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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.