la belle dame sans merci

Colin asked us all to rethink cadence and I forgot how to ride.

I can see Matador’s cadence. He is an Argentinian Warmblood and he bounces around the jumps like a ping pong ball. I can see Ruth’s cadence: she is a huge hunter and her flat-kneed stride is about a hundred feet long. She is so scopy that she would rather jump out of a long spot than add.

What’s Bella’s cadence though? Sometimes she tranters, conjuring an extra footfall from thin air. And sometimes she seems to swoosh from jump to jump. She can jump out of any old stupid spot I drop her in, but how do I find the rhythmic canter that she can jump out of without constant emergencies?

We had a lesson where Val asked us to jump the five to five, do a more-than-rollback and come back up the panels to the oxer. We got the five to five but Bella bucked like a banshee as I tried to haul her around the corner, and I stopped her and realized that my hands were shaking and I was scared.

We ended that lesson jumping six-inch crossrails. I flew to Boston on business and brooded on my troubles. I realized how much of my recent good body image comes from the knowledge that I can ride better than I used to, because that good body image abandoned me with the worry over my riding.

We came back and I remembered that Bella wants me to let go of her head so she can use her front end, and to sit in the saddle so she knows I am not going to come off her. We rode around another huge (three foot!) course in the Grand Prix arena and I checked in with my seatbones three strides out from every fence, letting her jump out of her rhythm.

There’s her cadence. It’s just that at the height we’re jumping now, it’s faster than I am comfortable with. And when I’m scared I go fetal and come out of the saddle and hang on the reins. And then she bucks, because, what the hell, Rach.

I have to sit back and let go and hurtle forward at vast speed and let her take the fence in her own way. It feels like dying, but it is correct.

This, for the record, is what I ride to learn.

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