Blogging is funny. Often what I think is the point of the post is not what gets discussed, and the post takes on a life of its own. Yesterday’s post was no exception, so I’m rolling with it! I mentioned that I’m working through in my head what exactly it means to ride the back end of the horse, and I wanted to expand on that, as well as share the quote that got me there.
Funny story, someone at work asked who the Michael Phelps of showjumping was, and I said it was hands down Flexible, just because he keeps on going and going and getting better and better, even though he’s 20 years old now. That prompted me to find something about Rich Fellers and Flexible to share with my coworkers, and then I happily stumbled about this interview with the Chronicle.
The quote that stood out to me was this one:
“When he was younger, he used to be obnoxious all the way around the course, flipping his head up and down. But that’s one big thing George has taught me over the years, that you ride the back end of the horse, not the head,” Rich said. “That’s the motor. I don’t ever get distracted with what’s going on with his head and neck. If his hind legs are pushing, he always settles in at take-off. It works for him. He’s really powerful for his size. He’s very elastic and athletic in the air.”
While I know in theory that everything comes from behind, and I’m pretty good at remembering that on the flat, I struggle with that more in the jumping. Our great flat work doesn’t always translate over to the jumps, and I tend to fixate on getting a “pretty” canter if you will. But what I took from this is that regardless of what is happening up front, as long as you can get the hind end powerful, it’s going to be alright.
So I tried to trust my horse a bit more in our jump school. Whether his head was in the air or his front legs were flailing, I focused on simply keeping the stride size the same and keeping his hind end under him and pushing us forward. It took a lot more core and leg to rate him without fussing. Instead of really making him package like I do on the flat, I just asked him to push from behind, and gave him sort of a “box” if you will. As long as he didn’t try to pull or suck back beyond that little box of wiggle room, I didn’t touch the reins to manage him at all. That approach will probably get more finesse eventually, but for starters I wanted him to trust me a little more too. I’m absolutely going to work on not flinging his head so much in general, but I’m thinking harder about how to strike that balance.
It’s hard to trust that the jump is going to work out when I only get glimpses of it between head flings. But in the long run I think doing less and trusting more is going to make a big difference in our course work.
What are your thoughts on managing both ends of your horse on course? Obviously your approach may vary, especially in the hunters where presentation and looking pretty is the point, but maybe the same principles still apply. Trusting your horse to get the job done without so much help from you can only increase his own confidence in himself, and hopefully in the long run makes for prettier courses because you don’t have to provide so much input.