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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05.11.17 – Dressage Lesson: Sideways is the New Straight

During my first dressage lesson with my new trainer (NT), she was entirely focused on creating a steadier contact in the bridle. We worked on making the aids super clear and getting the back end properly engaged. That lesson was about 6 months ago. I am happy to report that May has become much steadier and more reliable in the contact.

As a result, it is time to move onto new things! More specifically, NT wanted us to work on gaining mobility through May’s body. In her words, “It’s a lot of horse, and you need to be able to move it with not a lot of work.” Fair enough.

The first exercise was to pick up a trot and trot down the rail in a straight line. However, I would want her head facing towards the wall and her hindquarters off the wall at about a 40 degree angle, like the below. (May is the yellow line)

Dressage Exercixe 1

It seems simple enough. The issue? As soon as I put my leg on, May threw her whole body weight into my leg. Making us look more like this:

Dressage Fail

My reaction? I immediately start messing with my hands, get tense in my seat, and take my leg off. This is also known as doing everything wrong at once, and as a result, causing additional problems like our inability to even travel in the proper direction… along the wall. This is where my trainer gets tough. To paraphrase her instructions, “if she resists your leg, you need to keep your leg, and possibly even get tougher WITH. YOUR. LEG. until she yields. Then release the pressure. DO. NOT. release that pressure until she gives and don’t block the rest of her body with her hands and seat.”

Well Yes. Ok. Let’s do that. Except at the walk. We started at the walk to give us enough time to get the desired response as well as to help give me the opportunity to property time the aids so they would be clearest to May. (I was trying to signal the outside hing leg to step over as it came off the ground.) After having a discussion with May about how she needs to yield to my leg. No it doesn’t mean throw your body into my leg. No its doesn’t mean faster. No it doesn’t mean backwards. She finally stepped over with her hind leg away from my leg.

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Shenanigans from another time 🙂

May got big pats and all pressure released. Then, we tried again at the trot. She had a much more appropriate reaction to my leg, and we were able to tale a few steps along the wall at an angle, straighten out, then move back to the angle again without any fuss. We tried it the other direction and has similarly good results. Smart Mare!

Once finishing the exercise, I noticed an immediate, positive shift in May’s response to my leg. Instead of nagging with my inside leg to get some resemblance of bend, I was able to just close my leg and she moved around it. Brilliant!

The next exercise took things a bit further… and into the canter. Canter leg yields have been notoriously hard for May and I. I find she just runs through my hand and half halts instead of actually moving over. This drill required us to start against the rail and leg yield off the rail to the center of the arena. NT asked me to keep her in a slight counter bend and allow her to lead with the shoulder. It looked like this:

Canter Leg Yield

Our first attempt was off of the left lead and was abysmal. May threw her head up, ran through my hand, and on the half halt, broke into the trot. UGLY. My trainer asked me to try again, but this time to really open the left (inside) rein to help her understand where her shoulder should go. It couldn’t be that simple right? It couldn’t be that my countless failures at leg yield at the canter could be solved by opening my rein.

It was… it was that simple though. We came around the corner, got straight, got the slight counter bend, and leg yielded over. We then came across and did it again. No issues. Well then, okay.

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We then switched to the right, which is May’s more difficult direction. so difficult in fact, that we didn’t even get a proper canter transition. NT wasn’t going to allow us to get away with that, so we came back onto a 20 meter circle and did a few more T/C transitions until they were clean and reliable. Then we tried the leg yielding. May leg yielded… she also threw her head around in the air as much as possible in protest. NT just had me keep my hands quiet and to continue to ask her to move over. Right now, we were just focusing on getting the correct response to my leg.

All in all, it was a great lesson that left both May and I tired and sweating. It also gave us a lot to work towards. Unfortunately, she came out a bit footsore in the left front on Sunday, so we ended up doing hill work on some softer footing than our current arena. (Due to copious amounts of heavy rain early in the month, our outdoor is quite hard now that it has dried out). However, the fields are quite nice right now, and in her hoof boots, May was comfortable.

Saddle Search Update:

The saddle fitter came back and recommended a Black Country, since I told her in no uncertain terms that $5K was out of my budget. She told me specifically that I need to make sure any saddle I try has upswept panels in order for an 18″ to fit on May’s back. This is actually a great article (for arabians but on the issues I am having).

I have a used Black Country I may be interested in, but I am taking a Duett Bravo jumping saddle on trial to check it out. Thus far, the team at Duett has been helpful and responsive, so here is hoping it works out!

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!

03.26.17 – Dressage Lesson

Our first lesson since December, and as usual, it came with a few stupid epiphanies. I would even say it was riddled with stupid epiphanies. They started AS SOON as May and I started walking. That’s right. I couldn’t walk right.

Over the winter, we have worked a lot of May’s connection in the bridle being more steady. (aka – less head wagging, looking up to see what’s going on outside the arena, and truly engaging the hind end) All of this was actually very much improved and my trainer was impressed (yay!). What she was not impressed with was my new found love of pushing May past her point of balance.

May is not a big, fancy, expressive mover. She moves correctly, especially when fully engaged, but she’s not a horse that is ever going to have a massive walk stride. My solution? Just keep pushing… all the way past her balance. As a result, she get a forward but oddly stumbly and uneven walk. Literally my trainers words were, the bottom of the pyramid is rhythm, and you don’t have it. Well damn. So I sat in the saddle, quieted my hands and legs, and we immediately found a better walk. Alright, I got that.

Then we were asked to halt, and May’s head came up, she braced against me, and she stopped. So we proceeded to work on the walk/halt transitions. I would ask May to halt, and if she came off the contact, I would send her forward again… for about 10 minutes. Below is some of it. I was reminded that it might take 700 tries, but that on the 700th try, it would be great.

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We finally got a halfway decent walk, so we moved into the trot. In an effort to keep May on the contact, I was keeping her too keep in the contact, and she was falling behind the vertical. Luckily, May is, surprisingly, not a horse that loves being behind the vertical, so this was as easy as engaging my seat and lifting my hands. We did a few W/T/W transitions, but those were significantly better than the W/H/W transitions, so we didn’t dwell on them. We made some tweaks to how much bend I was asking for, but most of the trot work was just fine tuning, which was nice. We kept the tempo and energy slow to make our adjustments, so it’s definitely not the nicest looking trot May can muster, but it’s a great one for building strength and fine tuning our connection, rhythm, and balance.

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Then we went to canter. Before we cantered, I was told to sit the trot… We ended up cantering one circle, and sitting the trot for 15 minutes. I will fully admit that I do not sit the trot often. I am not great at it, and I am not light enough to be bouncing all over my horses back. However, my trainer had a good point. My horse does have a strong back, I need to have a sit-trot in my arsenal for training, and it won’t get better by ignoring it.

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I do what I believe most people do at the sit trot: I sit fine until I get unbalanced, then I try to correct with strength. The result is, I get stiffer and the sit trot get worse. The solution? For me, it’s to just keep moving my hips. Sometimes I am with the motion, and it works. Other times, I am not with the motion, but it is still better than being stiff. My trainer talked about how our bodies have the ability to rotate our hips in basically any direction except straight up and straight down, which is when we bounce. I am sure you see her in the video moving her hips around, attempting to inspire me. She is definitely the kind of trainer that rides “with” you!

Overall, it was a really good lesson. My new trainer (NT) teaches in a vastly different manner than my old one (OT). It’s almost the difference between having a task-based job, and an project-based job. In the former, you are assigned specific, short-term tasks with deadlines and a good deal of oversight. In a latter, however, you are given the overarching goal and are responsible for setting up your own tasks and deadlines to complete the project. Does that make any sense, whatsoever?

Basically The Best Pony Ever

Basically, if May started losing her rhythm with my OT, I would get very specific instruction on the timing of lifting this rein and applying this leg and changing my seat here. With my NT, she points out that we are losing our rhythm. It’s not that she doesn’t help me correct things more specifically, but she forces me to think about how I can solve a problem, rather than me simply following a set of directions to get a specific result. It is mentally exhausting, but I can already see the impact it is having on our rides outside of lesson.

Which do you prefer? Trainers that walk you through every step of your ride, or trainers that force you to come up with your solutions.

 

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.

course3

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.

 

Finally – Jumping Lesson

After our Dressage lesson, I had originally planned to spend the rest of week getting accustomed to some jumping again. I was going to focus on rhythm and impulsion over crossrails and small verticals (maybe 2’ max). Instead, I showed up on Saturday and my trainer asked if I wanted to join the weekly group jumping lesson. I was about 45 minutes early for it. My initial reaction was to tell her we weren’t ready for it. Instead, I asked her if it would be easy. She said it would be everyone’s first jumping lesson back, so I agreed to do it.

I am super happy I did.

 

The lesson started out with a quick flat warmup, asking us to get our horses thinking of moving forward and light. May and I are getting to be experts at this one. (Finally. This is hours and hours of just asking her not to run around on her forehand.) Then, we started with cantering through a set of poles to the right, getting the correct 6 strides, then adding for 7, then opening for 5. May was able to do the 6 and the 7 without any issues. The 5 was pretty elusive for us, as she doesn’t have a very big stride, so we ended with a 5.25 strides and called that close enough.

 

When we went to the left, we just asked for the regular 6 strides, since we were coming toward home. The first time through I over corrected for the change in direction and we got 6.25 strides. Then, I pushed through the line and got 5.75. My trainer and I got a bit of a laugh out of this, as I definitely have a more adjustable horse than I had last time I jumped.

 

Then, it was time to begin jumping. The goal of today was to make sure that everyone had breaks and had a positive experience (horses and riders). So we put up the first part of the line to a small vertical. We were asked to trot in and halt. May was actually really, really good about this. See below:

 

See? Not kidding. Really good. Which was great because the next step was to trot in, halt, and then trot out of the line. May was lazy off my leg and the small verticals didn’t entice her to try. Everyone tried this, but May and I didn’t have to try it again. The next time through, we had to canter into the line and canter out in the 6 strides then halt. How was May? Perfect again…

 


Oooook. So everything just kind of kept going really, really well. We did the one stride and halted without an issue.

 

Next up was the roll top then three strides to the pink vertical. This is not an easy exercise for May and I. May tends to fall out through her left shoulder and this was a left turn past the in-gate. As a result, we got crooked into the line and ended up doing 4 strides a couple of times. Finally, I figured out how to keep contact with my right rein and pushed my right spur (soft touch spurs) into her rib cage of the fence. And Voila! We got the 3 strides.

 

Then, we jumped the skinny to the Liverpool in 4 strides. This is the point May started to get tired. Can you tell? I can because all of a sudden her nice steady head start flinging around like she’s in a rock band. It’s her way of fighting me because she wants to drop back onto her forehand. Solution? Fitness. Fitness. Fitness.

 

From there, we added a 5-stride bending line from the first part of the outside line to the coupe. This was an awkward line, as you had to go almost a full 4 strides straight before turning to the coupe. Of course, that is also a jump that has no standards or wings, so you have to be pretty spot on with your steering. If you all remember, May and I have a history with this jump and May thinking that it was a stupid idea to jump it. Now though, she seems to have gotten over it, and she jumped it great. Our line was wonky and we got 6 strides. I landed and let my reins slip through my fingers and let her stretch down, and got told to put knots in my reins so I stop doing that and to do it again.

 

So here I am, in my mid-20s, knotting my reins so that I stop letting them slip through as soon as I finish an exercise. The next time through, we found the proper line and had no issues getting the 5 or making it over the coupe. I had no issues with letting my reins run through my fingers at the end, and we watched as others gave the line a go. For the most part, it was the same. Everyone had an awkward first attempt but found the first line on the second try.

 

Finally, it was time to string the whole thing together. Below is what the course looked like: (1. Purple Vertical, 2. Barrels, 3a. block oxer, 3b. America Vertical, 4a. Roll top, 4b. Pink Vertical, 5. Teal skinny, 6. Liverpool, 7. Purple Vertical, 8. Coupe)

Course.JPG

I also have video of how it went! For our first time back jumping, and the end of an hour long lesson, I am really happy with how I rode and how May listened.

May was tired and fought me a bit on staying light. In an (entirely misguided) effort to keep her light, I held onto my right rein entirely too much. By the end she was popping her whole shoulder through my right rein and leg (because endless nagging doesn’t make a soft horse). As a result, the bending line at the end ended up being a super direct line, and we got 4.25 strides. It was an ugly chip and May was exhausted, but I still see a lot of positives.

 

I think once we get the fitness back, May is going to be a super easy ride. We are able to start courses with the same forward rhythm as we are ending them on and the lightness of May’s forehand is allowing her to start finding her own spots without a whole lot of input from me other than maintaining the rhythm and the impulsion.

My #wcw everyday #may #eventing

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Things to work on include getting May to supple more on her right side. Again – as she gets tired, she gets disproportionately heavy on that side, which I am about 90% sure is the result of my weaknesses on that side. I also want to get May really fit again. My trainer suggested some interval training routines for us and recommended utilizing poles more in our flatwork. Of course, hill work is always encouraged.

06/27/2016 Clinic with Meg Kepferle

If you had asked me before the clinic with Meg Kep how I wanted it to go, I probably would have said that I would have liked to ride the best I have ever ridden, or May to go the best she has ever gone. However now that the dust has settled, I am so happy that wasn’t the case.

There were two BN groups in the clinic from my barn. Luckily, I was in the second group, so I got to watch the first group go. I got to see how Meg warmed riders up on the flat: finding a quiet 20M circle in the ring and working on getting each horse individually with the goals on getting them more connected and supple. None of the instructions was incredibly different from our regular trainer, but Meg offered up some different techniques and worded theories differently. Also, let’s face it, we always try to ride our hardest in front of someone who has never seen us ride before.

I only got to watch the beginning of the jumping session, where they introduced some of the “scarier” elements (aka a row of tires and a liverpool jump). Our liverpool is especially crazy looking, but it makes normal liverpools even less of an issue. Meg discussed the importance of understanding why a horse is disobeying: do they not understand or are they being rude? She said that the vast majority of refusals at items like ditches and banks is due to the horse not understanding the question.


Meg then walked each rider through her process of introducing these scarier elements. First, walking the horse past the object on both sides so they have an opportunity to read the obstacle without any pressure. Then, she had each rider approach at a trot, keeping their weight to the back of their saddle, and hands holding onto their neck strap. She felt that we should give our horses the opportunity to use their heads and necks to property reach and obstacle so they get more confident with it in time.

 

This seemed to work well with each horse. The only stops seemed to occur when riders allowed their hands to come up and they tried to package the horse too much to the base of the fence. This was also a great reminder to put my breastplate on, which I usually don’t use at home. (there isn’t much risk of my saddle slipping on flat, show jumping ground). Now, this was a bit different than what I have learned previously, which was to keep a horse’s balance back on its hocks and its head up. This ensures that a horse isn’t jumping the scary object out of balance, and further scaring itself. Meg offered a different technique that seemed to work through, which I am always grateful to add to my toolbox.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the rest of the first section to get ready for my section. May got tacked up in her Sunday best, while I broke out the white sunshirt, tailored sportsmans, and my show boots. Let’s be serious though, all anyone noticed of May was her ridiculously fluffy tail.

We walked out and hopped on and May felt realllllyyyy good. She was connecting to the bridle and allowing me to keep the contact on the outside rein like we have been practicing. She was forward and balanced and I was pretty pleased with her. Meg worked individually with the two other participants in my clinic, working on bending and rhythm and frame. Then, she started explaining the first jumping exercise and setting up jumps.


 

Now, I am used to being a bit overlooked. May is not a traditional eventer… or jumper… or Dressage horse… or riding horse at all. So of course I immediately jumped to that conclusion. Instead, Meg turned as she was setting up the jump to tell me that May just looked really correct. Of course, I was beaming like an idiot because I have spent soooo much time on this horse’s flatwork, and it is always nice to have it noticed.

 

The first exercise was a pole on the ground to a small raised pole and then we were told to leg yield at the canter out to the rail and then trot. May, in true May form, rushed over the cavaletti, jumped way over the raised pole, and then threw her head around on the landing side. Meg recommended that I sit very keep on the landing side and keep my hands together, moving them both to the outside together, instead of just opening the outside rein. So what did I do? I jumped the mini-gymnastic again, sat down in my saddle, and kept my hands (mostly) together. May did perform a little, mini, almost leg yield. Definitely something I want to try working on.

 

Then, Meg put the jump up and had us circle to the vertical. She instructed me to sit deep to the base, but to give with my reins a few strides beforehand, even if May makes a bid at the fence. Ok, I thought, I used to own a very forward horse, so I could do that. And I did. We were able to come around and just kept hitting the jump in rhythm. Maybe May is more capable of finding her distances than I was giving her credit for.

Then, we moved on to adding the liverpool oxer and continuing down the line in 5. Meg wanted us to do the line in 5, then 4, then 6. May and I had to be straight and forward to get the five. The first time in the line, May took a hard look at the liverpool. It was in a new location and now filled with dirty water. I kept my leg on and my hands forward, as Meg instructed, and she jumped over it, but we had 5 and a half strides getting out of the line.




We fixed it on the next attempt. Then Meg asked if I thought we could get four. I shrugged and said we would try. I gave it my best galloping effort, but May only ever got 4.5 strides. It was just too much of an ask, especially since she continued to jump up and over the oxer instead of across it. Below is the first jump in my attempt at 4. She is trying to stretch, but just puts her feet down too quickly.



After a short break, she had us try it in 6. But told me not to pull. Just to sit super deep and rock May back on her hocks. No luck. She dragged me down in 5, so Meg had us halt in the line  a couple of times. Then try again. We got 5.5 strides, and that was deemed close enough. May’s canter work is improving a lot, but it still isn’t that adjustable yet. Again, something to work on, even just with poles on the ground.

 

To continue to work on adjustability, Meg set up a 2 stride line with the skinnies through the diagonal. The first time through, May nailed it. After that, I just couldn’t find the distance. I think because I was prepping for the shorter distance, I was losing my rhythm to the first jump. May, of course, was super catty getting out of it, leaving all the rails up. Meg called her clever, which she is… to a fault.

Then of course, it was course time! The course wasn’t overly technical, but it required you to ride forward at the beginning and then have adjustability for the turn and combination at the end. Check out my awesome paint drawing of the course.

Capture

1. Blue triple bar

2. a) Roll top (this was a brand new jump and our first time jumping it)

2. b) 2 strides to a boring vertical

3. Liverpool oxer, now closer to Novice height.

4. Pink vertical, definitely Novice height

5. Tire Jump

6 a & b. Skinny combination in 2

 

So how did it go? Below is the video.

I had a bit of trouble getting into a rhythm for the first three jumps (story of our lives). I think May was a bit hot and tired by this point, and just wasn’t moving off my leg like she had been earlier in the day. The size of the Liverpool woke her up though, and she had great balance coming down the line. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t get herself up and over that line with how tired she was and hit both pretty hard. Then, she was determined not to knock the tire jump, and gave me a great effort over that one. The turn to the combination was tight, but she stayed in between my legs and hands and jumped well through it.

Overall, it was a nice round that was the perfect example of where we are right now. I don’t always make the best decisions and May still has some green moments left in her, but it is getting a lot prettier. Meg wanted me to stay concentrated on keeping my seat very deep in the saddle and to float my reins a bit. I.e. keep her balanced with my body without interfering with her head and neck. It was hard, but it produced some great jumping efforts! And she is right, May shouldn’t be looking for me to save her at the base of every fence. Incidentally, the clinic was exactly one year from my first show with May. I would say I see some improvement!


The last exercise was one of accuracy. We had to trot up to and jump over a single barrel. Meg told me to keep my hands forward, so I don’t interfere with her head and shoulders, but wide so that she can’t get too wiggly. I listened, and it worked! May looks super bored about the whole thing by this point.

Overall, I was left with a lot of great homework and a few more tools in my toolbox. Exactly what I look for in a clinic! Looking forward to getting back in the saddle and putting these things to use.

Show Prep and Show Goals

I am one of those people that uses my show prep time as a time to get myself feeling prepared, motivated, and competent. May and I will be facing our first recognized horse trial this Sunday at Kent School in CT. To be honest, this really shouldn’t be a significant step up from our last event, as the omnibus is listed as such:

“All courses: Inviting, for horses with some experience at each levels or as a first event at a move up level.”

And I have heard from a variety of sources that this holds true. That being said, I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to between the last show and this one. Namely – I didn’t get to go XC schooling to tackle our water issues. However, there were a lot of things I did do.

We put some pretty serious work into our canter transitions and our bending, and I have to say they have made great improvements. We have also found a lot of balance when jumping that should help us approach stadium and XC in a more confident manner. It’s even becoming very consistent! I even have proof!

 

The goal of my lesson last night was to warm up over only the far outside line and then put a full course together without piecing it together. We were then going to go back and correct the tricky parts. The problem with that plan? Our first attempt ended up being strong enough that both my trainer and I thought those should be our last jumps before the show! So without further ado, show goals:

Dressage: Score in the low 30s. I know I know, I scored a 30.3 last time out and I said we were improving. I did and we are, but this is our first recognized event and I would rather put in a relaxed, consistent test than try to push and end up with a tense test. Without pushing May, we likely won’t score in the 20s.

Show Jumping: Jump a clear round. Notice what you didn’t see above? You didn’t see any poles come down or any super close distances. May has been jumping better and rounder than ever before, and I just don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t ride to go clear.

Cross Country: I want to go clear. It doesn’t need to be perfect or smooth or inside the time, but I would like to ride every jump for a clear.

Attitude: Stay positive! This has been the biggest influence on my riding recently. I have implemented visualizing my courses, and I keep running through them until my mind doesn’t picture any mishaps. I have more than enough time for this on Sunday.

A Bad Mare Day

Spring has Sprung! Sort of… it was nearly 80F on Friday and then barely 50F for my lesson on Saturday. Given crazy end-of-the-month work stuff, May only got ridden on Wednesday, so I was expecting her to be a bit up for the lesson. After all, it was cooler, she only got ridden once that week, and our last jumping session was XC. What I wasn’t expecting was that May would also be in heat… She is usually very gelding-like, rarely paying attention to other horses or making faces or any of that other nonsense. 
  
In May’s defense, she was not set up for a happy ride. I had an 11:30AM lesson, but when I showed up at 11:00AM, the working students were just putting horses out. It was raining hard during the first couple of hours in the morning, but my horse got taken halfway to her paddock and then I had to grab her and lead her right back to her stall. May did not appreciate that kind of treatment. There was also no hay in her stall, which May considers a grave offense. 

Since they were still turning horses out, I opted to tack May in her stall. I do this a lot, especially when there is a lot of activity in the barn because it just means we aren’t in the way. Unfortunately, this time May decided to threaten to bit me when I did up her girth. She got a swift, firm, and clear correction before I was able to get the saddle back into place and do up her girth. Either way – it didn’t leave me feeling warm and fuzzy about the start of our lesson, and I decided May is losing her tack-up-in-stall privileges for a few weeks. Eventually, we will transition back to being able to tack up in a stall with a halter and lead rope because I think it’s an important skill for horses to have. They need to have manners and be safe in their stalls, end of story. 

Did I mention it was still kind of raining at the start of our lesson? Ugh. The lesson started out fine. My trainer had us go through a set of poles set up as a one stride to a three stride. She had us first do it at the trot, then do it at the trot in 2-point, then trot through the one stride part and do a transition to the walk before the last pole. She reminded me that this is something I really need to work on because May likes to ignore me when I don’t have a lot of weight in the saddle. I agreed, so I am putting it on the list. Plus, riding in 2-point a lot is great for overall strength and balance in the saddle. 

Then we started jumping, and May decided that XC jumping is a lot more fun than stadium jumping. When I got May, she had one “mode” for jumping. It was behind the leg, on the forehand, and with a very short stride. Currently, May has two modes of jumping – rocking back onto her hind end with a short stride or falling on her forehand on an open stride. 

    Example of the short stride and then the longer stride where she gets on her forehand and can’t make it out of the combination properly 

So it is a constant balancing act between forward and steady. Unfortunately, May hasn’t quite grasped the concept yet, so has decided that the best course of action is to ignore me and just run at jumps. We corrected this with a circle in front of each jump until she stopped locking on to them and blowing through the distances. 

However, this lesson also brought up another bad that my trainer called me out on. Over the years, I have ridden many very sensitive horses. As a result, I was alway very conscious of instantly rewarding them with a release of pressure as soon as an exercise was finished. This ended up morphing into dropping my reins and letting May putter to a walk as soon as we finished jumping something. What does this teach my horse? … Basically that she can ignore me and do things her way and still get that release of pressure. It also wasn’t helping May learn that forward, light canter that she needs. Fantastic. 
So my trainer had us finish each exercise with at least one circle at the canter to re-establish the canter I was looking for and then ask her to stay connected into a trot transition, trot with connection for a while, and then transition to a medium walk before allowing her to free walk. Eventually, this led to a fairly good end to the lesson where I was able to push through the combination instead of getting dragged to it, and May stayed in front of my leg without diving and running through the lines. 

   
Things to work on during our flat rides this week:

Get May (and me) more comfortable with the forward canter. Do lots of forward to collected to forward transitions to keep her light. 

Throw some good jumping into the middle of our flat sessions. This means establishing the canter I really love and keeping it all the way to the base of the fence and then re-establishing that canter on the other side of the fence and continuing our riding session. 

Ride in 2-point. I need it, and it would be good to do with 1 & 2 to help our cross country.

Ride for longer periods of time and more consistently. It is hard to me to remember sometimes that May is a lot more fit than when I bought her and she needs to be in a program to set her up for success. 

Be a lot more steady with my body. The indoor has mirrors, so I can work on this inside by myself. Everytime I see videos, I am upset by how much my upper body pumps. Definitely something to work on. 

Do some groundwork to make sure manners are still where they should be. I pride myself on having horses that anyone can handle on the ground. Obviously, a horse that threatens to bite doesn’t fall into that category, so this is a priority.