During the last horse show of the season, I start thinking about goals for next year. I love the winter… the weather funnels us in the direction of flatwork. Jumps are cleared out of the arena or in big piles so dragging the arena is easy. Center lines open up and it’s like a clean canvas, like the snow-covered pastures back East and in the Midwest. It’s a new beginning point and a fresh take from where we were last spring.
Our barn has horses ranging from unbroke to competing at A shows. We know that everything in between the fences is flatwork and if those spaces are in a rhythm and balanced, there ‘s a greater chance the fences will be too.
I start to list my flatwork goals for the winter. For my horse, perfect his transitions, smooth out his lead changes, introduce counter canter, continue to supple him through shoulder-in haunches-in. For me, it’s all about posture – correct my shoulder slump, push my heels down, become more consistent in my eye.
Straightness first requires an awareness of when my horse and I are not straight. And then Straightness requires the discipline to work on it every ride.
Walking by the last show’s schooling ring, I can hear trainers’ comments:
“Keep him straight to the fence, not jumping left.”
“Look up and straight ahead, not down.”
“You missed the change because he bulged his shoulder in, he wasn’t straight.”
“Keep a straight line in the diagonal.”
“Ride straight toward the rail after the first jump.”
“Sit up straight.”
“Straight line from hip to heel.”
“He ran out because he didn’t get straight soon enough.”
Straightness has a BIG impact on many of my outcomes.
As I start to focus on Straightness down the center line of the arena, I am realizing how frequent my horse is not straight, and how much my posture contributes to that. How can he be balanced if I am not? Or is he not straight because he is compensating for my un-straightness? Good grief. Keeping tabs on straightness at all times requires a whole lot of something I didn’t expect this winter… discipline.
So that’s me out there gritting my teeth, feeling as unnatural as a pretzel in my straight and tall position, focusing on the steps my horse takes and where he has habitually become un-straight, because I allowed it.
Straightness is significant because it make my horse more symmetrical and balanced. It makes me more balanced. Straightness impacts my courses, everything in between the fences, and the jumps – takeoff, arc and landing. Only all that.
I forget who said champions are made when no one is looking but I know it was someone riding with a great posture and a straight horse.