I had my most valuable but optically boring riding lessons ever at the Super G Sporthorses farm my wife and I run in Parker, Colo., this month. I loved them, but I recognize that it was in the same way that George Costanza in Seinfeld loved pitching TV executives to create a show about “nothing” in the episode “The Pitch.”
To the outside observer, or at least those unfamiliar in the nuances of dressage, the lessons I did on my OTTBs Grand Moony (barn name Moo, show name Sorority Girl) and The Gray Man (barn name Uno, show name Rocketman) would have looked like they were “about nothing.” All we did was walk and trot on the flat at a time in our evolution that I’ve been jumping bigger on each horse.
I can almost hear you saying, like the TV executive character Russell Dalrymple did on Seinfeld, “Nothing? What does that mean?”
George responds, “Nothing happens on the show. It’s just like life. You eat. You go shopping. You read. You eat.”
George eventually walks out. “This is the show, and we’re not going to change it,” he insists, although the TV executives don’t actually care.
However, the joke is actually on the TV executives. In real life, the whole brilliant series of Seinfeld, one of the most influential in television history, is critically regarded as an entire sitcom about “nothing.”
It was April 14, and I started that Wednesday in a somewhat foul mood with a lot of work and distractions. At midday, I needed a break and decided to ride my horses.
Since the start of the year, I’ve embraced the importance of emphasizing a strong riding foundation by focusing on dressage and not just trying to up the jumps or the excitement. I’ve also learned to appreciate the moments whose significance I don’t understand at the time and that “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are OTTBs.”
With that in mind, my wife and trainer Ashley guided me through walking and trotting on Moo and Uno. Optically, those gaits seem like the “nothing” part of riding. You don’t even see them in two of the three phases in eventing, as riders canter, gallop, and jump on cross country and in stadium jumping, rarely ever breaking to the trot or walk.
Because the walk and trot also happen to be the hardest to master, Ashley was really using this opportunity to introduce a whole new theory to implement into my riding during these lessons.
Up until this point in my five-and-a-half-year journey going from broadcasting horses to riding them, I had evolved from “hold on” to “backseat driver.” By the former, I mean that I would sit on a lesson horse and get a feel for what it’s like to ride a horse at the different gaits and then over my first jumps. By the latter, I mean that I would try to influence what the horse did.
However, in neither of these situations was I actually the one in control. It takes years just to develop balance on and adaptation to the variety of movements that a 1,000-pound animal with a mind of its own is capable of, especially a Thoroughbred.
Now that I’ve started to get the feel for riding horses and the ability to follow their movements, Ashley felt I was in position to begin to raise my game to being the “leader.”
“You want to be like a friendly dictator,” she said. “You influence and support every movement. Is the horse doing what you want in that moment? If they are, you don’t just give it away but continue to tell them to maintain it.”
The first steps toward leading that Ashley insisted I maintain were establishing contact with the outside rein, then bringing the horse up to the contact through my legs and hips, then maintaining a frame and not letting them fall onto the contact.
It was a lot to manage, and that’s why we worked the entire time at the walk and trot. It’s kind of like how much genius went into the one of the greatest TV shows of all time that ultimately critics agree was about “nothing.”
The upshot of all this focus on the two gaits that I don’t even use on cross country and in show jumping was that those phases got better.
Four days after these lessons, I went cross country schooling at the Spring Gulch Equestrian Area. At the end of last year, Moo and I moved up to the novice height of 2-feet-11, and she and I have appreciated the bigger jumps and faster pace. That Sunday at Spring Gulch, I started staring at some of the training level jumps that have a maximum height of 3-feet-3.
“You’re going to do them,” Ashley said, sensing how intently I was studying them.
And we did. There’s still room to improve my rhythm and form for me to be proficient at the higher level, but what I’m most proud of is that my focus on the basics is what actually made this opportunity to grow possible.
Then, one week later on April 24, Moo and I had an exhilarating cross country round during our first show of the year at the Spring Gulch Combined Test.
These are the parts of my XC at the Spring Gulch CT that my great Super G teammates filmed. I’m writing my next @RRP_TBMakeover article for @paulickreport about how my winter focusing on dressage helped with XC. The rub is my dressage needs more work, but dressage always does. pic.twitter.com/ocv82BtHh6
— Jonathan Horowitz (@jjhorowitz) April 25, 2021
We were competing at novice, and we blazed around the course with no issues. We even had to slow down fairly significantly at the end of the course to avoid incurring speed faults. There are still aspects of my form that I can improve, and those will come by going back to basics.
I also reaped the benefits from the focus on foundation when schooling Uno on cross country at Spring Gulch on April 26. He won’t even be four years old until May 3, but he took a number of beginner novice jumps, the first United States Eventing Association recognized level at 2-feet-7, with eagerness. He felt proud of himself afterward. Before this, the times I jumped Uno were often marred by micromanagement on my part. This time, I was there to support and nurture his talent, and it showed through in spades. I did “nothing,” and that made all the difference.
This horse isn’t going to be 4-years-old until May 3, but Uno is coming along so well. He loves to jump and was so proud of himself after our cross country schooling at Spring Gulch today. pic.twitter.com/OxGBLCHxt0
— Jonathan Horowitz (@jjhorowitz) April 27, 2021
Those moments are amazing and are why the hard work and heartaches that come with riding horses is worth it. But afterward, it’s important to get back to real life. “You eat. You read. You go shopping.” No TV show did it better, and no approach to riding is better than the one that emphasizes how significant what seems like “nothing” can be.
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