I had an epiphany the other day while jumping at home. Well, actually I had two, but you’re only getting one at a time. Sorry. Anyway, the first one is the most major one.
The really annoying thing is that I know I’ve been told it many times over the years by various great trainers, felt it before (but somehow forgotten what it really felt like) and said it to pupils too, because I can SEE it, but it was one of those things you (or at least I) have to really FEEL before it crystallised into an “Ah-HA!” moment.
But back to the jumping session. I was on my Great Hope, homebred Daisy, who has had her extreme moments over the years but now seems to be quite into the ‘actually, I really want to be an event horse’ groove. I hope those aren’t Famous Last Words…
It was very cold and foggy that day, and to ensure her back muscles were really warm I did a lot longer warm-up than usual. Stretching, flexing, transitions in walk and trot. A lot of specific lateral work, in walk, to really engage the inside hindleg.
When I eventually popped her up to canter and started a circle, instantly my subconscious (which occasionally has a Voice all of its own, but usually restricts itself to “you really deserve a chocolate chip cookie”, and I’m not kidding at all) said very loudly in my head “Wow, John Whitaker Canter”. Which, incidentally, is a phrase I’ve never heard, or used, in my life. But please, let’s get away from the mental-case voice in my head…
It was right. I have an image in my mind of the ineffable JW working in, in the half-seat, that unmistakable almost-upright silhouette, with the horse round, soft, straight, really stepping through powerfully, a very deliberate, unhurried, totally power-packed 1,2,3, beat. Suddenly I could FEEL exactly that underneath me… and this horse has NEVER shown me that canter. All the warm-up had created it, definitely.
So, we started jumping, and for one of the very few jump sessions in my life so far, I couldn’t miss. I didn’t miss. Not once. I just kept that fantastic canter, calmly circled to regain it if I lost it, and came to the fences. No rushing, no interfering, no hooking or firing, no minor disagreements or surprises.
Flipping HECK. It was that simple.
So, the epiphany is, and I’d quite like to have this in flashing neon, ideally both on your screens and beside my arena:
“!!!!!******There is no such thing as a bad stride, just a bad canter*****!!!!!”
Because from that GREAT canter, that CRUCIAL canter, not only can you feel/see the distance from waaay out (I was seeing between 7 and 5 strides to every fence, which doesn’t always happen, put it that way!), also, if the spot you get to is a tiny bit off the fence or a tiny bit deep, the horse has such power and confidence in the canter that it just jumps well from the spot you’ve reached. A slightly ‘off’ spot feels fine. A slightly deep spot feels fine. Nothing is an effort, nothing jolts the confidence, which just grows and grows. Now I just have to hope I can remember how to recreate it, every time. No promises, just more work to do!
So, that’s it. Here endeth the Story of the first Epiphany. Go work on that canter and then I hope you’ll go “Oh… WOW”, as I did. Or your subconscious might even have an opinion about it, who knows?