The first time it was fun to go fast
This past winter I got the rare and amazing opportunity to ride with John Madden Sales. I learned a lot, and although it was through simple exercises that couldn’t be seen as rocket science, my horse jumped better than ever and I was riding as well as I ever had. On my last day of showing during the protracted Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL, we did a speed class – and for the first time ever it was fun to go fast! I think this was true for a few reasons.
I don’t think you will ever feel comfortable going fast until you are sure of your brakes (true in a car or on a horse!). But it is more than just the brakes. You really have to have all the gears, not just turtle-speed and rabbit-speed, but everything in between. The importance of having all the options and the ability to access a particular one at a moment’s notice was perhaps the biggest learning I had this winter.
The second thing I really took from my experience in this training program is that we assume your horse is a good athlete, and we allow him/her to figure a lot out on their own by giving them the best opportunity. For example, John said to me once, “always release over the fence.” This may seem obvious, but he really meant ALWAYS! So even if you are coming in hot to a quiet line, you must give them the freedom over the jump to make a good effort and use your balance and body position to make the adjustments on the way down as well as on the first step – but you don’t start that process with your hands in the air over the jump. From this practice I think my horse in particular gained a lot of confidence from that consistency. He started using his neck and body better, knowing that I wouldn’t interrupt his balance in the air by affecting his mouth.
Circling back to my last show day, the last few jumps of the course featured a big outside 6 stride line followed by a gallop clear across the ring to the skinny jump as the last fence. I was not only able to continue the gallop in the 6 strides but also put the pedal down across the ring only to sit up and have him come right back to me and jump the careful skinny clear!