On Thursday Kiki and I had our last jump lesson before heading back to California (in less than a week now - eeeeee!). I'm sad that I only got to take two jump lessons with Molly Kenney this summer, but man were they both worth it!
Our previous lesson had been in Kiki's "rough patch" (which, touch wood, we may not be totally clear of but we're definitely on the up and up) and so was very basic. We spent the entire lesson spiraling in and out on a 20m circle at the trot, and only jumped one little X at the end. But even then, I could tell that I liked Molly's approach. She was no-nonsense but tactful and Kiki (even in her total pillbug state that she'd been in) went way better at the end than we had at the beginning.
This week, Molly was very impressed right from the beginning with the progress we'd made since the last time we saw her. We could trot and canter without throwing fits! Miracles!! So, we were given permission to jump =)
We started out over a four stride line, just cantering back and forth. We only had to do it a few times for Molly to hone in on something that's been a key issue for me of late, that all comes down to the two magic words of jumping: Canter and Distance.
For me, growing up riding with Suzi, distance was never a stated part of the equation. Jumping, all the way up through Intermediate, was all about developing a good canter. The only time I ever counted strides was in related lines at shows, and even then it was only as a marker to know that, if we were looking a little short, I needed to keep the canter revving to handle the possibility of adding a "shuffle" stride in. I never thought about seeing distances in the slightest, but since I was so focused on having a good canter and Dually and I were such an established partnership, it rarely ever mattered.
Then I moved to California and everything changed, because I got introduced to the idea of "seeing a distance." Well, it turned out that I actually didn't have a half-bad eye! But I certainly didn't have a god-given talent for picking distances out of the air, and I spent so much time trying to "find distances" (whatever that actually means) that I thought about the canter less and less. The results, as you might imagine, have not been great. As a result, I've gotten less and less confident in my show jumping ability (and my jumping in general) over the past three years.
Well, without knowing a cent of that history, Molly cottoned onto the whole situation right away. To try to get me back to working on developing a canter, she had me just canter around and jump in no particular course or agenda. No stress, no looking for distances. Just make a good canter, and put some jumps in the way. And it actually worked! It was shocking what a difference it made, and really drove home just how far off the good path I'd gone. I've always, on paper, known how important having a good canter was, but I clearly haven't been following through well enough.
Here's our first round:
As you can see, we got a pretty wide variety of distances, and when I got to the deeper ones I got nervous and choked up on the reins too much, causing her to drop her knees (aka totally destroying her form in a way that could be dangerous down the road jumping big solid fences). Molly reminded me to stay chilly and, if anything, float the reins a little bit (not dropping her but just taking the pressure off) when we got to that spot to give her the best chance of using herself. We definitely improved in that aspect in our last round, seen here:
What a star! And check out how much sharper with her knees she was, even in the deep distances!
It was honestly that best I'd felt jumping in years. I know that sounds stupid because what we were doing was so absurdly simple, but I felt totally relaxed and confident probably for the first time since the Dually days. I'm really sad to be leaving Molly as I wish I had a little more time with her to get this good feeling solidified. But, at least I know what I'm aiming for when I head back to California!
In other news, we had the craziest thunder/lightning/hail storm I've ever seen on the farm yesterday. I was sprinting around trying to bring horses in in the PISSING DOWN rain (in the 10 minutes I was outside, I got over a half inch of rain in my wellies) and got pelted with acorn-sized hail that left welts all over my legs (because, like the mild-mannered New Englander I am, I left the house in a blind panic to get the horses in in whatever clothes I happened to have on... which was a pair of tiny running shorts, meaning that my bare thighs got a LOT of direct hail action. Ouch). Of course, I got the horses in juuuust in time for the sun to pop out again. Such is life.