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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2016 – A Review

There are few years I can think of that have had a larger impact on my life than 2016. Maybe 1990 🙂

The year started off fairly slow with January consisting of trail rides, bareback rides, and a trip to the fiance’s hometown in Kansas. However, maybe January was just the perfect synopsis of the rest of the year – a big of downtown surrounded by the farthest trip West I have ever gone.

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February got a bit more exciting. I got engaged on the 3rd… in the barn of course! Then, not even two weeks later, I participated in a clinic with Marilyn Payne… by far the biggest name I have ever ridden with. And I proceeded to fall off, and then actually start riding.

March saw us start to get serious about the upcoming season. Jumps got bigger and I started this blog! We also had our first cross country schooling of the year, where May was a touch wild but completely game. My confidence wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but I had recovered quite a bit from falling off in front of Marilyn.

April consisted of my birthday and my (and May’s) first Beginner Novice horse trial! We completed with a rail and a stop at the water on XC, but after having to convince our trainer to let us try it, I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

Early May marked one year with May, and I still can’t believe how far we’ve come! The end of May marked a new goal with our (both of our) first recognized horse trial! We were second after Dressage and clear XC, but added penalties in stadium to land us 7th out of 10. It was a lesson in humility where I worked on my ability to leave my mistakes behind. The very next week, we got another opportunity, as we ran BN at a schooling horse trial. While the jumps were significantly smaller, I was very proud of my ability to just. keep. riding. We got our best Dressage score of the year (which was perhaps a bit generous) and ended up third. Best of all, our team took home first place and some prizes!

June allowed things to slow down a bit, as my trainer was now nearing the birth of her first child. However, we did get to participate in a clinic with Meg Kepferle. May put on her sassy pants for that one, but I am still happy with how we performed. It definitely put a few extra tools in our toolbox!

We spent our Fourth of July on the longest trail ride we have ever taken! We also got amazing engagement photos taken by Tav Images Photography!

August opened up hot and we spent some time on our Dressage work before getting back to jumping! However some uncharacteristic unevenness behind made us decide that it was time to call out the vet and get some hock injections.

September was very slow as May recovered and my fiance and I faced some life changing decisions, but, by the end of the month. I was able to share the news. We were moving to Kentucky! Early in October, we officially moved. By the end of the month, we were able to have our first jumping lesson, where I jumped more than I had since our first clinic with Meg.

In early November, I found a new job and was able to start putting money back into the pony piggy-bank. Then in December, we had our first Dressage lesson with the new trainer.

It was a crazy year full of new experiences and adventures. Looking back at it all is a bit exhausting, so I am so happy with how far we have come… both in and out of the ring. Here’s to an even better 2017!

10.28.16 – Jump Lesson

A couple of weeks ago, I did something incredible. I had an actual, honest to goodness, jumping lesson! I had spoken to my new trainer about lesson for a couple of weeks, and we were finally able to coordinate a time. (a time where I didn’t have a photographer, so there are some old pictures in here)

 

Originally, I was going to opt to do a Dressage lesson. I figured it would give us a chance to get to know one another while still giving her a feel for where May and I are in the process. However, at the end of the day, no matter how much it scares me, I love to jump my horse. The feeling after jumping around a great course is positively euphoric. So without telling anyone about it first, I threw on my jumping saddle and my figure eight noseband, and I walked out to the jumping arena.

To give you some perspective, I had jumped May once before this lesson. And it was over nothing higher than 2’ (ok maybe the oxer was 2’3”). I had jumped May before this to just to see where her head was at, and she was perfectly calm and listened reasonably well. I think that is what got it in my head that I should jump for this lesson. My horse was in a good place, and at some point, you have to just trust a trainer. Even if they’re new to you.

 

I was warmed up and ready to go before my lesson officially began. To start the lesson, my trainer had me do a few trot to canter transitions on a 20 M circle. We then stopped and she spoke about the importance of having a solid base when riding and especially jumping. She gave me a couple of exercises to help me work on strengthening my base. She didn’t say it was awful, but she did say she is a stickler for it. And heaven knows, we could all use work on the strength of our base.*

She also asked if I would mind shortening my stirrups a hole. Techically, they were where they should be, but she noted that May’s conformation needed me to ride with a  slightly shorter stirrup. I let her shorten my stirrups and I told her that I am not committed to really anything I can doing right now except for riding this horse. I think she might have thought I was joking. Either way, she told me May was very cute.

 

We then started jumping. The first exercise was one my trainer said she likes to use a lot. It’s a 20M circle with a low vertical at one point on the circle. She calls it the “Circle of Love” (as opposed to the Circle of Death). It’s one of those deceptively easy exercises that gets harder the more you try to do other than just riding. To the right, my crookedness came in bigtime. I kept collapsing my left shoulder in towards my right hip (yeah, it’s that bad) instead of opening my shoulders and my spine. We worked on it for a  few rounds before switching to the left, which was pretty much perfect.

We discussed how my crookedness made it more difficult for us to stay balanced on a circle. I was told to ride while concentrating on keeping my spike in line with May’s. This is kind of hard with May, as I am not sure she has a spine under all that fluff… How about keeping my spine in line with her dorsal stripe? I can do that.

 

The next exercise was another deceptively easy one. Canter on the right lead over a single vertical on the diagonal. The vertical was set to about 2’3” at the time. I had a SLOW canter coming around the corner, so May opened up the last few strides. We were told to adjust to that we start strong around the corner and then balance up to the base of the jump. Fun Fact: We are AWFUL at that. Perhaps it got a big better, but the trainer noticed a bigger issue. May was throwing her whole shoulder through my right leg and hand over the fence. The Result? We ended up incredibly crooked on the landing.

She had me fix it by keeping a connection with my hand and leg all the way over the jump: approach, base, jump, landing, exit. She even drew a circle in the middle of the landing side of the jump and told me to land her there. Our first attempt I ended up all of 6” farther to the left of my first attempt. My trainer noted the improvement and told me to try again. The second time, May figured it out. She landed dead center in the circle and was so balanced I could easily circle to the left after the fence.

 

We then did the same exercise off the left lead, where she was considerably straighter. The vertical got raised to a 2’6” effort and we did it a couple more times. Then we got our first mini course, the vertical off the left lead, to a fan oxer (our first one ever!) then a bending line to a different vertical (the first part of this line just backwards). We were given a specific line to follow and nailed it! I did notice something though. I was being asked to ride WAY more forward than I have previously and was a touch uncomfortable. May, however, was hitting every distance spot on and was listening, so I figured we would try to embrace it. Again, however, we found ourselves moving into the trap of going slow around corners and then opening our stride to fences. Something to work on.

 

Then I was asked if May has done a bunch of gymnastics. And I said yes. So I was told our first course. The course started with three x-rails set 21’ apart each, so one stride in-between each. Then we came down the oxer on the diagonal. From the right lead, we picked up the neon and black box. We had a long loop around to the two stride before finishing up over the white oxer.

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1. Crossrail Gymnastic

2. Oxer

3. Neon & Blue Box

4. Two Stride

5. White Oxer

(Not on Course, but Jumped!)

A. Green Vertical

B. Fan Oxer

Every time I took my foot off the gas, I got a loud “CANTER!” So I rode forward. And guess what? Pretty much every fence came up in stride. The only issue I had was getting a bit unbalanced after the two stride and not getting the change before the white oxer. We redid that exercise, forcing May to come back with my half halt, but I still botched the distance to the white oxer because I lost my pace in the corner. Again, it’s something to work on. But overall? I am SO proud of May and I. We came out and performed like a real team, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

*  Unless you’re Michael Jung or Beezie Madden. Then you’re perfect.