Posted in Uncategorized

Back In the Dressage Tack

I have minimal media so instead you get pictures from our latest hike to Chimney Rock, NC where Wyatt impressed the crap out of me hiking all the way to the top on his own. I can’t figure out the stupid new wordpress app to add captions to the photos so sorry they won’t be there.

In an effort to ride more often, I passed on my typical Tuesday run/workout and dressed in my riding duds instead. We won’t get better without practicing and now that the evenings are cooler I feel the urge to hop on her once again.

The weed field is still not mowed and my patience with it all is wearing thing. Not much I can do since I don’t own the place though. Instead I decided to ride in the pasture which not only solves the issue of the weeds, but also gives me fences. While it is still 3 acres, at least the fence line gives us a hard stop should Gem decide to bolt on me. The mere fact that they are there boosts my confidence quite a bit.

Typically I really dislike riding in the pasture. That’s her safe spot, her place of rest. But you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes and it’s my only option at the moment.

So anyway, last night I tacked her up in the dressage tack for the first time in months. My only goal was to work on my position. I need to train my legs to go back more instead of bracing out in front of me.

Gem wasn’t so pleased with my idea of riding after dinner in her pasture. She was moody and tense. Since I was planing on working on me, I didn’t really care if we did anything but walk. This was an introduction to working at home and my expectations were low.

I began walking her and immediately halted to check the status of my breaks. One thing I am really proud of is her halt these days. Before lessons, a halt was a suggestion she ignored. Now, even when tense or angry, she halts immediately with just the lightest aid.

From there I focused on my position. My upper body has really come a long way and gently following elbows are almost an immediate thing that requires no thought now. It feels really good.

My lower legs are now the biggest issue. I tend to move them forward and brace against the stirrup which isn’t good and this is a habit I really want to break before the end of the year.

The issue is Gem.

She hates my legs against her. Which came first, her hating it so I moved them forward or me having my legs forward making her hate it when they are back, is up for grabs but either way the result is the same. I move my lower leg back and under me and Gem tenses and speeds up. Riding a tense horse is no fun. Typically I’d move my leg off her and she’d calm down, but that would have defeated the entire purpose of my ride.

Instead I persisted. I kept my leg on and used about eight million half halts in an attempt to settle her. All I wanted was a calm and even walk while my legs stayed on her and I would be done.

Let me back up a bit. By legs being on her I don’t mean clamped or asking her to move. I mean having my lower leg under my hip in neutral alignment with my calf lightly against her side prepared to ask for movement. You know. Like a normal person rides.

Anyway….

At one point I thought I’d let her trot a bit to help her relax. Boy was that a bad idea. All I felt was vertical energy with no forward motion. No bucking or rearing. Just tiny little shuffling steps and all this energy being contained. I felt like I was riding a powder keg.

Ok…..

Back to the walk now adding in a lot of transitions. Even though she was really tense, she still halted perfectly every time. I was so happy with her and she got a ton of praise for it.

I decided against trying for any bend on a circle as actually using the inside leg made everything that much worse. Working on relaxation and acceptance of my leg walking in a big loopy circle with a lot of halts and changes in direction was the best bet.

After about 30 minutes she lowered her head and made it one way around without jigging or breaking to trot. So we ended it there with a lot of praise.

It wasn’t the best ride, but there was a lot to be happy with. Her halts for starters. The fact that I neither caved and took my leg off to avoid the issue nor lost my temper and persisted on a losing path. The fact that she relaxed and did what I asked at the end. Heck, the fact that I rode at all on a Tuesday at home.

I hope to slowly build on this ride and get her to slowly accept what I’m asking. I know that riding more often at home will help in general as she learns she has to do it. I’m not sure when my next lesson will be due to scheduling conflicts so for now at least it’s just the two of us figuring it all out.

Posted in Farm life

Bad Hay…What Do I Do?

When we moved here in January we were a little screwed in regards to hay. We needed enough to get us through until 2017 first cutting but 2016 was a drought year and pretty much all stores were gone. I managed to find some horse quality hay and while it wasn’t the greatest, it was good enough to supplement the green fescue in the pasture. The horses ate it fine with

minimal waste but I wasn’t thrilled enough to purchase again.

Once the first cutting was made, and it was a great spring for hay around here with with a perfect combination of rain and sun, I researched a new supplier and found a guy up north by the NC/SC border. Hay was $7/bale plus a $160 delivery fee, but it showed up green and delicious. I got 50 bales and was thrilled with the quality. The horses chowed down on it and all was good.

Gemmie is looking smashing these days. Other than the mare glare

Until….

I had a client mention that she had 1,000 bales of first cutting fescue they needed to sell to make room for their second cutting coming off the field soon. Her typical buyer is Clemson University but they started baking their own and didn’t need nay. She was selling it for $4/bale and lived only 3 miles from us. I told the hubby that it was worth a look at least as it would save us some money and we could stock up on another 50 bales. We went out a couple of weeks ago and while the bales were extremely loose (like a few completely fell apart trying to move them loose), they were green had very minimal stems and smelled like hay.

Not sure why she was so annoyed with me on Sunday, but she is still pretty

We loaded up the trailer and truck bed and filled our garage to the brim. I was happy to see a full stock of hay that I knew would last us at least through the fall.

Except I noticed the horses would not eat it. The piles I put out remain there untouched. The grass is starting to grow again with the cooler temperatures, but even the best spring grass is typically ignored for hay by our fat horses. For them to not even look our way as we put it out is odd.

Hay. Not as good as Timothy or orchard up north, but good for the fescue down here

So they hate it. We have plenty of the other first cutting left to feed them so it’s not an issue of not having hay to feed. The issue is what on earth I’m supposed to do with 48 bales of hay my horses won’t eat. I don’t think I can sell it. I mean my add would have to read “$4/bale fescue hay, first cutting, horse quality although my horse won’t eat it”. Who is going to buy that? It’s been such a great hay year that everyone is pretty stocked up for the year and a third cutting is basically going to waste as nobody has room for it.

I can’t keep throwing it out in the pasture just to watch it be ignored and then have to rake it back up. I have no idea why they won’t eat it. It’s green, smells like hay and has very little stems in it. It looks identical to the northern hay which is also fescue but for some reason they won’t touch it. Do I take 48 bales to the dump?

What do I do with all this hay??

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Thoughts on Confidence

Gem has been carting me around for seven years now and hopefully we have just as many more to come in the future. Our last outing on cross country got me thinking about my level of confidence.

I’m not an inherently brave person. I don’t seek high adrenaline sports or events to get my pleasure in life. I like challenges, but I like them within a normal view of safety. Horse riding in general, and jumping specifically, are inherently dangerous but there are lots of ways to mitigate that and create a relatively safe bubble. I’m not the person to jump on a new to me horse, go galloping across the fields and jump just because someone handed me the reins. In fact, I pretty much have to feel pretty secure before attempting anything on Gem which is a fact that bothers Trainer a little bit.

The interesting thing is that I was actually more confident before I began riding Gem although I would suggest that the level of confidence I have now is healthier.

My riding experiences before Gem were pretty extensive although not in a regulated training sort of way. I spent my youth riding all over the place: the mountains in PA, along the battlefields in Gettysburg, along the rivers in WV, and in Acadia National Park in Maine. These rides were never slow. I did more galloping, flat out racing and technical work than I have ever since. I rode my Aunt’s horses and to this day I can’t figure out if they were just that darn good or if my memory has faded out any issues I might have had. Either way, I felt invincible. I could cross fast moving, deep rivers and swim alongside my horse. I could travel down hills that made the horse slide down on their butt and back up the other side laughing. I never said no to anything although a lot of that had to do with the fact that my Aunt and Uncle were always there and were my rocks. This was multiplied by the fact that I had never, not one single time in thousands of miles of rugged terrain and break neck speeds, ever fell off. Not one time.

I grew older and ventured out on other horses and adventures without them: lessons, trail rides, my honeymoon riding in France.

Then I got Gemmie. Yes, a lot had changed. I was now an adult and had a lot of responsibilities as well as a healthy sense of my mortality. The first time I rode her, I had my confidence fully installed. I knew I could ride and this horse would be no different than any other. Except I was dead wrong. Gemmie did not (and still doesn’t) tolerate anything other than perfection.

It took all of a month, maybe less, for her to destroy my confidence and make me into a whimpering, fetal position riding freak. I fell off her at least a dozen times and felt so inadequate. I couldn’t even ride 10 feet down a trail with her at first without freaking out, falling off or crying. It was bad.

Yet…

Since she entered my life I have learned to hook up and haul a trailer solo, rode countless miles alone on trails, went horse camping alone and with friends, started in endurance and completed a 100 and now I am jumping not only in the arena, but out on the cross country course as well. All things I never would have imagined being able to do.

Have I ever reached that level of confidence I had before I threw my leg over Gem that firs time? No. I think though, that that is a good thing. My confidence before stemmed from a lack of anything bad having ever happened before. Sure I knew you could fall off and in theory it would hurt, but I had never experienced the feeling before. Nor had I experienced the feeling of a horse not listening at all to you and doing whatever they wanted to instead. Or the sensation of the horse under you no longer being there because they have turned 180 degrees, dropped their shoulder and departed at 100 mph. All these things, Gem taught me.

But she also taught me to sit up, put my leg on and ride. Actually ride. My confidence now stems from the knowledge that I can handle the situation as it presents itself, deal with it and move on. I know what I can handle and what I can’t and move within that realm as it shifts and changes to allow for new skills and new challenges. I won’t be found galloping wildly down a lane with Gem, but that is okay. I can be found working on bend, grids and cross country fences with the knowledge of what I am doing wrong and how to fix it.

Confidence is a tricky beast, but I am glad I don’t have the same as I did before. The confidence that Gem has taught me is more solid, less easily destroyed by a single bad ride or experience and is a stringer base to work off of.

 

 

Posted in Riding/Horses

Conditioning…Or a Lack Thereof

Endurance is a relatively “easy” sport to prepare for: get the miles in over the terrain you plan to compete on. Yes, there are a ton of intricacies that go into such a simple plan, but all in all there really isn’t that much more to it. Ride a lot on as varied a terrain as you can find.

I took my endurance conditioning very seriously and laid out strict plans in the weeks leading up to a race: how many miles at what pace on which days over which terrain. Life got in the way a bit, but in general I was pretty good at keeping to it. The nice thing with endurance, the way I did it anyway, was that I only needed to leg Gemmie up within a certain period of time for a specific race and since I only did 2 races a year that left a large chunk of time to toodle around or not ride at all if I couldn’t fit it in without adding more stress to my life.

Now that I am attempting to try my hat at eventing I am finding that my approach is…um…well..not very good at all.

For simplicity sake I am going to take out the fact that there are really three different sports to train for all at once and just focus on the fact that there is a lot to learn. This sport isn’t about just getting the miles in (and before someone goes and gets their panties in a big old twist, I do fully understand that endurance isn’t just about getting the miles in, but well lets be real..it kind of is), it is about learning, improving and perfecting a million skills all at once. In both the horse and rider.

Not riding Gem in two weeks prior to my lessons last week was stupid. It was necessary for my mental survival over the last two weeks and enhanced by my current lack of riding space at home, seriously dude mow the freaking weed pasture already!, but while in the past a two week hiatus could easily be made up for with a little bit of extra time out on trail, I found out the hard way that two weeks off isn’t going to get either of us anywhere now.

The thought struck me when I was watching YL ride her and noticed how incredibly unbalanced and out of shape for this she truly is. Yes, she can trot and canter down the trail for 50+ miles, but carrying herself in a deliberate and careful manner while not falling all over herself on the circle is a much different skill and one she is not currently fit enough for.

The point was driven home even harder when I took her cross country. Now, I’ll give myself a small break and admit that Gem is a totally different animal out in the open versus in the arena, but I highly doubt my warm up and subsequent ride would have gone anywhere near as well had we not just had a lesson two days prior. Riding her more frequently not only gets her energy out, but helps to solidify the concepts I am trying to get her to learn.

One day a week on the trail was sufficient in endurance for us to finish with all As and mid pack on pretty much any distance. The things I changed for the 100 were the pace and length of the conditioning rides and how far out I began to leg her up, but I still rode on trail once a week only. This just isn’t going to work in eventing. I am going to need to ride her more often even if it is for only a half an hour to work on halt transitions or walking or whatever. It is a big shift from my norm and hopefully some things will smooth out in my life to allow for it in the near future. The biggest thing is the guy mowing the darn field so I can ride at home again.

It is interesting though. I shifted my focus to eventing due to a perceived easier ability to do it. No more 45 minute haul one way to a trail head and 4+ hours spent on trail. I figured an hour spent riding at home would be an hour away from the kiddo instead of an all day trail excursion. While that is true on a pure time basis, the fact is that overall I actually need to be spending at least, if not more, time in the saddle for eventing versus endurance. It is still easier for me to do. Even when I trailer to RB to ride in the arena it is still only a 30 minute trailer ride and kiddo tends to love to come along and dig in the various arenas or walk the small trail looking for snakes, turtles and spiders. Hubby doesn’t mind coming because he knows it is an hour of riding time versus 4+ and we all generally have a great time. I just need to kick myself in the pants a bit to do it more frequently to set us both up better.

Posted in Riding/Horses

FENCE Cross Country Outing

Summer is my slow month for surgery. Seems like nobody wants to have elective foot surgery and ruin their entire summer. It works out for me though because that gives me some free Fridays here and there. This past week I took full advantage of one of those slow days and went out to a real cross country course for some schooling.

Can’t be a this view on a work day morning
Better than my paved parking spot at the office

The weather was gorgeous, the footing near perfect and the horse under me was ready to go. She was light, responsive and willing. During our brief warm up, Trainer remarked that it was the best work we have put in to date. We circled and halted and walked and trotted all lightly without any fuss and with actual bend. Gem was tolerating my legs on her and the world was spinning happily along.

Eating. She is a marvelous traveler and never gets excited when she unloads to find herself in unfamiliar territory

I was….nervous but oddly not really that scared. Mostly I was curious to see if she would be as happy to go over these fences as she had been at Riverbend or if we would be fighting the same demons we have in the arena.

Trainer led us down a hill to the cross country warm up area. There were four or five log jumps of various heights set on the only flat piece of land FENCE has to offer. Every single log looked huge.

Trainer: Ok, pick up an even trot, give yourself plenty of lead up and go over the log. If she canters after, use it and let her canter.

Me: Which log?

Trainer: You’ve seen these out on trail. Put your big girl panties on and jump the log on the end.

Me: The tall wide log?

Trainer: Do it.

The log was wider than it was tall, but Trainer told me it was shorter than the coop we jumped before. I still had butterflies in my stomach leading up to it

So I did. I looked up, put my legs on, clucked her on near the base and Gem popped over no big deal, ears forward and super happy. Trainer laughed out loud and praised the hell out of us.

I was grinning like a lunatic. Gem is just such a different horse out in the field.

We popped over that jump both directions several times and each time it was…well…fun. She was easy to ride and always answered yes.

A few times over and we headed back up the hill a ways to an interesting looking question. A log about the same size as the prior one, but flanked on each side by a tall bush. This jump was also set perpendicular to a hill so we ran across it instead of up or down.

I was very nervous about this one. The approach was very different than anything we had done prior and I wasn’t sure if Gem would be put off by the narrow entry. 
Skinnier than the prior log and with a super inviting exit

I was a bit more hesitant on this one. We had never jumped through a shoot like that before, but I needn’t have worried. Gem was on fire and took it no issues. I was riding that high big time.

We didn’t waste too much time going over it since it rode so easily. Perpendicular to this one and up the hill a bit was my nemesis for the day. I didn’t even get a picture because I hated it so bad.

This fence was, darn I wish my knowledge base was bigger here and a google search proved fruitless for a definition, sort of like a massive mounting block with a step up on the front side, then the height of the jump was skinnier than the base and a flat back side. Like a single stair going up. Make any sense?

Well, anyway I believe it was a little shorter but wider than the prior jumps we did and was on the uphill slope. To the right of it and a little offset was a training size hanging log. We came up the hill and I panicked and pulled Gem off it to the right.

Rightfully so, Trainer scolded me. I just taught Gem there was a way out and guess what she did the next time I went to approach it….she veered right. I didn’t yell at her. It was my fault.

I wasn’t even scared of the height of the jump. My issue was that coming up the hill I felt like I had zero momentum and that Gem was just going to splat over it causing us to fall. The answer? More leg. Sigh.

The third time she dirty stopped on me but again it was all my fault and now I was pissed. Did I just break my horse?

Trainer told me to go do the log between the brush again and use that momentum to come up the hill and go over this one. I was actually pretty proud that she let me go over the log all by my lonesome without any advice or words from her watchful eye.

We took the log and I had her canter partly up the hill and put my game face on. I shoved my heels into her and we went over!! It felt like such a big moment.

As we left that behind us and headed to the water complex, Trainer mentioned that Gem is super honest out in the field. As long as I steer, put my leg on and mean it she has always answered YES. This is certainly not her behavior in the arena, but it is outside so I need to use that.

She also asked me how Gem was with water.

No problems there. She goes through anything all the time.

Ha. Hahahahahahha. Ha.

You can see our path through the water here. The center was surprisingly deep and I made sure to make Gem go through the deepest part just because. 

She wanted no part of going into that alligator pit. I didn’t time it, but it took us a good while to get her in and even then she walked so deliberately and slowly it was hilarious.

Once through it though, she became a champ and we worked our way up to trotting through and entering and exiting all over the place. Trainer even grabbed a short video. Please ignore my horrid chair seat. I swear I’m working on fixing that.

We talked a bit as I played with Gem in the water about what challenge the water adds. According to Trainer horses tend to either lose all momentum through the water and it adds drag against them or the love it so much that they see dup and “play” through it. My task then was to get Gem to enter, go through, and exit at the exact same pace without gaining or losing no matter the depth of the water. It was difficult to do, but was an enjoyable break from the excitement of jumping.

On the far side of the water was an interesting little fence. The fence itself was easy (wait what am I saying??!) but the position with the terrain made it tricky.

Would this be a very small roll top? 
This was super fun to go over. I could have done this one all day

It was set only a few strides away from the lip of a small plateau. From the bottom of the hill, the fence was invisible and you had to ascend over the lip of the hill before you saw it.

The biggest trick for me was not letting Gem either a) lose all momentum up the hill and have to crawl over it or b) gallop wildly up the hill and have to try to package her somehow right before it. The question was pretty fun to play with and eventually we strung the fence and then through the water together.

The last question Trainer wanted to tackle was the bank complex. FENCE has the teeniest little bank to play with and Gem was very unimpressed with it either way.

We started by just walking up it and then trotted. My take away was to stay up in the two point longer than I thought. I tended to sit down once her front end was over, but that was obviously not the correct answer as the saddle would then hit me in the butt.

Going up was fun and I got the hang of the timing after a while.

Tiny little bank just right of the ditch

Going down was another story. It was only about 12″ and Gem is an energy saver at heart so there was no super man leaping off but I couldn’t feel comfortable down it. Trainer told me to lean back and grab mane.

Me: my arms aren’t long enough to do that

Trainer: she has a long mane. You can grab it and lean back just fine

Me: no I can’t. See. I have little T Rex arms. Not going to happen.

Trainer: Just do it.

That’s her answer to most of my complaints. Shut up and go do the thing. It works for me.

Eventually I did somewhat sorta ok but then lost all steering because I’m incapable of doing that many things at one time. We didn’t die though so there was that.

By that point my adrenaline was on empty and it was getting blazing hot. We had been playing around for over an hour and felt like it was the best time to quit. On the way back to the trailer I saw a small ramp and a set of three stacked logs and told Trainer they looked very doable. I was tempted to go jump them (again…what am I saying??!) but Gem had been so good and deserved to be done.

Some day I am going to be brave enough to jump this one:

Probably not any time soon, but I can dream, right?

It was a great outing. Trainer remarked several times how much fun Gem was having and it is great to hear that she is loving this part of her job. We don’t have any plans at the moment to go again, but I hope to get out at least once a month until the HT in December. Trainer wants to see if we can go school at the facility hosting the HT so that nothing is new there once we show. I’m going to do some research on that and hopefully we can pull something together.

Posted in Riding/Horses

Introduction to Grids

After YL was done playing around with Gem, it was my turn to get some work done. I clambered aboard knowing one thing: Gem was about to be one pissed off pony. She thought she was done for the day and given the 90% humidity she was covered in sweat. Mareface was done for the night. Only she wasn’t.  I mentioned this fact in passing to Trainer who just gave me an odd look.

I’ll just quickly fly through the ground work here: Gem was tense, pissed off and not really in the mood to listen to trotting nicely around a 20 m circle. On my part, not riding in 2 weeks plus mega amounts of stress showed their true colors and my position was weak, my patience was minimal and my ability to get any good work out of a mare who was loudly telling me she had no interest was pretty minimal.

We kept it short and sweet and quit once I got her around both directions as softly as possible. I did get some good comments though: Trainer noted that my elbows have now been soft and following for the past several lessons, my turns were on all four legs instead of two, and I was sitting much straighter with a small curve to my lower back which forced my shoulders back. So not a terrible flat after all. And trainer commented that Gem was pretty much screaming at everyone that she was done working for the night.

Trainer really wanted to introduce grid work after Gem’s insistence on galloping wildly around the cross country course a couple of weeks ago. She had four standards set up in the center of the arena and we began with a ground pole in front of the the first standard and one set up between it. Gem barely noticed and did great.

I was allowed to turn either right or left after going straight through all four standards and quickly learned that turning right Gem lost some balance and became rushed and hollow while going left she remained relaxed. Interesting.

The second time through Trainer had turned the second ground pole into a cross rail. I need to take a second and scream to the world about this. I entered that line, stared straight ahead through the set of standards and not at the jump at all, put my leg on and charged that cross rail like it wasn’t even there. I didn’t have one single butterfly in my stomach. I wasn’t scared or timid at all. It felt AMAZING to not be scared of it anymore and now I knew the feeling I was looking for since I had experienced it over the cross country fences. This was a major turning point for me!!!!

But back to the grid.

Gem jumped the cross rail no issues. We turned left out of the standards and came again and again no issues. We left turning right and Trainer then added a ground pole after the cross rail so it was ground pole, cross rail, ground pole.

Gem was none too pleased with this.

She noticed the second ground pole right as we entered the grid and became really hesitant. I kept my leg on and my eyes up and she went over, but it was sticky. We did this about three more times and eventually she settled.

Then Trainer made the ground pole into a second cross rail. This blew Gem’s mind. She saw the second cross rail as we entered the grid and wanted no part of going into that trap. She slammed on the breaks before we even entered, but I was prepared and booted her on in. She then tried to scoot out away from the second jump, but I forced her over it again. Trainer yelled out some serious praise for me getting Gem over without allowing her to bail as was my past MO.

The final configuration. I know it was supposed to feel all fluid, but instead it was slam on breaks…hop over first one…slam on breaks…try to duck out to the right….try to duck out to the left…ugly crawl over it… More work to be done!

I think we did this about four times and each time was ugly. Gem was not convinced that this wasn’t a death trap and never once bounced through it. I gave her a metric ton of praise after each jump, supported her with both leg and voice before and during it and yet each time she slammed to a near stop and ugly crawled over. Trainer commented that Gem likely felt trapped by the grid without an exit easily at hand.

After the last go through, Trainer abandoned her plans to add more jumps and instead sent us to go over one final easy solitary cross rail to calm her back down mentally. We took the brown cross rail like it didn’t even exist.

I think I’m ready to increase the height on cross rails and simple fences which is a big deal for wimpy old me to say. 

It was a frustrating ride for sure and it blew Gem’s mind a little bit. I was proud of myself for getting the job done, but kicking myself all the same for my lack of riding of late. I have a lot of thoughts on that that I need to get sorted out and written down here because my attitude towards this new discipline is a lot different than for endurance and not necessarily in a good way.

Up next we have our first outing on a full cross country course and then Trainer leaves on vacation for a bit which is fine because it will be AEC week and I’m volunteering two days and will also have a last minute trip for a family funeral sometime in the near future once all the plans are in place for it. With our show now on the schedule for early December, I have something solid to work works towards and my need to drag my dressage saddle back out and return to some bonafide dressage rides.

Posted in Riding/Horses

“Trainer” Ride on Gem

I went into Wednesday’s lesson curious to see if the confidence Gem showed over solid obstacles would cross over into the arena. Of course the fact that I didn’t ride her at all in the intervening two weeks wouldn’t help anything but it has been a very stressful couple of weeks. I learned a long time ago that I have no business throwing a leg over her if I can’t leave my emotions at the barn gate.

While I was tacking up Trainer mentioned that one of her star barn rats was there and could ride her a little before I got on. I was 100% down with that idea. Honestly, if I could afford it I would love to put Gem in a full training program but I can’t and besides that would defeat the purpose of bringing her home.

Gem was a bit perplexed why someone else was on her. She kept looking over at me with a quizzical look on her face

Trainer was interested in watching one of her best riders hop on board to sort out what were “Gem problems” versus “Sara problems”. The young woman worked Gem walk, trot and canter for about 20 minutes and then popped her over a few jumps at my request. Trainer had her work specifically on accepting that leg means more than go forward as well as the quality of the canter.

Some highlights:

Young lady’s leg position was the same as mine. Trainer remarked that her right leg was more forward and off Gem exactly like mine is and noted that Young Lady (YL) doesn’t ride like that on any other horse. She thinks this is in part physics: with Gems very round barrel and skinny girth area the leg gravitates forward easily. She asked YL why her leg was there and she answered that that was where Gem wanted it.

Gem was pretty relaxed for her at the walk which is something I’ve been working hard on and it has been coming along nicely. 

Gem responded much better to YLs more upright posture. I tend to still lean forward while YL had a gorgeous upright and sometimes slightly leaning back position. While Gem still tended to become tense and hollow she relaxed quicker and more frequently.

Gem was very tense through a lot of the trot work. She did have moments of relaxation throughout and YL was able to get some true bend on  20 m circle. It was nice to listen to Trainer tell her to do the same things and watch to see YL’s and Gem’s response. 

YL commented that keeping the outside rein constant and having a give and take inside rein creates more bend in Gem.

YL got a lovely canter out of Gem. And then promptly lost all ability to steer. Ok…not gonna lie I felt vindicated when this happened. Trainer is always on me for steering and now looked at me and said “huh…I guess that is solidly a Gem problem”.

YLs position is awesome in the canter and what I strive for. While Gem is gaping and tense, she did put forth an actual canter that was wasn’t motorcycling around. 

YL never got the right lead canter. I have but it is difficult.

Unhappy Gemmie begin asked to do real work. 

Gem stopped at the first cross rail she was presented to. Yup, this made me feel good too although bad because YL almost ate dirt. Gem just has to stop at the first jump she sees.

Where did this jump come from??? Moments before slamming on the breaks

At the end YL said that Gem was extremely hard to ride. Her trot was amazing and floating but she tolerates minimal leg on her, her canter is decent but then she motorcycles around on two legs and she needs a ton of support to jump. All things I knew but now Trainer also knew it wasn’t just me. YL didn’t offer up to ride her again, but also didn’t hate her. I personally love riding Gem, but I’ve been doing so for 7 years and know her inside and out.

From the ground I learned a lot myself. For starters Gem is gorgeous. I never get to see her all tacked up and moving and just….wow. Second, when her rider was unforgiving in her position Gem responded by relaxing and giving on her end. I need to cement this in my brain. She really can canter at a pace less than 100 mph and it is time to really start working on that.

What was the most interesting to me though was watching her jump. She has been over that same cross rail dozens of times now. YL presented her off a long approach and had plenty of leg on her. Gem still stopped and I could tell she was going to several strides away and the reason was obvious from the ground. Miss Busy Bee spends the entire time looking everywhere. She looks right, left, up, down and probably behind her if she could manage it. I know what she is doing. She is looking for anything she should be spooking at. She does this on trail too.

By the time you get to the jump and she sees it, she is right on top of it and slams on the breaks. The second time to it she understands the game and plans for it, but the first time even with walking her over or letting her sniff it, she still stops because mare is looking everywhere but straight ahead at the jump.

Anyone know a cure for that?