Lesson Recap: Installing Rideability over Fences

As I mentioned last week, one of the main differences between foxhunters and eventers is the expectation of rideability, or being able to rate the horse between fences. It was fully disclosed to me that this was therefore a work in progress with Jack- that his whole life he has either trotted or galloped fences, and so the idea of a showjumping canter was still being installed. [For comparison, here’s our lesson from 3 weeks ago:]

Last week I had a lesson where Jack was in full-fledged foxhunting mode. He warmed up beautifully on the flat, but fences, even teeny tiny ones, were way more exciting than necessary, and half halts were completely ignored. So I went home and worked on cantering him over poles, where he was still tense/stiff but maybe not fully running as he had been previously. The plan was made that for our next lesson I would warm him up and the trainer would get on him for a training ride to feel out the situation.

As you can see, I ended up riding him the whole time. After warming him up and feeling like I had a buttery hunter in my hands, I cantered him back and forth over a pole like it was the easiest thing in the world. So we continued on, and if the running came back then we would swap riders. It didn’t, and I had a lovely and rateable horse throughout the schooling. It was such pleasure to be able to work with a light contact and feel him respond to my half halts. We kept all the fences small so we could focus on other things, and just in case he was a bit sore from his increase in work. But even when he got a bit tired at the end of the lesson, Jack was still the perfect gentleman, and we finished with a huge smile on my face and lots of treats for the palomino pony.

Our entry went off today for our first show together- a schooling Horse Trials about an hour away. We’ll just be doing Maiden, but this lesson gave me hope that it will be a great confidence building outing for us both!

Foxhunting vs Eventing

While Huntseat is supposed to originate out of the foxhunting world, it could be argued that as the equestrian sports are today, foxhunting and eventing- the cross country phase of eventing, that is- are most closely related. And yet still there’s a lot that separates the two.

Jack has been a foxhunter, or a foxhunting reject, all his life before being started as an event horse last year. I hunted first flight with the Mecklenburg Hounds and was an active member from middle through high school. This helps me appreciate his quirks and the holes in his training that relate specifically to eventing.

Jumping Natural Obstacles
This is easily the best advantage a foxhunter has when transitioning to eventing- experience over natural obstacles. And this is definitely Jack’s forte. While most jumps found on the hunt country are simple logs, coops, and walls/verticals, and understanding of how to negotiate terrain and solidly built questions is a handy quality in the eventing world.

Jack says What be these sticks I jumping?

Jumping with Balance
There are no bonus points for pretty out in the hunt field. Your objective is to survive to hunt another day. Much of the jumping therefore is a sort of get-er-done deal, with the goal being getting from the front side to the back side of the fence. The flight you are in typically determines the speed at which you hunt- first flight stays with the huntsman and therefore sees the most speed and challenging aspects of the hunt. Second flight, and/or Hilltoppers, often includes hunting novices or younger participants and was a walk/trot group in the club I participated in. So, jumping generally happens one of two ways- from a trot or from a gallop. The rideability and, more specifically, ‘showjumping canter’ needed for stadium rounds or technical combinations in cross country is not typically installed in a foxhunting horse.

Tolerance for Dogs
The hounds make the hunt. And years of thoughtfully produced programs and breeding are put into these [occasionally dumb] creatures, so they are a highly valued, even blessed part of foxhunting. Probably the fastest way to get kicked out of a hunt is to have your horse kick or injure a dog. This is one of the reasons why Jack is a foxhunting ‘reject’: not because he was a hound-kicker, but that the large groups of hounds baying, barking, and generally being completely underfoot was more than he wanted to handle. In eventing, this isn’t shouldn’t be a concern, as dogs aren’t meant to be part of the action at all on the cross country course.

So many opinions about this I can’t even.

Colors
Lord only knows how much we eventers love our colors. Gold, green, red, royal blue, orange… Life’s a box of crayons for us, and we go hog wild for that shit. Foxhunting? Not so. This is likely the place that Hunter-Jumpers relate to foxhunting still in the strictest ways. There are purposeful rules about who can wear what color jacket, with red being reserved for staff and dark colors for everyone else. For safety reasons this makes sense- you need to be able to see and follow the staff across miles of countryside. Imagine trying to pick out a staff member if everyone dressed as eventers do? Yeah, there’s not enough whiskey in the world to make foxhunters adopt lime green and orange as their attire.

Following the huntsman on my fuzzy pony

While I have every hope and intention of making Jack a successful event horse, it’s important to remember that all of this is a slightly different world than he is used to!

Adventures in Horse Shopping: How did we do?

Remember that ISO ad that traveled the interwebs? Well now that I am 7 weeks into owning the Barbie Dream Horse, let’s see how he compares to the initial requests in my unicorn hunt.

Adult amateur seeks fancypants unicorn in ultimate champagne on a beer budget scenario.
In budget? Check. Bonus: Champagne colored.

Prefer warmblood or warmblood X gelding, at least 15.3 hands tall and between the ages of 3 and 9.
Check. 9 yr old German Warmblood sticking at 16.3h. A bit bigger than I need but beggars can’t be choosers.

16.3h, most of which is shoulder.

Must have great brain, preferably canine-like personality and cuddly tendencies. A forgiving nature, for those amateur moments, is an absolute requirement. Need not be able to memorize show jumping tracks, but being able to count jumps would be helpful to this occasionally ditzy eventing DQ.
Great brain- got it, despite his tendency to notice everything. Personality-wise, he’s still blossoming, but is a big fan of chewing on his lead rope (or sneakily eating the right rein when I’m not looking). Definitely a cuddler, and thank goodness he’s forgiving of my rusty jumping game.

Suspension and athleticism important. And by suspension, I mean that of a Porsche or Audi, not a Model T.
Decent gaits- we has them. I don’t know cars that well (obviously)… maybe we’re like a new Volvo? Are those nice? Whatever, I drive a Kia.

Prospective owner seeks to be competitive in the dressage court up to 3rd level and in the eventing irons, that is, if she can remember her courses. Proven jumping ability preferred, but willing to survive training a green but willing jumper as well.
Horse can definitely jump, and probably fits the green-but-willing-jumper description. We’re going to be working on learning how to canter fences and not trot/gallop them. And that’s OK.

Horse will receive almost daily attention from prospective owner, be taught ridiculous tricks like smiling and bowing, and in general be spoiled rotten. As such, the horse must in turn tolerate copious amounts of picture taking, both as the subject of his new owner’s photography experiments, but also on a routine basis for the purpose of bombarding the blogosphere and social media channels with their presence.
Welcome to the blogosphere, Jack, aka Jack-Jack, aka Barbie Dream Horse, aka Goldenboy, aka Blondie. Thanks for giving me new things to write about. And photograph. Side note- we are already working on smiling.

Besides being sound of mind, horse must be sound of body. While this amateur owner has become efficient at wrapping, icing, hand walking, and bonding with vets, she would like to turn her attention to other hobbies. Like riding. Lemons need not apply, and you better believe there will be a pre-purchase exam.
Besides a few unsightly blemishes and a need for more conditioning…. I’m going to knock on wood right now.

In return for meeting these lengthy and lofty requirements, any future horse will be held on a pedestal above all others, if not in the judges’ eyes, then in his owner’s. He will receive the best of care at a top-notch facility, have his legs and feeding regimen obsessed over at length, and be stuffed full of cookies at every horse show. Oh, let’s be serious—he’ll be stuffed full of cookies on the daily. And with all hope, he will be a lifelong partner.
Yes, yes, and hopefully very much yes.

Lesson Notes 7-22

Somehow I survived my two lessons on Saturday, and both horses lived to tell the tale as well. And considering whatever the heat did to potentially addle my brain, in addition to my head already spinning with deadlines and the impending show this weekend, I find that I need to jot down the things I learned from those lessons while I still remember.

TC’s Dressage Lesson:

  • Conservative and correct is better than up tempo and tense
  • Sit into the canter transition (and keep mentally reminding myself to push him off the right leg from time to time)
  • Keep my elbows heavy and hands low
    • TC can be a head wagger occasionally- keeping my hands low and together (thinking about having a low center of gravity) stops his mouth from taking on any movement that happens as a result of posting with my elbows up high
  • Think about 10 meter circles as 2 halves
  • Prepare early for transitions- TC needs more time to process than I realize
  • Look out on the stretchy circle to maximize the number of steps available
  • Think about walk in the transition from lengthening trot to working trot- show off the “coming back”

Jack’s Jumping Lesson:
I had a very different horse under me for this jump lesson, despite the near three-digit temperature. Jack came out and was much stronger than I was used to, which is a result of his getting fit and building confidence. It’s also a direct reflection of his time as a foxhunter, where I was told that he was taught to either trot fences or gallop them. While we worked on managing his stride in front of the fence, trainer had some words of wisdom:

I’m going to take the suspense out of the situation for you. You’re going to have some ugly jumps for a while.

And well, as you’ll see in the video, she ain’t wrong. Here are the other tidbits that I need to stick in my skull moving forward:

  • Our flatwork is coming together (yay!) but I need to remember to not camp my legs out in front of me
  • As he gets stronger/fitter, I shouldn’t be surprised about his wanting to take the bit
    • Add a running martingale to allow for more control
      • Keep my hands up and reins short for same
  • Do not lean for the lead
  • Hold to the fence, then be sure to release as his front legs lift off

Between fences, we also chatted about goals. I would like to do a recognized show by the end of the year, and we decided to aim for Stable View at the end of September as a result. Even if showjumping looks a bit ugly, we should be able to get around a Beginner Novice course by then as long as I stick with the program. And with lots of schooling options between now and then, including a clinic in a few weeks, we should have a lot more experience under our belts as a pair before taking on Aiken!

 

Cross Country Schooling at the Horse Park

This weekend, Jack and I made our first ‘big’ outing together, heading all the way to the Carolina Horse Park to school the cross country course ahead of their War Horse Show. While we’ve been off property quite a bit at this point, we haven’t been anywhere that would have a show-like atmosphere. Schooling at the horse park allowed me to see how Jack would be in a place with lots of other horses [literally] running around, trailers, tents, flowers, etc. And I was so impressed!

Jack is officially self-loading at this point, and hopped on the trailer for the 2 hour trek to the horse park. I loved that he actually was eating his hay on the way down, something he hasn’t done so far on shorter jaunts. Since we were running late we tacked up in a hurry and got out to the cross country field where we got straight to work, trotting around and hopping over a green-as-grass jump. Jack was super in listening to me and focusing on the tack at hand, but for the first several jumps (green-as-grass followed by Maiden questions alternately) he would give the fence a hard look before lift-off. There was never a thought of refusing, more just a lack of confidence that slowly disappeared as the schooling continued. Eventually we started introducing cantering the fences and wrapped up the cross country with a Beginner Novice fence that felt so great we did it twice!

Since the horse under me after cross country had lots of gas left in the tank, we then moseyed over to the showjumping, where we walked the maiden course in the tack, then proceeded to do two schooling rounds. For the first we just trotted all the fences, knowing that Jack is more likely to look at showjumping filler than natural fences. Then we picked up the canter and did the course properly.

To say I’m happy with how it went is an understatement, even though I see so many things that need fixing on my part. I now have the confidence in my new pony to go out and do all the things, knowing that he can handle the atmosphere as long as I am there to give him a positive ride. Next time we’ll be schooling beginner novice fences instead of maiden, and that vote of confidence from the trainer feels like a feather in the cap after feeling out of the game for so long. Barbie dream horse indeed!

Jumping Jack Flash

Now with two real jump lessons under our belt, I finally feel like I am starting to get the hang of jumping Jack- or at least starting to understand his rhythm and needs for making the best jump possible. Our first jump lesson was at home, where mostly we trotted into the fences and focused on my following hand and keeping him straight and cantering after the fence. I’ve left the lesson audio on, mostly for my own benefit at a later date, so please ignore (or enjoy, whatever) my getting yelled at in the following videos.

Straightness in particular was also the name of the game in yesterday’s lesson as well. This was a new arena to Jack, with different types of fences and some exercises we hadn’t done before. While the jumps stayed small, we focused on the quality of the canter and keeping him put together before the fence. I really have to ride every step to accomplish this, keeping soft but communicating hands and half halts to remind him that rushing is not an option. Not that he’s to blame- the poor guy has mostly trotted or galloped fences most of his life- why should things change now?

Even though the jumps were tiny (and look even smaller on video compared to my giant horse), I was grinning (between pants) from ear to ear after the ride. New arena, galloping horses, and I had a fairly rideable experience and felt like I really connected with the giant blondie underneath me. Takeaways being keeping him especially straight and between my leg and hand before the fence, and riding more straight canter lines in general. Which surprise, also is a theme in my dressage lessons. Funny how that works!

Our next jump lesson will be in the form of a XC schooling day at the Horse Park, and while before I was fairly nervous about the idea, now I am starting to look forward to it!

Let’s Discuss: Riding Multiples

I have been so incredibly grateful to ride TC for the last several months, as he’s taught me a lot about myself, and allowed me to have saddle time while I was technically horseless.

Aww TC

Even though I officially own my own pony right now, I’ve continued riding TC with the goal of hopefully competing at another recognized show at the end of July. Between getting to know Jack on the ground and in the saddle, and riding TC, albeit a bit more sporadically, plus of course the adult responsibilities like working a full time job… I admit I may be getting a bit burnt out.

What I would love to know is those that have more than one horse to ride- how do you prioritize? How do you keep yourself from eventual exhaustion? Do you feel that something eventually has to give? Or have you found a way to balance multiple rides with the rest of life’s responsibilities? Do you employ professional help? Or have strategies for keeping the rides fresh and exciting?

The BDH Dressage Assessment

Now that I have been riding the BDH for roughly a month, I have a much better idea of his strengths and weaknesses on the flat. For later comparison, I think it would be interesting to chronicle our starting point together.

Jack has three quality gaits- i.e, a 4 beat walk, balanced trot, and an engaged 3 beat canter. I can’t tell you how many bad canters I saw while shopping, and so this most basic of criteria was actually quite important to me in seeking a dressage partner. Anyways. The best way to document his abilities is by gait.

The Walk
Jack is a fairly forward thinking horse, until it comes to the walk. It’s obvious that the walk is not much more than a ‘break’ to him, and so he’s quite good at moseying in this gait. I am working on reminding him that he’s still working, and over-emphasizing my following hand and getting him forward. When he’s using his neck and actually walking with purpose, he has an 8 walk, but man do you have to work for it at this point in time. Meanwhile, transitions down to the walk tend to have that horrid ‘splat’ quality, so thinking forward into the downward transition is also a point of concentration for us.

The Trot
The trot is probably Jack’s best gait right now. He’s fairly balanced, though tends to lean on the right shoulder in both directions. Our main focus right now is encouraging him to reach out to the bit, but I imagine the trot is going to come along the fastest in the scheme of things.

The Canter
Jack has a good quality canter right now, but man is it green. Those giant shoulders of his are his best bet at balance, and it takes some work to convince him to sit and balance from back-to-front and not the other way around. So while longitudinal and lateral balance are both an issue for him at the moment, we’re focusing most on the lateral balance. The fact that his canter is huge is also a little tricky- it’s easy for his body to just run away with him, and surprise us both. Keeping it organized can be like riding a fine line between breaking into the trot or getting flat, long, and running. All the baby problems, in the body of a 9 year old!

A little about Jack

I have now officially owned Jack for 2 weeks, and though there is still so much to learn, slowly I am starting to figure out his personality. Here is what I have got down so far, for the uninitiated.

Things Jack likes:

  • Cross country
  • Chewing on ropes, particularly his lead line

Things Jack loves:

  • His new best friend Gunnar
  • Being groomed

Things Jack rather dislikes:

  • Bath time
  • The farrier
  • Walking on concrete

Things Jack hates:

  • Flies- or any winged creature that deigns to land on his sensitive skin
  • Having his face washed

Adventures in Horse Shopping: The Horse Formally Known as BDH

Well folks, I’m off to the bank to write an awfully big (for me) check. Goodbye money, hello new horse!

Our XC schooling yesterday, which was the do-or-die decision day, went amazingly well. Video to come, I promise!

So the Barbie Dream Horse is mine, and we can officially start calling him by his actual name, Jack.

Jack’s quick stats are thus:

  • 9 yo branded German Warmblood gelding
  • 16.3h (going on 17h it seems!)
  • Former foxhunting prospect, started eventing career last fall.

When I first saw Jack’s video online some months ago, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Foster in some way, despite them being very different horses. But since Foster is still my heart horse, I was super interested in this potentially palomino version. I set up an appointment to see him just a couple weeks after selling Smitty, only to discover that the horse had moved from VA to Aiken and the agent didn’t know where he went. Cue major disappointment.

Then after some stalking of warmbloods on a site I was frequently, I found him again in some of the archives. A phone call, some video stalking, and as you all know, I got to see him on my whirlwind visit to VA. He was the only horse I sat on and immediately felt at home, and the only one that I actually bothered to try my saddle on, despite only having sat on him for 15 minutes. My trainer and vet loved the look of him, and I even had a local GP dressage rider go evaluate him as a possible 3rd level prospect. I went up again, this time with a trailer, sat on him once more, and brought him back for the trial.

Since then, it’s been fairly rosy. Rosy enough, in fact, that I have been chatting with friends about possible registered names. Going with my penchant for alcoholic names (which are lucky, you know. Hey just look at Foster) we were talking about Goldschlager, when a friend suggested why not Gentleman Jack. I loved that idea- not only is it another whiskey (like Kentucky Gentleman, Foster’s show name), but it also pays tribute to Foster in that way. I loved the idea.

And then I got the papers, and what would you guess his name is?

That’s right- Gentleman Jack. I got chills.

So Gentleman Jack, welcome to the family of the House on a Hill.