Tonight is my second to last jump lesson before our first BN competition in 3 (and a half) years. Nerves have been slowly creeping in and, along with them, purely irrational thoughts. (because the first rain KY has had in MONTHS definitely means that I have to have a full set of shoes, drilled and tapped for studs, put on my barefoot horse)
So I was sitting at work, doing work things stalking the Team Challenge entry list, and then I read the above quote. Ahead of all the last minute show prep, I figured I would look back on the last 6 months of prep and all that we have accomplished.
Basically, since April, May and I have been committed to our weekly jump lessons. If I am in the state, I am at the barn on Tuesday nights. There are some things that don’t make it into my blog posts a lot. Like all the times that I asked Mandy to make an oxer smaller or hesitated before a course.
The modifications that happened to ensure that I could give my horse the ride she deserved. Like making this small-ish oxer EVEN SMALLER to that I would ride forward to it.
In fact, this felt scary, and you can see me PLANTING my hands on my neck strap because that was as much as I could get myself to do.
But I kept showing up. I kept doing my homework. I kept working to rewire my brain. A few months later, and we have the photo above.
And then, we had this;
And then we had this:
Fear and anxiety are still there. Every. Ride. But it gets better with every good ride I get under my belt. It gets better as Mandy keeps filling my toolbox and confidence bucket, ride after ride.
Would it be great to come home with some satin from Team Challenge? Hell yes. Does it really matter? No. Not really. What really matters are these videos above. The changes in my riding AND in my horse for the better. I can confidently say that the hours leading up to October 19th and 20th are worth WAY MORE to me than the results of this singular show.
This is me. This is me when the weather finally drops below 90 degrees. Seriously, it has been glorious. Want to know what’s even better it FINALLY RAINED yesterday into today. Sure there may be flash flooding, and I had to weave through puddles to get to work today, but Kentucky has been in basically drought conditions and everything has been dead. ON TOP OF THAT, the ground has basically been CONCRETE for the last month.
Even arenas with good footing have fallen into basically being concrete with sand on top. ugh. So I am super happy to see the weather turn.
You know who else is happy?
This oddly shaped polar bear. How happy was she about the cooler weather? Well we decided to go for a trot set on Friday evening. Towards the end, I let her canter a bit. No big deal. Then, I asked for a little more canter, and… well, I felt May’s body drop out from underneath me as she TOOK OFF.
You know that combination of trying to say whoa and laughing? If you don’t, trust me, it’s not very effective. I think May thought for about a stride more and realized that I probably wasn’t asking for a flat out sprint, so she came back to the quiet hand gallop I had actually asked for. Oh well, a happy mare is a happy mare.
On Saturday, the weather was even cooler, as we snuck in an earlish ride with some friends. The joy of friends? MEDIA! (kidding because I love you all even if you don’t take video for me). Below is a really boring super exciting to everyone I swear Dressage video of us running through our Dressage test in our not-to-size arena.
Overall, May feels good, but not great during our tests. We need to clean up the canter transitions (forever and always). So that will be the main focus of our flat rides. The rest? I am just going to accept as is. Everything could be better, but I am more concerned with getting her fitness up a bit more and getting myself confident in the jumping.
May was FEELING her oats at our lesson this week. She’s been in pretty solid work lately, so I wonder if the other saddle really was causing her to suck back a bit. Either way, it made for an interesting jump lesson.
We started with a baby gymnastic. Short turn, three poles, vertical. Now if you all remember, this short turn is basically my nemesis. May is…. not a sports car and keeping impulsion, balance, and power steering is a forever kind of struggle. However, we got it going pretty well, and it really got her tuned into my outside aids. (you know… almost like it was built to do exactly that….)
It started low but eventually built up to the above. You can see May being a bit more resistant to my right hand, which really just felt like a symptom of her being super forward.
Once we nailed that exercise, we moved onto a short course. Through the gymastic, up the pink, bending 6 strides to the liverpool, then down the diagonal in 5.
How’d it go? Fine… except that she just kind of ran past the distance to the yellow jump in the first part of the diagonal. Ooooook. Thanks mare. Mandy reminded me to, you know, maintain rhythm, and we moved onto a more complicated course.
Through the gymnastic, bending 4 to the red, white and blue vertical. (Yeah, that got a hairy eyeball from me, but rode great). Then, left turn to the pink, bending to the liverpool again. Then the yellow and around to the skinny blue “block”.
Whew! Lots of related distances, turns, and different questions in a rather short course. The first time through, the first line rode GREAT. Then… we got in a bit of a disagreement TURNING to the pink. But I got her straight and she jumped the SNOT out of it from a longish distance.
However, I made ZERO corrections going to the liverpool, and it rode in 5.25 strides. Cool. I made a BIG correction to the yellow, which felt ugly, but she jumped it ok. Finally over the blue box, which rode easy peasy.
All the jumps stayed up (yay), but there was definitely room for improvement. As the saying goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I suddenly had a horse that was really thinking forward, and I had to be a bit faster and more decisive with my corrections to smooth things out. We did the same course again, and I am REALLY happy with it.
To my, the big difference between the video from yesterday and the video from March is how forward thinking May is and how decisive I am in my decisions. Is it perfect? Nah. I could nitpick every. single. fence. However, I had a plan, and I went out and executed that plan.
I am also SUPER happy with how confident May feels. Even just a few months ago, the higher height of the red white and blue and yellow jumps would have backed her off. Now, she is hunting down those fences without blowing past my half halt. (When used correctly and decisively).
Both videos are below, but let’s just say, I am super excited to get out in less than a month!
Typically, when I tack up for a jump lesson, I find myself battling some internal demons. It is usually a process of dragging myself to the barn and forcing myself to grab my jump bridle. Not because I don’t like jumping. Honestly, I LOVE IT. There is NOTHING better than the feeling after a great jump school.
However, I battle a lot of anxiety around jumping. Most days, that anxiety makes me want to run to Dressage. But then, last night happened.
Last night was the worst set up. I got stuck at work a half hour late (but have an amazing trainer who DIDN’T EVEN CONSIDER canceling on me…. is it too early to start thinking of Christmas gifts??). Then the pressure had me sporting an INCREDIBLE headache. When I finally got tacked up, it started down pouring. Annnnnd I forgot my regular jumping bit in my show trunk because I had switched to a gag bit for the hunter pace.
Oh, and yes, that hunter pace IS the last time we jumped.
However, I am not sure if it was the combination of knowing we now have a show on the calendar, the cooler weather, or the brand new jumps in the arena… but I was DYING to jump. Luckily, Mandy was cool about waiting even LONGER to start my lesson as we waited out the rain storm. SO. SO. THANKFUL.
When we got out there, the footing was perfect, but all the jumps had that “shimmery” quality jumps get when they have water sitting on top of them near sunset. No big deal.
We warmed up through an exercise that focused on moving May off my inside leg and connected with my outside aids for canter/trot/canter transitions. This went mostly ok.
We warmed up over a small course that, honestly, went really well. I had a bit of trouble getting May really in front of my leg in the bigger bit (UGH), but figured it out by the end of the course and my second attempt was good.
Then, we moved onto a longer course. Single diagonal, triple line, skinny vertical, bending line to oxer, roll back, then sharp bending line to a vertical. WHEW! The first attempt was good. The second attempt tho, was EVEN BETTER.
Not only was the second attempt better, but the jumps were bigger. And you know what? I really wasn’t nervous. The entire lesson. No nerves. WHO AM I?
Are there things to fix? Of course. Am I going to get nervous in the future? Of course. But last night was FUN from start to finish. I might write a more in depth post about this lesson, but for now, I am just going to bask in my love for this little yellow horse.
This Saturday practically the entire barn emptied out in order to attend a hunter pace put on by a local hunt group. The day was nearly perfect with temps in the mid 80s, sunshine, dry ground, a little bit of a breeze, and low humidity.
From last year, I knew that the course would be about 45 – 50 minutes long with a few water crossing and a bunch of jumps, almost all of which were jump-able for May and I. Last year, we lost a shoe, which kept us from jumping most things, but this year, my goal was to jump pretty much everything.
This year, I also remembered to grab my cambox! While I have the ENTIRE 45 minutes pace on video, I picked out a few clips that are, in my opinion, the most interesting. Eventually, I will get the whole video up on youtube, but that is a project for another weekend. I figure, as a result, it makes sense for this post to follow a similar highlights reel haha.
The start of the pace was a line of a few, smaller jumps, which I think everyone in my group easily popped over. Actually, now that I think about it, May was the least experiences horse in the group, as every other horse had gone at least Training. Oh well, she was the best as far as I am concerned. 😉
When we got to the first water crossing, I had a slight spike in nerves. Last year, May launched herself awkwardly over every water crossing. One of which ended up with the butt of my crop colliding with my lip and lower teeth… which of course left a GIANT bruise and a nearly busted lip. This year, I have a new set of head-shots scheduled at work on Thursday so… COULD NOT afford to have a busted face.
Luckily, all the work we have been doing with water obstacles seems to have paid off. May took a look at the water, decided where to put her feet, and then stepped carefully through the mud/water/rocks. Good girl!
One of the big elements of this hunter pace is this GIANT HILL coming out of the woods. You can see the video of it in the below instagram post. BUT what you can’t really tell is the fact that May’s ego got a bit bigger than her legs. Halfway up the hill, one of the teammates went to pass us on the OTTB she was riding. Normally, this makes total sense. Big OTTB has a huge gallop stride vs. May and May isn’t one to get pissy.
EXCEPT, this time, May decided she was going to RACE the nearly 17h OTTB. Halfway up the hill, she suddenly SUNK down and TOOK OFF. I took the audio off the video because it was literally just me HOWLING with laughter. Oh mare. ❤
The middle of the pace kind of went along similarly. Although, I could tell May got pretty frustrated towards the middle with the stop/go/stop/go rhythm we had. Luckily, my group was great so we took a nice long walk break in the middle and then spent most of the last few minutes just going forward.
In fact, so forward, that I jumped the biggest XC jump I have ever jumped on May… As we cantered towards the coup in the below video, I was convinced that it was only like BN height. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out why two of our teammates were skipped it. I figured they just weren’t interested in jumping on the slight downhill. So I cantered down to it… and about the time the below GIF starts, I realized it was quite a bit bigger than I anticipated. In true adult amateur form, I proceeded to chip into it.
I later learned that it was about Novice height, but the downhill approach may make it more of a training level fence… go figure. May, as usual, couldn’t have cared less and thought all the jumping was great.
All in all, it was a SUPER fun day. I am hoping to get more media, so maybe you all will get a wordless Wednesday out of the rest of it.
To start, May probably wasn’t a total perfect princess last night in our lesson, but she was still totally amazing. Also, I like alliteration. I only got to ride May once this weekend since my mom was in town for a visit. However, since I had someone with me on Saturday, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work continue to work on the idea of May listening my cues regarding what lead to land on over fences without sacrificing our balance, rhythm, or straightness.
We popped over a few fences to warm up. Again, I just kept the emphasis on landing on the lead I was asking for, and she was really listening and getting into the “game”. I decided that we would go for pulling a little course together.
Then I jumped around a little course. After the first line, she landed on the left lead (her favorite), even though we were clearly turning right after it. I corrected her by moved her off my right leg before picking up the canter again. We popped over a little vertical over a liverpool to change directions. (Again, no issues landing on the left lead).
Then, I decided to really test my correction. I jumped a vertical diagonal and then made right, bending line, to an oxer with the intention of turning right after the oxer. This did a couple of things. It gave May the opportunity to fall through her right shoulder while turning right, while also finishing at a jump that is square to the rail (i.e. could easily turn right OR left after).
And you know what? She landed on the right lead. So I gave her pats and let her be done with that.
So last night, I came out to my lesson with the plan of working on the same concept over a longer, more complicated course. (outside line, diagonal, bending line isn’t exactly a SJ course…) As always, Mandy did not disappoint.
The first exercise was a gymnastic along the short side of the arena. It contained 4 rails as one stride bounces, an oxer, one stride to a last placing rail. Since it was set along the short side, you only really had one or two straight strides before the first pole and had to turn immediately after the placement pole after the jump. AND we came at the whole thing from our right lead.
The first time through? I kicked May past her point of balance and, while she fixed it because she’s awesome, it was not pretty. We came through again, and I figured out the right balance, while maintaining the forward. Like all my jumping, I had to really remember to move her right shoulder over coming around the turn to help us stay straight.
Mandy put the oxer up a bit, and we cruised through again. By this point, May had figured out the game, so it became my job to keep her as straight as possible. Even when I didn’t do the best job of that, she still landed on her right lead, so I felt pretty confident about our ability to bring that new still over to course work.
Our first course was over the liverpool, bending to the black oxer, right turn to the pink oxer, and around to the yellow line. There were a couple of bogies in this course. First, the liverpool was on the ground with no standards or anything over it, so it was a bit like riding a ditch. Fun fact, May could care less about ditches but always puts a HUGE effort over liverpools the first time she jumps them.
This time was no exception as she jumped a bit long with her knees around her eyeballs and even jumped us past our line a bit. As a result, I had to really contain the right shoulder and get her super straight to the oxer. We ended up a bit right of center but were straight as a pin, so it rode great.
The left turn to the pink oxer was a hard turn for us. It was both away from home and a sharp left turn. I wrangled the right shoulder a bit late (when we were almost already out of the turn), and then didn’t have the impulsion I needed. I added leg, but the distance wasn’t there. HOWEVER, I am super happy that I made the decision to add leg vs. either making NO decision (my favorite) or pulling (also my favorite). May can get us out of most ugly situations as long as I ride forward.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t get our right lead over the pink oxer. I corrected it, and came down to the yellow line. Now, it is worth noting that the yellow line was deliberately set at 4.5 strides. I find that once you get above 4 strides, it becomes a bit of a choice on a horse like May regarding if you want to add or ride the forward stride. The first time to it, she jumped a bit under the oxer coming into it, and just lost her balance on the landing side, so I gave a fairly firm correction (deep seat, leg on, lifting hands).
It was the right call though, since the firm correction during the first 2 strides allowed me to soften into the last five strides. AND it left her in a good enough balance to land on the right lead. (on Saturday, this was the jump where she wanted to always land left). Not a perfect first course, but one where I made good decisions and May listened to me.
At this point, Mandy got to listen to my word vomit about all the things I needed to do the next time. Seriously, I am not sure how that woman puts up with me. No matter how long-winded I get in my blog posts, trust me, I am WAY MORE rambly in person. However, here were my takeaways:
Keep my right leg on over my liverpool, so we don’t shoot past the line for the oxer.
Counter bend a bit BEFORE the turn to the pink so that I can wrangle that shoulder early and then ride forward through the corner.
I have a long ride from the pink to the yellow line, so make sure that, while i need to push her forward for a bit, I get the balance back BEFORE the oxer.
So we did it again, and I WISH I had video of it. (It kept raining on and off last night, so made it a bit hard to have the phones out.) This second time, though, we added in the purple line, which was a vertical, on stride, to an oxer off the right lead. This was set for a true one stride, so a bit open for May.
As expected, the liverpool jump was a bit more reasonable this time, so I got a better line to the oxer. I landed and checked in on that right shoulder before riding forward around the turn. I know you are all shocked to know that the pink rode super well when I did my job.
Again, she landed on the left lead after the pink. (UGH) However, this time I just kept the counter canter. She jumped MUCH better over the yellow oxer, and I saw the four strides being RIGHT there. So I just kept my shoulders back and my leg on, and it was easy peasy.
I cut the right turn to the one stride. I KNOW I KNOW. BUT I did get SUPER straight to it on a nice open stride and May happily pinged through it. All the pats, all the cookies. Good girl! At that point, we decided to be done. It wasn’t a ton of jumping, but with a hunter pace this weekend, I wanted to keep it a bit on the lighter side.
Don’t worry though, Mandy got a solid 8 minutes of word vomit after that round too. Mostly about how I actually executed on my plan and how May actually listened to me and OMG isn’t she the BEST.
If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at. Right?
I was pretty impressed when I came out on Sunday and May was ready to play. I started my Dressage ride with some pretty strict rules for my. INCLUDING, sticking my crop under both thumbs to keep my hands from doing funky things or wandering. I know everyone is shocked to hear that doing this meant May came pretty reliably into the contact, including bending in both directions without my hands having to enter much of the conversation.
After a quick warm up, we played with some turns on the haunches, which were actually pretty good. So I moved into the shoulder-in exercise on a 20M circle. The left, as expected, was great. And the right was pretty good too. She was able to give me a few steps of true shoulder in. Instead of drilling this willingness, I let her drop down into the contact and switch directions after each good attempt.
Alright, so then I figured we should play with the shallow counter canter loops. We picked up the right lead first… and when I got to M, I directed her to the quarter line, then bent back to F, wash and repeat on the other side. It was OK. I still didn’t feel like she was really wrapping around my inside leg. Again though, I didn’t want to discourage the try or drill it. So we moved onto the other side and repeated…
Or at least, I went to repeat… and she immediately spooked at the corner of the arena. It was one of those moments where she was spooking, and I was looking around trying to figure out what she was spooking at… mid spook. No clue, so I circled around, and it was now a non issue. Maybe she saw something through the door. Maybe she felt I was getting too comfortable up there. Who knows.
Either way, we repeated the same counter canter loops with pretty much the same results. Ugh.
So I stopped for a minute. What was I trying to achieve? As always, I am trying to quicken the hind end and shift more weight backwards while improving jump. Sooo I decided to pick up the right lead again and try some baby shoulder fore. I mean… not even totally three tracks, just offsetting the shoulder to the inside.
May’s reaction? Well, I am apparently the MOST UNFAIR MOM EVER. Seriously. I half halted, asked for the bend, put my inside leg on, moved my hands over, shifted my weight, and she started flinging her head around.
I swear, I ended up with mouth foam on my helmet. I was just sitting there, no contact in my hand, just maintaining the bend with my leg and seat, staring at her like…. As soon as she softened, I let her go back to straight. I asked one more time, less dramatics, and I let her be done with a lap of stretchy trot around the arena and a nice walk hack.
Fingers crossed that it translates to our next Dressage ride with less drama.
It’s always interesting to compare how training is so different from showing. At shows, the goals is to keep all the rails in the cups (and do the million other things required to make this one thing happen). However, in training, we sometimes need to correct the issues that sometimes pop up and cause those rails to go down. When I got May, the biggest issue was balance.
Then, we started trying to get more forward while maintaining this balance, and things fell apart for a while.
Then… we moved to KY hahaha. So this really didn’t get fixed for a while. Recently though, this balance and forward thing has REALLY been coming together.
However, when I was watching Mandy ride May last Tuesday, I realized that she was having to make some pretty clear corrections. Almost all of these corrections were keeping the straightness to the base of the jumps.
Go back, rewatch that last video. Do you see what I see? I see a rider who tries to get her horse straight coming out of the corner, and then about three strides away from the fence, just gets soft and let’s her horse get crooked. That rider is me hahaha. I don’t hold May to any real standard as we get to the base of the jumps, and many times, it costs us our balance over the fence and on the landing side. When the jumps get bigger, it gets even more obvious.
So when I showed up to my lesson on Tuesday, I asked for one thing: Teach me to make corrections to the base of fences even if it means an ugly jump. As I soften over those last three strides, I just invite May’s right shoulder over. Sooo we want to land on our left lead and fall a bit right through our turns after our fences. UGH
The lesson started out pretty conservatively. We went down the line near the seating area next to the ring that Mandy did last week. It was set on a short turn to an open 3 strides. So Mandy had us come in with more collected canter, get super straight, and stay straight and collected for four strides.
First time? A bit rough, as she popped her shoulder right over the first fence. Second time? She tried to blow through me and we got 3.5 strides. Third time? Finally nailed it in a soft and even four. Then we had to get it in three, and I sliced around the corner and made it all ugly and ugh. We finally nailed that though, and went out to do a course.
The course had several jumps set off the short side of the arena, so you really had to square your turns, get straight, and be prepared for another square turn after. May though? She felt she had all the time in the world and could counter canter all the things. (We did A LOT Of jumping out of counter canter this week by pure default). We did the same vertical to oxer line Mandy did and then beant it to the three stride we warmed up through and… I COULD NOT nail this.
I could not get the right lead over either of the jumps set off the short side. I kept pushing too much through the bending line to the oxer, almost getting 4 strides instead of 5 at one point, and I kept slicing the turn to the last line. At times, May threw her head up and had full meltdowns when I insisted that she not fall through her right shoulder. It was… not pretty, but I could feel the holes in our training. As a result, Mandy and I figured out a plan to fix them, complete with my own homework.
For now, the plan is to continue to work on her responsiveness on the flat and to add in smaller verticals or large crossrails and loop through them with straight approaches and lots of changes in direction.
Definitely not the jump lesson that leaves you on a high of confidence, but it was so necessary at this point.
Last week was the first week in a long time where I only rode my horse once. On Tuesday, my trainer rode her, and I had all the plans in the world to ride on Thursday evening. Then… I got stuck at work until almost 7:30PM. UGH. Friday wasn’t an option because #Life. And then Saturday I had some adulting duties to attend to.
So Sunday, I got to the barn relatively early (before 9AM), and I pulled May out of the field. (Turns out, if it’s not too hot out yet, she is right near the gait eating grass. Good to know.) I threw her in her stall to give her a chance to drink some water, as I pull out my tack. Her field has an automatic waterer, which I have seen her use many times, but when the grazing is good, May would much prefer damp grass over actual water. (I feel the same way about a milkshake vs. actual water)
By the time I threw tack on, it was around 9:30, and I was already covered in sweat. Glorious. Given that she hadn’t been ridden since Tuesday, I figured I would do a fitness ride. 5 min of walk. 4 sets of 3 min of trot with 1 min of walk in between. 2 sets of 2 min of canter with 1 min walk in between. 5 min walk. Total ride, about 32 minutes with about half of that walking.
The cool think about our farm is there is ALMOST a complete track loop around the property. Unfortunately, it is kind of disrupted by the arenas/indoor/driveway. and it is super hilly between the arenas and the paddocks, so you can only really walk up and down that section.
My solution? I started looping and reversing direction through the arena, since the gaits are left open enough to trot though them (with some caution). I for sure wouldn’t canter through them, and I probably wouldn’t have done this if anyone else was riding in the outdoor, but it was just me and May. It worked out really well, especially since one loop around what part of the loop is available is about 1.5 minutes of canter. Winning.
I figured May was going to be kind of forward and want to blow through my half halts, so I was surprised when she came out kind of behind my leg. I think I spent the first two trot sets kicking her along and wishing I had my Dressage whip with me. Oh well, notes for next time. She really does not like the heat.
However, a ton of walk breaks meant that, by the time we were done, she was hot and tired but not overly uncomfortable. We just about broke a full body sweat before finishing, so I figure that’s a job well done in this weather. How did May feel about it though? Less than enthused.
We are approached three years since I moved to NJ. Ever since moving, I have been striving to get back to a place where I felt I was when we left. We had been competing at BN and, in my head, were totally comfortable cruising around that height. The other day, I shared a post on my insta from a clinic I took around that time (full blog post here).
And it’s a decent photo. That saddle never did me any favors, but you can clearly see our efforts to move down the line. In a moment of nostalgia, I decided to dig up the video and give it a watch.
Wait… what? I remember it being VERY hot and humid that day, but there is a lot going on here not related to the heat. Mainly, why on green Earth are we SO crooked. AND, as always, I remember the jumps being bigger hahaha.
This can’t be right, I decided, so I looked up another video from that time.
What do I see? A horse that is pretty far behind my leg. One that isn’t comfortable in a more uphill balance with power, and a rider who has decided that sucking back around corners and gunning it down lines is the best way to ride… oops.
None of this is a reflection of my trainer at the time. May really only had a few months of eventing training under her belt at this point, and I had some serious PTSD from my previous horse. (aka – riding forward was NOT my thing). Honestly, it is shocking that she got me to jump anything larger than 2′ at all at this point.
Then I had a moment of… maybe my lessons recently haven’t been going as well as I thought. So I went back and watched one…
And this is why media is so important. That last video shows a forward horse who is clearly more comfortable at that balance (and not DIVING at fences) and a rider who has learned to put her leg on.
So my advice to everyone this weekend? Just keep on trying. I promise, you are getting somewhere. Happy Friday friends!