More from the Margie Engle Clinic:
It didn’t matter whether she was teaching riders who regularly jump 3-foot fences or 18-inches (me), Margie had us do the same exercise before going over the jumps. After warming up by getting our horses to expand and contract their strides on the flat (see this blog post), she set out 2 ground rails, 19 Margie-sized strides apart (I counted.) Our coaches regularly have us canter ground rails, sometimes as bounces, sometimes 4 or 5 strides away. Sometimes we do them as bendy lines. So what Margie had us do didn’t seem that much different than our usual cavaletti work, but the simplicity was deceptive.
The first time through we were to get 5 strides, which was standard for most of the horses. The next time through we were to shorten up the strides and get 6. Then we were to open it up and do it in 4.
Just getting the correct number of strides was a challenge. A shorter stride isn’t slower, and a long one isn’t faster, rather it’s all about where your horse’s energy goes. This exercise was even more difficult because it didn’t follow a natural progression: 6 to 5 to 4. You didn’t build up to it. By mixing up the distances we had to communicate very clearly to our horses what we wanted, and they had to be quickly responsive.
Tonka and I shared our lesson with Champ and Lily. Lily is my sized, but Champ is much bigger than Tonka. (Margie gave Lily encouraging advice about being a petite rider on a larger horse. Something that Margie knows everything about.)
Margie strode out the poles, looked at Champ, and pushed them a tad further apart. Champ and Lily did the exercise. Then it was my turn. Margie did not change the distance between the rails. We’d really have to get our game on.
We confidently did the 5 strides.
We did the 6. Note the swishing tail. Tonka would rather not shorten his stride.
We tried for the 4. The turn into the poles was sharp and we didn’t have the impulsion to do it right. Margie coached me through more leg in a tight turn. Tonka just about got it. Then, one more try. My little horse had to really stretch at the end and actually leap the pole, but he did it in 4!
I felt a sense of accomplishment. I think that Tonka did, too.
All of the flatting and the exercises over poles proved their worth when we finally got to jumping. Tonka was balanced and listening. And eager.