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.
The flat work had gone extremely well and while there is still a ton to work on, the differences were easy to see from when we started way back in February. Trainer was super happy with the work we put it and I was really proud of Gem for working so hard to try to give me the correct answer. I’mm to a point now where I feel like I can start to push Gem a little more. Before she was a little delicate. Too much pressure would send her over he edge and it would take a week or more to bring her back. Now she can take it.
It was time to get jumping though.
The same course was still set from last Wednesday only this time Trainer set up a cavaletti with a ground pole on either side to make it wider. She wanted to introduce a jump without standards to Gem to see how she would handle it. I hadn’t even thought about that difference in stadium versus cross country.
She first had me take Gem over the cross rail we had been over a dozen times before. I kept my legs on, looked up at the gate opposite the jump and rode towards it. Gem went over but it was hesitant and squirrelly. Trainer just shook her head because she saw me ride it hard and yet, even though Gem has jumped this same jump before, she still got all squiggly before it.
It is a little frustrating when she is all “maybe I’ll go left, maybe I’ll go right, maybe I’ll stop, fine I’ll go over but I’m going to keep you guessing if I will or not right up to the base”. Trainer remarked that Gem requires steering the entire time including in the air and that makes it very hard. I used to blame it 100% on me and my lack of confidence going towards the fence, but on Friday I had no butterflies, no hesitation and was not backed off at all. Gem was still the same.
We came at the jump again and this time I booted her pretty good right before it to make sure she kept up her pace and went over. Well, this caused her all sorts of confusion and she lost track of her legs and tripped right in front of the fence. We managed to make it over, but it was ugly. The third time was decent enough for Trainer to set us loose on a small course.
Carrying over from the flat work, Trainer set up three small fences: the cross rail, the cavaletti and a vertical. She told me the order to jump them, but that was all. I had the entire arena to do my thing in and she wanted to watch my decisions as I made my way around the course. I could trot or canter depending on how balanced Gem was.
And this is where I got sorta frustrated. When I very first started jumping with Trainer, she stressed allowing for bigger and deeper turns to give Gem more time to notice and realize the plan. So going around the course that was my thought. I made big sweeping turns, got deep into the corners and chose to overshoot and come back rather than turn too early and lose my rhythm.
Trainer kept shouting out to steer, turn and better prepare. I told her what I was thinking, but then when I went around again and made my turns sharper and didn’t overshoot I got told I needed to give her a better set up. I honestly didn’t know what the correct answer was as either way seemed to be wrong. I was steering and I did have a plan, it just never seemed to be the correct one.
For Gem’s part she jumped as she always does: needed more leg support than I have access to, required precision steering and would duck out or stop if given the smallest opportunity. Thankfully, I didn’t give her the chance to duck out and kept my legs on her blocking the path, but she never felt locked on or enthusiastic about the whole thing.
After a few trips around, Trainer ran out of the ability to stall any longer, said it was time to leave the arena and begin work in the wide open over solid obstacles. Honestly, I’m convinced she was nervous about the two of us. I mean, in the arena we pretty much stink and I had been pretty vocal about my concerns on cross country. For my part I was on the verge of telling her never mind about the whole thing. We had already been riding for an hour, it was getting really hot out and I was chickening out big time. I didn’t let the inner voice win though, and nervously followed her out the back arena gate….
This is an issue that Trainer brought up in my last lesson. We were just starting the jumping portion and I did what I always do: got defensive in front of the jump and completely took my leg off her. This gave me the same response I always get: Gem stopped and refused to jump. Not her fault, since I was telling her loud and clear that I didn't want to actually go over it. Now, a more forgiving horse would have jumped it anyway since she was clearly pointed right at the middle of the thing and knew fully well what my intentions were. But she isn't a forgiving horse.
At that point Trainer piped up. While Gem isn't a forgiving horse, she is an honest one and was telling me three strides out she needed more support to go over it. Even then she kept going up to the base asking for help which she never received and finally at the last minute she politely refused. No buck. No dropped shoulder. Just a polite "well, if you don't want me to then screw it I wont".
My defensiveness stems a long way back. When I first got her she was a witch. A little bit mean, a whole lot obstinate. Back then she would pull dirty stunts at the base of a jump even when I had my leg on and was fully committed to making it over. Heck she would pull dirty stunts just about anywhere anytime. She would act as though she would do the thing and then drop her right shoulder, spin 180 degrees and bolt. I ended up on the ground more times than over the jump. This behavior taught me to be scared, timid and not 100% committed to going over.
But that was years ago. She no longer acts like that. Sure, she doesn't go out of her way to help me, but we came to the agreement many years and many miles ago that she would do her job and I would do mine and we would stay out of each other's way as much as possible. The mare hates it when I nag and I hate it when I have to.
The problem is that I am still riding her like she used to be instead of the way she is now. My defensive riding has no place in her non aggressive behavior and yet I am still holding on tight to past grudges. I know that when I ride her more assertively towards a fence, that she will go over it. In fact, she has yet to refuse any jump that I am committed to going over, even if it is attached to a train.
Once Trainer demanded that I ride the horse I currently have, Gem moved around the course like a dream. She locked on to the jumps several strides out and pulled me towards them. She didn't balk, she didn't hesitate, she just soared over and went where I directed her to go.
It is a seismic drift in our relationship and way of going and one my body and mind has been slow to adjust to. The issue is that now I am beginning to punish her for her kind behavior by being restrictive and tense. Sure, she taught me to be that way but now she is trying to teach me to be trusting again and I haven't been listening.
It is going to take more than one good lesson to release the years worth of defensive tension from my muscle memory, but I could start to feel it ebb away by the end of it and hope to continue being a more willing partner moving forward. Well, as long as Gem holds up her end as well and continues to be a trustworthy mount.
What about any of you? Was there ever a point in your partnership where you had to let go of the past and move towards the future? What helped you make the transition from riding the past to the present?
I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house. It just pisses me off.
My mom offered up to watch the kiddo so we could go ride. I wasn’t going to pass an offer like that up, so Dusty and I loaded up and hit the trails on the 4th. Any trail time is good, but on a typical work day? Even better.
Turns out we weren’t the only ones trying to beat the heat and get a ride in before the festivities began and we pulled into an already teaming parking lot. Of course, it wouldn’t have been so bad if people actually parked with any thought outside of themselves. It was a bad omen for the rest of the day when we saw several way too large rigs pulled in diagnonally taking up multiple spaces and making the trail head a maze.
Dusty told me not to let it ruin my day, a bad habit I have of letting things like this get to me. So I did.
We headed out to repeat the same loop we did a couple of weeks ago. The footing was even better and we made good time when we could before Pete got tired and asked to start walking more. The big old guy is starting to wonder why he was pulled out of retirement.
Things were going well until we came to an access road. We were walking along due to the gravel footing and I just happened to look behind me and saw a woman running. She showed no signs of slowing and never called out that she was coming up behind us. Had I not looked back I wouldn’t have known she was there until she spooked the crap out of the horses.
When she nearly ran smack into Pete’s butt she turned and called her off leash dog to her. I won’t even get into my complete hatred of dogs and horses mixing here because that would take a while, but this woman didn’t even apologize. Instead she stood right next to us shrieking for her loose dog and then proceeded to take off running again once he was in sight behind her. She was darn lucky our horses are both idiot and dog proof or they could have had some serious injuries from getting trampled or kicked.
From there it went down hill although we still enjoyed the ride immensely and the horses were most excellent. Pete handled the terrain better than last time although I think he was a bit foot sore with all the rain making his dinner plate hooves soft.
The trail has two road crossings at the end and both can be a bit hairy as cars tend to go flying down the country road. We came to the second one and saw a large group of six riders on the other side immobile. We paused on our side and watched for a little bit but the group were just chit chatting and effectively blocking the entire trail on the other side making crossing the road impossible. Our side wasn’t safe for just chilling out at: a small clearing right at the road without any shoulder and with a deep ditch on either side. We were growing restless and needed to cross but no amount of nicely asking them to move away from the road was producing results.
Dusty hates confrontation and while I don’t go looking for it, well depending on who you talk to, I won’t back away either and started ramping up to tell them they had until we crossed to move or get bowled over. Dusty asked me not to make a scene and fortunately for him they deemed it time to move right about then any way.
At this point I was a bit tired of dealing with stupid, rude and self absorbed people. We ended up back at the trailer with two very sweaty and hot horses and stripped tack quickly to go use the single hose available. We walked over to find three of those same ladies already there. We settled in to wait for our turn while the horses enjoyed grazing.
I was doing just fine until the remaining three from their group came walking over and completely cut us off. I glared. Dusty asked me to bite my tongue. I was doing pretty well with that until the one lady looked at me and said “sorry our group of six got here before you” in a condescending not really sorry and making me really angry type of way. My mouth dropped to the floor. “Um…no your group of three were here first. The rest of you cut us off by some sort of group association and should actually be behind us in line” Dusty groaned but the woman just turned away.
So there we were waiting our turn behind six horses at the hose on an extremely hot morning. If I had been at the hose, I would have watered my horse quickly and efficiently so that everyone got cooled off quickly. Nope. These ladies held their beer in one hand, the hose in the other and talked, washed off their boots and girths before their horse and in general didn’t give a flying crap about anyone but themselves. I was seething mad by the time the last horse was being led away.
Except that wasn’t even the end because they didn’t actually move away from the hose area and I had to plow my way through telling them that they will be lucky not to be kicked if they continued to stand in my path. Rude people make me want to teach Gem to kick on command.
It was bad enough that my very non confrontational, much easier going then myself, husband even made comments. That’s a rarity. As we sprayed our two off we noted that these same people were the ones who parked diagonally across multiple spots making an already busy parking lot near impossible to either park or drive in. Shocking.
Trail etiquette people. It’s important. Or you know, just don’t be an asshat when out in public. That works too.
Lessons do not generally make me nervous. I find them challenging and fun and since Trainer is so awesome I always know that while we will be pushed to do better, it won’t be scary. Wednesday, however, I found myself with some butterflies.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted Gem to be tense and rushed or not. I mean, if she was then Trainer could help me but then it would mean something other than she just doesn’t do well in the large boundary less field at home. Maybe she was in pain or just hated this new discipline and I’d have to make some hard decisions. If she was perfectly behaved then we could move forward, but then it would mean that I wouldn’t get any tools to help at home.
Trainer wanted us in the jump tack, which made my wimpy little jumping heart happy. After the onslaught of babble about the CT, we wandered to the arena and I started off with “Do you remember how Gem was when you first met us at my house back in February?” She sighed, made a face and told me she was sorry I was having to deal with that. Me too, Trainer. Me too.
Right off the bat she called me out on my position. It’s frustrating. I’ve been riding for 30 years and I can’t even sit on the darn horse right. The lower half of my body has gotten a lot better, but my upper half still has a lot of work to go. She said that our number one priority this summer is going to be loosening up my arms. She kept telling me to be looser, looser, looser and when I finally got there and felt like a wet, sloppy noodle she told me I was nearly free enough. Ugh. It feels so odd.
Gem held it together at the walk really well. In fact she nearly made a liar out of me. Then we moved into the trot and the wheels fell off. She was braced, rushed and hollow. We zoomed around the circle like a Boeing 747. I was trying my best to remain calm and not get anxious or tense or angry, but it was just so darn frustrating to be going like that when I know we can do so much better.
Trainer called me out on a lot of things,but mostly I think she felt bad for me. It was obvious that neither Gem nor I was enjoying ourselves and as we kept getting worse I was getting ready to just call the whole thing off and go sulk in the truck like a 4 year old.
Instead, Trainer kept correcting me: post lower to the saddle, lower, lower….good now slow down the post, s l o w e r… good now sit taller…good now quit bracing with your inside leg, bring it back under my hip, wrap it around her….now slow that flying monkey down to a walk as if your life depended on it. Walk. Now. Change directions.
By the end of 30 minutes, Gem was deemed rideable enough to jump. There are so many things to talk about that I’m going to write up Trainer’s analysis in a different post. We talked a lot about Gem, myself and our relationship as well as our goals and how to get there. It was enlightening.
Once we were cleared to jump, Trainer set up a course at 2′ for us to work over. It had a lot of turns. The goal for this jump session was to work on my approach to the jumps and to quit giving Gem such a long approach. Giving her so much time helps me to prepare, but it also gives her a lot of time to get both bored and squirrelly.
The first jump was meh. Gem was game, but I was not and not only did I take my leg off, I also stared straight at the jump. Both told Gem that I had no interest in going over so she stopped. I wouldn’t call it a refusal since I didn’t actually ask her to go over it. Once I put my leg on she went over no problem and didn’t stop at another one the rest of the time. She really can be such a good girl.
After we warmed up over a couple of jumps, Trainer gave me the course: a gate with solid panel, left turn to a two cross rail bending line set at three strides (if I cantered them which I did not), then a sharp right to a vertical (when she pointed out the course I said “you mean that super tall vertical that is set tonway ober 18”? And to which she responded “Go jump”), a right turn to another cross rail then a sharp left back over the original gate for a small course of 6 jumps.
The first time I gave Gem a huge lead up to jump one and Trainer yelled at me for it making me circle and try again. I did and it went pretty ok. We went over everything and Trainer remarked again how she loves that Gem is the same horse before and after a jump. She called me out for pulling Gem up right before a jump. Gem locks on a few strides out and pulls me to it and I need to just let her. She is not rushing, even if it feels like it, she is just getting her energy sorted to make it over. I need to let her do it.
We did the course twice and called it a day. Gem did excellent both times. Trainer did tell me a few times that I was making good choices and I added a circle in once when Gem was getting sassy and throwing her head when I wouldn’t let her run through me.
I do need to work on ignoring the jumps better. She kept telling me to be looking at the next jump about two strides out from the current one and I wasn’t so gray at doing that the first time around. The second time I really got a better feel for it and was able to really look around to where I was going a lot better.
We ended on a super good note with all three of us happy. Trainer told me that she loves watching Gem jump. She can see her brain going a million miles an hour trying to sort it all out. For my part, I’m trying to get more comfortable with how Gem jumps. With the higher jumps, specifically the panel and vertical, she has two separate motions: her front end goes over and then when her hind end is going over the jump she pops it up higher to clear. It feels odd like: ok here we go up and then pop she throws her hind end up. Trainer said that her Arab/Welsh gelding had the same technique and it was really difficult to sit so if I can do it well on Gem the other horses should be really easy in comparison. We also plan on beginning to canter our jumps next time. Eeek!
It just isn’t worth it. Not worth the time, not worth the frustration, not worth ruining our relationship over. At least not right now.
There are dozens of reasons why riding Gem at home isn’t working out. The most important are the frequency she gets worked and the area she gets worked in.
Gem has always been worse behaved at “home” than trailering out. In fact, when we lived in WI the one barn had 200 acres of trails on property. She was a nut job on those. Trailer out to the trail head? Wonderful, well at least as good as she gets. Rides in the “home” arena were always a crap shoot. The entire first month at a new facility was always awful as I had to re teach Gem that she did in fact have to work for me 3 hours a week and that that didn’t qualify as animal abuse. I can still remember in perfect detail the first time I rode her in the grass arena at the last barn we were at. We would reach the far end of the field, she would break into canter and try to take me right back to the gate so she could leave. Fun? No, but with persistence she eventually learned that by doing so it just got her to a closed gate and circled back to work some more. Eventually she does stop doing that and the rides become more even and more purposeful. But back then I was riding her 3 days a week in an enclosed arena with fences and gates and all those other nice physical boundaries.
Now, however, I ride 1-2 times a week if I am lucky and have a completely open 5 acre grass field to ride in with no fencing or other solid boundaries. It is a recipe for disaster and one I am tired of dabbling in.
I had really wanted to ride Wednesday, but didn’t walk into the door until 7:45 pm. I had about an hour of light to play with, but hadn’t seen Wyatt all day and that is more important, so when he asked me to play Play Dough there was no way I was saying no. Friday was my next shot. Work was slammed and I got home at 9:30 pm. Saturday Dusty worked then had plans to run in the afternoon. Finally, I got my chance on Sunday. Last week wasn’t a fluke either. My weeks almost always look something similar in one way or another.
Things started off pretty well Sunday morning. She had her halt back which was nice to see. I know she is getting bored with all the walk trot, 20 m circle, serpentine, figure 8 stuff so I thought I would get her cantering early on. She loves a good canter to stretch her back. I asked her for canter out of a decent trot and she gave it to me. Then she proceeded to grab the bit and run across the 5 acres towards her pasture. Ah hell no mare. I asked for bend, when she didn’t respond I asked for trot, when she didn’t listen I one rein stopped her ass and made her stand still all pissed off until I asked her to walk again. Then we walked up and down that field halting and walking and halting and walking.
At that point I let her trot away from her pasture and made her walk towards it. That lasted two laps when she then picked up the canter instead of the trot and tried to toss her head and run all the way back home. I shut her down immediately.
But here is the thing. I was having ZERO fun. None. I was frustrated. I was angry that she couldn’t just freaking walk down the damn field. She is 19 years old. 19! This isn’t our first ride. She can freaking WALK!
I took a deep breath, got off and was done. I did throw her on the lunge line and watched her w/t/c both directions mostly to see if she was lame somewhere I wasn’t catching, but also to just get her listening and focused. She wasn’t happy, but she was 100% sound and capable. While I know some people will judge me for ending the ride on a bad note, go ahead judge away…this is me not caring, at the time it was the best decision. My relationship with Gem is what is the most important to me. Not an all out brawl to see who can win. I don’t have the right tools in my box to work with this. I don’t know what to do when she blows me off and I’ve asked nicely, held my position, then asked again a little louder and louder and louder until I have to scream it at her. All I can do is get into a fight and maybe squeak out something decent, but in the process ruin everything I’ve been working on building towards. The short term gain of her minding me in that field Sunday isn’t worth the long term loss.
Trainer can come to me, but right now I don’t want her to. I have no interest in paying $55 to spend an hour being miserable trying to get my mare to walk. If I had an arena to work in, it would be different. If I could consistently ride her 3 days a week at home, it would be worth it. But to ride her once or maybe twice a week in the big 5 acre field? No, I don’t think it is. Instead, I am going to continue to trailer her to Trainer’s barn. She behaves there, or at least behaves within our current skill level which allows us to work on things like bend, geometry, leg yields and jumping. Having free access to the barn is amazing and I plan to trailer out more often to ride on my own there. Take advantage of the dressage court and jump arena to practice for now. I need to find out what the barn hours are. They have great lights on the jump arena, so I can ride year round and after work even when it is dark, but I don’t know what time it officially closes to the public.
Anyway…those are a lot of words to say that I am putting a hold on any rides at home until such a time as I can ride much more consistently and/or set up an actual closed off work space to help with defining boundaries. It isn’t fair to either of us to hop on once every 10 days and expect work to happen in a large field where she has room to make really big mistakes that I can’t fix. Someday we will revisit using the field, but not until we have a lot more rides with Trainer under our belt.
While all the rain this year has allowed the pasture to grow and the hay supply to be abundant, it has also allowed the insects to go a little wild. It is to the point where they are having issues eating their grain between stomping and biting at the nasty little buggers. I’ve also noticed that their hooves are starting to chip from the combination of being softer from all the rain and the trauma of all the stomping.
We have been spraying them with heavy duty fly spray frequently but it seems like it only works for a day and then they either sweat it off with the high temps and humidity or it rains and washes it away. Even the supposedly water proof stuff isn’t lasting more than 48 hours.
Past use of feed throughs didn’t produce any results for us and just kept Pete from eating.
I’ve started looking into fly sheets for them. Riding Warehouse has a good variety at a reasonable cost. If we go that route it has to be an open enough mesh to not cause overheating in the hot sun and high humidity. It’s in the upper 80s and low 90s and is only going to heat up from here. I’d rather them get bitten than have heat stroke. Plus most of the bugs seem to be on their legs.
That lead me to look into just getting fly boots or those newish shoo fly bags. That way the legs are protected and they won’t overheat. But I’ve never been fond of wrapping the legs up and I’ve read that people have issues keeping them on.
So that leads me to asking you all….fly sheet versus fly boots versus shoo fly versus something I haven’t thought of?? They need some relief and it is too early in the season to ignore. I don’t have a barn, so stalling them with a fan isn’t an option and Dusty looked at me weird when I suggested we buy a massive outdoor fan and put it in the pasture.
After I had checked out the goings on in the dressage end of things, I spent a solid hour watching stadium. The last few intermediate riders were going and the course map looked like the same for every level, but different heights. I stood there and memorized the course while slowly trying not to let my head spin out of control as I stared at jump 4.
The rest of the course looked doable, or at least it would be once they lowered them all to 18″ crossrails as the flyer promised. I also noticed that the arena was very large and super spread out. There was plenty of room for approaches and only one jump, #8, had any related distance at all. At the higher levels and for those who cantered, the course had some really tight turns but I completely failed to snap a picture of the course map.
Ok… back to after dressage:
Stadium was slated for 1:45-2pm with any order of go. I was first up in dressage and didn’t even finish until after stadium was open. I was glad that they had a big window and not a dedicated time so I could change tack and warm up without rushing too much.
The jump warm up arena was down by dressage and had 4 fences set up: a cross rail on either side and two verticals in the middle. The steward informed me that I was the only one around. After popping over the cross rails a couple times, I called it enough. My head was starting to pound and both Gem and I were tired of the blazing sun beating down on us. It was time to go.
Dusty stood farther away and so the screenshots I tried to grab aren’t very good, but the video is at the end too. I advise watching it on something you can fast forward because there is a lot of open space and trotting it takes a while.
Jump 1 was a friendly cross rail with no filler or decorations. I was way past nervous and literally begged Gem to jump it as we approached. She did begin to hesitate, but once I put my legs on she was game enough. Good girl. We were on a roll!
It was a long way around the outside of #9 to get to fence 2 which was also a friendly bland cross rail. If it had been later in the course I would have let her canter it, but my death grip was still in full force and I was faking a smile which looked much more like a grimace. She went over without a second thought.
It was a quick right hand turn to fence three set up on the short side across the arena. Same old song though: minimally decorated cross rail and no issue from Gem.
But then it was to fence 4….the train. The entire day my mind kept going back to that darn train. Would she go over it? The approach wasn’t the greatest either and there were a lot of refusals here. Once you went over 3 it was a sharp left and only a quarter of an arena width to 4. Now if I was educated at all I could tell you in strides what that was, but I was trotting and didn’t pay attention to that. Anyway, it came up fast after the sharp left and caught horses off guard.
Gem wasn’t immune to it either. It didn’t help that the cross rails only class ended up with verticals too and the train was the first one. They left the solid red board up and Gem had never jumped anything solid ever. She hesitated hard, came to a walk and then just stepped over it like it barely existed.
I was elated that we made it over the train, but I also knew that we had the rest of the course to do and they got more difficult as it went. Fence four was a pretty butterfly jump that also had a solid board. What happened to cross rails only?
I was a bit surprised that Gem hesitated more at this than the train, maybe it was the bright colors, and I think she basically walked this one too.
Six was a long trot back around 9 to the left and taking it coming back towards home. It was a cute little wishing well and I don’t have a decent enough shot of it to make it worth posting, but by this point things just clicked for us. She was finally game on and looking towards the jumps and I was finally loosening my death grip. I started to smile for real too and as I made my very slow way around 9 and past the jump judge I heard them comment about me looking like I was having fun finally.
And the truth was that I was having fun!
Jump seven was a nice pink and grey vertical. Gem jumped it the best yet on course and looking at the screen shot I can see why. My position actually looks like I know how to jump and I’m no longer holding her back.
Fence 8 had an A and B element which was being ridden as a 2 stride at a canter and who knows what at a trot. It was back to being a plain cross rail and I knew Gem would be just fine.
Fence 9 was the farthest out from where Dusty stood by the in gate and again the picture isn’t worth posting but it was another vertical but this time was three poles high and I am pretty sure was over 18″ because I don’t see how you can stack three poles and only be at 18″ and it looked much bigger than the rest of the course. It jumped straight forward though and by this time we were both in sync and game on.
But then it was over and all I wanted to do was keep jumping. Now that is an amazing feeling.
Here is the video:
Truth is Gem doesn’t jump well because of me. I mean, she definitely will run out or stop if you don’t keep your leg on and let her know you actually want to jump. If she has the slightest out, she will take it no doubt about it. However, when I’m riding her it feels like we are going a million miles an hour but watching the video afterward we could have walked over each jump and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I really need to let go and trust her more. She is a super great jumper in the sense that she won’t expend the energy to over jump, but also won’t hit a rail if she can help it.
Anyway, I walked her back out the gate and was so thrilled with the entire day. We made it through and didn’t make complete fools of ourselves and didn’t get eliminated!
We were all hot and getting headaches by this time, so I untacked Gem then quickly changed out of my show clothes. She got a sponge bath and walked over to the water trough before I shoved her full of crack cookies and smothered her in hugs as I took her braids out.
My head was really starting to pound by this point and I realized I hadn’t put anything solid in me since getting up at 6 am. Not smart. I hid in the air conditioning in the truck while the class finished and then got my scores and placing.
One of the women ahead of me after dressage had 12 faults in stadium so I moved up to 4th and was so happy to grab my white ribbon and dressage score sheet. I was so proud of both of us! And I didn’t have to be called a loser by my son as I now had my ribbon in hand.
There are so many thoughts to share about this experience and where I’d like to go from here so stay tuned for some posts coming up about that. For the first time in a long time I am really excited for my future with Gem and I can’t wait to tackle it all head on. With the changes I’ve seen in both of us in 4 short months, I can’t even imagine what we could be a year from now. All I have to say is Bring It!!
Gem earned a walk break after all the canter work. I let her meander around a bit as Trainer set up an exercise for us.
First up was the above: 4 ground poles through jump standards with no jump. She was nice and picked ones with a center stripe to help me be centered.
The first pass through we just walked and um…well I didn’t steer at all and we weaved through them like a drunk sailor and it was embarrassing. I’m not even sure what happened. Gem didn’t hesitate. I wasn’t nervous. I just didn’t ride. Ooops.
Second time through I actually rode and did my best to keep her between my legs. I really am not particularly good with the whole straight thing. I think I’m going straight, but then I see my tracks in the footing and it is really bad.
Anyway…once we went over it in each direction at the walk we picked up a nice, even trot and got busy trotting over them. Steering was much better and Gem can handle trot poles like a pro. Trainer liked what she saw enough to add a small cross rail (no clue the size but I think it was set to 18″ or maybe 2′) at the end.
This kinda blew Gem’s mind. She was so focused on the ground poles, that the jump just snuck up on her and she freaked. She went over and Trainer was really pleased that she responded with a yes answer, but she wasn’t liking it and it was too much. Trainer then removed the ground poles and left a placing pole and we did it again.
This time Gem focused on the jump and we went over it without much issue. But then the wheels fell off because….da da da…I stopped riding …again.
It was like I was so focused on keeping Gem straight to the jump, sinking my heel down and keeping my leg on to get her over the jump that I just didn’t really know what to do with myself after and we just kinda skidded around and did whatever on the other side.
Gem really isn’t much into jumping and she counts any hesitation on my part as a good excuse to just not do it. She is the queen of dirty stops and run outs. I’ve learned to really sink my heels down, look up and away from the jump and push her on. All that takes all my concentration and then I apparently like to celebrate the fact that I didn’t die and actually went over the jump with my horse instead of on my own.
This made Trainer not so happy, so we worked hard on me continuing to ride after the jump and keeping Gem straight afterward.
We came at it again, but this time I had to go straight after the jump and finish riding it. It went much better and Gem was a really good girl through out. While the mare HATES leg during flat work, it takes a crap ton of it to get her over a jump and I had to remind myself to use more leg, more leg, more leg.
Trainer dropped the first cross rail and added a second one to the middle jump standards allowing Gem time to get used to a new placement. She kept the original placing pole and dropped the two rails from the cross rail on the ground between that standard, so we had to go over one pole, two poles next to each other and then the jump. Gem was not happy with this. The first placing pole was no issue, but she really did not like how wide the two together were and was staring at that so hard that she never saw the jump. Once we were over the poles she was smack up against the jump and had to go from nearly a stand still. More leg, more leg!!
Once we didn’t completely mess that up, she raised the first cross rail back again and we were told that once we did that right we were done. I went into the exercise with as much leg as I could, sank my heels down and told Gem she was a really good girl. By this time she had gotten used to the first cross rail and went over no problem, but the did hesitate at the second. She went over though and cantered away. Somehow we managed it the first time and that was it.
Lesson of the century, over.
I was so happy with Gem. As soon as we went a few canter strides straight way from the jump I leaned forward and gave her a massive hug. I’m sure the little pony clubber having her 3’3″ lesson after me thought I was crazy for acting like I just won the Olympics having completed two cross rails, but it felt huge to me.
Trainer laughed saying that Gem gave the horse equivalent of an eye roll and looked like a teenager just embarrassed by her mom. I don’t care. I know she secretly loves it.
I was a little anxious untacking her to see what the saddle had done. I wasn’t 100% sure of the fit and with all the canter and jump work, if it was going to slide around it would have. I was happy to see that it was exactly where I had placed it to girth up. All previous jump saddles have ended up on her neck after that much canter work. When it was all off, she had perfectly smooth hair all around and no sore spots. After an hour of hard work, something would have been tender had it not fit well. I think it is a keeper!
What Went Well:
We jumped a jump, I stayed on and nobody died.
I wasn’t nervous. First time ever jumping without a knot in my stomach
Trainer complemented Gem on her brain here. She said one time she thought Gem was going to add an extra stride in to make the jump , but instead she just lengthened her stride to make it happen. Really smart horse. If she didn’t hate jumping so much, she might actually be really, really good at it.
I kept my position, didn’t get jumped out of the tack even when she superman launched or chipped in really bad and didn’t catch her in the mouth (if it hasn’t been apparent this is one of my biggest jumping fears – nailing my poor horse hard in the mouth)
What We Need to Work On:
Riding. Like…really riding. I already know with Gem that she will not go over anything without a superhuman amount of leg, so I don’t stop riding before a jump, but I tend to completely quit right after. No more of that.
Ride straight away from the jump. We aren’t advanced and working on angled jumps or big courses, so I need to ride straight away from it.
My approach kinda sucked. I either turned her way too early or too late. I eventually got it right, but it needn’t have taken me so long.
(This post and the following were written and scheduled to go up prior to saying goodbye to my Scrabs. It seems an odd juxtaposition to have such a happy and loving life type post the day after the other published, but in real life this lesson took place on my birthday, the 13th, and we said our sad goodbye on the 14th. I wanted the Scrabble tribute to post first though)
Not one to be overly gushy and mushy, but wow….Gem restored all my faith in her times 1000 and it is wonderful. This horse. She gives me everything she can, sometimes in ways I don’t know what to do with, but she is honest as the day is long and I am loving getting the chance to ride her.
Maybe my little come to Jesus talk with her during our last ride really did the trick, maybe all my lessons have given me more confidence and tools in my toolbox to work with her, maybe the new saddle (did I mention I got a new saddle for my birthday?!? squee!!) worked magic, maybe the new venue changed her attitude, maybe Trainer is just that amazing…or maybe, and more likely, all those things clicked into place to give me the best ride I have ever had on my Gemmie in seven years.
I started off a little worried, then began to smile, then grin form ear to ear, then full on little school girl giggling. I think Trainer thought I lost my mind. Maybe I did. I don’t want it back.
The lesson was broken up into a flat work session the first half and a jump session the second. This post would be way too long to write both up, so I am splitting it in two. I learned SO MUCH that keyboard diarrhea is imminent.
Trainer hadn’t worked with Gem since the very first time at my house where Gem was her typical spazzy, tense and not listening oh-my-God-any-leg-means-gallop self. I think she was a bit nervous. We began with walking with a purpose and created a smaller rectangle in the large jump arena. Right way she could see the difference in Gem and I: I asked Gem to do something and expected it to be done and Gem was respondeing by doing it although sometimes begrudgingly.
We began with walk-halt-walk which is Gem’s worst thing ever. She really sees no point in stopping just to go again and Trainer even laughed about it remarking how she could tell that Gem thought halting was something other horses had to do. She could tell Gem was annoyed because she knew we would just be walking on again and what was the entire reason for doing this? For my part, she had me ask in a small series of quick bursts starting small then escalating to let Gem know I meant business but not create a tugging war with the reins. Eventually Gem acquiesced to the request to halt more promptly and we moved on.
The flat work half focused on one thing: adjustability. Gem and I worked hard at home on rhythm and it paid off as she picked up the nicest working trot that was fluid and forward but not braced or rushed. In fact trainer exclaimed that she was very cute when she behaved and had really nice movement. Maybe we wont completely fail at this English stuff after all.
We kept on the smaller rectangle in the center of the arena and began to work on that adjustability thing. It was SO MUCH FUN!
Trainer had me think walk and really, really slow my posting down, sit up tall and tighten my core all while not touching the reins at all and I could feel Gem slow down nearing the walk. Right before she actually walked, I was to amp up my energy and send her on in the trot.
My timing was not quick enough in the beginning and we ended up walking a good bit or I would add too much leg too soon and we never really sowed down. It took a few circuits around before we got the hang of it. When we did though: magic. Gem began to really tune in and all I had to do was change my body posture and my energy level and she would slow then speed back up. Trainer then had me work on going from a working trot to an extended trot the same way.
Pretty soon she had us alternate between working, extended and slow trot at each side of the rectangle. It was a blast. Gem was relaxed and thankful that I wasn’t touching her mouth and really listened, coming back immediately and going forward with gusto but remaining relaxed. Holy crap! I didn’t know she had it in her and it was SO MUCH FUN. Have I mentioned how fun it was??? I could have just done that for an hour.
After we played with that in both directions, we moved on. Drilling Gem is never a good idea. She is wicked smart and once she learns something it is time to move on or she will get bored and find something else to amuse herself with. Typically, I don’t find humor in the same things she does.
Next was canter work though and I immediately lost all my zen and relaxation. Trainer saw the response in Gem and asked me what happened. I told her I got tense. She told me to relax.
Part of my canter issues comes from my own misunderstanding that canter = faster. Since I can go a million miles an hour at the trot, I don’t really want to go any faster in the canter. Trainer is working hard to break this thought process and for me to think of the canter as shifting to a new gear, but maintaining the same speed. It is helping…a bit.
All my prior work at getting Gem desensitized to my leg cue for canter has paid off though. She can be cued with the outside leg without completely losing her head now. We picked up the left lead and while we did canter and I didn’t pull her face off, we also completely lost any steering we had.
When Gem canters, she just goes wherever she darn well pleases, bulging out a shoulder here and her hindquarters there. Trainer told me to put my outside leg on her and prevent the bulging out, but when I did Gem went wildly careening at a million miles an hour. Or so it felt. Trainer understood my dilemma. Gem is hypersensitive to the leg and believes it means go faster at all times. We have come to terms with this at the walk and are beginning to understand it at the trot, but the canter is currently in the crapper. It did improve a bit and we went both right and left, but it is going to take a long time before it is pretty. Or rideable. We will get there.
And that was the first half of our lesson. I was so proud of Gem. She came ready to work and while she was still highly opinionated and her typical self, she was honest and tried hard for me when I did my part and rode correctly.
Trainer had a lot to say about Gem as well. This was only her second time seeing her in action. Her thoughts:
Gem is a super cute mover when she wants to be
She is really sensitive to my leg and we need to work on getting her to understand that I can touch her and it not mean forward
She has a massive canter stride. She was really impressed with how much ground the mare covers in her canter and mentioned it a dozen times during our canter work. Maybe that also plays into my canter issues.
Gem doesn’t like to be surprised by anything. It is up to me to give fair warning about a change like in a transition or direction to let her know what is coming up soon.
Gem is very in tune with me. If I’m tense, so is she. When I relax she will too. I have to be better at controlling my own self before I can expect her to do the same.
Gem likes being in charge. When I get firm about one aspect, say pace, she will try to take charge of another, say direction. This was most prevalent at the canter when she picked up the gait and lead I requested, but then decided she had all the say in where we went. And I let her because I get all flailing and forget how to ride when I canter.
Things I did well:
She didn’t correct my position at all. I did ride with less leg than in my prior lessons, but she soon learned why and we are compromising at the moment. She stated that my leg position was perfect for where Gem is at right now and will take time to be allowed to bring it back and around her without causing tension and anxiety.
My elbows were the best yet, still need work but I’m counting this as a win because she only had to tell me to bring them back half as much as before and the alterations I made were minimal versus massive.
I rode my mare off my seat. BIG HUGE IMPROVEMENT FOR US!!
I used circles correctly like I learned last time out. Gem actually bent around the circle and it helped to rebalance her.
Things to improve:
I need to begin to work on getting my seat completely independent from the rest of me. Currently its not so much.
Continue to improve in my transitions. Don’t throw her away going down and don’t run her into it going up.
Canter work. Lots and lots of canter work. Transition, speed, steering. All of it. One big thing she told me is to never let Gem canter from a bad trot. This sets up a bad canter and then I’m immediately having to correct it.
Keep Gem focused. She tended to get bored and look around for something to do. I have to keep her mind busy, but not overwhelmed. This is hard for me as I tend to either drill or let it slide.