Posted in Riding/Horses

Recent Rides

The FENCE Cross Country outing was an eye opener for me. Prior to that outing I had been riding, kinda hate to admit this but I run an honest blog over here, once every other week maybe once a week if I was lucky.

Doesn’t she looked so pleased to be in her dressage tack after dinner?

My lessons were basically the only time I rode and it showed through minimal progress and a tense ride each time. The week of FENCE I had a regular lesson Wednesday then went cross country Friday. The difference in Gem was amazing and not just because she loves being out on course. She was relaxed and settled and a lot of fun to be on.

After that I decided that a change was needed. I don’t have unlimited time. I work 50 hours a week and have a kiddo I adore spending time with and who, at 4 years old, thinks the world revolves around me. A simple switch from going to the Y on Tuesday to riding at home was easy enough to do though. Riding on the weekend can typically happen fairly easily as the kiddo enjoys going to RB to explore the woods and Pokemon hunt.  Two rides a week is still a lot less than most people, but it is a lot more than once every other week so I’ll take it.

Riding at home in the pasture. No matter where we are I still love the view between these black tipped ears

The first ride I already wrote about and it wasn’t that great. It was tense and rushed and not that much fun, but I kept at it and didn’t let it get me down as in the past.

The second ride that week was on a Sunday and I trailered out to RB to ride in the arena. I was planning on jumping but the footing was very wet from recent rain. Instead I worked on…..the canter! Gem was so relaxed in her trot work that I decided it was time. There is a whole post about this coming up, but I’ll give it away…we cantered beautifully and relaxed on both leads!!! I was grinning like a fool.

Wyatt was so amazing this day. He asked to ride, then asked to jump. I told him we could walk over the small cross rails but no jumping until he could trot. A few minutes later he was asking to trot which he has been too afraid to do on Gem in the past. Once he trotted a bit I led Gem over a 12″ vertical and she hopped it with her front end then walked over it with the hind. Wyatt was hooked!!! 

The following Tuesday was back at home and Gem was so great. She was relaxed and happy the entire ride. In fact she seemed a little bored if anything. Her halt was spot on. Her transitions both into, out of and within trot sharp and relaxed and our figures looked like circles. I worked on some serpentines and figure 8s as well. I briefly thought about cantering but this was the first relaxed and productive ride at home in 8 months and I didn’t want to push it. I decided to end on a good note.

The new riding schedule seems to be working well to keep Gem in a working frame of mind. She is easier to catch in the pasture as well. She was getting really bad and making me chase her instead of her usual stand and wait for me technique. Since I started riding twice a week she has returned to her easy nature. I’m thinking she is liking the new work load better too.

Nothing beats a good roll after a ride

I’ve put my husband on the task of figuring out a way to get a few lights out there for when daylight savings time ends so I can still ride during the week. Trailering out after work is really stressful and makes for a super long day and just isn’t realistic frequently so I need a plan B asap.

Her winter coat is starting to come in already which is really early for SC. Typically she doesn’t start to darken until October. I was so thrilled to see it coming in with healthy dappling throughout. 

 

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?

Posted in Riding/Horses, Uncategorized

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 3, Cross Country

Ok, ok..no more dragging this out 🙂 Here is the moment we have all been waiting for…

I followed Trainer out the back gate of the arena and down the grassy hill. I really had no clue what to expect. I had never seen any cross country fences there before and was uncertain what was about to happen.

Gem was obviously happy to be out of the arena and took advantage of the grass to stuff her face because, you know, her crazy owner may ask her to do anything and she needed her energy. My stomach was doing flips that would make an Olympic diver proud.

We stopped in front of a small stone wall. Trainer explained that she typically does not let horses see the jumps beforehand, but given Gem's personality she didn't want her to think she was being tricked and to go ahead and let her sniff it. At first I was like "sniff what? This pile of rocks? What are we jumping?" Then it dawned on me. We would be jumping the pile of rocks. Ok…Gem hates things like this. Like down to her core hates it. With a passion.

I walked Gem over to it with a knot in my stomach expecting her to go sideways at any moment, but she just stood next to it and looked around like "what's the big deal here? Where are we going now?"

I would have been happy to sit there in the sunshine all afternoon and call it a day. Seriously, I'm not brave. Trainer however is and wont take my wimpy crap too much, so she told me to circle around and pick up a steady trot. "Remember to steer and add lots of leg."

I turned Gem away, picked up a slow trot and prepared to jump it. I was scared shitless. Not gonna lie. I've taken Gem on so many miles of trails and dozens of hunter paces and she has never once liked even walking over anything solid out and about. Jumping a log across the trail was always an impossible feat. Adding to it, the approach was in the shade and had a super long grassy lane leading away from the jump between the trees. My biggest fear out on course is that Gem is completely untrustworthy in big open spaces. She tends to look for monsters that don't exist and spook at random. Trotting through a field has always been a big risk as she zigs and zags and jumps out of her skin at absolutely nothing.

I swallowed my fear like a rock in my throat and pointed her to the rock pile. I'm pretty sure Trainer was holding her breath waiting for a train wreck.

Gem trotted happily and loosely up to the wall, remained steady and even and hopped over it like no big deal. Then she picked up a beautiful canter and floated away. All this with extremely limited input from her rider who was in mortal terror sitting on her back like a useless monkey.

Trainer looked shocked. My jaw was on the ground. No theatrics. No issues. No unsteady "maybe I'll go right, no left, no stop, no forward" squirrelyness. Trainer just said "huh. Um. Well. Ok. Come back around the other direction where you'll be going from light to shadow. Be prepared because the change in light can back horses off. Lots of steering. Lots of leg."

So I did. And Gem repeated her performance of nonchalance professionalism.

My face split in a grin that would make a jack-o-lantern jealous.

Trainer stood there with her jaw on the ground. I could tell she hadn't really planned much more than attempting to get us over the rock wall. I mean, I don't blame her. I would have bet the farm we would have taken an hour to get over one single solid jump. And even then it wouldn't have been that safe or pretty.

"Ok…. I want you to jump the coop into the pasture then. It's narrow and wide so be prepared." It was also the highest I had ever jumped to date.

I brought Gem around and lined up. I was a bit timid. I mean, a coop? Solid triangular shaped wood? And the tallest to date? I put my leg on and Gem took it like it didn't even exist. Holy shit mare. What is going on?

"Go jump the stone wall again"

"But I'm inside the pasture. How do I get back out?"

"Over the coop"

"Oh."

And this is where Trainer's master plan finally came to light. We were now inside the pasture. The only way out was either back over the coop or over a jump I didn't know was there at this point, but would be introduced to soon enough. I had to jump the coop to leave the pasture.

She had me exit over the coop then take the stone wall again this time stringing them together. I was to let Gem canter if she was controlled enough to do so. Honestly at this point Gem began to tell me I was useless in this whole partnership and that she had this. We cantered.

We turned around and repeated the wall to coop to enter the pasture again and I've never felt anything so wonderful in my life. If that is what stadium is supposed to feel like, I've been missing out. I finally understood what Trainer had been telling me all along – act like the jump is just in the way of point A to B and ride it like it doesn't exist. For once I could. Gem just trotted or cantered along and never once even held back. It was AMAZING.

Once back inside the fence, we walked over to two railroad tie fences. On the left was a teeny tiny one that up until that point would have sent me into cardiac arrest, but now looked a bit wimpy. Gem proved me right when we went over it and she barely stepped it.

Given that response, Trainer made us do the larger one next to it. Now this fence gave me some major anxiety. It was really big. Big enough that she couldn't just step over it and would have to jump. My crutch of being able to crawl to a walk and step over it was gone. At this point Gem had begun to think that she knew better than I did (she was probably right) and was just starting to lose her breaks a little as well.

I had wanted a trot which is my other crutch, but three strides out she disagreed and broke to canter then flew over it.

Having yet to expose her to something that phased her, Trainer had us jump out over the coop and then turn left down to the driveway to come at a new fence. We flew over the now easy peasy coop, but then I completely pissed her off when I turned her prior to the stone wall and she had really wanted to go over it.

Seriously I have no clue where this horse came from. Mad that I didn't let her jump? Flying over solid natural obstacles like she was a pro? Huh??!

I got her turned down the driveway and met the new fence: a small but very wide railroad tie at the top of a super steep, short hill. The hill doesn't really show up well in the picture, but the approach was short due to the 90 degree turn off the driveway, headed straight up and then continued up on the other side.

Again, my Wonder Woman mare didn't even bat an eye at it. Except now we had an issue. Gem had decided she had no use for me, my half halts or my steering. She galloped up the hill and locked on to anything she thought she could jump. Um, no mare. I'm still the navigator.

I turned her back around and approached the jump going down the hill. This was much, much harder for me. I had to sit way back and wait patiently. Since I tend towards jumping too early, this was an exercise in fighting myself. We did fine over it, but I lost all ability to steer going down the hill and we ended up hitting a tree. Oops.

Back around and back in over the uphill jump and then Trainer had me halt to set up a plan. As I was chatting with Trainer about what we were going to do Gem started to wander, then trot and went right over to the coop in glee and fully intending to jump it. No mare. We are standing still now.

The plan was thus: uphill jump into the pasture, small railroad tie, loop around to the large tie, coop, stone wall.

I came up the hill and it was apparent that I had lost all steering and most of my brakes. Gem was having fun and had tuned me out completely. We barely made the turn to the small tie, which she then just stepped over in disdain, and by the time I turned her back to the larger tie I had lost all control. She broke to a gallop and we were off.

I freaked. I mean, this whole Gem having confidence thing was new to me and I had zero trust that we would make it over and not die. I turned her off it and Trainer wasn't very happy. I explained that I had zero control and felt really uneasy about jumping like that. She was okay with that decision but told me I needed to take control way before the jump or else I'd teach Gem to run out.

Not wanting to end on a bad note, she had me go back and try the tie again, but this time make her halt right after. Well, the halt after took 5-6 canter strides as Gem was locked onto that coop and had no intentions of doing anything but going over it. I did get her to stop though, then picked up the canter and out we went over the coop and ended over the wall.

I forgot to mention that all the times we did the coop and wall I whooped in joy. The first time Trainer, who remained inside the fence, asked if I was ok. I was more than ok. I was elated. I was having the time of my life. I never wanted it to end.

As I loosened her girth and ran the stirrups up, I was shaking. A bit adrenaline, a bit overwhelmed and lot excited. Neither Trainer nor I ever expected that out of Gem. Trainer walked over and exclaimed "You have an event horse!" I think she was as happy as I was.

I have no idea where that came from. She had never shown any interest out on trail before. A log on trail makes her jump 50 feet sideways. She balks in the arena over the smallest fences that she has seen a million times and yet when presented with solid obstacles on varied terrain with wide open spaces or with treed lanes, she took them like a pro who had done it all in her sleep. I'm floored.

I am a little scared of the beast I awoke within her. Trainer said that a lot of gymnastics are in our future to teach her to slow the poop down and wait for instruction. Guys, the future is wide open!!!

Posted in Riding/Horses

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 2, Stadium

The flat work had gone extremely well and while there is still a ton to work on, the differences were easy to see from when we started way back in February. Trainer was super happy with the work we put it and I was really proud of Gem for working so hard to try to give me the correct answer. I’mm to a point now where I feel like I can start to push Gem a little more. Before she was a little delicate. Too much pressure would send her over he edge and it would take a week or more to bring her back. Now she can take it.

It was time to get jumping though.

More hiking pictures to break up the text. 

The same course was still set from last Wednesday only this time Trainer set up a cavaletti with a ground pole on either side to make it wider.  She wanted to introduce a jump without standards to Gem to see how she would handle it. I hadn’t even thought about that difference in stadium versus cross country.

She first had me take Gem over the cross rail we had been over a dozen times before. I kept my legs on, looked up at the gate opposite the jump and rode towards it. Gem went over but it was hesitant and squirrelly. Trainer just shook her head because she saw me ride it hard and yet, even though Gem has jumped this same jump before, she still got all squiggly before it.

Same old cross rail, same old hesitation

It is a little frustrating when she is all “maybe I’ll go left, maybe I’ll go right, maybe I’ll stop, fine I’ll go over but I’m going to keep you guessing if I will or not right up to the base”.  Trainer remarked that Gem requires steering the entire time including in the air and that makes it very hard. I used to blame it 100% on me and my lack of confidence going towards the fence, but on Friday I had no butterflies, no hesitation and was not backed off at all. Gem was still the same.

We came at the jump again and this time I booted her pretty good right before it to make sure she kept up her pace and went over. Well, this caused her all sorts of confusion and she lost track of her legs and tripped right in front of the fence. We managed to make it over, but it was ugly. The third time was decent enough for Trainer to set us loose on a small course.

Carrying over from the flat work, Trainer set up three small fences: the cross rail, the cavaletti and a vertical. She told me the order to jump them, but that was all. I had the entire arena to do my thing in and she wanted to watch my decisions as I made my way around the course. I could trot or canter depending on how balanced Gem was.

And this is where I got sorta frustrated. When I very first started jumping with Trainer, she stressed allowing for bigger and deeper turns to give Gem more time to notice and realize the plan. So going around the course that was my thought. I made big sweeping turns, got deep into the corners and chose to overshoot and come back rather than turn too early and lose my rhythm.

Trainer kept shouting out to steer, turn and better prepare. I told her what I was thinking, but then when I went around again and made my turns sharper and didn’t overshoot I got told I needed to give her a better set up. I honestly didn’t know what the correct answer was as either way seemed to be wrong. I was steering and I did have a plan, it just never seemed to be the correct one.

My little guy is growing up so fast. Not only is he getting tall, but he has lost all remnants of his baby body and is looking like a little man

For Gem’s part she jumped as she always does: needed more leg support than I have access to, required precision steering and would duck out or stop if given the smallest opportunity. Thankfully, I didn’t give her the chance to duck out and kept my legs on her blocking the path, but she never felt locked on or enthusiastic about the whole thing.

After a few trips around, Trainer ran out of the ability to stall any longer, said it was time to leave the arena and begin work in the wide open over solid obstacles. Honestly, I’m convinced she was nervous about the two of us. I mean, in the arena we pretty much stink and I had been pretty vocal about my concerns on cross country.  For my part I was on the verge of telling her never mind about the whole thing. We had already been riding for an hour, it was getting really hot out and I was chickening out big time. I didn’t let the inner voice win though, and nervously followed her out the back arena gate….