Because I have no chill, I looked at the scores and knew we were sitting in 3rd heading into show jumping. Since we had more than two hours in between Dressage and Show jumping, I watched a few people go at BN, and I realized that, to me, BN still looked big. The course was simple though, and the same for Starter and BN. Except, they removed oxers at Starter. >.<
One things I have learned about myself recently, I ride better when I have a “count” to ride to. Sure, ride the rhythm and all that, but I know if my rhythm is good by how well we’re getting down the lines.
I got on May about 30 minutes before my ride time and walked for a solid 15 minutes. I just let her take in the atmosphere and look at all the activity before I asked anything of her. I would say that probably 10 minutes into this, she took a deep breath and relaxed.
Our warm-up went really well, she was in front of my leg and distances came up easy. I think we jumped two jumps. The crossrail and then a vertical, and we were done. I watched a couple of more people go, including my barn-mate, who had a smooth, clear round. I didn’t see any poles go down, and I started to get nervous. What if I was that person that totally screwed up the whole thing?
NT gave me a few tips before we went in. Number one? Get my pace early and keep it going the entire course. Number two? Sit and turn her with my seat, leg, and both hands – don’t just try to pull her around the corners. Got it. Got it.
Below is how it went:
Things to note:
May tripped pretty good before fence one. The footing was just a bit beat up on that edge of the ring, and she was trying to look at the barn/horses in the small pens right next to the ring. This kind of messed up our rhythm and caused the short distance to fence 1.
I didn’t make a decision soon enough about the counter canter after fence one. Once I gave up trying to micro-manage it and just kicked on, she fixed it. Things to remember, just go forward.
The bending line rode pretty good. We got in tight to jump 2, but I picked a good line and moved her forward for a great jump over number 3. She swapped the front end before 3 (because I pretty much pulled her front end off the right lead) and landed crossfiring again. However, because I just kicked her forward after 3, she fixed it. Maybe lead swaps are in our future?
The outside line was my favorite part of the whole course. Over jump 4, I could hear my trainer go “Yes!” from the rail. It was a good feeling, and I just rode the rhythm over jump 5. I thought we got rolling a bit after the line, and I started to pull her around the corner. Then, I thought better of it, sat, and pushed her around the corner with my outside leg and both hands. The head flipping stopped, and we got into the line really strong. I pushed instead of steadied, so it was a bit tight on the out. However, since we had some pace, May had no problem making it work.
We landed on the left lead, and I decided to just roll with it. I kept the outside bend and moved her around my left leg and left hand to jump 8. She stayed on the lead, and I didn’t get the best turn to jump 9. I gave her a kick, she moved up, and we finished the round double clear. Go May!
I knew we at least held our third place into XC, and I ran back to the trailer to grab my vest and pinny!
Now, this post is going to be full of old photos because, when I was a young teenager, I went on A LOT of hunter paces. I took barely broke youngsters on easier paces with manicured, rolling fields and jumps larger than 2’6″ marked with cute little cones. (Just in case my future-weenie self didn’t know a jump was “big”) I took school horses that needed a bit of schooling over the tough landscapes set by my local fox hunting clubs.
It was seriously my favorite thing to do on horseback. However, I changed barns (a couple of times) and then ended up in KY, where manicured eventing fields greatly outnumbered rough and tumble trails that highlighted the hunter pacing of my teenage years.
During my first lesson with her, NT asked me if I would like to hunter pace May. “Yes. Absolutely.” the words were out of my mouth without a second consideration. May had never been on a hunter pace, but she had always been reliable over fences and strong but manageable traveling in a group. Then, I promptly forgot about it.
The Monday before the hunter pace, I asked NT for a lesson, and she mentioned that we could do Thursday or Friday… but that Friday was probably too close to the hunter pace. It took a solid minute for the phrase to make sense in my brain. “Am I going to that?”
“I thought you wanted to…”
“Yes… Yes! I do!” A quick, but excited, text was sent to the husband to update him on my weekend plans, the entry form was filled out, and we were in business! I did not wear a helmet cover, a t shirt, or suede half-chaps. I pulled out my white sun-shirt, polished up my boots, cleaned my tack, and then stared at my bridle.
The D-ring Myler with the hooks is a great bit for May for eventing. It gives us a lot of help getting balance, but it doesn’t have a lot of “whoa” to it. (It doesn’t need to. I do enough unnecessary “whoa-ing” in stadium all by myself.) Would I even need more whoa on May? We were going about 5 miles in a group of 7 horses including at least 4 thoroughbreds. May is not a thoroughbred, but she likes to play one on TV.
I reached into my bit box and pulled out this bit. A 3 ring, Copper elevator bit with copper. (Thanks old horse for having the same mouth size as May.)
I threw two reins on, one on the snaffle ring, and one on the milder gag ring. I figured that, if she’s good and easy, I can just ride off the snaffle, but if she is strong, I have the gag bit. Then, I did something another trainer had taught me. I vet-wrapped the buckles of the reins together. (The ends farthest from the horse… not sure why this is so hard to explain… The buckles that are included in the bight of your reins… I hope you get the idea). The idea here is I could hold just the snaffle bit without risking losing the curb rein or creating too much of a loop. If I dropped my reins, it would be MUCH easier to get them back, and I minimize the likelihood of a rein going over May’s head. Quick, Easy, Safe.
So on to the actual pace. I didn’t charge/pack my cambox because there had been a chance of rain. Of course, my luck, it was sunny and warm all day. Oh well. Next year! (Tried to find someone else’s video on youtube, but couldn’t find a single one!)
We tacked up the horses, and May was her usual calm, happy self, munching on grass while I tacked up. I hopped on, and she even stood like a statue at the mounting block… I almost threw myself off the other side. I figured out my 2 reins (luckily a smooth curb rein feels a LOT different from my pebbled, rubber reins). We even snapped a quick pic before heading to the start box.
My biggest concern going out was May’s fitness. I had been on hunter paces that had stretched to over 2 hours and covered roads, rivers, etc. I was assured that this hunter pace was 5 miles and optimum time was likely right around 55 minutes. Great. We could do that. Headed to the start box. Started off… and May’s shoe came FLYING off. She must have loosened it during the trailer ride over.
Now, NT is VERY familiar with the farm, and she had already ridden the course once that morning on another horse. I trotted May off. She was TOTALLY sound. I was assured the footing was super forgiving, so we decided to continue. I would just avoid jumping anything of any real size. (i.e. anything larger than 2′ LOL). How did May feel? Like a screaming ball of fire. She kept up with the thoroughbreds on every gallop, big hill, little jump, etc that we found.
Then, we came up on an ITTY BITTY stream at the bottom of a TEENY TINY hill. I brought her back to a walk, so that she could walk over it. I grabbed my neck strap with one hand, kept my body back, and waited for her to figure it out. And she LEAPED over it, snapping her head up.
Luckily, her head doesn’t come that far up, but it did bring my right hand up at an alarming rate of speed… It also brought the butt of my crop, in my right hand, up to my face at an alarming rate of speed. I ended up smashing the butt of my crop into my chin/lower set of teeth. My teeth took off the skin on the inside of my lip, and I immediately tasted blood.
A quick “tongue check” of my teeth found them all still in my head and undamaged. So I kicked on. I ended up sporting a sweet face bruise/fat lip for a few days after.
Near the end of the pace, May was definitely tired. Still sound, but tired, and she politely trotted/loped the last couple of jumps. There was a LARGE stack of barrels I really wanted to try, but it will have to wait for a time when we have our shoes on (or are really acclimated to going barefoot.) After crossing the finish line, I spent some time trying to find her shoe near the start, but I had no luck. Oh well. It was hot, and I wanted to untack, hose May, get her (and me) in the shade a bit. As for my bit choice? Considering that I am sporting at least 4 different blisters, I am glad I upgraded this once.
We ended up coming close enough to the optimum time to come in second! Second apparently included a whole bunch of swag including: gift certificates to the local tack shop, t shirts, bags, medals, and a pair of slippers. Our barn brought 14 riders and 4 teams, and three teams ended up in the “medals”. Super fun day with the barn family.
As for aftercare, May got her hooves packed with magic cushion and was rubbed down before being turned out for the night. I am a big believer that turnout is the most important thing you can do for recovery. Even after being fully cooled out and spending time standing on the trailer, all of May’s legs were tight and cool.
Her foot looked a bit broken up, but it was mostly from losing the shoe. The magic cushion was probably more for me then her since the ride was 80% grass, 15% mud/dirt, and 5% minimal gravel (where we walked), but hey, it couldn’t hurt. May got her shoe put back on Monday, and I rode her on Tuesday. She came out fresh, happy, and totally sound.
Now I remember why I love hunterpaces. Both horses and riders tend to really enjoy them. Looking forward to our horse trial this weekend!
“What is this?” you ask… Well, it just so happens to be ANOTHER lesson. I know, it’s pretty shocking at this point. This makes our 3rd jumping lesson since moving to the new barn – more than I was able to get in all of 2017!
NT also changes around the jumps a lot, so this week was a whole new challenge. A fan of bounces! I know some people are very familiar with this exercise, but it was one I had never done before. With May’s propensity to pop her shoulder out when things get tough, I figured this grid might have our number. Below is a good idea of what it looked like. The biggest difference was that, to start out, ours were raised on the outside to encourage the horse to the circle.
The first time through, we were supposed to trot it to make sure we got the right bend, connection, impulsion. May decided to just canter the whole thing, which was not the point. We tried again, and more purposeful posting and a well-timed half-halt had her trotting through it properly. One more time at the trot to make sure that was all set, and we were onto cantering it. This was… surprisingly easy. We reversed and did it again the other way and worked a bit on me keeping my body back over such small jumps. NT raised the jumps to three verticals, and we went through again without an issue.
So, we moved onto the next exercise. Building on the same idea of controlling the outside shoulder, this was 3 jumps, where you were encouraged to make more square turns between each jump. The jumps were small verticals, but the idea was to jump one, go a couple of strides, make a square turn, get straight, jump the next one, and repeat.
Our first time through this was rough. I really wanted to use my inside hand to pull her body around the corner, instead of using my outside rein and leg. As a result, I almost missed the second jump and none of my distances showed up nicely. The second time was a bit better, as I concentrated on sitting and rotating May around my inside leg. She even got lighter in the bridle, who would’ve thought! (NT was fully aware that this was going to happen.) We reversed it and had even better luck.
Finally, it was course time. (See the pattern of these lessons building on each other? It is fascinating.)
So! Starting on the right lead over the triple. Right turn IMMEDIATELY to a 6 stride line (oxer to vertical). Then, we had to boogie a bit to get forward enough to come down the gold combination, which was an oxer, 2 strides to another oxer, 2 strides to a vertical. Left turn to loop around to the pink line. The oxer into the pink line was set kind of awkwardly off the rail so that you had to ride the horse’s outside shoulder to get the distance. Then, it was 3 strides to the barrel.
The first time, we nailed the bounces, turned to the purple jump 2… I put my leg on… and nothing. It took May probably 3 strides to actually get it in gear. While we hit the oxer fine, we didn’t have enough gas to get down that line in 6, and we ended up reaching the vertical at an awkward 6.25 strides. Whoops.
However, I KNEW we had to get our butts in gear to get through the triple. So I galloped her forward and got her SUPER in front of my leg as we turned to that combination. From the more forward pace, it rode pretty easy, and we were able to land, re-balance, and make a nice turn to finish the last line in 5. At the end, I halted her and asked her to yield her shoulder, right and then left.
My biggest issue with May is her locking her shoulder and losing her suppleness while jumping at speed, so we are making sure that each course ends either with a circle or some leg yielding to reiterate that she needs to stay soft with me. The halting during this lesson was a decision I made due to how much speed we were carrying throughout the entire course.
So what did we do next? Trainer raised jumps 2 and 4C, and we did it again! This time, May responded much better to my leg before jump 2, and we were easily able to make it down that line in six strides. I pushed her forward again after that line and we were ROLLING. It has been a long time since I have jumped from that truly open step, and man, it felt REALLY good.
We got a bit deep into the first part of the triple, but we had enough momentum to easily carry us through the line without losing balance or rhythm. The last jump in that line was now closer to Novice height than BN, and May CRACKED her back over it. It threw me a touch off balance, but I recovered quickly. We cantered to the last jump, and it finally sunk it that NT was yelling at me to use my seat. You can actually hear me say “seat” as I realized what she was telling me. I am glad I sat because it kept us from screwing up the turn to 5, and we sailed easily over 6. Again, halt and supple before ending. The full video *with hilarious audio* is below.
By far, it was the best course we had done in a LONG time, so we called it a day on that. Immediately after my lesson, I felt like I had given up and should’ve kept pushing even though the heat had me a bit nauseous and dizzy. However, after writing this all up, it was quite the lesson! AND we had the hunter pace 2 days later. No shame in keeping a horse fresh for work. Called it a day, took care of May, and chugged down some electrolytes. Couldn’t be happier with this mare.
If you’re wondering what happened to me last week, join the club. I was called in for Jury Duty, and they quickly explained that, of the 60 people called, only 14 would be selected and the rest could leave at lunch time. Great! Except, I ended up being one of the 14 people and spent the majority of last week as a juror on a federal criminal trial. It was also at a location WAY DOWNTOWN in Louisville, so I was 45 min from home and 35 min from the barn, without traffic… given that there is always traffic in that area and they kept letting us out late, I basically didn’t get to ride last week… Oh well. Here is a summary of our lesson from the week below.
NT LOVES grids. She thinks that, especially in eventing, it is important to train horses to be responsible for what they are doing with their legs. The truth of the matter is, no one is ever going to hit ever jump from the perfect distance, so we have to train horses to make sure that they are confident and comfortable getting us out of some less than ideal situations. So instead of building exercises and courses that allow a jump, 20 strides, another jump, 5 strides, another jump, she built exercises that force us to think and react a bit faster.
The first exercise? A modified circle of death. In essence, we did the circle of death going to the left, but making right circles after the first 2 poles. See below… enjoy my paint skills.
This was shockingly harder that I thought it would be. I really needed May to move off my inside leg and into my outside rein each time we changed direction, when all she wanted to do was drop her inside shoulder through my leg and barrel through my aids. Fun stuff. Eventually, we were able to do it without flailing around corners with me hopelessly hanging on the inside rein. Yay!
So then the circle of death changed again. We did it in the traditional manner, then circled in the opposite direction and came over an oxer in the middle of the exercise.
Now, something interesting happened. If I could keep the balance and rhythm through the circle of death, then the turn and the oxer ended up being super smooth and easy. May POWERED over the oxer, and we ended up only doing this once in each direction. Calling it a win!
Now, it was course time. Let me just throw this out there… then I will explain. Luckily, all pics below are the jumps at the height they were set for our lesson, so you can have an idea of where we’re at. (somewhere between Starter and BN).
I always label the jump numbers on the side of the jump you are jumping from. So jump 1 was jumped from left to right, then the 2 combination was jumped from right to left. So yes. That means that the course started by jumping 1 near the rail, leg yielding out to the rail, then making a tight turn to jump the 2 combination on the quarter line. That two combination was a tight 2 stride… that I tried to make a 3 stride the first time we did it. The rest of the first course (which only went to jump 6) can be seen through my cambox!
It’s on mute because otherwise all you would hear in my heavy breathing. It was HOT and HUMID that day. After getting the 3 in the 2, I realized I really needed to get our butts in gear. I rode forward properly from there and, SHOCKINGLY, the rest of the course came up great. We were supposed to do the inside turn after the barrels, inside the red white and blue jump… but no luck the first attempt. Jump 4 jumped well, but I kept my leg on because of the liver-pool under jump 5. I shouldn’t have worried, May couldn’t have cared less. The triple rode AWESOME. It was a 1 stride to a 2 stride with the oxer at the end. So first course attempt was establishing the rhythm, but loosing the turns.
Our second attempt, we were told to add in jumps 7, 8, and 9. Except… I seriously massacred jump 4. I lost her right shoulder to the outside going around the corner, pulled (which made her MORE crooked), lost the distance. She chipped in, and jumped through her right shoulder, shoving my foot out of the stirrup and landing in a heap. I, embarrassingly, thought I was going to fall off. Nothing like impressing a new trainer in your second jump lesson by falling off because you lost your stirrup….
I regrouped, and we started again. I nailed one, got through 2, made the sharp turns to 3 and 4. Then, I got a little tight to the entrance into the triple combination. I am about 95% sure that I stopped breathing. We made it through fine. May really does have plenty of step. I made a VERY BAD turn to 7, and I realized I was REALLY dizzy when we landed. I circled and regrouped and came back to the walk. It was a cop out. I keep thinking that I probably could have made it through 2 more jumps, but was probably worth it in a lesson? Probably not. We took the walk break, and finished over 7, 8, and 9.
I was exhausted. I felt heat sickness creeping up on me. I chugged a bottle of water while I hosed May off, and once she was in her stall under a fan, I sat down for maybe 20 minutes to regroup. It was bad. I was so sore the next day, and it was just really disappointing to me. I have spent the last couple of weeks getting up a 5AM to get to the gym before work, and this just reiterated how out of shape I have really gotten.
All I can do right now though is keep moving forward. I am pushing my morning workout a little harder, upping the amount of time I spend in the saddle (especially cantering) each ride, and I am making more of an effort to eat better to make my (and May’s job) a little easier with a few less lbs.
How did May feel? When I turned her out in her field (after a cold shower and some time under the fan), she took off galloping across the field to tell her friends about how awesome she is. I had to laugh. As usual, the problems are mine, not hers.
How do I feel about the lesson itself though? AMAZING. Reflecting back on it has made me realize just how much improvement I got from May through that one lesson. This horse has a habit of pulling me down and out of the tack after fences, but through these exercises, I had a horse that landing and came up to me, instead of pulling down. It was a huge improvement, and I can’t wait to keep working on it.
I am not in the market for another horse. I don’t WANT to be in the market for another horse. In fact, when I bought May, she was the only horse I looked at, and I traded away my old horse for her. Why do I dislike horse shopping so much? Probably because the experience is always pretty miserable. However, now looking back on my horse shopping experience 6 years ago, it’s something I can laugh about, and I hope you can to.
When I bought my first horse, it was before I got into eventing, so I wasn’t looking for an eventer. I was looking for a jumper horse that could cross into the adult equitation divisions. 3′ and under. Didn’t have to be fancy. I think my specs were:
15.2 or taller
Over age of 4 (I wasn’t in a rush, but didn’t have the time for a 3yo)
Under age of 13
Capable of jumping 3′
Wouldn’t kill me
I have seen this happen. In fact, I ended up buying it in May.
However, I saw a lot of interesting horses with that spec list. Let’s start with horse 1!
Oldenburg Mare – 16H – Bay – 10YO
This one even had some show experience at the level I wanted to compete. Seller mentioned that she really wouldn’t be competitive as a Low Child/Adult Jumper (3’3″ – 3’5″) as she was a brave jumper but not always the most careful. That’s fine. Safe and fun was more important to me then ribbons, and it explained the lower price. All good, reasonable things. Right? She was even less than an hour away from my barn. Great!
We went to go look at her. I don’t even remember if the trainer got on first, or if I hopped on. Either way, we passed through the indoor and into the outdoor because “The outdoor has better footing.”
The mare was in a pelham, which I only remember because it had been quite a while since I had ridden in two reins. I was also handed a pair of spurs. Again, not something I had ridden in often. Not a huge deal. You can do the eqs in a pelham and spurs, and it isn’t outrageous gear for a jumper. I got myself sorted out, and asked the mare to move on.
Her whole body weight was immediately in my hands. I tried to give her a bit of rein, and the seller starts shouting at me, “Keep contact with her face.”
Really? I thought. This much contact? I tried just sliding my hands forward and got the same response. Fine. This is your horse, and I will do it your way.
At the trot, I picked up on another issue. The mare had 0 flexibility in her body. It was like the muscle that run along either side of her spine were tensed into solid rock and there was nothing I could do about it. Now? I probably have a few tools in my toolbox for her, but not back then.
Then, I asked for the canter. To the left, no issues. To the right, she swung her haunches in, levitated, and picked up the left lead. It wasn’t so much a naughty response, but it was like she just COULDN’T rock back on that left hind leg like she needed to. The seller’s advice? “Keep more contact with her face.” I wish I was kidding.
I finally figured out that it was easier for her if I really rocked my weight back with her when I asked. (mind you, I was all of 140 lbs then, and she was a stocky mare.) After cantering a bit, I was told to jump her through the triple combination set up on the outside at around 2’6″. I think it was a vertical, 2 strides to a vertical, 3 strides to an oxer.
Fine. I pick up a good canter pace. Turn the corner. She TAKES OFF. Jumps the first jump from a stride away, does ONE stride, and jumps the second vertical. I circle before the oxer. Nope. Not dying on this horse. Seller AGAIN tells me that I need to hold her face tighter and keep her more collected at the very beginning. Basically, I end up cantering towards the combination in a skiing position.
I managed to get two strides in-between the first two jumps and then halt half HARD to get the 3 to the oxer. Mare cracks her back and then tries to take off on the other side. We do a couple more jumps to prove how brave she was, and then I handed her back to the seller with a quick thank you.
I was crippled with muscle soreness for 4 days after that, and that was when I rode 4 horses 6 days a week. I also was later told some shady things about the trainer selling the horse… I won’t go into details, but passing was probably the right move.
After my review went live, another smartpak rep did reach out to me and recommend another fly mask. This one. Her comment was that it didn’t rub her thin-skinned thoroughbred. However, if it fits her thoroughbred, it probably doesn’t fit my draft cross, and it only comes in a standard horse size.
Honestly, I just might go try and support my local tack shop after work tomorrow. 🙂
After Dressage, I had nearly 2 hours until Show Jumping. I took a look at both the show jumping and cross country course, but I wasn’t able to fully walk either due to the late start we had in the morning. Oh well, show jumping was 8 jumps with 1 related distance, and XC was basically one big loop.
May got to hang out in the shade and enjoy the breeze and grass, while I got to actually eat some real food. It might have been 10:30 in the morning, but I needed lunch! Once we were about a half hour to my SJ time, I pulled May off the trailer, threw on our jumping stuff, and got back on. Given that XC was running immediately after SJ, I just put all of May’s XC gear on and wore my vest. And then promptly forgot my armband. Whomp Whomp.
The husband ran back to the trailer while I warmed up again. It was a short, but good warmup, so I cut it a bit short. I wanted to watch a couple of rounds before I went in. Unfortunately, May had other plans and wasn’t super interested in just standing at the in gate, so while I caught bits and pieces of other rounds, I wasn’t able to watch the whole thing through. I do not think I saw anyone go through the related distance line (remember how I didn’t get a chance to walk it?)
Entering the ring for the round was a bit awkward, as you had to check in with the volunteer at the in gate, and then trot to the other end of the SJ field to check in with the judge. I also wanted to trot by 7 because, for BN, there was a 7B. As a result, right after 7 there were a bunch of poles in the grass, and I wanted to make sure May saw them before we were at the base of 7.
So once we checked in with the judge, I trotted along past 5, since that was a couple of hay bales and sometimes hay bales are scary. I picked up my canter, and May immediately started throwing her head around. Ugh. I got her attention back somewhere around 4, as I made my turn to jump 1. Unfortunately, our lack of focus meant my line wasn’t as crisp as I wanted, as May drifted behind my leg and towards the in gate. What does this all mean? It means we pretty much clobbered jump 1.
I kicked forward and got a slightly better rhythm and line to jump 2. We jumped in a touch weak, so I decided to balance up and do the add. Except I HADN’T WALKED the line. SO I got 3/4 of the way down the line, and I realized it was SET SHORT. It was also too late to chase her for what would have been a MASSIVE distance, or just faster shuffling corgi steps toward the nothing distance we already had lined up. Oops… we got to the oxer with no step, no impulsion, and no distance. Cool. May HEFTED herself over it, somehow leaving it up. Seriously, there is video evidence of this that I need to upload for you all.
By this point, I was pretty angry at myself for riding the first 3 jumps like a monkey. I kicked on to 4 and actually had a pretty nice jump. I keep kicking to 5. I am DETERMINED to have almost a “hunter gap” to this fence. We. Will. Not. Chip. For some reason, I had it in my head that she might look at that one, so I needed to ride strong. It was an oxer, which I hate, and it had some hay bales under it. Now, I am not sure we have ever jumped hay bales, but I know many horses that have taken offense to them. (I got an awesome nose bleed once after a horse took serious offense to some hay bales.)
I think it went fine though. 😉 It ended up probably being our nicest jump on course. Jump 6 I don’t even remember jumping. I probably stopped breathing that point. At 7, I was determined not to have the same issue I had at 1, and I rode more determined through my line. As a result, 7 was a non issue. I turned to 8. Kicked on, and was over. So SJ finished with just one jump down, but I was pretty frustrated for myself for not starting the round well.
SJ was pretty messy for a lot of people, and I later heard that the first jump when down a lot for people. Overall, we moved from 4th to 6th out of 19. No matter the score though, I was determined to go out and attack XC.
Of note, all the professional photos were purchased by me from Bluegrass Equine Photography for digital use. I am a big believer in supporting horse show photographers, so I was more than happy to pay for these happy memories!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!)
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.
(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.
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.
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
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!
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?”
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.
**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.
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.