The left side of the property has all been connected and opened up for horse use. We were going to introduce them to the new space Sunday morning but it alternated pouring rain and ice pellets until mid afternoon. Winter GO AWAY. The right side is trickier to connect all five pastures as there are two wooded sections separating some of the pastures.
When I got home on Saturday, I saw Dusty in the front woods opening up an area to connect the pastures through. I got out and said hello and was greeted with him complaining about needing a chainsaw. I asked what he needed one for. The trees were all small. I went on to tell him to use the ax. That’s what people did before chainsaws were invented, right? Easy.
Well. He didn’t like that and pointed to a tree telling me to use the ax and cut it down. I bet him I could do it and put a new bridle versus an ultra marathon race entry for him on the line.
A while later and I had won myself a new bridle.
Now to figure out what I want! I actually think I am going to get a new girth instead. I’ve been eyeing the TFS Stretch Tech girth for a while now and am not really liking the fit of mine. It keeps the saddle snug and in place, but when I put my hand along it, the front 1/4 is loose and all the pressure is along the back 3/4s. Its in part due to Gem’s anatomy, but I think it is also the material the girth is made out of.
Regardless of what I choose to get, it was won with my own sweat and the death of a baby tree. Sorry about that baby tree.
When Trainer invited me to a cross country school I was really excited…until I found out the venue was going to be Windridge. Not that I have anything against the facility. It is gorgeous and rolling. It’s not a schooling course though. They have nothing below starter and all the jumps are beefy. However, they started a new winter series and announced an 18″ division. I said yes banking on the fact that those new jumps would be out specially since they were to host the first event the previous weekend and another the next Wednesday.
When I pulled in and looked around though there wasn’t a single 18″ fence to be seen. I knew immediately this wasn’t going to be about jumping.
It ended up being a great day even if I only jumped one actual cross country fence in 1 1/2 hours. Gem jumped four others without me (someone else climbed up) though so she got some good schooling in.
I’m not really sure what has happened to my mare, but guys…it’s been eight years in the making and holy crap does it feel amazing. We started by warming up walk and trot in a flattish section of the field. Less than a year ago this simple task would have been a complete disaster full of spooks, bolts, hollow tenseness and probably me getting dumped.
Not Saturday. I’m starting to feel like a broken record but….it’s all so new to me! She was relaxed, forward without rushing and listening perfectly. Our transitions were spot on and it was overall pleasant. Trainer was impressed!
The other girl with me was riding Training level so while those two got a few jumps planned out, I wandered over to the warm up fences. They have three stadium fences and a few log piles and I popped Gem over the stadium fences a few times going both up and down the slope.
Then we moved on down the course and Trainer spotted a little red fence with a log on top and wanted me to try it. I couldn’t. I completely wussed out and handed the ride over to the other girl who was asking to try.
She promptly fell off.
I felt bad yet slightly vindicated. Does that make me a bad person? Probably.
Several attempts later she got her over and then promptly stopped asking to ride her. Sorry, Gem. Few people ask twice to take your ride.
As we wandered around I could tell Trainer felt bad. She knew there wasn’t anything I was going to jump out there and didn’t understand why the 18″ fences hadn’t been put out.
I told her I was ok though. I knew it was a risk going there and I was just so happy with how rideable Gem was remaining with big open spaces, lots of standing around breaks and another horse. Any one of those things would have resulted in a terrible ride as recently as last summer and yet here she was being fun. I had no regrets.
So instead she had me working on riding Gem deliberately, getting walk-trot-canter transitions throughout the field along a specified track. We were working on the tasks between the jumps which is something that has always terrified me with Gem’s history. It was fun and Gem was being so good. We cantered and trotted up and down hills and around jumps all with the focus on me being deliberate with the track and Gem maintaining the same pace regardless of the terrain.
Eventually we found the fake ditch I had done last time and she had me work Gem over it going both directions. Gem was hesitant and this is where my biggest learning point of the day came in.
Trainer told me that I actually have to give Gem permission to do what I’m asking her to do or else it isn’t fair. I tend to ask them get super defensive and in effect block Gem from answering correctly which is counter productive. To be fair to myself, when it comes to jumping Gem isn’t always honest and I respond by riding defensively in order to, you know…not die and die. But it isn’t helping
So I approached it again, put my leg on, grabbed the neck strap and asked her to jump. She was still squirrelly and hesitant but she went over and didn’t get punished by my rigidity. The next time she went even better.
That’s when the second learning point came up.
Trainer asked me what I’m focused on going over a jump. It’s been many months since I’ve looked at the jump (at least one bad habit gone?) and I do look out in the distance. My answer? “I’m focusing on not dying” she laughed and said it’s time to start focusing on my exit. When I jump I’m so focused on just getting Gem over that I forget to ride the backside. When I took the ditch with a very specific exit strategy, Gem felt more confident as a result and we had a much more balance ride.
It all boils down to me being a better leader at all times for my not very confident mare.
From there it was on to the water complex which had a broken pump so had mostly no water in it. More broken record here, but a few short months ago there was no way she would have stepped into this let only trotted through. Saturday though she did. I got nailed again for being tense and not letting Gem do what I asked of her, but once I loosened my death grip on the reins and let her trot she was floating and amazing.
We practiced trotting through, turning right, picking up the canter and cantering back to the starting point. The wheels fell off here a little as Gem took it as a race back to the beginning and then got cranky when I made her do simple things like have steering ability and not fall on her face
We followed the other girl around for another 20 minutes or so of watching her knock the socks off the Training level course. I’m not sure what her goals are but she was hitting the mark every single time out there.
After just over 90 minutes we called it quits and I waited for the next group to show up. A student of hers that is doing her first 1* this year was coming to ride Gem over some starter level jumps and I was excited to watch and learn. Part of me wanted Gem to be amazingly perfect and fly over everything, but another part wanted her to have the same issues with a better rider so it wouldn’t be all my fault for how she is. Mean? Maybe?
Trainer jacked all the fences up to 2’3″ height and Gem didn’t say no and made the height look easy. Guess it’s time for me to man up and get used to a bit height sticks.
Then they moved to the course and a simple bright blue starter roll top. It took several attempts but she got her over. It was super eye opening to watch her go with this near pro on her. What I can feel under saddle looks about the same on the ground. Gem is squirrelly. She doesn’t go straight very well and I could see her thinking about noping her way out of it with each stride. It took a ton of leg to get her to go over. Once she popped over the first time she got super proud of herself and Trainer laughed telling the rider “let her think she is an Olympian after that”. The next time over she hopped it no problem and raced away like the king of the world.
Then they tried the starter box but Gem never went over. It was the largest she ever saw and it wasn’t going to happen. You can get an idea from this one though how she goes left a little, then right, then stops. You just never fully know where her body is going to be.
There was a starter green bench next to it and they re routed to that instead.
I talked to the rider on the way back to the trailer and she had good things to say. She had a lot of fun on her, but admitted she was difficult. She felt bad because she couldn’t stop having contact all the way up to and over the jump because the moment she would soften Gem would take that as an excuse to duck out. I know that feeling all too well and I struggle with it. But Gem is smart and hopefully she learns that going over is easier than saying no.
The other thing she commented on was the fact that Gem has no clue to look for jumps yet so each time it catches her off guard and she is surprised. Gem is so busy looking every where but in front of her that she never sees it coming. Her last horse took 6 months of solid xc schooling to learn to look for it so all hope isn’t lost I suppose.
I left wishing I could leave Gem with her for a month of training. Not only do I not have the cash for it but she is in college and couldnt do it anyway. Maybe this summer when she is on her break I can ship Gem off to her. Something to think about.
Regardless, Gem got more than a 15 minute ride in Saturday and some serious education 🙂
Sounds like a silly question, I know. Just ride longer! Ah…but there is more to it than that.
A rider I respect probably more than anyone else told me when I first got Gem to go into every ride with a single goal in mind. End when you reach it. If that takes two hours, so be it. If it take five minutes, ditto.
It stuck with me and is something I’ve always done with Gem whether that was out on the conditioning trail (pick my set pace and distance and even if everything felt amazing and was going super don’t be tempted into adding on just for the sake of adding on) or in the arena. I pick a goal for that ride and end when I reach it.
Lately it has turned into really short rides. The jump school I did was only 20 minutes total. She was being so good and jumped everything I asked that it seemed redundant to keep asking her. What was the point? She wouldn’t be learning anything at that point and it only left room for her to misbehave or for her to answer the question wrong and it seemed counter productive to keep going.
The thing is that I want to ride for more than 20 minutes. Not only for our fitness levels but because I love riding.
So what do I do?
We are working on the basics right now. Bend, straightness, easy jumps to convert her from her old default of always saying no to her new one of always saying yes. Not too long ago she wasn’t jumpable because she wasn’t rideable. For her to go into it and not say no or be squirrelly a single time was a big huge deal.
I’m trying to meld my belief of stopping once the lesson is learned with my want to ride for longer than it takes me to tack up.
Part of this rambling issue is also my fear of pushing her. She is so fun to ride when she wants to be. Once she gets pushed past that point it is really no fun at all and honestly pointless since everything goes right out the window and she is no longer rideable.
Like in the lesson. The first half she was awesome and we got a lot accomplished but then she got tired (see the whole issue above about only riding for 20 minutes) and she shut down and the entire second half was fighting her and trying to get her to just trot nicely once again. No fun. Not productive.
So when I’m on my own and she is acting the angel and everything is unicorn farts and skittles, I don’t feel the urge to push beyond that and ask for more. I save that for the lessons. Of corse this means Gem is super fit for riding for 20 minutes only. Not useful either.
I guess after all that rambling I’m just trying to figure this new behaving and rideable Gem out. I want to ride for an hour. But I also want that hour to be productive and not turn into a major fight.
I go into the ride with a goal: ride an exercise from the jumping book or jump through a small course or whatever. On days Gem is being a saint, she gets it on the first few tries and then I stop. What else should I do? Add in another exercise? Work her more even though we have accomplished our task for the day? Since everything right now is centered on straightness and bend it seems odd to accomplish that one way then turn around and ask her to do it another way.
Any and all suggestions are welcome! I’ll ask Trainer next time I see her, hopefully at a xc school this weekend if the ground dries out enough and the course is open, too.
This prize is around $20 each time and this month it is a cell phone holder in what I believe is your color (after stalking your blog pictures for a bit)….
Please send me your mailing address at agemofahorse at gmail dot com and I will order it straight to your door!
Don’t worry if you don’t have any hours to submit yet. It is way early in the year and plenty of time to get them worked and in. February’s random drawing is open and ready, so get out there, get those hours in and submitted to me.
The weather was looking gross last weekend. Rain predicted all day Sunday and the reality didn’t disappoint. It poured buckets from 7 pm Saturday night to 10 pm Sunday. Gross. Knowing that in advance, I planned to ride on Saturday. A quick look into the jumping book had me shaking my head. Trotting a single ground pole wasn’t my idea of fun after a month of solid flat work. It was time to break out the jumps and go flying over some raised poles once again.
It had been since the beginning of November, so I kept it simple and set up an easy and very forgiving line of two verticals set on a turn. I haven’t measured the standards to know for sure the height but it was somewhere between 18″-2′. I wanted to make it easy enough for our first jump school in forever so as not to punish Gem in anyway for getting something wrong.
The biggest thing trainer yells at me for, and really the only time I officially get yelled at by her, is setting my sights on a jump, presenting Gem to it, then losing my lady balls and pulling her off at the last second. Not good. It basically teaches Gem that it is okay to say no and then adds in the escape route so that the next time she can take it on her own.
When I set up the two jumps, I kept that in mind giving myself plenty of room to circle after, go wide around the second jump etc…without her ever really locking onto the jump in advance.
In warming up, I kept to my more dedicated riding style. I made sure Gem always knew exactly where I wanted her to be traveling and how to get there. It really has made all the difference in how she goes. Gem doesn’t like being left to her own devices and that is my fault for not giving her the direction she needs.
I admit to having some butterflies when I turned and locked onto the first jump. I am a wimp after all. I had her trot in and she took it no big deal at all and then cantered away. The first time through I had her go wide around the second jump and then reapproached the first again and just began to play around with the two in both directions until I felt comfortable and then I asked her to do the very forgiving, not really related all that much, line.
She was very good and listened making the turn to the second jump super easy and never once said no. She didn’t even do her typical squirrelly go left no right no left again behavior leading up to the jump. On my end I made sure she was still between my legs and had plenty of time to see the jump before getting to it.
I’m not sure what has gotten into her lately, but I will take it!
Towards the end of the ride she started to get really fresh going into the jumps. She began taking long spots and launching herself over and then celebrating on the backside a bit. I didn’t want to punish her for having fun but I also didn’t want to reward her new found rushing behavior so after she did one last trip around nicely I called it a day.
I was so happy with her. And myself to be honest. After the initial butterflies disappeared they never returned and I even found myself laughing when she pulled me towards and over the jumps. It was a nice feeling knowing she was going over without question.
Thursday night was the first time all week I could carve out time to ride after work. I had two goals for the ride: hold Gem more accountable and practice both bend and straightness, both things I got nailed on during the lesson.
Trainer basically had me doing exercise one for the lesson, so I looked up the third one to begin alternating with number two. It was the perfect post lesson exercise: a long figure eight over a single ground pole. Per the book, the goals are to ride the long diagonals straight, have bend through the arcs and hit the pole on an angle. This would meld everything from the lesson together nicely.
As for my primary goal, I’m very good at being super hard on myself when I ride. I’m constantly checking on my various body parts and internally chiding myself for letting my lower leg slip forward, white knuckling the reins, tilting forward etc…. The inside of my head isn’t the prettiest place at times. What I am bad at is doing the same for Gem. I should be making sure her body parts are doing what I ask. Instead I have a “good enough” approach. I wanted to go straight down a side and instead we weave. Good enough. I wanted to begin my circle here but overshot it. Good enough.
It isn’t good enough. I need to hold Gem to doing the task at hand. So I entered this exercise determined to ride as deliberately as Trainer makes me in lessons.
I started it even in the warm up period before tackling the exercise. Instead of toodling around on Gem as I get myself under control, I immediately held her to walking a straight line. Instead of stuffing her into turns at the last minute because I forgot to plan ahead, I made sure each turn was thought out several strides out and ridden with purpose.
Gem responded by immediately softening and listening. Who would have thought that by giving your horse actual directions to follow that they would become more rideable? *Head desk*
After I did the rectangle a few times in each direction, I headed to the ground pole and picked up the trot. And Gem was amazing. The best I’ve ever felt under me.
She rode straight along the long diagonal as I focused on a specific fence post to aim for. Since she was balanced and sure of her direction, the ground pole was met in stride and rode as if not even there. What really impressed me was that she actually had real bend in the turn. I was working hard to plan the turn several strides out and do as Trainer tells me all the time: ride her like an old lady driving on ice.
Gem is super athletic and can handle being jammed around tight corners but that doesn’t mean it is right to do it plus it kills all momentum and pace. By planning my turns more carefully she can more easily maintain her balance and rhythm through the turn.
Once we went through my planned arc I could actually feel her body straighten again under me as I switched my focus to the far fence line and picked my line down the diagonal and over the pole at an angle. It felt amazing. I’ve never actually felt her be so bendy and malleable under me before.
After 15 minutes I called it quits. She was being so good it felt more harmful than good to keep repeating the exercise. She had this one mastered and deserved to be done for the night. Eventually I’m going to have to stop doing that and ride her longer or we will never gain any endurance back but for now I’m happy to give her a big pat and tell her how good she was.
This ride left me grinning all night long. Hopefully I can remember how much better things go when I ride very deliberately and we can continue moving forward and having fun.
Finally, finally, the girth and bit decided to show up and Wyatt was about peeing himself with excitement to ride. He pulled Nashville in while I was finishing up riding and had him brushed and all four hooves picked out by the time I returned to the barn (with a little help from Dusty but honestly not much, he is pretty good at grooming.)
I hate buying a girth. I wrote about it here regarding Gem and it still sucks now. I can’t for the life of me pick the right length it seems and then it still varies between brands as some have more stretch than others. Anyway, I had tried Gem’s 24″ dressage girth and it was too short. Dusty was there and I asked him what size he would get. It looked to be about 6″ off so we agreed a 30″ would work.
Um, nope. It didn’t even come close to fitting.
I should have tried this before, but had figured there was no way Gem’s 48″ jump girth would come close to fitting the 12 hand Nashers.
Um, yup. It does.
It snugged up on the very top hole on each side and had a bit more wiggle than I’d like for hard work, but I’ll be damned if the thing didn’t fit well enough for Wyatt to ride at a walk. His saddle is tiny and has the shortest billets I have ever seen so that played a big part in it but still. No way it should have worked.
Once we figured that out, we tried the new bit and new to us bridle. The bit worked great (4 1/2″ D ring snaffle) but the pony size bridle was way too big. The throat latch strap was on the top most hole and I could fit two fists between it and his head. The nose band was on the last hole and was both low and too loose but again, good enough for Wyatt’s purposes for one night. Sigh. Some day I will learn to measure these things.
Eventually we had it together enough for him to get on. Poor little man was pretty scared. Last time he rode, Dusty had him trot bareback without a ground person to grab him and he hit the dirt hard. He got back on but hasn’t been too thrilled to try again. As soon as he got on he tightened up and started to panic.
I grabbed him though and told him I’d hold on and walk beside him until he was comfortable. He agreed but was still shaking.
As soon as Nash walked on, I asked Wyatt how to stop him and Wyatt pulled back on both reins and said whoa. Nash stopped immediately just as I knew he would.
Wyatt grinned and looked at me.
He then kicked him on and they walked off.
He stopped him again and grinned some more.
Now confident that he was in control, he let me let go and take pictures and video. My ground pole was still down and we used that to teach him steering. He was a bit abrupt and harder than he needed to be, he is 5 after all, but all in all he did a great job steering all on his own without my input to keep Nash lined up and going over the pole.
At one point he turned to face the pole and overshot to the left. He fixed it by turning back right and I heard him say “there we go Nash”. It made my heart melt.
By the time he was done he was grinning and telling me how he was going to train so he could win another blue ribbon at his next show.
It made my night.
Of course I then went online a ordered a 42″ girth, smaller bridle and new pad. Hubby can’t argue cause it is for the kiddo. It’s a sneaky way to get in some good horse shopping.
Remember…get your information submitted by 12 am 1/31/18 to be eligible for January’s Volunteer Challenge random drawing. So far I have $900 Facebook Pony with 8 points and 3 Day Adventures with Horses with 2 points.