XC Lesson with Jonquil Hemming @ Berriewood Farm

We started off with some warm-up exercises, ensuring that I had Finn attentive and active.  I must ensure that she reacts to the aids as quickly as possible.  In the canter ride forward seat and send her away and bring her back, Jonquil commented that it looks like her legs need to be more active in the canter, have more lift and I must ride the rhythm. I must ask myself: is she listening, is she with me, are the hind legs underneath pushing her forward is she soft elastic and even in the hand, can I stop, can I turn left or right – it’s not good enough to just be going fast!  She needs to feel up and forward – energy rather than speed.  Once I start jumping I should ensure I aim for the centre of the fence and land both left and right – ride the corner correctly, do not allow her to ‘wang’ round the corner going out through the shoulder…..  Our turns were good today, but I must ensure that she is even in both hands and in front of the leg.

Think about sending her forward and having her “Bounce Back” to a steadier canter – I need more leg to keep the energy up and make her rounder, it helped to count the rhythm 123, 123, 123 and feel her hocks underneath her ( I must remind myself of this constantly) and have her in a round frame, think about the front of her face being at right angles to the ground – don’t let her poke her nose and go like a plank!!  It’s OK for her to poke her nose if she stays soft and listening – but at the moment she doesn’t do that!  I need to get on her case when she is not soft and listening, and be ‘nice’ to her and stay quiet when she is going well.

I must keep my reins even shorter and draw my hands into my body – remembering extra leg to keep the rhythm and jump in the canter.

Feel that my heart and my leg are connected, XC riding is about conviction, I must ride with my heart – and my legs!!!  At all times I must visualise a big fence in front of me and ask myself have we got the power to jump the fence…..  Think about the long run up – asking the questions: is she listening, is she with me, are the hind legs underneath pushing her forward is she soft elastic and even in the hand, can I stop, can I turn left or right.  If I don’t have a good feel then I have chance to do something about it – if I start asking these questions on a short run up to a fence then the fence will be there before I’ve had a chance to correct and get a good feel.

We came out of the start box and jumped the first 3 fences which felt good.  Fence 4 was an up to height brush fence in the fence line out of the first field; Finn was a bit ‘pokey’ at this and I was sent back to do it a second time with a bit more aggression.  I jumped back into the first field over a tiger trap under the trees and then circled round to take another attempt at the brush.  Chris was sat on the wall watching and the dogs weren’t on the leads – Minnie nearly got trampled as I made my run up – but Chris managed to wake up and call her out of the way just in time!  Next up was a one stride double, which looked quite spooky with big round bales at either side of the fence.  Finn had a look at this  – I wasn’t quick enough to get her back with me and she stopped (the first and only time in the 1hr 40min lesson).  I circled round and had a pep talk with Jonquil, I got her rounder and more elastic and then presented her again, she was still very looky.  I smacked her on the shoulder and growled at her – sitting up and kicking her on – she cleared it, we had another go just to be sure that she jumped it fluidly.

Work at home and think how many strides does it take her to react to me asking her to go forward or bounce back?  Aim to get this sharper – but staying soft – do this in forward seat.  It is good that she wants to take me to the fence, but she must be on the aids, speed into the fence does not equal committed – is she soft, elastic, listening; is she focused?  Think about this on the long run up to the fence; it’s too late to correct 3 strides out……

At more technical fences e.g. corners, combinations, skinnies, rail-ditch-rail etc. have a good strong show-jumping canter, but a jump-off canter, not a cross pole canter.  A proper XC forward canter is too fast: at the corner I rode her too fast and she knocked it as a consequence (more hoof than leg according to Jonquil) I rode a better canter the second time and it felt much better.  At the skinny fences I need to feel like I have her in a tunnel between the leg and the hand, if there is a side she can run out on then block that side with the leg and the hand, open the rein on the ‘closed’ side if necessary to channel her better.

We jumped the trakehner well – did it twice just to be sure!  This is the type of fence where we need to be in a more forward XC canter, with her head up a little but still soft.  Make sure I stay sitting up so that I can be more positive with my aids.

These basics must be in place as my homework: while I’m out hacking, or doing my canter work: can I bend her, turn her, send her forward and bounce her back – does she feel like a plank or is she soft, round and elastic?  Practice this always!

We did some work on lines into fences.  While walking the course think about what might be spooky or looky (e.g. the big round bales at Berriewood today where Finn had her only stop), think about what I will do on the long run up to this type of obstacle to ensure she is with me, round, soft, energetic and elastic in both reins.  For the skinnies and corners, there are usually about 3 lines which are ‘safe’ – so take my time to think about my approach and what I will be aiming for in the run up to the fence.

Both Finn and I were absolutely shattered by the end of the lesson, we had both worked hard but had learned lots.  Now to put it all into practice.

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