When you have someone like eventer and international eventing/dressage judge Marilyn Payne practically in your back yard, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to take the opportunity to learn from her. Regardless of which equestrian discipline you actually practice. So when a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook showing her and her horse at a recent jumping clinic with Marilyn, I asked her if she knew of future events I could participate in. As luck would have it, there was another scheduled for the end of March.
I signed up for the clinic, and then begged my wonderful friend Marissa to come along for help and moral support. As a card carrying neurotic and doomsayer, I’m better at looking at what could go wrong, rather than what could go right. Emergencies and upheavals are always easier to deal with when you have someone calm and reasonable with you, and Marissa is the voice of reason in my equestrian life. She may not ever come out with me again, however, as I no doubt drove her nuts with my crazy texts about various what if scenarios. The poor woman had to deal with stuff like this:
Me: Is it the worst thing in the world if we just load Indy on the left side of the trailer? We’re only going 10 minutes down the road. He’s smaller than Mooch but loads better on the left and I don’t want to make loading a big production. We’re working on it and he’s improved so much but I don’t want to push it….
Marissa: That’s fine.
Me: Parking is in a field. It’s supposed to rain. What if I get stuck? Do you think the Tahoe will get stuck? It should be fine, right? Should I go to Home Depot and get wooden boards just in case? Would that help?
Marissa: Do you have 4-wheel drive? I think it should be ok but I guess it couldn’t hurt.
Me: Do you think hanging a lickit or something in the trailer would keep Indy from screaming when he’s in the trailer by himself?
Marissa: Worth a try. But I’d hang it after you park. (In my defense, I did intend to hang it only after we arrived, but after all my other texts you can’t blame the girl for wondering what level my crazy was at.)
Indy loaded perfectly. (Good Boy!) We got there early, so there was plenty of room for me to roll in and do a big turn so I was facing the exit. (I suck at backing up.) Since we were so ridiculously early (helloooo, neurotic!) we had plenty of time to get the lay of the land and check out the class before us. Shockingly, Indy remained quietly munching his hay in the trailer while we were gone. (Good Boy!)
The first jump I saw when we entered the area was a black and white pole set over 2 black and white barrels painted to look like cows. There was a 2′ plastic cow in front of the standards on either side. I thought Indy was gonna plotz, but he barely registered it.
Marilyn called me over to ask for some background on Indy and our training together. “He’s quite cute,” she said when we got close. Indy, sensing a potential friend, stuck his nose out to give her a friendly bump.
Indy: Hi Marilyn! You’re cute too! I like your place. There are lots of jumps. I like jumping! What’s with the cows? I’ve never seen a cow jump before! Can we start jumping now?
We started over poles set in a circle like a clock, with the poles on 12, 3, 6, and 9, spiraling in and out in the trot and canter. We did that fairly well. Then we progressed to the actual jumping. Marilyn told us we would jump each element individually before tackling the entire course. OK, no problem, we’ve got this, I thought.
I was wrong. “Where do you think your focus point should be? Where would you jump this fence?”” she asked as she pointed to the first fence. My brain blanked. “Wait, what?? There’s a quiz?” Each jump followed the same process; we were asked where we should focus our eyes (not just the last window, but the bottom right corner of the last window) and what part of the fence we should jump (the high part of a Swedish oxer and the corner of a corner jump.) It was good exercise for me, as my mind tends to be in a “What Am I Jumping Thank God I Survived Holy Shit Where Do I Go Now?” jumble and the way we were approaching things forced me be more thoughtful and also built in a pause/reset moment after every fence. Indy was totally fine with the repetition, which surprised me as normally he gets annoyed at having to do something more than a couple times. He very clearly feels “I did what you asked, now let’s move on.”
Things Marilyn had me working on:
- Picking focus spots and actually using them (Marilyn: “Amy, where were you looking on the approach to that fence?” Me: “Ummmm, at B?” Marilyn: “Were you really looking at B?” Me: Ummmm, no.” Marilyn: “Do you know where you were looking?” Me: “Ummm, not really.”)
- Being more mindful. Not just about where to look and how to jump each obstacle but about how I rode in between them and how that sets me up for the next fence.
- Opening the outside rein for a counter bend and adding a strong inside leg (almost thinking leg yield) around the corners as Indy tends to lean on the inside shoulder around turns. This was so different than what I’ve always done it was damn near an impossible task. My mind was sending out instructions and my body was adamantly ignoring them. I finally managed to do this somewhat successfully on the last course.
Oddly enough, the task I found the most difficult during the clinic is probably my most important take away. Indy does not like the ends of the ring, as there are large doors and he feels there are BAD THINGS on the other side of those doors. He often will drop his inside shoulder and duck to the inside, porpoising around the short side of the arena. Which I find a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least. The other day I could feel him getting ready to do it and I opened my outside rein to counter bend him and held my inside leg against his side like it was a steel column. Lo and behold, no porpoising!
I liked working with Marilyn a lot, and am going to try to see if we can set up something once a month or so. I’d love to get help from her on our flatwork as well as our jumping. Will keep you posted…