Contact, Elbows, and the Rising Trot

So I had this whole awesome post written up about how Arwen is now a film star because I have a 30-second clip of her jumping to post on the Internet and about everything I could see in the video, and then either a) the farm connection failed to upload the video or b) I failed to comprehend the mysterious of the technological world. (b is more likely).

Still, I can write a post about how awesome it is to have an obliging sister who is good at peering through clouds of arena dust to get video footage of my horses and me doing the same things over and over and over. (The things non-horsy family members do for the horsy members…)

Video footage is great to have of your riding, because it makes you for a moment your own instructor. You may have a great understanding of the correct position and aids, and you may even think you’re doing it right, but when you actually watch yourself ride you can see errors you never even knew you made. Plus you are usually harder on yourself than your instructor is on you, so you can tear your position apart with even more brutal honesty.

I watched the clip of Arwen and me with a familiar sinking sensation in my guts (I do that?!) and an equally familiar feeling of pride (Dang, she looks awesome). Weirdly enough I feel what my horse is doing better than I feel what I’m doing. (Yeah, she is a little on the forehand after all… felt it. WHAT? I arch my back? Since when?!)

Three things stood out for me about the clips: Firstly, shoulder, hip and heel alignment does not exist when I’m in jumping stirrups. It’s like my knee won’t go far back enough to get my heel under my hip. Annoying to say the least.

Think she's coming a bit off her forehand, though
Think she’s coming a bit off her forehand, though

Secondly, the back of Arwen’s saddle lifts completely off her back when she takes off for a jump. I’m not sure if this is caused by the motion of her jump or by my weight being tipped forward (I can still be a little keen on the takeoffs), but I don’t think it’s very pleasant for her since all the pressure must then be placed on her withers, plus the panels slap back down onto her as she’s in midair. Try making a bascule when your saddle is hitting you in the spine as you jump. Probably not fun. Since I’m demanding quite a lot of her (for her level) and she works hard, I think it’s time for a visit from the saddle fitter. Hear those squeals of pain? That was my bank account being tortured.

Thirdly, my elbows suck in rising trot. I’ve known for a while that my rising trot stinks, but now I think I’ve finally figured out why. It used to be because my lower legs waved around like windmills as I rose and fell, but now they’re stable, if a little far forward, and my hips go forward and back instead of up and down, which is good. The bad part is that with the rise and fall of my shoulders, my hands rise and fall as well.

Butt up, hands up
Butt up, hands up

This is not good for a variety of reasons, probably the most important being that it creates an uneven contact on the horse’s mouth as the reins go up and down. Since I don’t balance myself on my hands (i. e. don’t pull back to lift myself up out of the saddle by the reins), it probably doesn’t jerk or hurt their mouths, but it does make the bit go up and down. This creates a very confusing mixture of aids for the poor horse, so it’s no wonder they lose impulsion the moment I rise and gain it the moment I sit.

The cure for this one is to straighten the elbows as one rises and bend them as one sits; simple and pretty easy as long as it’s your legs and the motion of the horse’s back that serves to lift you out of the saddle, as opposed to hauling yourself up by the horse’s mouth. (Not pretty). It just takes concentration. Luckily for me, I ride about 10 horses in two days, so I form good habits very quickly. (Unluckily, the same is true for bad habits). The video clip of Arwen and I trotting was taken on Monday; today, my sister filmed Magic and I at work, and I already see an improvement.

Butt down, hands down…
Butt up... hands down! :D
Butt up… hands down! 😀

I think the ponies are appreciating this, especially since I put Magic back in the Pelham. He was good for a few rides in the snaffle, but eventually it fell to bits and I found myself hauling on him to gain some semblance of control. He also started rushing to the jumps and overjumping ever so slightly, so I opted to go back to the Pelham. Instantly, I could ride with a light, soft contact and even the gentlest half-halt was enough to stop Magic from rushing. Also, I could remove his martingale for the first time since I got him with no effects.

Look mom! No martingale!
Look mom! No martingale!

Right now, I’m looking at trying a completely different bit for him. He does hide behind the Pelham a little, so it is slightly too harsh for him; but the eggbutt is just all wrong. I’m considering a Kimberwick as it seems like a good halfway house between Pelham and snaffle. I also want to see if I can borrow a French link snaffle from somebody. Magic throws his face in the air when he’s ridden in his single-joint eggbutt, which makes me think that the action of the joint against the roof of his mouth doesn’t work for him. The French link is no harsher than the single joint but will work more on his tongue and not touch his palette. If that is the solution I will be over the moon since you can do dressage in a French link, opening the eventing door for him earlier than I expected.

His jumping has been coming on fabulously. Since he’s no longer so hyper and I’m no longer so nervous, he has stopped overjumping and we’ve been able to move on to small oxers and little combinations. Although he’s done all this kind of thing before, and at a bigger height, I’m building it up slowly to improve his technique and rebuild our trust in one another. I think I may have taken the height up too quickly earlier in his training without establishing a firm foundation in the basics, so for now I’m being a bit more patient. He still has plenty of years left in him, and there’s no rush.

Magic's grumpy face
Magic’s grumpy face

We tried our hand at a little gymnastic line for the first time today. I’ve always been kind of terrified of gymnastic jumping because the lines seem so very long with so little room for error, so I dug out my ancient Manual of Horsemanship and set up the most basic line you get: four trotting poles to a tiny cross-rail. And I jumped it with Arwen first, since she will jump anything from anywhere and bail me out most of the time. She was awesome, and to my pleasant surprise, so was Magic. The trotting poles worked very well to stop him from rushing and he fit his strides perfectly into the last distance, popping over the cross without a break in rhythm. Eventually I built it up to a 60cm oxer and he took it all in his stride.


The Sprinkler Bandit recently wrote a post on bonding that resonated with me, in which she wrote about how a horse becomes your horse in more than just legal possession. Although I can ride most horses straight away, it takes a long time to build up a real bond with a horse. I’ve had Magic for eighteen months and we still don’t trust each other the way we should.

But slowly, steadily, with some setbacks and a little sacrifice and a bit of courage from both sides, we’re starting to connect, this magnificent horse and me. We’re starting to hang out with one another a little longer after a ride just because we can, starting to tackle things a little harder because we know we’ll pull each other through.

I’ll be patient for you, my brave horse. You’re worth the wait.

Magic still has the kindest face ever. (Yeah, I know I should tuck my shirt in).

A nice long post is to come early next week about a show with Arwen. Don’t look so horrified! I’ll make it interesting. Promise.

2 thoughts on “Contact, Elbows, and the Rising Trot

  1. Oh you’re so right, Firn, Magic has a very kind face. I can just imagine him snuggling his head against you and saying, “Scratch my ears Mommy.” 🙂 Speaking purely from a person who could write what she knows on the back of a postage stamp, you look pretty good when you’re in the saddle 😉

    1. He does love to snuggle up to people! It’s kind of amazing given his past – he was a bit mistrustful when he’d just come off the track. Why thank you 😉

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