Pipe Opener Recap: Jumping

Expanding on yesterday’s dressage recap, after dressage I was slightly meh about my test, but determined to still give a good go of the showjumping. I paid in advance for an extra round, with the expectation that he would be his normally spooky self in the show arena (which he was) and give him a more confidence building experience the second time round.

Since Jack started out being looky at the lakes puddles that dominated the facility that day, I purposely got his feet wet over and over again in the warmup ring- not hard to do when the “puddles” are almost 20′ wide. This gave me hope that I wouldn’t be swimming once we got into the arena proper, since there was literally no approach from 6B to fence 7 that avoided a splash zone.

After confidently navigating the water, we had a beautiful warmup, thanks to friend C channeling the trainer’s words from Tuesday’s lesson. I actually felt like my leg was under me, and for the most part that my shoulders were back, and Jack felt lovely and supple and relaxed. Where is that horse for dressage??

She helps me tack, warm up, and video- also her hair is fabulous!

But all that relaxation went away as predicted the moment we stepped into the competition ring. Just like all the previous times, he would basically ping off of all the fences while I tried to assure him these were fences of the non-horse-eating variety. Enter again lots of verbal praise to calm the big weenie.

Accurate representation of Jack on course

Beyond that, we had a decent go.

Except for this. Right here. On the last fence, and the last foot over- cost us a rail that moved us from a potential 3rd place to tied for 7th.

Oh well.

We sat around for 20 minutes and came back in for our schooling round, and I was shocked to find Jack more spooky on re-entry than before. I can only figure that he was tired at this point and backed off. So we really didn’t get to smooth anything out until after fence 4. You’ll see in the video that he comes back to a trot, and I think the adrenaline wore off and I actually was able to give him more of a decent ride than before.

Overall, I’m really happy with the big blondie. We got all our leads, and even though we got a couple wonky spots (including a deep one I asked him for- sorry buddy but waiting is a thing), in general it felt way smoother than our last time there in November.

I believe the plan is to shoot for Novice height at the next SJ outing at the end of January. We’ve also got a cross country schooling this weekend if the weather cooperates! All the things!!!

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Showjumping lesson recap

Tuesday we had our first showjumping lesson post-holidays, which meant about 3 weeks since our previous session. Thankfully there was a break in the frigid temps, and at a balmy 50*, this ended up being a godsend, since Jack came out thinking the devils were lurking in every shadow, pole, and different-colored-dirt-patch.

We’ve come to learn that this horse doesn’t tend to do well coming back from a break. While eventually he settles in, that first ride is a bit of a roller coaster, and it doesn’t take much to convince Jack he’s under duress. Case in point:

Eventually we built up to going between two (gasp) flower boxes to the itty-bitty fence, and once we conquered that we moved on to actual jumping.

YAY JUMPING

My position was definitely a bit weak, and I had trouble getting my heels down and shoulders back. My other go-to moves include A) making a move with my shoulders when I get nervous B) not staying folded long enough on the backside of the fence and C) turning too soon on landing instead of staying straight (which probably also relates to point B).

mental note: shoulders HERE. legs HERE.

We wrapped up with a fairly simple course, staying quiet down the lines and working on the afore mentioned points. The video below is the last of the evening.

My game plan for Saturday’s CT is to trot fences until he settles, stay straight through my landings and keep my shoulders back. We intend to also do a second jumping round as a hopeful confidence boost.

At least that’s the plan!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 1 Recap

If you want to burn off Thanksgiving dinner in a hurry- don’t do what I did (which is A) drink too much wine and B) do a clinic two days later). Do something… more relaxing.

I don’t know what’s going on here but it looks easier.

Boyd started out by discussing the various lengths of stirrup, and so we lengthened our stirrup to a flatwork length and warmed up with an emphasis on dressage- compressing and lengthening, getting the horse soft through the neck, etc. Jack started out fairly tight because of the number of horses and spectators, but finally settled once he understood the job.

We then moved on to building through a gymnastic line. We trotted a circle to get the horse round and soft (something Jack struggled with after standing) and then approaching the line- 1 stride to a 2 stride to a 2 stride. Jack’s stride is really big, and he definitely had a hard time compressing to meet the first two stride question. Each time the emphasis was on keeping the horse straight and landing and cantering in the opposite direction of our approach. We haven’t done so many combinations yet, and at one point in time Jack spooked coming into the sea of rails. But overall he jumped well and Boyd was very complimentary of his abilities.

We next went to doing a figure 8 over the crossed gates you can see in the background of the above video. Boyd cautioned us not to use our torso to get the horse to land on the correct lead. Instead, we needed to keep our upper body straight and not jump ahead, and focus on just using our head and an opening rein to guide the horse. Even though it was a figure 8, he also placed guide rails on the backside of the fence so that we would stay straight for 2 strides after the jump- avoiding the temptation to keep turning in the air instead of giving a straighter approach/away.

From there we started stringing fences together. First with bending lines incorporating the liverpool and big oxer in the corner, and quickly adding on other elements that tested our balance and getting the correct lead.

Since the line, which most horses got in 6 strides, was riding in a forward 5 for Jack, Boyd had me ride very quietly into it and wanted my to end on 6 strides for the day. So we finished by having all the riders go around the outside of the track, and I was challenged to keep Jack steady. Again our greenness with combinations showed through the treble, which was a tight one to a two stride, and we finished by adding on a bending line to another oxer at the end.

Overall, I learned a lot about my horse- that he’s a good jumper, but we have work to do in regards to teaching him that he now has a 3rd gear he can use- and that’s a quieter step that’s still active and balanced. My leg still needs to get tighter, and I learned that I need to not obsess over getting the perfect ride every time. Boyd was positive and encouraging, but definitely rewarded a gritty ride that got the job done. We wrapped up with a drink and some chili and Jack went home for some well deserved mash and a little rest before day 2!

Show Recap: Running Start BN Combined Training

Saturday, Jack and I (with the help of our amazing friend C) headed out to do a quick Combined Training event in Southern Pines. The goal was to get a little more exposure and get a confidence building round. Essentially we were to do our dressage test, go back to the trailer for a tack change, jump, and head home again.

Jack’s dressage test was okay. The next time I take him out I’ll be adding spurs, because I feel as though his tension translates into getting behind my leg, and I definitely was not able to be nearly as quiet as I am at home. Still, the judge liked him well enough, giving him an 8 on the following movements, as well as his gaits:

  • Trot circle right
  • Change rein KXM
  • Trot circle left
  • Change rein HXF
  • Downward transition to trot
  • Free walk
  • Upward trot transition + turn down centerline

We got dinged overall for our hollow moments which was not surprising- again I know that we are going to have hollow canter transitions for some time until we re-wire Jack to use his hind end instead of his massive shoulders to change gait. The test scored a 29 (71%) with plenty of room for improvement.

Our jump warm up was also just okay, and I needed a swift kick in the butt to hold to the base of the fence. Our jumping round was then the total opposite, as each fence impressed Jack more and more and we got ugly chippy distances and even a stop at the swedish oxer (which is fine- that’s a new question to him and no ground line). So after having cowboyed him through the course, I was not satisfied and quickly requested a schooling round, which is what you see below.

It’s amazing what change you can effect when you actually ride. I was really thrilled with the result and felt like Jack would have a very positive note to end on. The pony got lots of pats and stuffed full of treats and we were homeward bound.

Thanks to a brain fart on my part, we likely won’t be competing in October, but definitely lots of lessons and hopefully even a clinic with a certain former trainer of ours. The more miles the better!

Show Recap: September War Horse Jumping

After dressage was settled, the nerves started sinking in. This is my first time doing anything more than maiden since…2015? In any case, I was lucky to have friends there to tell me to take deep breaths. Jack, meanwhile, had finally settled and was miffed that I woke him up from his nap to tack him up. He warmed up feeling like a calm hunter horse, which, though great for the relaxation, needed more push and packaging to get around the course we had ahead of us. We both were tired, and I had to verbally remind myself to dig deep and ride every fence.

Our round wasn’t maybe as smooth as it had been in the schooling the day before, but it was clear. Jack went from tired and strung out to feeling looky and up. The chips we got were a combination of not being quite balanced/forward enough and him being a little more backed off of the fences. There’s still so much to improve, but I was impressed that he stayed rideable and attentive as we navigated the course, even if we didn’t quite make all the turns that we had hoped to accomplish. The clear round moved us up into 1st out of 19 and then it was off to XC! But that’s a tale for tomorrow.

… what face am I making?
PC: High Time Photography

Riley’s warm up for jumping was again short and sweet. Basically W/T/C and do a cross rail a couple times. I had realized that morning that he has schooled stadium fences all of twice in the last 18 months, but figured that since it was small and he is basically a point-and-shoot ride that we’d be fine. And we were.

Given that his fitness is still a work in progress, I determined that I would simply feel it out in regards to cantering vs trotting the course. It’s therefore pretty unremarkable, but since we went around clear Riley earned a lovely blue ribbon and lots of pats for being the best boy ever.

Tomorrow, XC recap for Jack!

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!

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!

 

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!

Freejumping Smitty

Free jumping a horse is a great way to not only assess their ability, but also to allow him to work on technique or footwork without the effort of balancing a rider at the same time.

Despite Smitty being jumper-bred on his dam side, I had yet to see him over anything of size. Below 2’6″, he really doesn’t have to put much effort into clearing the fence, and 18″ fences? Well:

Smitty not trying

Smitty not trying over the baby fence

So we set up a small grid to see what would happen. Our set up was thus: a ground pole to a cross rail, then 18′ to an ascending oxer.

Smitty was surprisingly relaxed through the whole thing, and it was clear that the final height of roughly 3’7″ (or 3’9″? we didn’t measure) was no big deal. To encourage him to fold his lower legs next time I would like to add a landing pole, and begin to increase the width of the oxer. But overall, I felt like it was an exciting way to see the baby’s potential!

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-23-18-pm

Horse Show Recap: GaG at CHP

While I’m having a serious bout of horse show hangover (y’all, it was 2 years since my last show!), I can definitely look back on Smitty’s first competition and smile.

We arrived Saturday afternoon and settled him into his stall, and he seemed fairly content to relax and munch his hay and drink his water like a good boy. We walked a few laps of the venue and let him see the bikes, kids, dogs, tents, and other general show atmosphere that was slowly building. Since he handled it well, I tacked up and schooled him a bit. Luckily for us, there was only one other rider schooling, which had little to do with Smitty and a lot to do with my mental composure. Once I relaxed my death grip on the reins and gave us both a job of moving forward and changing direction, life got suddenly easier and we were able to find a good note to end on.

The next morning  we went on another walk around the venue, which was decidedly much busier than the day before. All was well until about 10 minutes in, when the atmosphere got to Smitty’s baby brain and resulted in a minor meltdown. In the interest of self preservation, and of those around me (read: horses, children, dogs everywhere), I found a quiet unused field to lunge him and get the sillies out. It took a lot longer than I would have hoped to do so, but eventually he got his brain reinstalled and was listening and doing transitions politely on the lunge line and it felt safe to venture back into polite society.

img_3897-copy

At that point it was almost time for my dressage, and so we tacked up and found another somewhat quiet area to do warm up before heading into the arena. Baby pony was tired at this point, but put in an obedient test and was completely unfazed by his sandbox experience. We had wiggly centerlines (straight lines are hard, yo!), and geometry in general left some points on the table, as well as a lack of free walk (which we haven’t introduced yet). But given that, Smitty still scored a 29.7 and got his first 9 for a movement- what more could I ask for?

introatest

After dressage, Smitty got to nap for a couple hours before heading out to show jumping. The Green as Grass showjumping was held on the grass, and I was surprised to see the cross rails of the past replaced with a full set of verticals and even an oxer, complete with gates (which I have no idea if he’s ever seen) and ferns and the like. It was a proper mini showjumping course.

Celebrating with some dressage with some Chardonneighneigh

Celebrating dressage with some Chardonneighneigh

My warm up consisted of a couple trot circles, one lazy jump over the warm up cross rail, and heading into the arena. Smitty perked up a bit at the sight of the new fences, and we proceeded to fence one. At each new jump, I could feel the baby brain wondering why this one didn’t look like the last. But he was incredibly honest and with a little encouragement took each one with increasing confidence. As you can hear in the video, I did my best to convince him that he was superman after every fence, the dominator of 18″ fences all over the world. Apparently my nattering was highly entertaining to my friends, so enjoy the commentary.

Our clear showjumping result left us in 2nd place (or 1st, they haven’t posted official results) out of 10 horses, and I couldn’t be happier. With the help of wonderful friends, and a great venue, baby Smitty had a wonderful first show experience and hopefully set the bar for things to come.