Jumping: the landing

One more post about the show jumping event I attended a while ago (previous ones: jumps and take-offs): landings. After the flight phase, the horse and rider have to prepare the landing. The difficulty for the rider lies in keeping balance, while allowing the horse to use its front legs in a way that the combined weight doesn’t damage its front limbs. In the fourth picture you can see the angle of the pastern, absorbing the impact – it is the less blurred part of the picture, so the stillest one. Furthermore, horses have no collar bones, so the impact of landing is received by muscles and tendons, instead of more breakable joints.

The rider changes position, from staying close to the horse’s neck during the flight phase to leaning slightly backwards, ideally on a vertical line. The rider in the fifth picture is leaning forward, maybe the horse made a big jump that was hard to follow? It sure takes a lot of practice to properly ride your horse on such jumps (thanks Scottish Rider for sharing your experiences during training!), so I prefer to celebrate the moments of good coordination 🙂

 

 

 

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Photography: my first steps

I have admiration for great photography, but I am a beginner. Unfortunately, I was so afraid of bad results that I haven’t properly tried out the nice camera I have at home since a couple years, a Fujifilm FinePix. However, yesterday I attended the first day of the Longines Global Champions Show in Berlin, and I brought the camera to snap a few pics.

I ended up taking pictures the whole day, and piled up one thousand of them! Thank you, digital cameras and large SD cards! I can’t imagine myself daring so much, if I had to spend money on film and development. And thanks to the camera for letting me snap great pictures, without requiring me neither a good eyesight nor photography background. In fact, all pictures in this post are done with fixed zoom and the default camera preset.

Time for the pictures! I want to share my thoughts about taking pictures to a horse show jumping competition. The first ones that come to mind are portraying the flying moment over the jump, and I managed to snap 4 pictures with an acceptable timing and focus, here are two of the best:

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A few pictures were correctly timed but out of focus – I decided to keep them, and I find them somewhat artistic:

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The important point is that for every of these good(ish) pictures, I took tens of pictures with no horse, or a nose, or a tail:

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I think the picture with the best focus AND with a horse in it is this one:

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… while this is the blurriest (that I like nevertheless):

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I took many pictures of the riders and horses negotiating turns, the rider with the eye and attention on the next obstacle (in the second picture, the horse is not turning yet):

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I managed to get a single picture of a horse hitting a pole (poles are held in place by small, almost flat supports that allow the pole to wiggle but stay in place if it is lightly touched, but fall down at moderate to hard impacts. There is no danger that the horse remains trapped in them), also because it happened quite rarely:

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There are many other pictures that I find interesting, in their unprofessionality; but I am afraid to make this post too long, so I want to end with this nicely timed picture of the suspension phase of the gallop:

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Time for final considerations and to-dos for myself:

  • I enjoyed taking pictures, especially after I decided to focus on something else than getting the standard jump pic;
  • … therefore I saw many more aspects of the riding competition, and collected a lot of impressions along the day;
  • I was OK with making an awful lot of pictures, but only 1% that I could be proud of, and show to others;
  • I realised that I need to learn more about photography principles, if I want to access the potential of this camera;
  • I enjoyed the fact that the camera compensated most of my mistakes, thus motivated me to improve – it is otherwise hard to see if bad results come from my skills or from the equipment.

Stay tuned for more pictures from this event in some future post, and let me know your feedback in the comments! Thanks in advance 🙂

 

On managing focus in everyday life

I have been challenged to productively plan my own days since I left my last employee job. It has been hard at the beginning, because I had no experience in integrating sudden inspirations into a structured day program. I had also little conscious feedback about how much to structure the day: meals at fixed times? Timeboxes or do an activity until the planned result is achieved?

After quite a long test phase I settled for a simple planning system, based on a weekly cycle. At the beginning of each week I plan the 4 or 5 goals I want to reach. I pick these goals from a bucket list that I occasionally update. Every day I select maximum 3 activities I want to do and decide a rough outline of the day. I usually don’t put exact times, as I prefer to finish a given activity rather than switch when it is not yet done. If an activity is not completed or not done at all, I shift it to the next available day, or think of which problems are preventing me to complete it.

I find that this loose planning helps me focusing on each activity, because I know that I planned for it, I decided it was important; I can forget other activities and deadlines, because I am confident that each of them has been marked in the planning and will get a dedicated timeslot. It also gives me clear feedback on how productive my week was.

That made me think about the focus of attention of a rider in an obstacle course (it applies in other disciplines and riding moments, but the obstacle course makes it especially clear). The rider has the whole sequence of jumps in mind (that’s my guess!), but not in the immediate focus of attention. Approaching a jump, the focus narrows solely on that obstacle. Right after the obstacle, the attention turns to the next obstacle – and the body faces it too, as a physical message for the horse. Between jumps there are some moments where the focus of attention can embrace a wider part of the jumping course, but they are (should be) usually brief, because the next obstacle approaches fast.

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ABS Horse – from MazetMan on Flickr — I like how rider and horse look straight to the obstacle, even if their bodies are in an unstable, dynamic equilibrium

My difficulty was in finding a good way of planning, that is efficient and not too demanding in terms of time and attention. I felt I was alternatively being the rider, the horse and the instructor. Sometimes I would have loved to be only the rider, or only the horse, but it was never an option (or at least not a good one). I found a lot of inspiration from friends and the wider Internet, who suggested me planning tools, tips and tricks – but the ultimate feedback came from myself. Quite a hard lesson for my obedient side, which prefers to take pride in completing an assigned task, rather than taking responsibility on choosing one task among many.

 

Refusing to jump – reflections

Picture credit: Tom von Kap-herr, of backhomeinbromont.com

While watching a couple videos from 2012 London Olympics, specifically the ones of the riding part of Pentathlon, I saw several horses refusing jumps, many more than it happens in dedicated jumping competitions. Why so? The horses themselves were experienced jumpers or eventers and the difficulty of the jumps in that competition was reduced. The differences are two: first, the rider is an athlete that only dedicates part of his/her time to horses and riding, and second, he/she meets the horse only around half an hour before the competition.

The result is that the horse and the rider could not have enough time to adapt to each other, and the horse is more often required to mask the rider’s insecurities or mistakes, or even abort a jump if it doesn’t feel it will be able to clear it safely. I can very well imagine that it’s rarely a matter of disobedience, more often a lack of coordination. On the other hand, it was amazing to see how some horses decided how to approach the jumps, independently from the riders’ advice, sometimes carrying the rider along without paying much attention.

Then I noticed how differently the riders reacted when their horses refused to jump a given obstacle. Some of them tried again with a better preparation and balance, others hit the horse, or at least clearly wanted the horse to obey. Not all riders thanked the horse after the end of their run. I find hard not to disapprove the lack of closeness between rider and horse, but at this level of competition there is so much stress and tension that I can understand why that happens.

That made me think about  leaders in general. I witnessed a wide range of reactions when their team is not willing to go on, or would prefer to avoid an obstacle. If there is pressure of various origins, there is probably no time to understand why the team is not complying. Still, I would suggest to check how crucial is the goal in question, if it is worth to push the people through at any cost, or not. If it is not, cancel the jump yourself, don’t let the team struggle. I have been myself in the position of not having the possibility to refuse to jump and I have very few other memories of such an acute mental pain. Seeing the refusal coming is a big help. Learn to see worried faces, well before anyone talks to you, that would likely be too late anyway to abort the jump. Praise the team afterwards, especially if it has costed much in terms of stress and energy. And for next jump, improve the approach and the balance.