Stacey: Finding My Confidence - Expert how-to for English Riders

Stacey: Finding My Confidence

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"30-something hunter/jumper rider ISO confidence for LTR. Must be comfortable jumping 3-foot courses (with interest in going higher), occasional cross-country schooling and more. NO baggage, please."

Full disclosure: I'm a chicken when it comes to jumping. I sprout feathers when fences are set at a height where the horse actually has to jump. I've always had fear?even back in my Junior days when I regularly jumped 4 feet-plus without stirrups. It's not the jumping that's the issue; it's the fear of falling off and the anticipated pain of hitting the ground that is my Waterloo. As an adult, I've been able to quietly tiptoe around my fear. I'd get the young, mostly off-the-track Thoroughbreds I was riding to a certain point in their training, and they'd head off to new homes or onto other opportunities. This meant I usually could stay within my comfort zone?under 2-foot-6 at home?through complete avoidance. But that's changed with my current horse, Wowie. For the first time in the almost four years I've owned him, both of us are healthy at the same time, and I'm riding him more consistently than ever. Last year I moved him up to the 2-foot-6 divisions at local shows and started this year by showing him a couple more times at that height. After studying photos from the events, it was clear that he was more than ready to move up. But was I? I recalled the last show where I competed at 2-foot-6: My palms were sweaty and my body tensed up over every fence. I planted my hands in Wowie's withers and dug my knees into my saddle flaps. In response, my lower legs rotated back and my upper body went forward. Well, DUH! No wonder I was fearful! This was a recipe for going right over Wowie's head if he decided to stop at a jump. I realized I needed to do something?if not to solidify my position for myself, in fairness to my horse. He deserved to jump higher with a rider who wasn't hindering him. So I made that my goal in my monthly lessons with Cindy, who is the closest person to a regular trainer I've had in 15 years. During my last two lessons, she had me do exercises to keep my leg in place and get my arms moving. Riding in two-point down the long side while giving my hands forward, then sitting down and balancing through the short side has gone a long way toward helping with that. In addition, my new mantra as I approach every fence is "look at the middle of the jump, push down into your heels, don't leave the ground before your horse and make sure to release." Because I trailer in for lessons, my homework has been to practice jumping a couple times a week at home, setting up a course that starts at 2-foot-6 and increases to 2-foot-9 toward the end. And it's working. I've shown a couple times at 2-foot-9 and am getting comfortable there. So comfortable, in fact, that those practice courses at home are now 3-foot and higher! And I've been toying with a rated show debut at 3 foot later this month. But the proof is in the pudding: Two friends and I took our horses to a local Pony Club field with small cross-country jumps for schooling. We started over the foot-high coops and logs and progressed to cantering a 2-foot rolltop. By the end of the ride, I was galloping over solid, nearly 3-foot-high log coops. Wowie's ears pricked forward as he carried me down to the fences, and I giggled like a little girl all the way?

Stacey & Wowie competing in the 2-foot-6 hunters. ? Janelle Stewart

Stacey & Wowie competing in the 2-foot-6 hunters. ? Janelle Stewart

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