Nine months ago that statement would have been a bold faced lie. I hated jumping. I was scared of even a 12″ cross rail. Two feet made me curl into the fetal position. Gem was in full agreement with this as well. To put it mildly, jumping was not my thing.
Now? Holy crap guys, I love it. Deep down, LOVE it. I love everything about it and the more I learn the deeper I fall. There are so many tiny intricacies about this sport and I am finding myself not so patiently waiting for the day I can unlock the secrets. I always thought I’d feel this way about dressage, but in reality I liked it only slightly more than Gem which isn’t saying a whole lot.
This was completely solidified during my lesson Sunday morning. A lesson I attempted to wuss out of when the weather was 41F and raining.
Once there though I quickly forgot about being cold and wet in favor of the permanent grin that was plastered all over me face from start to finish. If this is what riding was supposed to feel like these last eight years, I’ve been seriously missing out.
So back to the lesson.
Gem was a saint. In fact she even walked up to me in the pasture. This is a good thing, true, but also then put me in a bind because I had planned 40 minutes to catch her and now had to waste that time waiting to leave. In the cold rain. No way was i going to put her back out and try again later.
The lesson began per usual working on the flat. Trainer likes to see how rideable Gem is being to determine what we work on. It also is a sneaky way to work in the boring part for Gem without her getting too annoyed.
Sometime about two months ago things clicked for us. It began right around the time I began riding her two days a week at home working on short, but productive flat work in the dressage saddle. Gem was so light and responsive on our flat work Sunday. Everything was just so much easier. Bending actually occurred. She remained steady in her pace and rhythm while I got to play around with inside leg for more bend and a steady outside rein. I was grinning and Trainer kept telling me how happy she was that Gem was being so darn rideable. It felt like a completely different horse!
Then we got to the even better stuff. All our work to date has focused on getting Gem to just slow the poop down and now here we are nine month later and more often than not we can actually move on and learn new things. It’s getting fun folks!
Sunday that new item was working on bend over the jumps. To date we were just happy to make it over a fence and my focus was straightness before and after and worry about getting to the next fence later. On Sunday though Trainer set up a simple exercise to get us bending over the fence. A new skill that we had never been able to do before since Gem required so much leg to just go over the darn thing.
So Trainer set two ground poles up in the far end of the arena making a 20 meter circle. The goal for me was to keep Gem bent over the entire circle instead of going straight over each pole and turning after. We did this at the trot. The first few times I was still hitting the pole perfectly straight and then turning, but I finally figured it out.
On Gem’s part, it took her a while to figure out her feet while going over the pole and keeping the bend in her body. Trainer wanted me to focus on adding as many steps in as possible between the two poles to get Gem to rock back and move over them instead of trying to reach out and take a long spot. It took a bit but it was so fun to be working on minutia type things and not fighting her zooming around and constantly be hearing “slow her down, slow down, slow down”. Instead I was hearing “add more strides” and “a little more inside leg” or “hold that outside rein steadier” Fun, fun, fun!!!!
My grin was about as big as ever. And that was before Trainer made it even better.
Trainer changed out one ground pole for a cross rail and moved it out closer to the rail. The exercise was to go over the pole, cut inside the jump to create a 20 meter circle, go over the ground pole, then go over the jump, get her back to trot before the ground pole and repeat the same sequence again. Key points were to make sure she stayed bent the entire time including over the jump. “Bend her in the air” was said about two dozen times.
And oh my word was it FUN! And hard. But mostly fun. My legs were shaking by the time we had done this both directions. Gem never said no to the cross rail either which got me in trouble a bit. It’s so hard to trust her when I have so much history of her saying no, but she was being good and Trainer told me I needed to reward that by giving her a better release. The best part was that I could feel her bending in the air and then she would land in canter on the correct lead. She also came back to trot before the pole each time without running away with me as she did when we did the grid work before. So much progress!!!
The final time we did it Gem picked up a beautiful left lead canter and Trainer told me to just ride it. We made 4 or 5 laps in canter which is the most I’ve ever done in a lesson and I was giddy with happiness by the end.
I could have finished on that, but the course from the show was still up and Trainer wanted to work on fences 1-3 since I sucked at those. She made them all 2′ verticals and had me ride them like in the show but add our new cross rail as fence 4.
I went into it and we did fence 1 fine and actually made the turn to 2 with bend and an even pace but then she stopped at 2. She hopped over eventually and then we made it to 3 and she ran out. I circled her and she popped over and did 4 no issue.
Sigh. It is so hard because I want to trust her and believe she will go over so I back off a bit and give a big release like Trainer told me to when we were doing the cross rail except now she was taking advantage of that as an excuse to say no.
Back around again and this time I rode her aggressively over each and it went really well. Trainer even told me to keep her cantering after fence 3 and we took fence 4 from the canter! Our first canter fence!!!! Gem was a bit awkward with her legs since we haven’t worked on this before but we did it and I liked it!!!
Ah!!!! I’m enjoying jumping!!!! What is the world coming to?
After the semi ok, but not really great cross country schooling, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about the immediate horse future and the long term goals.
I’m not stupid and I don’t have rose colored glasses. I know Gem isn’t the perfectly right horse for me. I know most would have walked away a long time ago. This is supposed to be fun, so why torture myself?
As Gem ran circles around me Saturday morning in her pasture, the thought solidified in my brain. I’m going to lease her out to an endurance rider for a few seasons. Let her return to the trail. She is way too young physically and mentally to retire, I fully believe she would hate it, yet I don’t really want to do this with her any longer and I can’t return to endurance at this point in my life.
There. Plan made.
But then I got to the show and Gem patiently let Wyatt pick her hooves clean, brush her out and fuss over her. She carried him in warm up with others trotting and cantering by without putting a single foot wrong. She was careful and calm during his class even walking past the scary hay bale jump.
As I stood waiting my turn, she napped. Her head would bob and then snap up as she woke up. No screaming. No pawing. No moving all around. Horses crammed in front and behind us and she didn’t take notice.
In warm up she was relaxed, listened to my aides and popped over the cross rail without hesitation.
In the arena, she fed off my nerves and poor judgement and held me accountable but wasn’t dirty or mean. She got the job done.
I watched all these other people kick my butt on lesson horses. Little 8 year olds in pigtails who cantered the entire course. I thought how nice it would be to have that. To get on my horse, canter easily around pretty much being useless except for steering cuz a monkey could pilot it without issue, and then gather my many ribbons and go home.
Then I went in on Gem and my entire perspective changed. Was it easy? Nope. Did I look like the worlds biggest slow poke idiot? Probably. But here’s the thing. We did it. Together. And the feeling of accomplishment that flooded me when we soared over the final jump in each round is irreplaceable and unmatched.
Sure I would likely be jumping higher on a different horse. Yup, I probably would still be heading to a HT in December. But you know what? My lower leg position wouldn’t be as solid. Gem has taught me that. My hands wouldn’t be as relaxed. Gem taught me that too. My eye wouldn’t be as good at looking for a path many, many strides in advance. You guessed it. Gem taught me that.
I’d be a lot farther in my riding, but I doubt I’d be as good (relatively speaking) as I am currently at it. So Gem stays. For now anyway. Until she pisses me off again. I’ve been threatening to sell her for near on 8 years now. I doubt she believes me any more.
A lot of lessons were learned at the show. I could have walked away from this experience dejected. I mean, I just got my butt handed to me by a bunch of 8 year old girls in literal pigtails on lesson ponies. My time was slow by a full minute. Gem tried to leave the arena upon entering. I had a total of 4 refusals between the two rounds. I forgot where my fence was.
But we jumped. Every single fence. No rails down. Even with a crowd of people hanging on the rail. Even with a crap ton of flower filler. Even on a height we haven’t ever even schooled. Gem said yes. The refusals were my fault. I didn’t set her up right or I stopped riding. Maybe a better/more forgiving horse would have said yes anyway but we all know by now that isn’t Gem. And yet she said yes 20 times.
That’s pretty amazing.
Beyond that though I learned some things.
First, the next time I’m signing up for every freaking class possible to stave off the bone numbing boredom that hanging out for hours on end at a h/j show by yourself creates. Hubby was off entertaining Wyatt and I just stood there. When I saw the class schedule I had no clue what half the classes were. Now I know. Sure we would never win in the hunter equitation over fences 18”, but damn that course looked easy. Outside line, diagonal, outside line. Sign me up for that next time!
Second, I ride better over bigger fences. I was more nervous going into the 2’ class having never jumped a course set to that height before and maybe that is why, but looking through the screen shots my position is way better during the 2’ round than the 18” one. I think it has more to do with the fact that Gem required a stronger ride, I was more secure having just done it before and therefore I dug in and got it done. Plus Gem had to actually jump instead of zooming over which helped me too.
I talked to Gem. A lot. Kinda loudly too to the entertainment of the judge and spectators. I talked to her the entire time. “Ok Gem we’ve got this. Jump it!” “Sorry Gem! My fault let’s try again” “We look like fools out here but come on let’s finish this thing” on and on. I even told her I was a wimp. I talked and she responded by being more present. She looked around a lot less than normal and was more focused. Point taken and thank you to blogger of 3dayadventureswithhorses for the suggestion on another one of my posts. It helped a lot!
I really believe that the cross country schools are helping our arena jumping 1,000 fold. I may never be brave enough to enter a HT with her, but the schooling will continue. It’s made her a better jumper. It’s made me braver and more bold. We were coming to the yellow fence 5 in the 2’ round and I knew she hadn’t liked it before. With one refusal already I wasn’t going to let her say no there. She twisted and turned her butt and I stayed firm in my leg pressure and didn’t give up. She jumped it.
18” verticals, even on a short or odd approach, no longer bother me at all. I made her jump them from a standstill no issues. The 2’ course began scary but by fence 3 I was down for it and by fence 7 I was laughing out loud, giggling to myself and having a blast. That’s a major change from 9 months ago when I wouldn’t even jump a 12” cross rail.
Other than the boredom factor, which could have been lessened had Wyatt’s class not been #6 and mine 16, I quite liked the jumper show. I liked that you could enter multiple classes and just keep going. I liked that it was only $10 a class. I think I’d like to keep going and building our confidence. I also think that Gem could be a really good jumper. She is fast, athletic enough to take the inside turns and this is a game she understands the point of. I’m just not sure I’ll ever be brave enough to let her do it.
All in all it was an amazing experience. It wasn’t perfect and I’m pretty sure we only beat the girl who fell off in the 18” and the girl who was rung off course in the 2’ round, but I don’t care. I throw all my ribbons away anyway (did I just hear all my readers have a collective stroke?). I left happy. Gem? Well she seemed ok with it all. I’m ready for the next one!
There is media! So much media!!! While I have a ton of thoughts and feelings about how this show went I think I’ll just run it via pictures here and then blabber on in a later post.
After waiting a million years (ok, it was more like 2 1/2 hours) for class #16 to be up next, it was time to wake Gem up and head in for the 18” jumpers. We were the 5th ones in, she entered and immediately tried to spin around and leave again, and it went….ok…ish. Here is a run through:
Ok Gem this is it. Let’s trot down the long side and head to fence 1 in a good rhythm.
Nah, I’d rather spook at those people in the bleachers.
Shit! Was that the bell? We aren’t anywhere near fence 1. I’m going to get eliminated. Go Gem go!
We then proceed to rush to fence 1 and while Gem went over she whacked it really hard and rattled me.
Ok. Fence 1 is over. Yay! Oh shit. I forgot to turn to fence 2. Maybe she will do it if I shove her at it and give her absolutely no room or warning.
Ha! No way am I going over that bright pink fence. Sorry lady. Try again.
Sorry Gemmie! My fault. Let’s try that again.
Second attempt she went over no problem. My heart was still racing and my nerves were acting up big time, but we got it done.
Ok…now remember where fence 3 is. Sit up and keep her under control.
We finally got our act together over fence 3 and I started to look for my fences and actually ride.
Huh. This isn’t going so bad. The height isn’t scary and Gem isn’t being too bad. Maybe we won’t die.
By this point, gem was beginning to understand what we were doing out there and began looking ahead for the jumps. This makes it so much easier for me to ride her.
Look at that. Another fence behind us and we are rolling along. Maybe if I take my leg off she will slow down.
Gem hated this fence. Maybe she hates the color yellow?
Oooookay….we nearly had a second refusal at fence 5. Never, ever take my leg off. Fence 6 should be easy but then it’s a tight bend left to 7. Will we make it?
Fence 6 wasn’t really an issue, but the turn to 7 was short and required a lot of accuracy.
You’ll see how ugly fence 7 was in the video because I never got her lined up right, but over it she went and then straight to 8. I don’t have shots of those.
Fence 9 is the most decorated. Two left. We can’t screw this up now. Jump Gem, jump!
Yes! One left!!! Oh wait. I still have to ride. Turn! Turn!
I very nearly forgot to turn to this one too. Stupid brain.
Gem got a million pats, an emotional hug and some time to nap before the 2’ jumpers four classes later.
Here is the video so you can witness us in all our squirrelly glory. We finished I believe 1 full minute slower than anyone else. Oops.
I nearly bailed on the 2’ class. Once they reset the fences and added filler to nearly every single one, it looked daunting. Then I remembered that the standards start at 1’9” and that meant the prior class wasn’t really 18” and this would only be 3” higher. No big deal, right?
When I entered the arena, I cut through the center more to avoid my panic at making it to fence 1 in 45 seconds. Gem was much more settled this time around and I silently hoped she’d realize the height had gone up.
Ok. Let’s get this done. Line her up. Oh shit! That looks high and there is a bunch of fill. Quit looking at the jump. Quit it. Well crap she ran out.
It’s ok Gemmie. My fault. Let’s get this done. It’s only 2’. Leg on. Look up. Go!
Do not forget to turn for fence 2. There it is. Leg on. There is no filler. She can do this.
Wow. 2’ isn’t so bad. We can do this. I honestly believe we can do this.
Ok. Remember fence 5 was sticky last time. Keep that leg on. Wait. Where is she going? Why is her butt to my left. Move it Gem. I mean it. Get your flying bay hurt over this jump!
Was that a refusal technically? Is that our second? Oh shit again. There’s fence 6 and I’m not paying attention. Focus, Sara. They added a plank. Why am I staring at it? Quit staring.
Ugh. Another refusal. My fault again. Is that number 3? Am I eliminated? I didn’t hear a bell. I’ll just keep on until they tell me to stop.
Gem did go over it the second time since I stopped staring at the plank and asked her to jump it. I don’t have good screen shots of 7, but it jumped just as bad as the last time. I got jumped nearly out of the tack but I was actually having fun by this point and didn’t care.
Ha! I’m having fun. FUN! That’s new. Fence 8 is easy. Come on Gem! Let’s finish strong.
Wahoo!! Fence 9 has very bright flowers and we have 3 refusals already. No room for error. Go Gem. Jump the jump. Let’s enjoy the end! Grab mane and go!
One last plain fence and we are done. Wait…am I smiling? While jumping? On Gem? Weeeeeee…….
There are so many thoughts to share, but for now here is the video of the 2’ round (a lesson on how to make 10 fences take over 2 minutes to jump) and I’ll sort the rest out later.
As of Tuesday afternoon the plan for the week was to have Wyatt take my lesson slot Wednesday evening and I would go playing around cross country on Sunday instead of taking a lesson.
Well, I sorta finagled a way to do both thanks to a combination of things playing out just right. Here is my recipe:
First, give up your riding time for your kiddo.
Then promptly forget you did the above and agree to help a friend at the same time on the same night.
Have hubby agree to take Wyatt by himself to said lesson to avoid canceling plans.
Now here is an important ingredient: hubby comes down with a nasty GI bug that keeps him up all Tuesday night with diarrhea and vomiting and makes him stay home from work.
Hubby is now too incapacitated to drive Wyatt so you need to cancel plans with friend.
This gets a little tricky. By some stroke of luck, end up with a weak work schedule ‘t want to stauncthat lets you leave at 4:15pm when you are typically happy to leave by 7pm.
Realize that since Dusty is already home and you’ll be home by 445 and have already had to cancel your plans with your friend, that you may as well take Gem with you and lesson after Wyatt.
Bingo! You have yourself a lesson with no guilt trip and no hard feelings specially when you let sick hubby pass out in the truck the entire time.
I have zero media of me from the lesson because sick hubby was passed out in the truck, so instead you get Wyatt pictures. He got to do a lot more trot work this time and had a lot of fun.
Meanwhile, I got Gem ready and headed up hoping to sneak in a nice warm up before my turn came around. Unfortunately, just as I entered the ring Wyatt told Trainer he was “very much done” and so his ended and mine began.
I went into this lesson with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Having had so many wonderfully relaxed rides at home, if this lesson went downhill I was prepared to exit stage left and figure out what was going wrong: was it the venue, the saddle since I ride dressage at home and jump at lessons, was I more tense during lessons than at home etc….
I needn’t have worried though. All the hard, monotonous, boring basic work at home is finally beginning to pay off. The flat work warm up was glorious. My position got a grade A+, heck, I was even told by Trainer, the position Nazi, that I could have my picture in the Pony Club Manual. I was beaming after that compliment! Having an actual solid base of support makes riding so much easier, who would have thought? I’ve also been playing around a lot with my seat as an aide and Trainer noticed that too. Gem was behaving pretty nicely as well and stayed calm and relaxed. There were times she tried to take over and speed up, but my half halts were actually getting through. We didn’t spend much time on a circle and instead focused on a larger area of the arena with small circles thrown in here and there and I think that really made a difference too.
Some quick bullet points on the flat work before I move on to the amazingly awesome jump exercise she had us do.
Elbows need to come farther back than I think. They have improved and are much more fluid than before, but need to come back more. More. More.
The amount of aide needed to get Gem to listen is pretty loud right now and Trainer was ok with that. At least she was listening. However, we will need to begin working on being able to quietly talk to her and then eventually whisper.
She was super impressed with my two point. I told her all about the 2ptober challenge and she loved it. I think she is going to introduce the idea to her other students.
Using my body position to make life hard on Gem when she wants to speed up is a great tool. I tend to always tip a bit forward which gives mixed signals to Gem as I’m asking her to slow down. By sitting up straight or even leaning back slightly my body weight can help drive home the point that I do want her to slow down.
Trainer liked my timing with half halts to keep Gem in a rhythm however I need to get better at my release. I tend to hang on way too long which defeats the purpose. She said I can only hold it for 3 seconds. After that I need to either escalate the aide or praise Gem for responding.
After the small amount of flat work it was on the what Trainer called “the maze”. It looked like a lot of fun and didn’t disappoint at all. Basically it was a hidden grid work exercise. Trainer felt that Gem was taken aback by the never ending straight line of jumps in a traditional grid pattern and hoped that this little game would make it interesting but not back her off. I didn’t realize it had been 2 months since we jumped last, but I was excited and never once, not one single time, was I scared or backed off. It is an amazing feeling after so many years of being scared.
Trainer doesn’t like letting horses walk over or look at jumps since you can’t do that in a competition, but she always makes a point to let Gem so she doesn’t feel like we tricked her by changing up the rules. The first few times we walked the zig zag through the maze to let Gem see it all. She gave the one standard the stink eye, but remained calm and relaxed. After that it was time to get our jump on!
Round 1: Enter the right hand chute and exit over the small cross rail.
The first time through Gem tried to run out going left like we had walked through it. Trainer is always getting on me for not spying exit points and preventing them. I needed to add more left leg and right rein to keep Gem straight and centered. Gem did pop over it, but it was backed off and hesitant as always and she was rewarded with an eye roll and “you could walk over that” from Trainer. The next time was better, but Gem was still unsure of herself and the exercise.
After a few times through, we moved on.
Round 2: Enter the left hand chute the opposite direction and exit over the grey cross rail.
Gem was much better over this one. She didn’t hesitate or try to run out which was a good feeling. She wasn’t locked on or trying to pull me toward the jump, but she was behaving and going over with a nice canter after.
After going over this a few times Gem began to get pretty revved up and tense in our trot as we circled around to approach again. In fact, she was nearly out of control a bit so we returned to some flat work. In Trainer’s words: Gem needs to know that you are in control of when, how fast, and where her feet move. I was to halt from the trot and not let her walk off until she relaxed. I think this got through to her because after doing it a few times she decided listening was more fun that having to stop every 2 ft.
Round 3: Come in from the right side over the brown vertical, 2 strides, out over the red and white vertical.
This is when Gem decided that this game was one she wanted to play. The first time over I was to walk it. I did, however Gem decided to jump the verticals from the walk so we decided she didn’t need the walk introduction any more. I exited going right and came back around the maze to do the two stride entering at the trot and letting her canter through and after.
The next time Gem locked on and pulled me through that two stride like she was an old pro. I was so stunned that I completely stopped riding after the exit and our canter away was hideous. We did it again and I could barely contain the beast under me. She locked on several strides out, cantered in, flew through the two strides and cantered away. I was grinning from ear to ear and may have let out a whoop of glee or two. Trainer is embarrassed by me I am sure.
Round 4: Green cross rail to grey cross rail on a super steep angle.
Things started getting technical here. The key to this exercise was all in the approach. Trainer was nice to me and laid down two ground poles to make a runway for me to aim for the first couple of times. I needed to pay attention to where I made my turn off the rail to enter the grid which was a one stride between the two cross rails. With the ground poles to help, we made it over without an issue. Once she removed them, it became much harder for me to plan where to hit the first cross rail and make it out over the second one.
By this time Gem had decided she didn’t need me anymore as well. Mare had turned on her tubro boosters and was flying around wit her neck arched and snorting like she was the shit. Trainer and I were both laughing at her and her new found glory. The issue was that she wasn’t listening to me very well and decided that turbo charged cantering was the best way to get through the grid.
This earned her a lot of trot halt transitions as we made our way around the arena to hit the one stride angled cross rails again. She wasn’t too pleased, but it made her rideable. Of course, once she locked onto the jumps it was game over, hang on for dear life and hope I don’t fall off. She was in BEAST MODE. Trainer shouted as we cantered away that I was now riding “cross country Gem” instead of “stadium Gem”.
Round 5: Put it all together in a course. In right side chute with exit over green cross rail, turn right and make a small circle then enter the other chute and exit out grey cross rail, turn left then take the two stride vertical, turn right and end over the angled one stride.
Or at least that was the way it was supposed to go.
I entered through the chute and Gem locked on as soon as we entered the wings. She picked up the canter and soared over the green cross rail and hand galloped away. I made the right hand turn, but by the time I stopped laughing and got her under control we were half way down the arena. I got her settled and turned around then did the second chute with the same exit. I managed to get her turned much sooner and headed towards the two stride vertical. I was laughing so hard and asked Trainer if this was what she envisioned the course looking like. There was nothing she could do but laugh as well.
Her point here was that it is a fine line with Gem right now. Obviously we don’t want to teach her she can run away from the jumps and ignore the blob on her back. However, this new found love and confidence over jumps is such a joy to ride and see that we don’t want to staunch it either. It is much nicer than riding the hesitant and backed off Gem. We let her go this time, but will begin dialing her in soon.
We hit the two stride and thankfully, the exit runs smack into the rail so she had no ability to run off. The angled grid though. Well, that was all my fault. I over shot my turn off the rail to enter the line, something I am very bad at doing, which put us too far to the left. The first cross rail was fine but it shoved us up the standard for the second one. Gem thought about refusing and had every right to, but I think she was having too much fun so she jumped it at the last second. On my part, when she began to refuse I got sent forward, thats what jumping ahead of the horse gets you, and when she popped up I was in no way prepared. Thankfully I only flew straight up out of the saddle and plopped back down however I did manage to ht her in the mouth pretty good.
Trainer had me circle around and do the one stride again. This time I set us up better and we went through no issues. Trainer remarked that she could throw up a 3ft fence and Gem would have soared over it. Mare was launching herself. I was sad I got no pictures.
At the end Gem was a sweaty beast who was extremely proud of herself. She had taken that maze like a nascar driver on crack. We will need to figure out a way to let her have fun and build her confidence while not running at mach speed. The good news is that she never touched or knocked down a single rail even with our slip shod approaches and rocket launches.
It was the most fun I have ever had on her and we were both very pleased with ourselves at the end. Gem pranced back to the trailer with her neck arched and a spring in her step. She thought she won the Olympic Gold Medal. In my mind she did. It is such an interesting feeling on her. When she understands what the game is, she lights up and attacks it like a monster that needs obliterated. You can feel the difference in her. I had my cross country, mildly out of control, Gem in that arena and it felt so good. Yes, she was not listening or slowing down much, but I was never scared because I knew she was going to go over the jump. Maybe a little too fast. Maybe a little too high, but she was going over. Such a different feeling than the squirrely, backed off, maybe I will, maybe I won’t Gem. Now I need to learn how to ride that. I was left behind pretty much at every fence and I need to learn to be a bit snappier and less defensive. In my defense though I have spent 7 years with the backed off Gemmie and needed to be defensive to driver her towards the jump and stay on when she ran out at the last minute. Changing this is going to take time.
What is that saying? Tell a gelding, but ask a mare? After nearly eight years together I think I am finally figuring out what that means. You all were right – even a bad ride teaches you something.
When I swung my leg over Gem Monday evening, the plan was to reduce the pressure and make it enjoyable for both of us. I also wanted to pay attention to what I was doing on my own that has been so successful but isn’t crossing over to our lesson. Gem let me know she had not forgotten our last ride by playing hard to catch, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it as she circled around me but didn’t take off to the nether regions of her pasture. It took about 15 minutes of gentle pressure towards her, stopping when she did, then repeating for her to stand still and drop her head into the halter but the process served another purpose outside of catching her. It let me show her that I was listening and would back off the pressure when she responded in the appropriate manner and set the tone right from the start.
Once aboard, I focused on my position and asked for a walk. Gem trotted. I had a few options: I could get after her and make her walk right that minute (what I do in lessons), I could let her get away with trotting instead of walking (what I used to do all the time on my own) or I could try something new which Trainer had me attempt during our last lesson but Gem was too far gone for it to work at that time. I chose option #3. I sat the trot, leaned back ever so slightly and made it difficult for her to trot while making it very clear with my posture that I had no intentions of getting pulled into a trotting frenzy. And it worked!!! After about 5 or 6 trot steps Gem settled back into a flat and even walk without any fighting or fuss. I ignored her attempt at the trot and we continued to walk around warming up and inspecting the pasture ground for any litter or holes to avoid.
After we were both warmed up at the walk, I gently asked for a trot and she responded in kind with a gentle trot. This is where things got a little interesting for me and I plan on talking to Trainer about it at our next lesson. Gem wasn’t foot perfect. She tends to start off in a gentle trot and slowly work her way faster and faster until before you know it you are zooming around at her endurance pace. The key is to not let her get that far. In lessons, Trainer has me do this by using half halts before she starts to speed up. Basically she has me starting to anticipate the change in pace and checking in with Gem frequently to let her know she is to maintain what we are doing instead of reacting once she has already sped up.
As I rode her at home, I realized that I was already doing this, but the way I went about it was very different. Jumping back to lessons again for a second, we work a lot on the 20 meter circle. We circle around and around with the goal to keep the geometry and pace even and consistent with each revolution, learning where she tends to slow down or speed up and countering that by using my aides effectively where they are needed. A half halt at 6 o’clock, a little leg needed at 11, more inside leg to push her out where she tends to fall in at 2 and outside leg to prevent her going too big at 4.
It is a cool little exercise, but it is also one that Gem can fry out on pretty quickly. Circling over and over again can drive the mare to distraction at this stage as she gets bored and then begins to question the sanity behind going around and never getting anywhere. That is when the tension comes in and if I am not careful I’ll lose her all together.
At home though, I rarely circle more than once or twice in a succession. Monday night was no exception to my typical way of working on my own whether in the pasture or in an arena, but since I was particularly aware of what I was doing it registered for once. My method is to ask for the trot. If I feel her begin to speed up, I circle or make a large loop, or change direction, or add in a serpentine or go straight if I was on a circle already. Then we hold that new path until I feel her begin to change when I add in a half halt and then once again use the space to help settle her by changing our path of movement. I change direction frequently as well. In this manner, I keep her brain engaged while being insistent that we neither speed up nor slow down as we work around the space. I use half halts to balance her before turns or changes in direction. I add leg when she begins to slow down and get behind me. When we circle, which I have her do frequently, just not repetitively, I try to use my inside leg for bend and my outside aides but I’m not so good at those yet.
Do we reach the same end result? I’m not sure. Using my method, Gem rarely gets tense or braced. However, using my method, we also don’t work consistently on bend and the correct aides for that as we are always swooping and curving and moving about. I really want to talk to Trainer about it and see if maybe there isn’t a way to slowly work the two methods together until we reach a point where we can circle more and more without Gem losing her mind over it.
Back to Monday. I rode Gem around the far end of the pasture at the trot. I required that she kept a consistent pace, but changed up our direction and geometry frequently rarely doing the same thing twice. She responded by dropping her head and releasing her tension. When she moves like that it feels like she is floating on air. All it takes is me looking where I want to go and she responds. It is all so light and free that I can’t help but smile and laugh. I could ride like that forever.
Things were going so well that I decided to canter. Cantering isn’t our strong suit, so I made a plan. I’d have her trot coming back towards home, and incidentally Pete who decided to graze in the middle of our work area, turn to corner to go back away and ask her to canter in the corner but not keep her on the circle as that tends to just make the canter fall apart. I started to the right for no reason other than we were already gong that way and she picked up the canter no issues. She seemed really happy to be cantering and I let her make multiple large loops around the pasture. She is no different in the canter than the trot in so much as she likes to slowly continue to speed up. If I am not careful she will begin to gallop around having the time of her life. The one down side to my method of keeping her feet moving in different ways is that it is really hard to do that in the canter when you have no idea how to do a flying change and don’t want to just end up counter cantering half the time, but I made sure to circle, go straight and make large and small loops.
When I asked her to come back down to the trot, she continued to canter. Hmmm…back to trying to think through what to do. The options seemed to be the same as at the trot: force her to trot immediately, allow her to continue to canter, or gently make the pressure escalate until she gives me the correct answer. I once again chose option three this time continuing to use stronger and stronger half halts along with a voice command until she began trotting followed by massive amounts of praise. I’m a little worried this approach is teaching her that she can continue to do what she wants until she decides to stop, but for now I ma going to go with it and hope the nagging pressure and praise for doing what I want will eventually work.
The only issue now was that she wanted to canter. The trot became a bit of a mess with tension and a lot of asking to canter whenever my leg touched her and all I wanted was a trot. Eventually she settled and I let her canter the other direction for as long as she was polite about it and then began the process of getting her to trot again. her trot work is always a bit of a mess after a nice canter. She gets fast and braced and decides that all the slow trotting is not worth her time, but I did my best to not get pulled into the fight. Once she trotted nicely without breaking to a canter for a single large lap around the end of the pasture, I called it a night.
It was a great ride. We didn’t fight. I refused to get pulled into her traps and she in turn stayed relaxed and light. I have a lot of questions as to if this way of working her is producing a horse who won’t actually listen unless she decides to or if it is the correct way to handle miss tension. There are times when she absolutely needs to do what I say when I say it: the dressage court is one, but there are also times out on cross country or when in the arena on a jump course where she just has to rebalance or slow down and I need to know that she will. I’m a bit concerned that by allowing her to continue to canter while I continue to ask nicely to get her to trot is teaching her that she can ignore my request until she feels like responding to it. It is the reason Trainer gets on me for making her trot right now, or walk right now or halt right now.
But the trade off for forcing my hand is a tense and braced mare and a ride like Thursday. I’m hoping that by being consistent in my asking and using a ton of praise for when she gets the answer right, that I’m teaching her that my requests won’t go away so she better just do it. I don’t know. Lots of food for thought and a lot to discuss with Trainer next time I see her.
For now I am going to bask in the feeling of Monday’s ride and the relief that came with knowing I hadn’t broken my trust with Gem.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
YL never got the right lead canter. I have but it is difficult.
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.
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.