I need some help here follow bloggers! I received my gift in the exchange this week, but there was no card and I don’t recognize the name in the return shipping address! I don’t want to miss thanking the person or linking to her blog.
I’ll post the gift and pictures once I figure out who it is from or Friday, whichever comes first!
Many years ago Dusty bought me a copy of the 1010 Jumping Exercises book to give me things to work on with Gem in the arena while we lived in WI. I never made it past exercise 1 though I can’t recall exactly why. Residency probably got in the way. Or I just plumb gave up because I had no clue what I was doing.
Regardless, I ran across it again as I was unpacking and decided that it would be a great way to work with Gem at home now that I have some jumps I can play around with. My bigger goal in using the book is learning how to properly set up a course with striding so as to not create something impossible for us to do.
Sunday afternoon was not deathly cold for the first time in nearly two weeks and proved the perfect opportunity to set up exercise one and get going. Keep in mind that I had not really ridden Gem in two months beyond a few times I got on and toodled around at the walk and trot, it has been cold enough that I’ve kept the horses in at night, and I recently changed foods. All ingredients to a great ride, no?
Exercise 1 is very basic: create a 6-10′ chute with two ground poles and ride a 10-20m circle through the poles in both directions. Goals include: proper bend in each direction, being straight inside the chute, halting inside the chute, making sure you exit on the correct diagonal at the trot. The point of the exercise, per the book, is to get a feel inside the chute what it feels like to have the horse straight under you and then how it feels to have the horse bend around the circle.
I warmed up at the walk and trot at large in the arena and noted that Gem was still pretty focused on outside the arena instead of on me. I got a bit tougher with her as she started tripping over herself a bit when I was asking her to turn and she wasn’t paying any attention. It was annoying and she soon learned that I wasn’t having any of it.
I worked Gem in the walk and trot through the exercise making sure to randomly change directions and throwing in some halts inside the chute. At first I was getting very annoyed at myself, and Gem to be honest, because we had no bend. None. Picture a surf board. Add steel. We were more rigid than that. It wasn’t all Gem’s fault though. I couldn’t get my body to function right. I’d remember to turn my upper body and pelvis and not just my head, but then I’d lose my outside rein contact. Id’ pick that back up and my inside leg would fall off her. I’d shove that back into place and I’d find myself with rigid elbows. Those would loosen just so that my outside rein could get lost again.
All was about to be lost in a sea of frustration and expletives when my perspective shifted. While I was internally chastising myself about my inability to create bend in my stiff horse, I failed to notice how Gem, a horse who used to view halting as something that happened to other horses, was halting square from the trot every single time I asked, right when I asked inside the chute and then would trot off when asked without walking in between. I failed to notice that while she wasn’t paying full attention to me, she was maintaining her rhythm without constantly speeding up or slowing down. I failed to notice how she walked when asked and trotted when asked and wasn’t breaking in between or trying to tranter off into the distance.
So while we couldn’t bend worth crap, there were still a lot of things to be very happy with. I need to stop being so hard on us both. I did text Trainer though and set up a lesson in the future when our schedules align again to hopefully get myself back on track to where I was in November.
The book wants you to not move on until you have perfected the one exercise, but um..not going to happen. Both Gem and I would get very bored with that, so instead I’m going to alternate between two exercises to keep things interesting for us both but yet not really move on until we are ready. I haven’t looked ahead to number two yet, but if I remember from before it is similar to one only with figure 8s instead of just circles.
Dusty headed out to do morning chores Sunday, per usual. Bring the horses in, feed and hay them, let them eat for a bit and then one of us goes out to put them back out an hour or so later.
He barely left the house when my phone rang. Odd. I was snuggled up on the couch with Wyatt watching a cartoon. I looked at the phone and it was Dusty. Even more odd. Answering it granted me with a simple “you need to come out here.” I figured he would have told me if someone was dead or bleeding or something, so I pulled myself out from under Wyatt and ran outside in my pjs and slippers.
I saw this:
That looks ok. Two horses near each other behind a fence. Except there is one glaring problem. Gem is NOT IN HER PASTURE. Pete and Nash are.
So…Pete on the far right is solidly inside the pasture where they have been since moving in. The fence line can be seen BETWEEN Pete and Gem as the row of t posts and tape. Gem is standing in the lane that leads down to the pond and is in between two pastures. It has some tape as a gate of sorts blocking access to the pond lane and that is what Gem is standing behind. Impatiently waiting for her breakfast. Had she been so inclined she could have wandered down to the pond, into the woods and be lost for forever.
We found part of the tape down halfway toward the pond and a pile of Gem poop tattling on her escape route. It is unclear whether she tore it down in her impatience (very possible), if the high winds did it or if a deer (numerous visit the farm) knocked it down. Either way she didn’t look back at the opportunity to try to get to the barn. I fully believe that had the tape not blocked her way, Dusty would have found her in the barn either in her stall or more likely in the hay stall eating. The girl wants to be inside something fierce.
We grabbed the horses and put them in the barn while Dusty got busy repairing the fence. We didn’t string these lines and they are not as taut as we would like, so he spent a few hours tightening everything he could. The next day we had planned to move them to a different pasture anyway since they had eaten all the green stuff out of this one and we have enough room to rotate and not ruin any one pasture.
Miss Mare was on high risk escape watch for the next few days but seems content with the larger space and more green grass. Until she eats that down. Then we might find her on our front porch peeking in.
My intention with starting lessons last year had nothing to do with competition. I’m the least competitive person out there and could care less about ribbons or records. The point was to learn tools with which to help Gem and I better our relationship under saddle, to grow as a rider and have more fun. On Saturday I realized that all those things have come true in a big way and it got me really excited to find out where 2018 will take us.
The weather was gorgeous, the last of its kind for like the rest of eternity apparently, and I took advantage of the afternoon sunshine to hop on Gem and take her for her second ride in the home arena. Historically, she is a nut job the first few rides at a new home barn, so I kept my expectations low aiming for relaxation and a steady rhythm at the walk and trot and tacked her up in the dressage saddle.
True to form, she was tense and paying more attention to the surroundings than the monkey on her back. I focused hard on my position, keeping my elbows back, my legs longs, my back straight and those darn elbows loose. Gem wasn’t as bad as in years past, but she was also no where near the level we had left off at in early November when I last rode her for real. Wyatt was riding Nash around the arena as well which was a novelty to her. I haven’t ridden her with someone else in the arena except for in warm up twice in over 5 years, maybe longer. She was very focused on what he was up to and once they left the arena, she became obsessed with following them making going past the gate a bit frustrating. Something new to work on, I suppose.
The biggest difference though was in how I handled it, a main goal with starting lessons in the first place. When it comes to flat work, I’ve become a much more proactive and thinking rider than I was a year ago. Instead of the cycle of doom of Gem getting tense and speeding up, me getting tense and handsy, Gem reacting by speeding up and hollowing out more, me getting more braced in the saddle etc…until I gave up and got off in frustration, this time I thought about what she was doing, what I was doing and what I could change.
The latest tool to be added to my box is turn on the haunches. A simple and elementary skill that Gem is not good at doing due to two simple traits of hers: 1) she hates my leg touching her and b) any cue to her, or any answer to a cue she doesn’t understand, is answered by her going faster. It is what she knows. This simple task works extremely well to decompress her. When she begins to get more and more tense and is ignoring all my other attempts to calm down, I shut her feet down by halting. She gets a lot of praise. I set her up for turn on the haunches and ask. Typically she will try to move forward at which point I gently tell her to halt again and repeat my ask. Once she steps over, she gets a ton of praise. I repeat this both directions a few times and then ask her to move on. Usually, when she walks off it is in a much more relaxed manner and we can get back to more work without the fight.
This simple exercise works well for us for a few reasons. First, it stops her feet moving. Since her gut reaction to everything unknown is to go faster, shutting her down to a halt forces her to use her big brain instead. Once halted, this exercise gives me something easily understood for her in terms of cause in effect for praise. She moves her hind legs over even a slight bit, she gets praised. Its a simple progression that she understands which turns a negative session into a positive one pretty quickly. Last, since she has to work pretty hard at getting this, it makes her focus on me instead of the outside world.
This won’t work forever. Once she gets the hang of turn on the haunches the process will break down a bit as she won’t have to focus so hard on me, but hopefully when that happens I will have a new trick up my sleeve.
Being able to not only work on turn on the haunches, but to have the thought processes in my own brain working enough to stop the cycle and do something else is a big step forward for me as a rider.