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

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

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, 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!!!