In my last post, I described my First Epiphany while jumping the other day, getting The Crucial Canter, and the difference it makes.

Good little Daisy gave me another WOW, 100000 megawatt lightbulb moment on the same day. Just once or twice in every jump session she throws a seriously great jump. The rest are fine – we leave the fences up and both land upright and smiling on the other side – but they don’t make me think ‘oh wow, this mare can really operate.’’

I had noticed that the wow-jumps come when I get a great approach to a take-off spot which is slightly further away from the fence than ALL of my instructors over the years have drummed into me is ideal.

Brief explanation: my natural eye for a stride is slightly long. Not exactly steeplechase-jockey long, not ‘yeeehaaaaa wooohoooooo we’re invincible’ long, but a bit further away than, I’ve been repeatedly told by those I really respect, is best. Getting the horse a little bit closer to the fence makes it work harder, creates a better bascule, teaches it to snap its knees up (vital for xc, as we all know), whereas being a bit further away can encourage a flatter jump, less athleticism. I’ve endured a LOT of being bawled out about this, over the years, which was justified and seriously useful, as I suspect otherwise I’d have gone the faster and flatter route, which leads to eventual disaster.

Kerry and Daisy jumping a closer spot not so good

A closer spot, not so good a jump.

But, the deep spot is not loved by all horses. My best ever mare, Skylarker, who went to Advanced and 3-star with little old sometimes-sees-an-utterly-horrendous-misser me, and who was a freakishly brilliant jumper with exemplary front-end style, emphatically did NOT appreciate the deep spot.

Especially to a show-jump – leading to occasional mortifyingly-embarrassing exits over her head in the SJ warm-up when hard-won habit got the better of me!

So, she, training me carefully for nearly 10 years to be the rider she wanted, did nothing to improve my natural dislike for a deep spot… and I believe we are the product of the horses we have ridden, just as much as of the trainers we have learned from.

Daisy is a very similar mare in her outlook. She’s smart, willing, but opinionated. I suspect that while she doesn’t mind working, she really doesn’t see why she should work much harder than she has to, thanks very much… and the deep spot requires a lot more effort.

From the slightly off-spot (I have heard the phrase “gapping a fence” to describe it) she very happily throws a much bigger, better jump. Not longer and flatter, but more UP – the sort where you feel their withers come up and hit you in the chest if you’ve got a bit forward! The size of the fence doesn’t seem to be the decider, she does it over a warm-up cross-pole, or a bigger fence. It’s the longer take-off distance she relishes.

In our last session she threw a couple of these wow-jumps which got me thinking that the ratio was all wrong: I want more of those, where I feel her REALLY come up through her shoulders and jump up and across, compared to her normal jumps.

And then, in one of those fabulous serendipity (and isn’t that just the best word ever, both the word itself and the meaning?!?!) moments, Horse and Hound Magazine arrived, with an article about NZ Team rider Jock Paget’s recent training trip to eventing maestro Michael Jung (reigning European, World and Olympic Champion, donchaknow), and he described what I think is exactly the same situation:

Jonathan Paget at Burghley 2012 - photo courtesy Will Baxter

Jock Paget, Burghley 2012 – photo by Will Baxter

JP: “I try always to jump out of a balanced canter but, in training, I tend to ride slightly differently to how I would in a competition. A lot of my horses are thoroughbreds and find it easy to run and jump, but it is more natural for them to jump a little flat.

So I like to press the horse to a slightly deep distance – taking off a little closer to the fence than I like them to in competition – on a soft hand, to encourage the horse to back off.

I’m not trying to make them hit the fence, but I don’t go out of my way to help them over it. By getting the horses just fractionally closer, they have to be a little sharper in front and make a good shape in the air.

At a competition, I give my horses a bit more room in front of the fence and make the canter a little more powerful to help with the distance.

While I trained with him, Michael encouraged me to give my horses more of what I call ‘a competition ride’. He had me working on the canter to create more quality and power in each stride, and riding to a distance that gave the horse more room. This encourages the horse to jump bigger and out a little more.” (from Horse and Hound, 10 January 2013)

I sat there reading it, thinking O. M. flipping G. Now, I don’t think I’m delusional or flattering myself too much to say that he is talking about basically the same thing as Daisy and I managed to work out – or rather, she painstakingly taught me! WOW. That is, if I may say so, very cool.

So, I’m working on it. Trying to undo a lot of my training and just ‘gap the fence’ a teensy bit more to encourage her to throw those better jumps. It’s a work in progress, obviously, but the signs are promising. The event season is approaching and I want us to be ready!