Training vs. Instinct

Skybreaker at our THF jumper show last summer Skybreaker at our THF jumper show last summer

Saturday I went to another indoor jumper show at Stoneleigh-Burnham in Greenfield MA. Instead of riding, I was there to watch, help out a friend, and be a groom. Going to a show, or an event horseless makes for a completely different experience. For starters, I am a hundred times more relaxed. I can eat without feeling like I am going to explode after I ride, and I can even learn courses quickly, without forgetting them. And yet, despite the tranquility, and the increased, or normal appetite, I found myself desperately wishing that I was in the ring, riding in front of everyone. I wanted those nerves. I longed for that pressure. I wanted to ride. I might get nervous, and I might feel like I want to puke, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t live for the experience.

So, instead of feeling bummed because I wasn’t riding, I started really watching some rounds. When I got there, the fences were only around 2’9”. The three foot and over classes had fewer and fewer riders, but I still watched them like a hawk. I saw a couple really stellar rounds, and several nail bitter rounds. One round, in particular really stood out, and that was my friends round.

Perhaps I am biased because she is my friend, but I think I am at the point in my life where it’s safe to say I can spot good riding when I see it. This wasn’t good riding. This was great riding. This type of riding is what separates the little guys from the big guys. This is not to say that all upper level riders are superior because they compete at the level they are at. I know what separates Advanced riders from Beginner Novice riders. This distinction means nothing to me. I think you can be a fabulous rider that others can aspire to ride like, even if you are only ever going to go Training. Good riding is irrefutable.

Regardless of the upper level riders, I found this round particularly interesting because I have witnessed this rider and her mare when they have been less than perfect, and I have seen them pull out flawless rounds. Saturday, they looked absolutely perfect…probably the best I have ever seen the two together. I watched her warm up and thought to myself, wow, they are on it! All she needs to do is go in the ring and ride EXACTLY how she rode in there…that’s it!

Well, I could see the wheels turning in her brain when she entered the ring…and instead of getting nervous and uptight, she rode exactly how she rode in the warm up. She had a clean, forward, soft, supple, flawless 3’6” round. Every distance she nailed. Her position looked perfect before, during, and after each jump. The horse was patiently, but confidently looking for the next jump. The horse jumped out of her skin and my friend couldn’t have been happier.

So, what did I get out of this experience? I realized that training CAN and NEEDS to overcome your instincts, which is a concept Denny constantly drills. Instead of reverting to bad habits when riding under pressure, or competing, we need to step up to the plate and ride like we know how to ride. Sometimes our instincts are correct, but for many, our instincts can get us into trouble. I know that when I compete, I get nervous and forget about a solid lower leg, or waiting for the right distance to come along. When I get nervous I react out of pure instinct rather than allowing my training, knowledge and experiences to lead the way. I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed that kind of riding on Saturday because I can use that mental image of my friend riding whenever I please. I can replay that round in my head when I’m in the start box, going down center line, or entering the ring to jump.

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