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 🙂