By now you will probably have figured out that I love lessons. It comes from a combination of a thirst for continuous learning, and a desire to not make a total fool of myself when I go out competing. Showjumping is my weaker discipline, in particular getting the right takeoff spot, and so I’ve spent a lot of time recently focusing on developing this – between just getting out and jumping more, and doing lots of polework at home. The AIRC South Leinster Region arranged a showjumping clinic with Peter O’Toole at his base in Ballinteskin Farm, Wicklow, and so Betsey and I joined a group of three other Intermediate/90cm horses and riders on Good Friday to be put through our paces!
Peter started us off by warming us up indoors, and a big thing that stood out to me during this section of the clinic was the emphasis which Peter put on the basics – everything from leg position to getting the correct bend when changing the rein. I was really pleased to be told that I had a good position, in particular my lower leg as this has been something I have been working hard on the last few months!
He set up three sets of cavaletti across the centre line and had us ride over them in our jumping position – something I haven’t done in a long time, and taught me a) how much work I need to do to strengthen my lower leg, and b) how much the flatwork I have been doing with Betsey has paid off as she managed the changes of bend really well.
From here we moved onto gridwork – starting with trotting poles to three fences with a stride each between them, and then moving onto a related distance of three strides between two fences. I told Peter at the start of the lesson that I particularly wanted to focus on improving Betsey’s ability to ‘make the distances’, as she has a tendency to find competition distances a bit long for her – she made the distances in the grid just fine, but Peter quickly spotted this issue as soon as we moved onto the related line of three strides. He told me I was holding her too much coming into the fence, and needed to get her to move up into the contact – so to push my hands forward a bit, and then send her forward through the space I had created and into the ‘new’ contact. This worked wonders for lengthening her stride, and it has made me think a bit about how I ride on the flat too – I have a tendency to hold Betsey up into the contact, when really I should be encouraging her forward to seek my hand. I’ll be trying this exercise more in all my schooling going forward.
After popping down through these combinations a few times, it was time to move outside, where Peter had built a course of 11 fences for us to put all we had learned indoors into practice. The course was tight, with some challenging lines and turns, and was more than up to height – some of the fences were definitely a metre! Peter walked us through the course, focusing on riding our lines and how to set the horses up for success at every fence. For dog legs, he told us that we should think ‘centreline to centreline’ – with the overlapping point of a straight line from the middle of the first fence and a straight line from the middle of the second fence being the point where you turn. He also showed us how to ride the line to a fence off a turn – showing us the line that ‘most’ riders take vs the line we should be taking.
When it was my turn to jump, he told me to focus on getting my ‘big’ canter early, riding forward to the contact, and not forgetting to ‘land and go’ for my related distances – making a decision after the first few strides about how big the canter needs to be down the line. This advice paid off in dividends as she popped around the course clear, meeting each fence bang on each time, and making the competition distances with no issue! Peter complimented the round, saying I set her up perfectly for each fence, which was amazing feedback to get.
We then did a second round, adding in a double and another few fences that were a bit bigger. I did exactly the same as I did in my first round – riding her forward, landing and going – however this time it was to my detriment as now her pace was too big and so we came in deep to some of the fences and knocked them. This isn’t something that I am used to as I usually have to work to open up Betsey’s stride, so it was great to know that she has it in her, but also now I need to be able to recognise when the pace is enough and for me to leave her alone. Peter asked me to come around and pop the line that I knocked again with this in mind and she sailed through it.
Overall I was thrilled with how we both did in the lesson – it was a great confidence boost for both of us to be able to confidently pop around a 90cm-1m course, and I took lots of actionable learnings that I will start putting into practice immediately, namely:
- Use trotting poles in schooling as much as possible – pop a few sets of three around the arena and trot over them as we are schooling.
- Keep the hands up and give them forward, riding forward into that ‘new’ contact.
- Get the big canter before the fence, set her up and leave her to it.
- Land and go – then make the decision to leave her to it or re-adjust once I have the canter.
Looking forward to getting out to a show and putting all these learnings into practice!