Posted in Riding/Horses

Hello, I’m Sara and I Love Jumping

Nine months ago that statement would have been a bold faced lie. I hated jumping. I was scared of even a 12″ cross rail. Two feet made me curl into the fetal position. Gem was in full agreement with this as well. To put it mildly, jumping was not my thing.

Now? Holy crap guys, I love it. Deep down, LOVE it. I love everything about it and the more I learn the deeper I fall. There are so many tiny intricacies about this sport and I am finding myself not so patiently waiting for the day I can unlock the secrets. I always thought I’d feel this way about dressage, but in reality I liked it only slightly more than Gem which isn’t saying a whole lot.

This was completely solidified during my lesson Sunday morning. A lesson I attempted to wuss out of when the weather was 41F and raining.

Trainer wouldn’t let me bail

Once there though I quickly forgot about being cold and wet in favor of the permanent grin that was plastered all over me face from start to finish. If this is what riding was supposed to feel like these last eight years, I’ve been seriously missing out.

So back to the lesson.

Gem was a saint. In fact she even walked up to me in the pasture. This is a good thing, true,  but also then put me in a bind because I had planned 40 minutes to catch her and now had to waste that time waiting to leave. In the cold rain. No way was i going to put her back out and try again later.

This sweet innocent face. Ha!

The lesson began per usual working on the flat. Trainer likes to see how rideable Gem is being to determine what we work on. It also is a sneaky way to work in the boring part for Gem without her getting too annoyed.

Sometime about two months ago things clicked for us. It began right around the time I began riding her two days a week at home working on short, but productive flat work in the dressage saddle. Gem was so light and responsive on our flat work Sunday. Everything was just so much easier. Bending actually occurred. She remained steady in her pace and rhythm while I got to play around with inside leg for more bend and a steady outside rein. I was grinning and Trainer kept telling me how happy she was that Gem was being so darn rideable. It felt like a completely different horse!

Then we got to the even better stuff. All our work to date has focused on getting Gem to just slow the poop down and now here we are nine month later and more often than not we can actually move on and learn new things. It’s getting fun folks!

Sunday that new item was working on bend over the jumps. To date we were just happy to make it over a fence and my focus was straightness before and after and worry about getting to the next fence later. On Sunday though Trainer set up a simple exercise to get us bending over the fence. A new skill that we had never been able to do before since Gem required so much leg to just go over the darn thing.

I completely failed at getting a decent shot of the exercise. The ground pole to the left right in front of the straw bales was one set point for the circle. Opposite of that one and off screen to the right was an identical pole which made up the other set point for the circle. I had to keep Gem bending throughout

So Trainer set two ground poles up in the far end of the arena making a 20 meter circle. The goal for me was to keep Gem bent over the entire circle instead of going straight over each pole and turning after. We did this at the trot. The first few times I was still hitting the pole perfectly straight and then turning, but I finally figured it out.

On Gem’s part, it took her a while to figure out her feet while going over the pole and keeping the bend in her body. Trainer wanted me to focus on adding as many steps in as possible between the two poles to get Gem to rock back and move over them instead of trying to reach out and take a long spot. It took a bit but it was so fun to be working on minutia type things and not fighting her zooming around and constantly be hearing “slow her down, slow down, slow down”. Instead I was hearing “add more strides” and “a little more inside leg” or “hold that outside rein steadier” Fun, fun, fun!!!!

My grin was about as big as ever. And that was before Trainer made it even better.

Trainer setting up the cross rail. She made the circle larger so that we could alternate between going over it and making a flat 20 m circle beside it still using the other ground pole

Trainer changed out one ground pole for a cross rail and moved it out closer to the rail. The exercise was to go over the pole, cut inside the jump to create a 20 meter circle, go over the ground pole, then go over the jump, get her back to trot before the ground pole and repeat the same sequence again. Key points were to make sure she stayed bent the entire time including over the jump. “Bend her in the air” was said about two dozen times.

And oh my word was it FUN! And hard. But mostly fun. My legs were shaking by the time we had done this both directions. Gem never said no to the cross rail either which got me in trouble a bit. It’s so hard to trust her when I have so much history of her saying no, but she was being good and Trainer told me I needed to reward that by giving her a better release. The best part was that I could feel her bending in the air and then she would land in canter on the correct lead. She also came back to trot before the pole each time without running away with me as she did when we did the grid work before. So much progress!!!

The final time we did it Gem picked up a beautiful left lead canter and Trainer told me to just ride it. We made 4 or 5 laps in canter which is the most I’ve ever done in a lesson and I was giddy with happiness by the end.

I could have finished on that, but the course from the show was still up and Trainer wanted to work on fences 1-3 since I sucked at those. She made them all 2′ verticals and had me ride them like in the show but add our new cross rail as fence 4.

I went into it and we did fence 1 fine and actually made the turn to 2 with bend and an even pace but then she stopped at 2. She hopped over eventually and then we made it to 3 and she ran out. I circled her and she popped over and did 4 no issue.

Sigh. It is so hard because I want to trust her and believe she will go over so I back off a bit and give a big release like Trainer told me to when we were doing the cross rail except now she was taking advantage of that as an excuse to say no.

Back around again and this time I rode her aggressively over each and it went really well. Trainer even told me to keep her cantering after fence 3 and we took fence 4 from the canter! Our first canter fence!!!! Gem was a bit awkward with her legs since we haven’t worked on this before but we did it and I liked it!!!

Ah!!!! I’m enjoying jumping!!!! What is the world coming to?

Posted in Riding/Horses

Gem Can Stay

After the semi ok, but not really great cross country schooling, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about the immediate horse future and the long term goals.

I’m not stupid and I don’t have rose colored glasses. I know Gem isn’t the perfectly right horse for me. I know most would have walked away a long time ago. This is supposed to be fun, so why torture myself?

As Gem ran circles around me Saturday morning in her pasture, the thought solidified in my brain. I’m going to lease her out to an endurance rider for a few seasons. Let her return to the trail. She is way too young physically and mentally to retire, I fully believe she would hate it, yet I don’t really want to do this with her any longer and I can’t return to endurance at this point in my life.

There. Plan made.

But then I got to the show and Gem patiently let Wyatt pick her hooves clean, brush her out and fuss over her. She carried him in warm up with others trotting and cantering by without putting a single foot wrong. She was careful and calm during his class even walking past the scary hay bale jump.

As I stood waiting my turn, she napped. Her head would bob and then snap up as she woke up. No screaming. No pawing. No moving all around. Horses crammed in front and behind us and she didn’t take notice.

In warm up she was relaxed, listened to my aides and popped over the cross rail without hesitation.

In the arena, she fed off my nerves and poor judgement and held me accountable but wasn’t dirty or mean. She got the job done.

I watched all these other people kick my butt on lesson horses. Little 8 year olds in pigtails who cantered the entire course. I thought how nice it would be to have that. To get on my horse, canter easily around pretty much being useless except for steering cuz a monkey could pilot it without issue, and then gather my many ribbons and go home.

Then I went in on Gem and my entire perspective changed. Was it easy? Nope. Did I look like the worlds biggest slow poke idiot? Probably. But here’s the thing. We did it. Together. And the feeling of accomplishment that flooded me when we soared over the final jump in each round is irreplaceable and unmatched.

Sure I would likely be jumping higher on a different horse. Yup, I probably would still be heading to a HT in December. But you know what? My lower leg position wouldn’t be as solid. Gem has taught me that. My hands wouldn’t be as relaxed. Gem taught me that too. My eye wouldn’t be as good at looking for a path many, many strides in advance. You guessed it. Gem taught me that.

I’d be a lot farther in my riding, but I doubt I’d be as good (relatively speaking) as I am currently at it. So Gem stays. For now anyway. Until she pisses me off again. I’ve been threatening to sell her for near on 8 years now. I doubt she believes me any more.

Posted in Riding/Horses

FENCE Cross Country Schooling

For some reason this post has been eluding me. I’ve written it probably half a dozen times and deleted each one. One was too upbeat for reality. The next too depressing. The following was way too boring and the one after that lacked any detail at all. I don’t know.

The short of it is that KC and Pilgrim traveled down to FENCE to meet up with Trainer and me for a day out cross country schooling. Nothing terrible happened. I didn’t fall off. We jumped everything we were supposed to except for that green bench of doom which I opted out of. The fences were fun, varied and all starter level sized: a log flanked on both sides by trees, a roll top, a bank, a hanging triple log pile and then some odd bench/roll top/box thing. The terrain was complex and varied as well.

So I should be writing an exciting post about how Gem jumped them all, how I was committed to the jumps and not scared (minus the green bench of doom) and how I even pointed out jumps I wanted to do and asked Trainer if I could. All good things.

Instead though I’m stuck on the fact that Gem very nearly tried to kill me multiple times during this outing. Well, that’s a bit melodramatic but the mare seriously wanted to dump me and tried every trick she could come up with to succeed. When all her tricks leading up to a fence failed to produce the desired result, at one point we were approaching the roll top coming off the bank on a left hand turn and while her head was pointing at it her butt was swung left and was parallel to the jump until about a stride out from it, she turned her attention to the backside and began dolphin leaping and bolting.

KC grabbed some good shots through her Cambox. I’m too computer illiterate to figure out how to embed the gifs she sent me here, so instead I took screen shots with my phone and you get those instead. If I ever figure out how to do it the real way, I’ll post the footage of us jumping.

Before anyone starts yelling “she is in pain!” She isn’t. Her tack fits fine. He teeth are fine. She doesn’t have ulcers. This is just Gem. A Gem who doesn’t want to play the game. A Gem who is bored waiting for her turn. A Gem who wants to go trot and canter down the trail and not stand and wait or worry about the take off or landing. It’s a Gem not interested in what I asked her to do.

This little red jump was one I saw myself and asked Trainer if I could do it. I was happy with myself for finding new jumps and being comfortable with them. Now that bluish grey roll top in the foreground? KC and Pilgrim ROCKED over that coming off a novice sized roll top just off screen. They looked so good out there!

On my way home I talked to Trainer and asked her what my chances of going to a HT and finishing the cross country course were. Her answer? None. So I scratched my HT in December and need to re group. I’m not ditching Gem or my hopes to event. We just need a ton more schooling for the both of us and I’m fine with dumping my money in lessons instead. I signed us up for a jumper show (our first ever!) this coming weekend at our training barn. I think spending money on dressage or jumper shows is better spent right now than a full blown HT.

Typical Gemmie. We had already gone over this same jump a few times, yet here she is caught on film spooking at it right before take off like she had never seen it before and how dare I surprise her that way? She still went over it though.

It was a good outing overall and I realized a lot of things. I’m not scared of a lot of the jumps anymore. Some still get to me and I’m in no way ready to go up in xc height beyond starter, but a lot of the starter stuff wasn’t looking too bad. That’s a big deal for me. And Gem can do it. She can do it well and without issue when she decides to. It is the getting her to decide to that’s the issue. Trainer told me I need to ignore her shenanigans on the front side of the jump and teach her that twisting into a pretzel isn’t going to get her out of jumping it. The issue is always complicated though.

One of my biggest issues with her is getting her to focus. We will be coming up to the jump on either a long or short approach and be lined up straight and there Gem is looking left, looking right, looking behind her in some magical yoga pose until we are slammed up against it. Then she is all “whoa now hold on a minute what is this thing in my path?” and takes a hard look then decides to go over or perhaps not. Trainer is on me for not using my legs more to keep her between me, but any leg equals “go faster” to her so then I end up with this freight train half bolting half spooking still not focused on the jump under me. And she is both smart and athletic enough to pull some wonky crap right before the jump to get out of it, so running her at it isn’t a good idea.

We will get there. Just not this season. Maybe next?

 

Posted in Riding/Horses

The Biggest Change in My Riding

It isn’t my lower leg position.

It isn’t my fluid elbows.

It isn’t my shoulder posture.

It isn’t in the use of my seat as an aide.

It isn’t in the more consistent rein contact.

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PC Bette Mann

All of those things are important and visible changes that have made big impacts on the way I communicate my wants to Gem. Each has come with a lot of hours of practice and retraining muscle memory, however none are the most important change I’ve made to my riding since I started taking lessons.

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PC Bette Mann. Better position though I still need to bring my lower leg back and sit more forward in the saddle. 

In fact, the change wasn’t even purposeful on my part or taught by Trainer. It isn’t visible. It isn’t easily tracked in pictures. The single most important change in my riding has been my ability to think while riding.

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I love how Gem always has an ear on me. That is likely because I talk to her near non stop. I was watching KC go over her course here. PC: Bette Mann

I have found myself with a near constant running conversation in my head as I ride on the flat these days. “Shoulders back, you are leaning forward” “Oops, I’m hanging on the reins, let go and soften.” “Turn those shoulders into the bend” “Crap, Gem’s getting fast, half halt”. With so many new tools in my box to work with, I am now able to problem solve instead of being reactive to her behaviors. Not only does this allow me to be a proactive rider, it forces me to analyze in real time what is working and what isn’t so that I can make positive changes and turn a not so great start to a ride into a good ending.

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Taking the ditch!!! PC Bette Mann

Sounds pretty silly to put in writing, but it is true. Being able to sit there and analyze is a big improvement for me because not only does it mean that I have the ability to fix some things, but it also means that Gem and I have reached a point in our work together where I don’t need to focus my entire attention on her and can now allow some of those precious few brain cells to think about myself, my position and my aides. It is a really big step for us as a pair.

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This new habit of actually thinking while I ride instead of having crickets chirping upstairs became obvious during my jump lesson for the fact that it was absent. When I jump my mind tends to go quiet and I return to my old habit of being reactive. This is mostly due to the fact that Gem requires all my attention still over jumps. I need to give her support and a straight entry while making sure she sees the jump and is focused on it and then I need to focus on giving her a big release and following her regardless if she pops straight up over it, stalls out in front or takes a flyer. After it is all about the big huge pats and praise for a going over to build her confidence. This all leaves me no room to focus on my position and I am back to being reactive.

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So excited to be on the other side safe and sound. PC Bette Mann

My goal over this coming winter is going to be building enough of a foundation over jumps that I can reach the same point where I am on the flat. I’d like to be able to plan better, make sure I’m sitting well in my two point and not supermanning it over and preparing my exit strategy a little better. I believe we can get there and that it will be a pivotal point for us moving forward into next show season.

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Going over it the second time with a big handful of mane. PC Bette Mann

How about all of you? Any major breakthroughs lately?

Posted in Riding/Horses

Ditches and Water

Sunday morning dawned super foggy and humid. Gem sorta blinked at me when I grabbed her halter and led her out of her pasture. She had already been ridden three times last week which was a record high ever since Wyatt was born. Pre W, I rode three times a week regularly but that has dwindled since he was born. Anyway, she calmly loaded up with a sigh wondering what on earth I was up to.

Cross country courses are beautiful

What I was up to was a cross country schooling day with KC, her friend Paula on her gorgeous mare and Bette who was sans horse and likely regretted it once I talked her into climbing on Gemmie.

I knew going in I wasn’t likely to jump much. Windridge was built for competition not schooling and the jumps are beefy. Definitely too much for Gem and I right now, but I wasn’t going in order to get a bunch of jumps in. I wanted to play in the water mostly and hang out with some wonderful people. Having the horses at home is great, but is also isolating so any chance to ride with others is an opportunity I try not to miss.

Even when all the jumps make you want to pee yourself

My biggest question though was how Gem was going to warm up. Not only did she have friends around doing their own thing, but she had just had a baller jump lesson on Wednesday. Would she still be all squirrelly to the first few jumps? Yes. The answer was yes. She still looked hard and tried to stop but a solid foot in the ribs sent her over. I circled her around and she took it the next time like a normal horse.

She is getting really fit between all the flat work and jumping

I was really proud of how rideable she was in general. No shenanigans even when KC and Pilgrim scooted off to jump real things or when they took off cantering for their approach and we trotted around or stood watching. Gem stayed light in the bridle for me in her trotting and never once tried to scoot away or blast off. She also never spooked one single time. Even had we not done anything else all morning, it would have been a success.

But thankfully we actually did things too!

KC and Pilgrim upper left and Paula on Billie Jean lower right. I loved Paula’s mare so much I was tempted to plop her o my own trailer and take her home

After warming up, we headed to the water complex. The only other time I went cross country Gem was not so sure she agreed with the idea of trotting through the water. This time she took it like it wasn’t ever an issue. We trotted back and forth a bunch of times enjoying the cool water splashing up on both of us. The day was already getting pretty warm.

From there the group headed to the banks which were huge. I watched as Pilgrim attacked them like they barely existed. He is a really neat gelding and I can’t wait to see where KC and Pilgrim go from here. They both have the potential to go as far as she wants to.

Let’s see…after the banks we attempted to find something that Paula and I felt comfortable jumping. We tried heading over to some ramps and roll tops that seemed promising but up close they were too much for either of us. KC wandered off to have some fun and at that point I realized I was likely not going to do much more. The jumps were just too high for me, but there was unsuspecting Bette being our ground person. I asked if she would like to hop on Gem and tackle whatever she felt comfortable doing. I’ve never had the chance to see her ride, but I know she is a great rider and has so much more experience than I do. I figured she may as well do something with Gem since I was just sitting on her.

Bette getting to know Gem. 

Bette hopped up and um…I’m not sure she would elect to do so again, but she didn’t hop right back off two seconds later with a scowl either so that’s a win. I wasn’t very helpful either and basically told her “leg on makes her go faster on the flat so avoid it, but you need a lot of leg to jump”. Yup, solid advice 🙂

She worked Gem for a while trotting around trying to find that elusive soft feeling that I’ve fought to get for years. Gem was a little pissed that someone new was on her who didn’t know the Rules of Riding Gem. They managed to reach somewhat of a compromise eventually and headed over to play with the warm up fences. I felt a tiny bit better when Bette exclaimed that Gem was a very hard horse to ride. She is so wiggly and athletic that you really never know for sure where she will be from one stride to the next. She rode her very well and I’d let her on her any time. Not sure she would say yes though 😉

Playing around the warm up area. Bette took her over both cross rails and Gem was pretty good. A bit squirelly, but she went over. 

I felt bad at this point. KC was chilling with us newbies instead of off jumping and I didn’t want to hijack her schooling. I knew she had wanted to do some bank work too so after a bit we wandered over that way. I hung back and walked with Paula getting to know her as Bette super trotted off to catch up with KC. By the time I made it over Bette informed me that Gem now does ditches so it was my turn to climb back up and give it a go.

I was oddly not even that nervous. Once Gem decides she is up for it, I know nothing will stop her and all I need to do is not fall off. I watched KC and Pilgrim kill it over a little course of hanging log, starter cabin, BN cabin and then the ditch. They make it look easy!

Ditch!!! It was the nicest baby ditch too because it had the width but if she made an error she could have stepped in it and not killed us both. 

Then it was my turn and Gem hoped over the ditch like a pro and then promptly cantered all over the place afterward like we were both drunk. I did my patented “get elated you didn’t die going over and stop riding after” move and grinned like an idiot. Not good, but hey! I’m learning.

Once more over and everyone was done for the day. We walked back to the trailers and loaded up to go home. I think I only jumped four or five times, but that was fine with me. Gem was behaving calmly and relaxed the entire time no matter what the others were up to, she trotted through the water and took me over my first ditch. It was a success in my eyes!

A great group of ladies to be out on a Sunday morning with
Posted in Riding/Horses

Umm…My Horse is Amazeballs. End of Story.

As of Tuesday afternoon the plan for the week was to have Wyatt take my lesson slot Wednesday evening and I would go playing around cross country on Sunday instead of taking a lesson.

Well, I sorta finagled a way to do both thanks to a combination of things playing out just right. Here is my recipe:

  • First, give up your riding time for your kiddo.
  • Then promptly forget you did the above and agree to help a friend at the same time on the same night.
  • Have hubby agree to take Wyatt by himself to said lesson to avoid canceling plans.
  • Now here is an important ingredient: hubby comes down with a nasty GI bug that keeps him up all Tuesday night with diarrhea and vomiting and makes him stay home from work.
  • Hubby is now too incapacitated to drive Wyatt so you need to cancel plans with friend.
  • This gets a little tricky. By some stroke of luck, end up with a weak work schedule ‘t want to stauncthat lets you leave at 4:15pm when you are typically happy to leave by 7pm.
  • Realize that since Dusty is already home and you’ll be home by 445 and have already had to cancel your plans with your friend, that you may as well take Gem with you and lesson after Wyatt.
  • Bingo! You have yourself a lesson with no guilt trip and no hard feelings specially when you let sick hubby pass out in the truck the entire time.

I have zero media of me from the lesson because sick hubby was passed out in the truck, so instead you get Wyatt pictures. He got to do a lot more trot work this time and had a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, I got Gem ready and headed up hoping to sneak in a nice warm up before my turn came around. Unfortunately, just as I entered the ring Wyatt told Trainer he was “very much done” and so his ended and mine began.

His little two point makes my heart melt. 

I went into this lesson with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Having had so many wonderfully relaxed rides at home, if this lesson went downhill I was prepared to exit stage left and figure out what was going wrong: was it the venue, the saddle since I ride dressage at home and jump at lessons, was I more tense during lessons than at home etc….

I needn’t have worried though. All the hard, monotonous, boring basic work at home is finally beginning to pay off. The flat work warm up was glorious. My position got a grade A+, heck, I was even told by Trainer, the position Nazi, that I could have my picture in the Pony Club Manual. I was beaming after that compliment! Having an actual solid base of support makes riding so much easier, who would have thought? I’ve also been playing around a lot with my seat as an aide and Trainer noticed that too. Gem was behaving pretty nicely as well and stayed calm and relaxed. There were times she tried to take over and speed up, but my half halts were actually getting through. We didn’t spend much time on a circle and instead focused on a larger area of the arena with small circles thrown in here and there and I think that really made a difference too.

Night riding is now a thing. Can it be spring soon?

Some quick bullet points on the flat work before I move on to the amazingly awesome jump exercise she had us do.

  • Elbows need to come farther back than I think. They have improved and are much more fluid than before, but need to come back more. More. More.
  • The amount of aide needed to get Gem to listen is pretty loud right now and Trainer was ok with that. At least she was listening. However, we will need to begin working on being able to quietly talk to her and then eventually whisper.
  • She was super impressed with my two point. I told her all about the 2ptober challenge and she loved it. I think she is going to introduce the idea to her other students.
  • Using my body position to make life hard on Gem when she wants to speed up is a great tool. I tend to always tip a bit forward which gives mixed signals to Gem as I’m asking her to slow down. By sitting up straight or even leaning back slightly my body weight can help drive home the point that I do want her to slow down.
  • Trainer liked my timing with half halts to keep Gem in a rhythm however I need to get better at my release. I tend to hang on way too long which defeats the purpose. She said I can only hold it for 3 seconds. After that I need to either escalate the aide or praise Gem for responding.

After the small amount of flat work it was on the what Trainer called “the maze”. It looked like a lot of fun and didn’t disappoint at all. Basically it was a hidden grid work exercise. Trainer felt that Gem was taken aback by the never ending straight line of jumps in a traditional grid pattern and hoped that this little game would make it interesting but not back her off. I didn’t realize it had been 2 months since we jumped last, but I was excited and never once, not one single time, was I scared or backed off. It is an amazing feeling after so many years of being scared.

Trainer doesn’t like letting horses walk over or look at jumps since you can’t do that in a competition, but she always makes a point to let Gem so she doesn’t feel like we tricked her by changing up the rules. The first few times we walked the zig zag through the maze to let Gem see it all. She gave the one standard the stink eye, but remained calm and relaxed. After that it was time to get our jump on!

Sorta a crummy view. Basically it was a Z shape in its side with the horizontal arms of the z being a cross rail creating a chute through the middle. Just going through the maze at a trot was interesting due to the quick change in bending line. When we went straight through we entered at the far right and exited out the clear end to the upper left. 

Round 1: Enter the right hand chute and exit over the small cross rail.

The first time through Gem tried to run out going left like we had walked through it. Trainer is always getting on me for not spying exit points and preventing them. I needed to add more left leg and right rein to keep Gem straight and centered. Gem did pop over it, but it was backed off and hesitant as always and she was rewarded with an eye roll and “you could walk over that” from Trainer. The next time was better, but Gem was still unsure of herself and the exercise.

After a few times through, we moved on.

Looking at it from the backside. Round one was simply trotting through the chute coming towards the camera and exiting over the cross rail. What was nice that once we entered the cute, she really couldn’t leave it. 

Round 2: Enter the left hand chute the opposite direction and exit over the grey cross rail.

Gem was much better over this one. She didn’t hesitate or try to run out which was a good feeling. She wasn’t locked on or trying to pull me toward the jump, but she was behaving and going over with a nice canter after.

After going over this a few times Gem began to get pretty revved up and tense in our trot as we circled around to approach again. In fact, she was nearly out of control a bit so we returned to some flat work. In Trainer’s words: Gem needs to know that you are in control of when, how fast, and where her feet move. I was to halt from the trot and not let her walk off until she relaxed. I think this got through to her because after doing it a few times she decided listening was more fun that having to stop every 2 ft.

Round 2. Enter going away from the camera and out over the cross rail by where Trainer is standing. 

Round 3: Come in from the right side over the brown vertical, 2 strides, out over the red and white vertical.

This is when Gem decided that this game was one she wanted to play. The first time over I was to walk it. I did, however Gem decided to jump the verticals from the walk so we decided she didn’t need the walk introduction any more. I exited going right and came back around the maze to do the two stride entering at the trot and letting her canter through and after.

The next time Gem locked on and pulled me through that two stride like she was an old pro. I was so stunned that I completely stopped riding after the exit and our canter away was hideous. We did it again and I could barely contain the beast under me. She locked on several strides out, cantered in, flew through the two strides and cantered away. I was grinning from ear to ear and may have let out a whoop of glee or two. Trainer is embarrassed by me I am sure.

Cutting across the middle of the maze. In over the near brown vertical, two strides and out over the far red and white vertical. Going this direction had us facing the rail and required me to make an exit plan right away or run into it. It helped with my habit of not riding after a jump. 

Round 4: Green cross rail to grey cross rail on a super steep angle.

Things started getting technical here. The key to this exercise was all in the approach. Trainer was nice to me and laid down two ground poles to make a runway for me to aim for the first couple of times. I needed to pay attention to where I made my turn off the rail to enter the grid which was a one stride between the two cross rails. With the ground poles to help, we made it over without an issue. Once she removed them, it became much harder for me to plan where to hit the first cross rail and make it out over the second one.

By this time Gem had decided she didn’t need me anymore as well. Mare had turned on her tubro boosters and was flying around wit her neck arched and snorting like she was the shit. Trainer and I were both laughing at her and her new found glory. The issue was that she wasn’t listening to me very well and decided that turbo charged cantering was the best way to get through the grid.

This earned her a lot of trot halt transitions as we made our way around the arena to hit the one stride angled cross rails again. She wasn’t too pleased, but it made her rideable. Of course, once she locked onto the jumps it was game over, hang on for dear life and hope I don’t fall off. She was in BEAST MODE. Trainer shouted as we cantered away that I was now riding “cross country Gem” instead of “stadium Gem”.

This had me a bit worried at first but was a ton of fun to ride. It required a lot of planning and steering on my part. 

Round 5: Put it all together in a course. In right side chute with exit over green cross rail, turn right and make a small circle then enter the other chute and exit out grey cross rail, turn left then take the two stride vertical, turn right and end over the angled one stride.

Or at least that was the way it was supposed to go.

I entered through the chute and Gem locked on as soon as we entered the wings. She picked up the canter and soared over the green cross rail and hand galloped away. I made the right hand turn, but by the time I stopped laughing and got her under control we were half way down the arena. I got her settled and turned around then did the second chute with the same exit. I managed to get her turned much sooner and headed towards the two stride vertical. I was laughing so hard and asked Trainer if this was what she envisioned the course looking like. There was nothing she could do but laugh as well.

Her point here was that it is a fine line with Gem right now. Obviously we don’t want to teach her she can run away from the jumps and ignore the blob on her back. However, this new found love and confidence over jumps is such a joy to ride and see that we don’t want to staunch it either. It is much nicer than riding the hesitant and backed off Gem. We let her go this time, but will begin dialing her in soon.

We hit the two stride and thankfully, the exit runs smack into the rail so she had no ability to run off. The angled grid though. Well, that was all my fault. I over shot my turn off the rail to enter the line, something I am very bad at doing, which put us too far to the left. The first cross rail was fine but it shoved us up the standard for the second one. Gem thought about refusing and had every right to, but I think she was having too much fun so she jumped it at the last second. On my part, when she began to refuse I got sent forward, thats what jumping ahead of the horse gets you, and when she popped up I was in no way prepared. Thankfully I only flew straight up out of the saddle and plopped back down however I did manage to ht her in the mouth pretty good.

Trainer had me circle around and do the one stride again. This time I set us up better and we went through no issues. Trainer remarked that she could throw up a 3ft fence and Gem would have soared over it. Mare was launching herself. I was sad I got no pictures.

The whole shebang again. In through the right, turn and circle to make the entry through the top left coming toward the camera, turn right and go across the middle and finish with the angled one stride. 

At the end Gem was a sweaty beast who was extremely proud of herself. She had taken that maze like a nascar driver on crack. We will need to figure out a way to let her have fun and build her confidence while not running at mach speed. The good news is that she never touched or knocked down a single rail even with our slip shod approaches and rocket launches.

It was the most fun I have ever had on her and we were both very pleased with ourselves at the end. Gem pranced back to the trailer with her neck arched and a spring in her step. She thought she won the Olympic Gold Medal. In my mind she did. It is such an interesting feeling on her. When she understands what the game is, she lights up and attacks it like a monster that needs obliterated. You can feel the difference in her. I had my cross country, mildly out of control, Gem in that arena and it felt so good. Yes, she was not listening or slowing down much, but I was never scared because I knew she was going to go over the jump. Maybe a little too fast. Maybe a little too high, but she was going over. Such a different feeling than the squirrely, backed off, maybe I will, maybe I won’t Gem. Now I need to learn how to ride that. I was left behind pretty much at every fence and I need to learn to be a bit snappier and less defensive. In my defense though I have spent 7 years with the backed off Gemmie and needed to be defensive to driver her towards the jump and stay on when she ran out at the last minute. Changing this is going to take time.

Sweaty proud beast
Posted in Riding/Horses

Trying to Beat the Blahs

Monday night I was determined to ride regardless of the spitting rain and 9000% humidity. Work was hectic and busy, but I have found that riding on Monday night helps my week feel better in general and I am not feeling the end of the week “want to lay on my couch in my pajamas and forget the world” pull towards my couch.

Upon leaving work, I got Wyatt from his pre school, fed and hayed the horses, and made dinner so I could let it cook in the oven while I rode. Right after I plopped it in the oven Dusty got home and took over playing with Wyatt so I could go ride. It was spitting rain and I didn’t care. I was going to ride.

Gem warmed up really well. She was either tired or in the mood to play along because for once she waited for all my cues instead of trying to trot when I want to walk and canter when I ask to trot. Maybe the two days a week riding is starting to pay off?

I didn’t spend much time walking since she was listening really well and actually bending in the corners and around my circles. My inside leg on her side to help with bend is still resulting in her scooting forward, but Monday night I was able to counter it with a half halt that she actually listened to.

After walking a little I worked on her turn on the haunches again. Mare had spent some time thinking that one over and was ready and willing to move her big butt this time without the pinned ears and angry faces. Moving to the left was easier than to the right and after a few cues she decided she would appease the annoying blob on her back and just keep going one direction all the way in a circle. Mare is too smart, so I began alternating right then left then right then left. I always have to stay one step ahead of her.

From there I asked again for the walk and got up in my two point for the challenge. She was much calmer this time, lowered her head and trucked along as I dangled above her wondering how long it had been and surely it was already 10 minutes and I can quit. Um…yea it was 57 seconds. Ok…try again. The second time I made it 1:22 before a combination of sheer boredom walking around aimlessly like that and a burning in my peroneal tendons conspired to make me sit. I’ll take it though. Almost a full minute longer than my baseline.

Then it was time to trot. Gem picked up the best trot I have ever felt from her. It was soft, it was light, it was floaty and best of all she was listening, bending and easily brought down by tightening my core or sent forward by a simple change in my posting. I was grinning like a fool. We circled, did serpintines, did figure 8s, and since she was being so darn good I had her go down the long side of the pasture at the trot with the goal being maintaining the pace and rhythm and she did it wonderfully. Typically a big open straight away would see her zooming along by the end or breaking into canter. Not Monday.

The original plan was to do more canter work, but the trot was so amazing, and usually goes down hill after cantering, that I didn’t do it. I should have. It is the only way to improve, but the work we did was light years better than any other ride I’ve done all summer and early fall that I didn’t want to ruin it all.

It was a good time to end too. Once I got her tack off and her let loose again, the oven timer was going off and it was time for dinner. It worked out pretty great.

I’ve also had my little dilemma for the week solved for me. I had Wyatt scheduled for a lesson Tuesday evening and myself on Wednesday. Tuesday morning I got a text saying that the arena was too wet for a lesson. Kinda odd since he is only doing walk on the lunge, but there may be rules in place regarding footing that I am unaware of and it isn’t the first time rain got my plans cancelled. Well, when I got that text I figured I’d just give Wyatt my Wednesday lesson time and then plan to hit up cross country with KC and her friend on Sunday. I rescheduled my lesson to next week and all is well. Now lets hope the rain stays away so I can go on Sunday!