta hard... First we worked on getting that uphill rocked back balance and stopping him from just running at stuff. Now... we have that and I forget... And keep riding him like he was and just basically back him off too much. So now is the time to send him forward, trust that he knows his job now and is balanced, and... have fun!!! When he gets too cocky or needs help, then help him, but in the meantime... let him do his job!


                But yeah... soooooo hard!!! And it took me a year....sad, but true, to really sorta figure it out. And I still can't manage to not screw it up at times, and at times Fleck still needs some help. But we're getting there!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Lower level rider chiming in, so it might not count

                  Here is my take. On a green horse, I hope to ride a good line, rhythm and balance and the rest is up to the horse. On a trained horse I would like some adjust-ability, who would not? Agree with JW.....20 strides out is not the re balance zone I am familiar with. Also agree that made or green not every fence needs that bouncy canter or adjust-ability but would not want to gallop on down to a combination, a tricky fence, etc etc with out the tool of adjust-ability in my tool box!!! I have never ridden with JW but an article he wrote a while back for PH was hard for me to interpret/ buy into........but that is another thread
                  Susan
                  http://community.webshots.com/user/ss3777
                  www.longformatclub.com

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Kairoshorses View Post
                    I know it's our job to have the horse in the right direction, in a good rhythm, and balanced. Were the "fly fence" riders balanced and I just didn't see it? Were the other riders too controlling?
                    Probably and probably. Don't disconnect good rhythm from balance, they are very similar. Since you like Wofford you may have heard this, "when you hearing the rhythm you are hearing the balance." (It's why he can have his back turned in a clinic and know if you screwed up or not.) bfne is really on to something when she says at Training and below there really isn't that much "balancing" that needs to be done. A horse that is galloping in self carriage at 400+/- mpm pretty much has all the balance needed to jump most any 3'6" and lower fence.

                    Originally posted by Kairoshorses View Post
                    I realize that every fence, every terrain is different....but can you give me an idea of the balance between you choosing it and your horse figuring it out?
                    In my mind there are two major things that have to work into the problem. First the horse is able to gallop in whatever rhythm you set in self carriage, and second the rider can make the adjustment on the horse by simply raising her shoulder. How far back I bring my body and how deep I sit in the tack becomes directly related to the type of canter/gallop I'm looking for in front of the fence. So in some sense I'm not adjusting the horse as much as I'm adjusting my own body and the horse is responding in concert.

                    When I'm working with a young/green horse I'm constantly trying to remind myself when cantering/galloping either in the open or in a jump school to float the reins in the horse's mouth--the softest of connections. (By the way, I couldn't care less about having the horse "in a frame" when jumping.) The length of time the horse can go without needing any adjustment will get longer and longer--it can start out being only a stride or two. Once you have have some self carriage all the noise is turned down the horse can actually hear the little things like the rider sitting up a smidge.

                    A horse that has been taught to follow the riders shoulder like this isn't one you will see an abrupt change or shift as they approach the fence--most people will miss the change altogether unless it's a complex/fence that requires a radically different canter/gallop than the cruising one. That doesn't really start to happen until Preliminary.

                    But to work back to your question, I not sure that it isn't always the job of the rider to determine the rhythm (which is balance), and the job of the horse is to (self) carry that balance/rhythm himself, from there the horse gets to and can do the footwork. That's where the fifth leg comes from--a balanced horse with the freedom to place his feet.

                    Edited to add:
                    Originally posted by bornfreenowexpensive View Post
                    trust me...sitting quiet and doing nothing can be harder than doing something!
                    Yes, yes, yes! That is why self-carriage is so incredibly difficult attain. It means as a rider you actually have to STOP doing stuff and wait until there is a problem to fix, fix it, then STOP doing stuff again until there is another problem! We aggressive type As who find ourselves in eventing (because the sport attracts that type) find doing nothing the hardest thing of all...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I have always been of the do less school, but with my current youngster, he needs a little more and jumps much better for it. Once he is consistent and understands the goal (don't launch and jump clean - simultaneously, these concepts are a bit tough for him, one or the other is good ), I'll go back to doing less
                      OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        SubK ... you just nailed it all for me!! That post makes total sense to me!!

                        And... I just had a lesson in the same thing! Now that we've been working so hard with Fleck.. it really does just take me rocking my balance back by sitting up more and keeping my shoulders up ... and up he comes! It's amazing really!!!! A very cool feeling to be able to just shift and have him respond! And... I tend to go to the reins and that's just wrong! My lesson was float the reins, lower the reins, do whatever but don't touch the reins... and after three or four jumps Fleck went from running, rolling over his shoulder, inverting, etc, to... just softly steadily patting down to the base of the jump and jumping beautifully over them! And it's soooo much easier and nicer!!!

                        It was an awesome lesson and when things FINALLY clicked for me!!!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          yep, I think subk nailed it.
                          The big man -- my lost prince

                          The little brother, now my main man

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by FLeckenAwesome View Post
                            It was an awesome lesson and when things FINALLY clicked for me!!!
                            Isn't that just the greatest feeling in the world?! I think that's why I enjoy riding young horses so much, a few times a month you get off and say, "wow, that was the BEST he's EVER been!" Then you go around grinning all day...

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              Wow, thanks everyone! I have two horses, one who's REALLY long back, necked, etc. and hard to get together, (and who I've pretty much trained, so he's very quirky...!), and then my new guy who is awesome, who knows more than I do--he's done a ton of Training and a few Prelim events.

                              I am struggling with when and how much. With the big, long, awkward horse, I learned that I do it too much without enough "umph"...and that if I find a good balance/rhythm before the fence and BE QUIET, he's super.

                              The new horse I'm still figuring out. He's incredibly balanced, so it feels soooooo much different! We've had several great "run and jump" Novices, and in clinics I'm learning to adjust him, and more importantly, feel that controlled, bouncy impulsion...but I'm not always good at GETTING it consistently, and I'm not sure when to ask for it to get it at the right time.

                              Plus, he gets....well, ticked off....if I'm too fussy, or if I lean forward/jump ahead, and so forth. He's teaching me to sit balanced and be quiet...and I'm getting better...but I fall back into old habits far too often.

                              Learning when and how much...I'm afraid *I* won't know what the right amount is, and when to ask for it.
                              --Becky in TX
                              Clinic Blogs and Rolex Blogs
                              She who throws dirt is losing ground.

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