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Assessment of Cross Country Day

I rushed back to the desert for a few days of catching up, dealing with a crashed computer and then repacked and was on the road again. I find the airport a perfect place to watch human behavior- which of course gives me a MILLION ideas on different blogs that would be funny to write. But, before I hope up on the pulpit, I want to first finish my assessment of the cross country school from the cancelled show. If you missed that blog you can find it here:  . Flying gave me time to review my teaching and preparation for my students and how our Show turn Schooling cross country experience.
First I’d like to just state that I was impressed with all three of them. When I thought about what I had actually “taught” while at the course, it was more of the specifics in technique, what each fence was asking of them, the pros and cons to different approaches to the same jump, along with a few other factors that could affect the quality of their ride such as weather, footing, where to “make up time” with a gallop, possible distractions, etc.
As we started out in the warm up that morning another trainer with several of her riders showed up to school. Keep in mind two out of the three students I’d brought had never even SEEN a course, never mind had watched a rider “on course.” As they overheard the “instruction” from the other trainer their jaws seemed to drop. In one sense I guess they are lucky for having been a bit “secluded” from the “real world training mentality.” The other trainer was a great example of the norm. Comments such as “Kick more, go harder, drive him…” And then we watched with our hearts in our mouth as the poor horses stumbled, scraped, crawled, chipped on, jumped long and struggled in numerous other ways over decent size SOLID jumps. It definitely seemed to be a 50/50 chance of the rider AND horse making it over – together- AND- in one piece.
I told my students to “not look” and we continued on. What impressed me most is because I didn’t have my PA system to help “instruct them” from afar- here were “real life” opportunities for them to use all of their acquired “tools in communication” with their horse. To watch the riders not get overly focused on the jump, but rather continue to ride with a priority to attain QUALITY flatwork BEFORE they presented a jump- even if it meant taking a few moment to help their horse if he was struggling- to witness the literally INSTANT change in the horse’s willingness to try and to participate was amazing.
In one sense I wished my riders “knew” more about the all too common “quick fix” ways of working with horses in order to appreciate their own level of clarity in being able to assess their horse and themself. Once that was accomplished, they would continue on with the task at hand, using numerous ways of communicating with their horse to find that ideal clarity for an ideal and rewarding ride.
Remember that two of the horses had never even SEEN a cross country jump. They completely relied on communicating with their rider to attain a positive experience through quiet, balanced jumping that allowed the spectators to breathe easily as they watched. Banks, ditches, drops, water obstacles, leaving the “group of horses” and then coming back towards them, cold/windy weather, slippery footing throughout, motorcycles, trucks, dogs & kids on bicycles were a few of what they encountered on the course that day.
Another great, but totally different experience was also the third combination of horse and rider. The rider had never ridden a course but had watched a few competitions. Her horse had cross country experience, but he was basically “manhandled” when ridden. He thought to jump a course that he had to be running at full speed, on the forehand and for the most part was jumping out of fear. It was so awesome to watch his rider work through “trial and error” using tools we’d created as a foundation in building their partnership and clear communication. She was able to take a horse that at the beginning of the ride was on the verge of a total mental melt down and physical explosion, to reach a mental calm and availability in order to try approaching the task of cross country with a completely different emotional and mental perspective and physical relaxation.
I don’t think the riders were really aware of how much they had helped their horses nor how different that day’s events could have turned out had they not maintained their focus and clarity throughout their rides. It was moments like that from the teaching perspective that “makes it all worth it.” To know that the students maintained independence and to think without having “had their hand held” (as is the case with so many “students” these days) was a great success.
Hats off to the brave (and crazy as some may think) newly discovered cross country fans who left that day grinning ear to ear….


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