Birthday Lesson!

So yesterday was my birthday, so I am not going to apologize for the lack of media here (although, that should be changing soon!). It was one of those birthday that just happens between the time you can legally drink and the symbolic “decade” birthdays. Solidly out of my Mid-Twenties though and into my Late-Twenties. As an extra special surprise, I got a text from my trainer on Monday morning. All it said was, “Lesson at 6:30 on Tuesday? Jump? :-D”

Obviously, I answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” (followed by about a million smiley faced). Then, I sort of panicked. See, May and I have only kind of loped around fences super casually, and I didn’t get the weekend at all to prepare. Saturday we did some long and stretchy stuff, and Sunday we did some walking.

My “crop circles” from Saturday. Three 20M circles connecting. Love using this to get stretchyness and relaxation. 

We also have only had 3(?) jumping lessons with this trainer over the course of the year and a half I have been at this barn. The last jump lesson was a year ago. (I am not counting the impromptu lesson we had where I jumped around tiny jumps in my dressage saddle… but I guess I could.)

Most of my trainer’s clientele are either actively competing or planning on competing at the Training/Prelim levels this year, so sometimes, she cranks the jumps up. So, in a totally normal reaction to stress, I polished my boots up, wiped my saddle down before my lesson, and worried about having forgotten to grab a clean white pad to replace my teal, fuzzy, and now very hairy saddle pad. (I don’t think my trainer cares about any of this in reality, but I needed to do something to “prepare.”)

I got on about 20  minutes before my lesson to let us warm up before the lesson started. Unlike trainers of my past, my current trainer likes to get right into jumping or Dressage or whatever it is we are working on that day, so it is best to be warmed up before we get started (unless we are working on building or fixing a specific warm up routine for whatever reason).

While I was warming up, another lesson was going on. This woman at my barn competes Saddlebreds in the breed competitions, but she has fallen in love in eventing and is retraining her REALLY successful Saddlebred mare to be an eventer. I think this was one of their first jumping lessons, and let me tell you, that girl has hops! My trainer was laughing about the variety of horses in her barn, going from training a Saddlebred to my little draft cross mare. It makes it fun and interesting, and it shows just how many tools she has in her tool kit.

Onto my actual lesson! Below was the general set up of the arena. There were two outside lines that aren’t shown on the below, but we didn’t jump them, so I didn’t include them. I think it’s busy enough as is!

Slide1

So where did we start? Well, we started with my trainer explaining that this would be a gymnastic-type lesson to see where we’re at. Works for me!

We started with trotting that single orange pole at the top. Literally. One pole on the ground, at the trot. My trainer had me establish rhythm and had me focus on NOT pushing May past her rhythm, which was actually a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. We ended up having to do this twice, each direction, to get it right. Then, we moved to the set of three, teal, poles next to it. Each of these were raised on one side in an alternating fashion.

Image result for raised cavaletti
Like this, but slightly higher on the raised sides. (not my photo, full credit and a good video here)

Again, the focus was keeping the rhythm even and a little slow. To get the power and push from behind without the horse trying to run through the exercise. Thanks to the first exercise, this one was pretty easy. We got it quickly, and were able to move on.

Tired jumping pony. (really liking this bit btw)

We moved onto the “Circle of Love”, which is the circle of blue jumps and blue cones in the above diagram. (my trainer REFUSES to call it the Circle of Death). Either way, it was a 20M circle with 4 jumps, and 4 sets of cones. At first, she only had 2 of the jumps up, but we were able to do that with absolutely no problem, so she made it up to all 4 jumps after 1 circle. Moral of this story? I do not need to throw my body over fences, and I need to be more comfortable with correcting quickly after a fence. I would say the first time through in each direction was rough, but once I got over the idea of letting May lift me out of the tack instead of throwing my body around, it got a lot easier.

My trainer explained that the goal of an exercise like that would be to first be able to get through the exercise comfortable in both direction. Then, to get the same number of strides between each fence. Once that is established, then you can make it more difficult by going outside the cones and adding 1 additional stride between each fine, and then weaving inside the cones and getting 1 fewer stride between each fence. She said this is something you would build over time, and wasn’t something we should try to drill into the horse in a single session.

She was pretty impressed with how quickly we figured it out, and was even more impressed with the fact that May wasn’t huffing and puffing after it. Fitness is working! (for her… this was the hardest I had worked in the saddle in a while, and I was feeling it!)

So what was next??

Next was an exercise in adjust-ability. We moved onto the three purple poles in a straight line down the middle of the arena. Not sure if any of you remember an earlier post, but I had jumped through these in a super open 3 to try and jump from a more open stride. Yeah… not the focus of this lesson. I was told to jump in and just let it happen in 4. We did that once in each direction, and then my trainer told me to do each of them in 5.

Now, May now knew that these were a 4, and turning an open 3 into a 5 is a pretty big ask from the big lady. The first time in, she blew off my half halt before the first fence, blew it off between the first and second fence, and my trainer told me to halt before the last fence. We did, and then we tried again. It continued to be REALLY difficult for her, and there was a told of dramatic head throwing. However, she was completely capable of doing it. For my part, I had to think of getting a real Dressage-Like canter. I mean, I was visualizing the canter I need to get a solid leg yield across a diagonal type of Dressage canter. I needed to keep May really high through the poll and shoulders. I don’t think I have ever asked this horse to collect her canter this much, and you know what, I should be. A couple of times, we close momentum and ended up in the trot, but I just circled and asked again. If she went through the jumps correctly, she got to canter on a more forward stride and looser rein as a reward.

So how do you build on that? You jump a very technical course with very low jumps!

Slide2.JPG

We were instruction to come down the purple line of jumps in a 5 to a 4, go around the 9 o’clock jump on the circle of love, go between the cones, jump the 6 o’clock jump on the circle of love, go through the next set of cones. Then, we had to complete the S patter, by jumping the gray diagonal jump, turn to jump the last 2 jumps of the purple pattern in a 4, and then make a right turn to jump the oxer. After the oxer, we had to keep our line to fit through the super tight opening between the middle purple jump and the teal, raise poles.

So how did it go? Well, the first time, I wasn’t able to get the 5 to the 4. I didn’t push May forward over the second jump, and we just didn’t have the power to get 4, so we started again, and we nailed it. I came around to jump 4, which she jumped a bit big, which left us big to jump 5… and then I promptly forgot where I was going. My trainer told me, “I knew you forgot because you were looking at the wrong end of the arena.” whoops!

You can see the narrow path we had to take here. 

We restarted at jump 4, since May seemed to really understand the purple exercise. I rocked her back for jump 4, kept the bouncy canter for jump 5, demolished jump 6, cross cantered to jump 7, got my balance back around the corner, and jumped 8 beautifully before easily keeping our line through the small opening before ending our course. Was it pretty? Nope. That’s why you do these types of things with small jumps.

We decided to end on that note. Sure, the 4,5,6,7 line could’ve been cleaned up a bit, but we kept our rhythm and our line, which was the whole point. Since she jumped 8 so well, we through that was a great note to end on.

Another pic of that square oxer at the end. The purple and teal jumps in this photo are the purple jumps from my diagram. The circle of love was the same height. 

And today? I am so sore! hahaha. Can’t wait for the next lesson! (we also might have put a local schooling horse trial on the calendar for next month. Stay tuned!)

Advertisements

We Jumped! (And Got Video Of It!)

I was scrolling back through my posts to see if I could confirm this, but I am pretty sure Sunday was the first day I did an actual course of jumps in my new jumping saddle… I have popped over a few single fences here and there, but hadn’t actually strung a course together… nor do I think I had jumped an oxer in that saddle… and I know I wasn’t jumping oxers in my Dressage saddle… so how long had it been since we had jumped an oxer… Oops. Oh well.

#marecrushmonday #everymonday #Hunterprospect ? Definitely #huntereq

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

(I think that might have been our last oxer… 11 months ago) Sunday was actually really beautiful in KY. We had about 18 hours of dry weather, which was enough for the amazing footing in our outdoor arena to dry up. So I begged and pleaded for the husband to come take video for me. (Really, I just asked since the weather was finally nice enough.)

Hindsight? I should’ve brought my crop with me. The horse with the carriage was out there when I went to get on, so I got on in the indoor and then walked over to the outdoor. No reason to get dumped because I didn’t want to bother to walk an extra 50 feet to a less busy arena. May didn’t seem to have a problem with the carriage this time, which was definitely improvement, but she was definitely just preoccupied with thoughts of what the cart was doing. I couldn’t really get her totally in front of my leg, but she was relaxed and obedient.

My stirrups might actually be a tough TOO short…

Since the jumps were set pretty small, I figured I would just warm up a bit and hope she woke up a bit. (This is terrible horsemanship, but… oh well… I had a relaxed horse.) There was a small box (maybe 12″) set up so that you could canter a 20 meter circle over it, so I started with that. I worked on establishing rhythm without losing suppleness through her body.

Getting back into it! #may #eventing #IForgotWhatTheSunLooksLike #horsesofinstagram

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

After a few times in both directions, I asked the husband to turn on the camera, and I pointed out the few jumps I was planning on doing. The footing nearest where he was filming was a bit deep and wet still, so I just avoided that line, but I wanted to pretty much jump everything else. haha

The moment she realized we were doing more than one jump at a time…

My original plan was to get through the course and then clean up the parts that I felt were messy. Mind you, early in the week I had tried to jump a few fences, and I missed to Ever. Single. One. I COULD NOT find a distance. This time, I shortened up my reins a bit, and focused on keeping my hands a bit higher than what I am used to (but what is probably correct), and keeping my reins short enough that my hands were about halfway up her neck. Below is what we got:

Overall? I am really happy with that. The biggest issue is obviously pace. Our pace should be closer to what we have in this clip:

However, the most important thing to me when reintroducing a horse to jumping is to make it as nonchalant as possible. It should feel like no big deal, just popping over a few fences. I can always light a fire under a horse’s butt if I need to… It’s a special skill of mine, so a quieter than expected jump school is a good place to start. Our simple changes were pretty good (although very numerous), and our only small argument was coming to the oxer, where I wanted to hold for no reason coming around the corner. I was wrong, she was right, and I had to pony-club kick for the long spot. Enjoy our small fail photo below:

It is probably also worth noting that I was testing a different bit in this video. A Myler D ring with hooks. No chain, but hooks. Jury is still out on it, but I clearly don’t need the pelham if she keeps going like this! So how do I feel about my jumping saddle around a course and over an oxer? I am pretty damn happy with it still. It doesn’t rock over fences like other saddles I tried. May clearly seems relaxed and happy giving me the long spot in it, and I felt my position was fairly solid given how long it has actually been.

WHEW! Just happy to be doing more than fancy prancing and trot sets though!

Also – who is going to the event-formerly-known-as-Rolex, aka KY3DE, aka Land Rover 3 Day… AKA who knows what they’re calling it now? I will be there for XC with the husband!

We Jumped! (and had a jumping lesson… sort of)

Let me start this whole post by saying, I still do not have a jumping saddle. We are still ambling towards closing on our house, so patience is a virtue right now. However, eventers are not patient people by nature. We are go-ers, and do-ers, and show-them-how-ers. So, I jumped in my Dressage saddle.

The first ride was totally my test ride. ITTY-BITTY jumps with no one else around other than my husband (hence video evidence). Can we take a minute to appreciate how cute and happy May looks to be skipping over 18″ jumps? She was soft and willing but taking me to the fences, all good things.

That’s the great thing about May. Very small jumps, think 2’3″ and under, result in a VERY easy to ride May. She will happily lope around and find all her distances and be soft through the simple changes. I’ve lent her out for a couple of lessons at this height back in NJ when someone needs to get the feel for something that isn’t a school horse but that isn’t going to do anything dangerous.*

*Most of the time. May did once politely force a friend of mine off her back after a small crossrail… said friend had been competing her 6yo thoroughbred at Novice at the time… but I contribute most of that to May being a COMPLETELY different ride from her horse and the fact that the saddle didn’t fit and caused May to do that lovely crow hopping thing. 

So after this test, I ended up having TWO lessons the next week. (yes TWO!). The first lesson was a W/T dressage lesson. Yes, we still have these. It was a REALLY hot night, and we spent a lot of time working on a new concept to help May flex laterally through her lower back and the area just behind her withers, which I don’t think is something May has ever really done in her entire life. I mean, we bend, but we don’t BEND like that.

I will try to get better at the exercise and then post it up on here. It’s a bit like a counter-bend halfpass on steroids. But again, more on that later.

The next lesson, I was warming up in the outdoor arena, and my trainer came over to see if we wanted to “play over some poles.” Apparently, she had seen my video and figured I was game. And I was!

We started with 4 poles, half raised on each side, to trot through. True to form, when the trainer asked me if May had ever done raised trot poles, I told her yet. Then May made me look like a liar the first time through by trying to canter them. Fine. Then trainer said, “you know, you’re supposed to do these types of poles really slow.” Wait… what? “Ummmm,” I replied back, ” how slow?”

Old footage of May doing pole stuff

She gave me an odd look and then said, “start trotting normally and just start slowing it down. Once you get to the right speed, I will let you know.” Fun fact, my default, super forward trot was the exact opposite of what we were looking for. We wanted to encourage her to lift up through her back and sit on her hind end. Which is exactly something she CAN’T do if she is plowing forward.

So we slowed it down, and we kept it down. Here is a good video of someone else doing something similar, and she talks about horses wanting to rush through this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0m2q4bKqbU **

**I add this with the note that I wouldn’t recommend 18 of these poles for horses that aren’t used to this type of work, and I wouldn’t use PVC poles. Horses hit them quite hard when they are learning this, and a splintering PVC pole could be a huge problem. However, there is practically no media in this post, so I had to give you all something. 

Once we got that down, we lifted three of the poles up to about 1′ on the block and set them for canter bounces. The fourth pole was removed. Then, we cantered through it. Again, the goal was to get May to hold herself to the base, so that she could rock back through the exercise. The first couple of times through, she wanted to dive on her forehand and throw herself through the grid. Eventually though, we figured out the rhythm and got a nice feel.

My trainer then added a 2’3″ vertical to the mix. Making it into the below “mini course”. We came down over the bounces on our left lead. Carried the lead through the corner and then up the single diagonal vertical. May was good through the bounce but then wanted to take me over the vertical, and we got a bit of a flyer to that one. Turns out, it’s hard to stay with a flyer in the Dressage saddle, but it was fine. We did it a couple more times.

Terrible photo of the jumps we jumped circled in black

Then we went off the right lead and added a single vertical the other direction (the brick wall). May tried to take over going to the new jump again, but I corrected. We got a chip to it the first time, but smoothed it out the second. Finally, we pulled together a little course. Bounces off the left lead, left turn to the first vertical, then a left turn around to the other vertical. May was great and soft and wonderful.

All I have to say is, I CANNOT WAIT to have a real jumping saddle back again.

 

Saddle Trial 2 – Black Country Solare

A combined series of events put my saddle hunt on hold for a couple of week, but on Friday a Black Country Solare showed up at my door. I knew literally nothing about this saddle other than it might fit my horse and work for me.

It showed up absolutely beautiful. Black with blue piping and blue stitching? Count me in! 

The leather was great quality, and it was well equipped with two pairs of D rings and blocks.

The box was even an improvement!

My only concern was it looked a touch narrow, but I figured it was close enough for a test ride.


Overall, it looked a bit high in front but sat level, and it didn’t seem especially tight around the shoulders. I took it for a few test rides, and they all ended with some variation of the below sweat marks. However, May seemed to like the saddle. She even stood completely still at the mounting block, something we have always struggled with.


For me, the saddle fit my legs great. I felt it helped me keep my ankle in line with my hip, and it helped my leg stay steady over fences. See below for one of the first jumps we have jumped in about 4 months. To me, the greatest compliment I can give a jump saddle is that I don’t think about it when I am jumping, and I didn’t have to with this one. A saddle that holds me in or pushes me out of balance is a big no no. One that makes me feel like I can do what I need to, while supporting me is awesome. ​


However, then I watched this video is slow motion, and I saw the below:


My leg is in a great position, but the saddle is clearly grabbing at May’s shoulders. Damn… If you watch it in even slower motion, you will see the saddle snap back down onto May’s back as she extends her front end forward. Definitely not ideal, and not something I would want to have happening on a regular basis. Our distance to this jump was good, if not a touch long, and I would hate to see what this saddle would do at a tight spot or over uneven ground on cross country. Unfortunately, that means I had to pass on this one too…

Then, I noticed some swelling/irritation around those dry spots, and I decided it really wasn’t wide enough for poor May. (good sport about it though!)

I give this saddle a solid 8/10. Leather and balance was great for me, but I am still not 100% sure a wider tree would be right for May. I’m still debating buying a new one, in the wider tree, but I have a few other things to try first. Next up – a 34cm 18″ Prestige saddle.

As for why May is wearing a fly mask? Well I showed up to the barn a couple of weeks ago to find this:


A nice swollen, dripping eye. She ended up having a small scratch, and I am riding her in the fly mask as a precaution. The vet has seen it twice, and it appears to be fully resolved at this point. Small speed bumps really can slow you down!

A Rolex Hangover

This year I finally had the opportunity to dip my toe into the ocean that is the Rolex 3 day event at the Kentucky Horse Park and attend the XC day. Originally, we didn’t buy tickets because I was somehow under the impression that it was the same weekend as the tasting for my wedding. Thanks to an ad in COTH. I realized the day after the early-bird special pricing that it was, in fact, the weekend after. HOORAY! We bought tickets that night as both an early and a late birthday present for me!

I AM SO GLAD WE DID!


There is a huge difference between watching Rolex on TV and being there in person. Having a horse gallop past you at full speed towards a jump that you can’t even see over is awe-inspiring and thrilling. Even the fiance had to admit it was a pretty cool sport to spectate at.

There was A LOT of walking involved. Between wanting to check out all the things for sale, getting food, and wanting to see as many of the jumps as possible, we walked a lot. The first thing we did because we got there so early was check out the shops set up. I visited a friend of mine I haven’t seen in YEARS at the Bit of Britain tent, which I think is part of the magic of Rolex. It’s like a pilgrimage for eventers. I ended up getting an ariat sun shirt, an ariat long sleeved quarter zip, an US Eventing polo, and a Rolex 3 Day baseball cap.


However, there were a lot of things that made me go all grabby hands:

  • Dublin Pinnacle boots in black – I have seen pictures of these boots everywhere. I briefly considered getting them, but the pictures made them look clunky and the price point made me question how well they were made. Seeing them in person changed that. They were absolutely lovely. The laces up the side give them a close fitting feel that again, I really just wasn’t expecting. Definitely adding these to the list!
  • Saddles – I wish I could put one brand in here that I was like YES THAT ONE, but I can’t. I have seen a lot of French saddles, and I have owned both a Voltaire and a Devoucoux. As a result, I also know that they would never fit a horse built like May. I currently ride in an Albion, which is… ok. It puts me in a bit of a chair seat and the leather is a bit slicker than I would like, but the big blocks give it a secure feel. It mostly fits May, and it was in my budget after I bought her. All good things. However, the fit to her could be better and the fit to me could be MUCH better. I was really drawn to three saddle brands for the trees they offer that could solve my problems: Black Country, County, and Bliss of London. Trying to make an appointment with a local saddle fitter to discuss the Albion and possible other alternatives before calling out a brand-specific rep. Anyone have experiences with these brands?
  • Horses – seriously, how can you not watch riders gallop over massive fences with huge smiles on their faces without wanted a chance to ride on of these awesome athletes? Then I realize that I am not the kind of athlete the riders are, and I am quite satisfied with Miss May.


We didn’t bring chairs because I didn’t want to haul them around all day. So at around 11:30AM, we got lunch and headed into the stadium to sit down and watch on the big screen. About 10 minutes later, the skies opened up, but because of where we were sitting, we stayed nice and dry.

After lunch, we headed down to the head of the lake. We got a decent spot to watch, and we got to check seeing a person fall off in the water off our list. We stayed just past 1PM to see Kim Severson, Clark Montgomery, and (of course) Michael Jung ride through the head of the lake. Both Kim and Clark looked so solid through the water, and we were crushed to hear the difficulties they had later on course. Thanks to USEF offering free video clips over the rest of the weekend – I got to see the rest of their rides. It really is an education to see these people ride.


After Michael Jung, we packed up and headed home. Overall, we spent about 5 hours at the horse park and my head was absolutely spinning. The next day I wasn’t able to watch the show jumping, but I was repeatedly updating the live scores on my phone. (and providing the poor fiance with constant updated and facts and figures) Overall, Michael Jung proved that a good mare is worth her weight in gold.

I was also heartened to see the 18yo Mr. Medicott winning the US title and that almost all of the horses in the top 5 were in their teens (Rocana is 12). I guess I shouldn’t be questioning if I should let my 12(ish) year old horse stay at the lower levels. A sound horse is a sound horse, and the longer I am around horses, the more I learn that young does not equal sound and old does not equal lame.

Speaking of May – I rode her this weekend, and she is just barely foot sore. The more time she spent in the forgiving arena footing, the more comfortable she felt. Still taking it easy, but it was nice to be able to put a somewhat normal flat ride on her!

Why I Need Lessons

Since moving to KY, May and I had been able to fit in/afford 1 jumping lesson in the Fall and 2 Dressage lessons (1 in the Fall and one in early Spring). That is, until last week when we had our second jumping lesson ever with my new trainer and the first jumping lesson in pretty much 6 months.

But let’s backup first. I was putting a bit of pressure on myself before my lesson to increase height, difficulty, and length of our jumping sessions on our own. Luckily, the first weekend of April there was a clinic at my barn, so the jumps were moved all over the place in a way that promoted a lot of turning and related distances. Also luckily, my awesome fiance was there to take video. I figured I could watch myself after and figure out where my problem areas are.

 


There were some awesome moments where May stayed soft and light and practically jumped me out of the tack. I even left the oxer at a pretty decent height and a good width to force us to really jump it. Looking back now, I think it was the first oxer we did all season. Oh well, it went fine. 🙂

However, turning and finding jumps has always been a pretty good skill for me. Sure I miss, but I am usually just added on a 3/4 stride or leaving a tiny chip out. The long approach to a jump has always been my nemesis though. I just want to do SOMETHING, so I usually end up doing the WRONG thing. Does anyone else do this? Anyway, I was riding to the oxer off the long approach, and I Could. Not. Find. My. Distance. Below is the video. Can you tell what I did wrong?

 

 

Our pace wasn’t changing around the corner, she wasn’t losing her balance, and I was really looking past the jump and not pulling. I was, however, forcing her to keep her balance. Buuuuut I didn’t keep my leg on, and we didn’t have enough power from behind. It becomes really obvious in the video between the 12 and 13 second marks, where you can CLEARLY see her fall behind my leg… Damn…

I reviewed the footage and decided came back to jump again on Sunday. Jumping back to back like that is rarely my plan, but I figured we would pop over just a few fences. I didn’t mean for it to be literally a few fences. I think we jumped a total of 3 fences. She was tired and just not into it. I figured it wasn’t a big deal, and I would give her Monday off for my birthday. (I need to do a post on all my horsey-related birthday gifts!)

 


Then I had a very, very early morning for work on Tuesday and started feeling sick. Ok fine, I went to bed early on Tuesday… then had to travel a bit for work on Wednesday. That’s fine though. I can power through. I didn’t power through. I went to bed at 8:30PM on Wednesday. Thursday was my lesson. May hadn’t been ridden in 3 days. How was she? A bit spicey, but mostly perfect. Of Course. 🙂

What did we work on? Well… going forward and turning. First turning, which involved jumping a single, low jump on a 20 meter circle. Then jumping a small jump and making a tight roll back to an oxer. All of that went fairly well. Then we put together a small course, which involved this:

Our first corner. I had ridden some VERY small corners before, but nothing quite this wide, and definitely nothing that had been made narrower by a tree… My trainer asked how she was with corners. I told her she had never really done one, but she would be fine. We then got a short lecture on how to ride a corner:

  1. Stay straight
  2. Ride as if there were a pole in the middle that you were trying to jump straight across
  3. Keep my outside leg on and keep control of the outside corner
  4. Don’t push too far in the middle
  5. Controlled but forward and “bouncy” canter

Ok. Sounds good. Let’s try it. We did the rest of the course fairly well, came around to the corner and… never got straight. I mean this was the longest approach ever. Maybe 15 strides from the last jump and this one, and we rode the whole thing with her left shoulder popped to the outside. Better yet, while trying to correct this, I ended up pulling all the way to the base of the jump. We got there with no impulsion and on a half step.

May’s reaction? Ignore mom and jump the damn thing anyway. Needless to say, my trainer agreed with me that she is good about corners. However, what we were not good about was getting the strides. Remember that trot in/canter out in 4 strides jump line from earlier in the week?

Well apparently, we really like doing it in 4 strides… even when it is going the other direction and a vertical to an oxer. No surprise, but trainer found this unacceptable. She reminded me that we should be getting the strides as not doing them was leaving us a bit under powered (see video above of us being under powered and practically eating an oxer). Then she said, “unless you think she can’t make the horse strides.”

“Oh… oh… No. She can make them.” And just like that – foot in my mouth. Now I had to get the strides right. First attempt was just to get her in front of my leg and let her flow through it. We got 3.1 strides and demolished the oxer. Front pole, back pole, got them both. It was an accomplishment in a weird way. It also took a lot of pressure off. Like ok, I had made my first BIG mistake in front of my new trainer, and she wasn’t upset. Just told me to add more leg this time. Luckily, one of my fellow boarders apparently had faith in me, because she took this video:

 


Was it perfect? Not at all. Did we commit and execute though? Yes, and that is a big thing for us. Since she was then a bit spicey, my trainer asked us to jump a skinny in the middle of the ring off our right lead (the same lead we just did the line on). May was… not having it. She started throwing her heard around and sucking behind my leg.

In a weird way, I was so happy to have this argument with May in front of my trainer. I have been struggling with her randomly pulling this stunt for a couple of months now. I wish I had video of it. Basically, she starts flinging her head around so there is 0 contact with the bit and then sucks back almost to a stop. I had been solving it by sending her really forward, like spurs in sides forward. This was, and still is, the correct reaction, but my trainer took it a step forward.

She recognized that our issue wasn’t really with going forward – it was with the transition between going forward, coming back, and going forward again. In that serious of adjustments, she was building up this big resistance. Why? Mostly because we hadn’t really been practicing it outside our jumping.

Fun Fact: The worst time to practice something is when there is additional pressure. Aka – don’t try to put flying changes on a horse at a show, don’t try to teach a horse to tie on the 4th of July, and don’t try to teach adjustability in the middle of a jump course. Those skills should already be installed because taking them to a more advanced level.


However, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Instead, my trainer had us practice coming forward and coming back at the canter for a couple of circles before asking us to take the skinny jump again. May popped over it without a fuss. Then it was back to the corner. This time, I rode aggressively and definitively. I pushed to the jump, and we took a big, XC style step to it and over it. May got lots of pats both from me and from my trainer.

It felt good to come away with homework and solutions. I can’t wait until our next lesson! Heaven knows, I need them!

I’m Alive and Things Have Been Happening!

Probably the worst title for a blog ever, but this is the first time in a while where I can say the second part of that sentence. Since my last blog post, we have jumped with more success, and I have even taken a LESSON. (said lesson has left me pretty much crippled this morning, but more on that another day)

This entire winter has been an exercise in patience. I have ridden May on more than one occasion where I have basically had to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Most days, she is lovely to ride and really tried hard to do what I ask, when I ask. However, with inconsistent work and frankly ridiculous weather, some days have consisted of just trying to not plow through my hands and run around the arena. Luckily, with the fiance back in town for the foreseeable future, I am hoping to get back into a real schedule.


The fiance back in town also brings about another bonus: NEW MEDIA! So after May and I had that overly enthusiastic last jumping session, I decided to go back to basics a bit. I also switched bits. Anyone that has followed this blog for a while knows that sometimes May likes to throw her massive head around far more than necessary.

Green Grass! Just waiting for the trees to catch up

For a while, I have debated changing up her jumping bit; however, I knew that at least 75% of the problem was me and my love of the inside rein. During our last jumping sessions though, she was beyond unreasonable about the Dr. Bristol. At one point, I wasn’t even touching her face, and she was throwing her head up and flinging it around. I thought maybe the tongue pressure is driving her a bit batty, so I broke out what is quite possibly one of my favorite, but oddest bits.

Image result for myler pelham
Mylar Pelham – No Port

Most people look at this bit and think it works just like a regular pelham, but it really doesn’t. There is a good deal more isolation allowed in this bit than with a typical pelham because each side of the mylar rotates independently. As a result, the curb chain doesn’t really get activate unless you use both reins at the same time or get really strong on one rein. What does this mean for May and me?

This is kind of Equitating, right?

It means its a lot more difficult for her to lean on me, but when she is soft and light, it gets VERY passive. We tested it out on the flat a couple of times to help her get an understanding of how the pressure works. Then, I just set up one jump at the end of the ring, and took her over it a few times. We worked on balance and rhythm, while I concentrated on my form.

 


May stayed relaxed, and while she objected to the pressure when I was holding her, she didn’t continue to fling her head around when the pressure came off. I am going to see how she adjusts to this bit with a bit more practice, but I think this is a step in the right direction!

 

 

Next blog post – Dressage Lesson!

Imperfect Circumstances

Aka – anything to do with horses.

Last week was an incredibly busy week at work. A lot of overtime was gained trying to prepare for a big event on Friday & Saturday. As a result, May didn’t get ridden at all from Sunday – Sunday. The weather forecast called for Sunday to be warm, reaching 70, and sunny. I pulled out May’s shampoo and planned on a long walk around the property and a nice bath.

img_4919
Expectation…

Instead, Sunday ended up lingering in the 50’s with constant cloud cover and a dampness to the air. Fine. It will be a Dressage day. I pulled up and started chatting with another boarder. Then, she says the words we all love to hear, “I set up a really straight forward gymnastic, if you’re interested.” My ears perked up. It was the wrong time… May had barely jumped. She hadn’t been ridden all week, and she hasn’t been through a gymnastic since November… but it sounded REALLY fun.

So what did I do? I grabbed my jumping saddle and swapped the bit on my Jumping bridle out from the happy mouth to the D-ring Dr. Bristol. I groomed quickly and was both excited and nervous. I kept telling myself, you can just keep it really small. just poles or cross rails… if she’s hyped up, you don’t even have to jump. I got to the ring and the gymnastic was 3 trot poles to a crossrail, one stride to a 2’6″ vertical, one stride to a 2’6″ sloped oxer.

I wandered around and lowered the jumps to 3 trot poles to a cross rail, one stride to a crossrail, one stride to a stack of poles. The whole time telling myself that I don’t have to jump any of it. I lowered another jump and eyed a stand-alone cross rail that I figured I would use as a warmup. I hoped up and May was AMPED.

downhill
Like XC amped

She was forward but mostly listening and staying off her forehand. I warmed up and was thinking about whether or not I would even attempt jumping when three other boarders came back from a walk and hung out in the ring. One took down the stand-alone cross rail and made it into two trot poles. Ok… not a big deal. I still don’t have to jump anything. I trotted over the poles a few times and May relaxed a bit. I then announced that I was going to jump through the gymnastic. Wait… what did I just say?

One of the boarders asked if I wanted it put up and I told her that maybe in a minute. I explained that we hadn’t jumped much (or really at all) and that I wanted to make sure she got through it ok. That turned out to be my best decision all day.

May cantered through the trot poles, and I pulled back over the first crossrail and kept pulling over the second crossrail. May objected. She threw her head down and stopped dead in between the last crossrail and the stack of poles. I really love the big thigh blocks on my saddles. Right I thought leg on and all that.

img_4436
Another example of why Leg is required….

I came to it again, and again May cantered through the trot poles (not touching any of them). I kept my leg on and she jumped great through the whole gymnastic. We halted at the end, which she actually did very well. She was staying off her forehand and very light (a bit too light in front, but I’ll take it for now). We went through it a couple more times until she relaxed and trotted the poles. Every time, she stayed perfectly straight.

Then, I asked if the other boarders would put up the middle jump to a vertical and put up the last jump. “Do you want an oxer at the end?” on of them asked. May and I have yet to jump an oxer since November. “Sure, just a little one.” My “just a little one” turned into a solid 2’6″ square oxer. MMMMK. This group has never seen May jump, so I was reluctant to whine about the height. She would be fine, she always is.

gymnastic
Actual gymnastic from yesterday… note the lack of sun & warmth

And oh my she was. It took me 3 attempts to get her calm enough to even enter the gymnastic. She would turn towards the gymnastic and just start bouncing on her haunches, flinging her head around despite my lack of contact. Her whole demeanor yelled “let me at ’em!” I would halt her, wait for her to settle, then circle and re approach.

On the third attempt, she mostly kept it together. She cantered the trot poles (still not touching any of them). Jumped the crossrail, rocketed over the vertical, and jumped out of her skin of the oxer. Then came right back and halted about 4 strides from the end of the gymnastic. She felt AWESOME. We did it once more, and she settled a bit in-between the jumps but still gave me a great feeling over each fence.

flying
Blurry old iphone picture… but any pictures are better than none… right?

My little audience was in love with her obvious sass, bravery, and jumping technique. I was beaming. I was tempted to do it a third time and ask for someone to take a video, but she had been good. She still has her winter coat and was sweaty, and she is definitely out of shape. I figured she deserved a pet and a nice long walk.

I got a bit of company on our walk, so we ended up wandering around the property for about a half hour. When we got back to the barn, May was greeted with rubs, laughter, and a new “Sassy Pants” nickname.

It might not have been the perfect timing. It might not have been the perfect training exercise. I might not have given my horse the perfect ride. However, I ended the session with a horse that felt confident and in love with her job, and I had the most fun that I have had in a long time.

Reintroducing Jumping

Fun Fact: up until last weekend, May and I hadn’t jumped since November. This was due to a combination of rainy weather, my schedule, and my lack of health insurance until the start of 2017. I’ve always been conservative with my jumping. If I jump once a week, it is usually over small fences (like 2′ to 2’3″) where we work on things like rhythm and balance. As a result, it is not totally unusual for May to go a few weeks without jumping.

However, considering that we did not get into a jumping groove at all since last summer (ouch), I thought it would be good to reintroduce jumping like I would do for a greener/more nervous horse, just to make sure I don’t go along and create some issue. Ideally, the rider reintroducing jumping would be in a jumping groove themselves, but things are rarely ideal with horses.

too-cute
Seriously, this face though…

The first step in this process begins before I even approach a jump. It typically starts the day before (assuming all the basics have been installed prior to this point). In May’s case, that means lots of transitions and a nice long ride with a long walk the day before jumping. It takes the edge off so that I don’t end up fighting with her on the most basic principles of coming back from the canter and listening to the half-halt.

So finally Sunday arrived, and I dropped two relatively plain jumps down to a crossrail and a 2′ vertical with some flowers under it. Warm up emphasized the same ideas as the day before with lots of transitions coming from my seat and leg. I hadn’t actually planned on jumping this day, so I had on just a plain, loose-ring, mullen mouth bit, and I wasn’t wearing spurs. For May, less is probably better at this phase. Making her feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable with a stronger bit (especially with me out of practice) would likely lead to more harm than just letting her get a bit strong. For reference, we usually jump in a D-ring Dr. Bristol.

 

Regular Jumping Bit
Today’s bit

Then we just… popped around the two fences I had set up. We cantered some and trotted some, but it was all very calm and nonchalant. Jumping lasted maybe 10 minutes, and we finished with some flat work and then a nice long walk. May felt the same as she always does on under 2’6″ jumps, like a total packer.

packer-status
If that’s not a packer jump… idk what is

Then this past Sunday, I decided we should actually add back in some of the important pieces of jumping. Relaxation is obviously the first, which was done last week, but now I wanted her to start think about adjusting and jumping from the base of the fences.

xc-jump
Not the base of the fence…

I set up what is probably my favorite gymnastic. It is so simple that it probably doesn’t even qualify as a true gymnastic. It is just a pole placed about 7′ in front of a vertical. The exercise is to trot in, keeping a forward but stead rhythm. The horse should step over the pole, rock back onto its haunches, and jump over the vertical. It’s one of those gymnastics that immediately forces you to concentrate on a few very important points:

  • Coming Forward in a Rhythm (aka keep your leg on and don’t pick)
  • Letting your hip angle close over the jump instead of throwing your body
  • Feeling your horse rock back at the base of the jump

It also points out if your stirrups are too long for jumping as this will suddenly get really hard with long stirrups.

It is important to note that, just because this is a slower and shorter exercise, it is not easy for the horse. It really requires them to push from behind, which if you are using this exercise to fix that problem, means they are probably using those muscles a lot harder than they usually do. As a result, I don’t drill this gymnastic. I will do it once then canter around to another jump (in this case I cantered around to a 2’3″ stone wall we hadn’t jumped before… spoiler alert, May didn’t care.)

through the hole.jpg
If she jumped through this, a box shouldn’t be an issue. 

All in all, this ended up being a longer jump school at about 15 minutes where i put together a small, rather twisty course with jumps all in the 2′ – 2’3″ range. All the jumps had flowers or gates or boxes or some combination of the three and May never bat an eyelash. Good pony.

I, surprisingly, am really excited to start jumping regularly again. She feels as good as she always has and my increased focus on my own fitness has made a real impact on my confidence. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings us!

Stepping Back & Gearing Up

I cannot remember the last time I was a less than 4x per week rider. Throughout high school, I was known to be at the barn at least 4 days a week and more when I had off from school. I remember sitting in the car in near white-out snow conditions, driving to or from the barn. I remember arriving to the barn in the summer before 6am to ride before the heat, often in the fog.

buddy-jump2

I didn’t ride when I was physically at college, but all through my college years I rode anytime I was home. I remember riding 4 horses the first day I was home for Thanksgiving my freshman year, and not being able to walk the rest of that vacation. Although, I somehow still managed to ride. In the summers, I would ride 4 horses a day, 6 days a week. On the weekend, I would add helping out at shows to the list. I was fit, which made me more confident in the saddle.

riding-back-buddy

While my family had a horse when I was 11, I didn’t own my own horse, and I wasn’t solely responsible for one until I was 22. Therefore, a lot of my multiple horses a day, multiple days a week opportunities were given to me by some wonderful horsewomen, who definitely saw themselves in me anytime I touched a horse. When I turned 22, I graduated college and only lasted a few months before buying my first horse. He required the need to be in consistent work, so I rode 4 days a week, minimum. I briefly half-leased him out to try to get him to 6 days a week, but that wasn’t right for him either.

winston-jump

Then I got May. We had some hoof issues when I first got her that meant she was light work, but I still saw her 4 days a week to monitor her condition. If I went more than 3 days without seeing her, I would start to get antsy and anxious. She was at a barn with amazing care, where the trainer kept every horse as if it was her own, but I still felt the need to be there.

When we were competing, I was riding 5-6 days a week to increase May’s fitness. This often meant doing trot sets in the near-dark of the outdoor arena, because the indoor made things even more boring. After moving to Kentucky, I was funemployed for a month, so I rode at least 5 days week, spending days walking up and down hills and just enjoying my horse and some time off.

Then all of a sudden, I had a full time job that quickly became a bigger commitment than originally anticipated and winter was upon us. My barn turns out at night all year round, so getting to the barn at 6:30PM, after the sun went down wasn’t really an option anymore. I don’t have one of those jobs that would allow me to work flex hours, at least not this early into it, so I have had to cut back.

For the several weeks, I have been a 1 – 2x per week rider. Those rides consist mainly of lots of walking with maybe 20 minutes of real work. I got May a mullen mouth happy mouth bit for the cold days, and I don’t ask for too much. She is horribly out of shape, but I have managed to supplement my fitness with some additional cardio. I jumped this past weekend for the first time since November over a crossrail and a 2’3″ vertical, in the happy mouth. I had no ability to alter any of our distances, but May happily loped around everything… like I knew she would.

laying-down

She is fine with the arrangement. Sure, she is probably fatter than she should be, but she is nowhere near obese. She gets 14-16 hours of turnout a day, no matter the weather. (It’s really just been rainy and muddy here.) May comes out for every ride as the same horse. Her version of being “hot” after not being in work is to suddenly be more green than she actually is. She “forgets” things like steering and rhythm, but she usually snaps back in about 10 minutes.

I, however, am not fine with this arrangement. I find myself feeling intensely guilty for not riding more. After all, her expenses do not go down because I ride less. I find myself getting intensely anxious on Fridays about her and how she is doing. I am also frustrated with the feeling that, not only are we not making progress, we seem to be losing it.

In spite of all that, today marks the first day of February, arguably the worst riding month of the year. However, KY is seeing weather in the 40’s and the sun is starting to hold itself up in the sky until after 6PM. So I am starting to think about plans for 2017, (including a fitness plan for May and me!)  and I am getting myself refocused for what should be a year of “May as Well”s.