Not a joke - this is what John (my trainer, not Whitaker - now that really would be a compliment!) said to me in my lesson on Saturday. It made a lot more sense than it would at first appear, and I shall try to explain what he meant!
I really wanted a jumping lesson on Saturday, as we had had a few problems last time we jumped, mainly because I panic two strides out from a jump and lose faith in my striding. I do the worst possible thing, which is to totally drop Echo and hope that she sorts it out for herself. I know it's not an intelligent thing to do, but I find it really hard to stop.
There was a competition going on in the woodchip arena, and it was too hard to jump anywhere else, so we had to make do with the outdoor school. I told John that I'd been hoping to jump and I explained my problem and he made it all sound very simple.
John: How many steps do you walk up and down in a day?
Me: Lots - probably about 200 (I'm a teacher and there are lots of stairs...)
John: Right - and how many of those to you trip over?
Me: None (usually)
John: Okay - so you don't have a problem seeing a stride - you just aren't sure that you can adjust HER stride in order to get onto the right stride.
He went on to explain that people are always taught to jump, being told that ordinary people will never be able to see a stride. This makes people believe that only the best riders can see strides into a jump. He said that there is absolutely no reason why John Whitaker can see a stride into a jump and I can't - we are both human and will have similar level of intellect (he even went on to say that mine is probably higher as I am a teacher, but I'm not convinced!) If he can learn to see a stride, then so can I. Apparently, what I need to do is be confident that I can adjust Echo's stride length in order to get onto that perfect stride.
So, armed with the knowledge that I can be like John Whitaker, we began to work on lengthening Echo's canter stride - and promptly realised that I am not very good at collecting the canter - so I won't be able to lengthen it. What followed was a lesson in bringing her shoulders up and engaging the hindlegs properly. We started in the canter and then progressed into the trot. My problem was that I use too much inside rein, and so I get too much bend, rather than enough engagement of the inside hind. She did show moments of lifting the front, but I was rather slow at responding to it and giving accordingly, which was very frustrating.
We moved into sitting trot and worked on the same thing. It was absolutely exhausting - I was bright red and puffing at the end, but I really felt like we were starting to push for the next level, which was a good feeling. I worked on the same principles yesterday when I rode, and the canter was starting to feel really good - she felt like she was really pushing upwards - only for a few strides, but it was something. I was also really working on making sure that I reward her properly when she does what I want, as she is very quick to learn things - including the wrong things!
What I hope to be able to do this week, is start to change the length of her stride. I was doing it in the walk yesterday, shortening the stride but keeping the rhythm, then pushing for extended walk in the same rhythm. This was very effective - I just need to work on it in the trot and canter, as unfortunately we can't jump from walk! It's an ongoing process - and a very interesting one at that.