Posted in Riding/Horses

Hello, I’m Sara and I Love Jumping

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.

Trainer wouldn’t let me bail

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.

This sweet innocent face. Ha!

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.

I completely failed at getting a decent shot of the exercise. The ground pole to the left right in front of the straw bales was one set point for the circle. Opposite of that one and off screen to the right was an identical pole which made up the other set point for the circle. I had to keep Gem bending throughout

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 setting up the cross rail. She made the circle larger so that we could alternate between going over it and making a flat 20 m circle beside it still using the other ground pole

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?

Posted in Competition

GFPC Fun Show: Thoughts

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!

Posted in Competition

GFPC Fun Show: My Turn

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:

My course. I sent a text to Trainer and she sent back “courtesy of yours truly”. I knew it too. This had her written all over it especially fence 1 which was a super tight and short turn off the rail on an angle. She has had me work on that in our lessons and I sucked at it. 

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.

No idea why she would have whacked it. I mean, this is perfect jumping form. 

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.

This was a much needed wake up call for me to focus and ride my horse. I wasn’t angry with her here. This was 100% my fault for forgetting where to go and jamming her at it. I do love the look on her face though. 

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!

I was elated to be at fence 9 and rode aggressively. It never occurs to me that Gem requires that much aggression to jump until I am nearly done with my course. Some day I’ll learn. 

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!

Again, the run out was all my fault. I backed off and got scared which left Gem high and dry. The second time though I put my big girl panties on. 

Do not forget to turn for fence 2. There it is. Leg on. There is no filler. She can do this.

The jumps were raised and I rode much more aggressively this round which made for a prettier picture overall. 

Wow. 2’ isn’t so bad. We can do this. I honestly believe we can do this.

No issues here
Or here!

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!

Fence 5 was an issue. You’ll see in the video how she tries to contort her way out of it. Thankfully, Trainer had prepared me for this and I was committed to making this round work

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.

There is that beautiful jumping form again. her knees are cute though. Just don’t look at her head. 

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!

I was so worried she would back off this jump. I kicked her good and grabbed mane. 

 

One last plain fence and we are done. Wait…am I smiling? While jumping? On Gem? Weeeeeee…….

This is my new all time favorite picture. Ever. I’m smiling. On Gem. Over a fence. 

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.

Posted in Riding/Horses

Umm…My Horse is Amazeballs. End of Story.

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.

His little two point makes my heart melt. 

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.

Night riding is now a thing. Can it be spring soon?

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!

Sorta a crummy view. Basically it was a Z shape in its side with the horizontal arms of the z being a cross rail creating a chute through the middle. Just going through the maze at a trot was interesting due to the quick change in bending line. When we went straight through we entered at the far right and exited out the clear end to the upper left. 

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.

Looking at it from the backside. Round one was simply trotting through the chute coming towards the camera and exiting over the cross rail. What was nice that once we entered the cute, she really couldn’t leave it. 

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 2. Enter going away from the camera and out over the cross rail by where Trainer is standing. 

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.

Cutting across the middle of the maze. In over the near brown vertical, two strides and out over the far red and white vertical. Going this direction had us facing the rail and required me to make an exit plan right away or run into it. It helped with my habit of not riding after a jump. 

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”.

This had me a bit worried at first but was a ton of fun to ride. It required a lot of planning and steering on my part. 

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.

The whole shebang again. In through the right, turn and circle to make the entry through the top left coming toward the camera, turn right and go across the middle and finish with the angled one stride. 

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.

Sweaty proud beast
Posted in Riding/Horses

Introduction to Grids

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.

The final configuration. I know it was supposed to feel all fluid, but instead it was slam on breaks…hop over first one…slam on breaks…try to duck out to the right….try to duck out to the left…ugly crawl over it… More work to be done!

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.

I think I’m ready to increase the height on cross rails and simple fences which is a big deal for wimpy old me to say. 

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.

Posted in Riding/Horses, Uncategorized

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 3, Cross Country

Ok, ok..no more dragging this out 🙂 Here is the moment we have all been waiting for…

I followed Trainer out the back gate of the arena and down the grassy hill. I really had no clue what to expect. I had never seen any cross country fences there before and was uncertain what was about to happen.

Gem was obviously happy to be out of the arena and took advantage of the grass to stuff her face because, you know, her crazy owner may ask her to do anything and she needed her energy. My stomach was doing flips that would make an Olympic diver proud.

We stopped in front of a small stone wall. Trainer explained that she typically does not let horses see the jumps beforehand, but given Gem's personality she didn't want her to think she was being tricked and to go ahead and let her sniff it. At first I was like "sniff what? This pile of rocks? What are we jumping?" Then it dawned on me. We would be jumping the pile of rocks. Ok…Gem hates things like this. Like down to her core hates it. With a passion.

I walked Gem over to it with a knot in my stomach expecting her to go sideways at any moment, but she just stood next to it and looked around like "what's the big deal here? Where are we going now?"

I would have been happy to sit there in the sunshine all afternoon and call it a day. Seriously, I'm not brave. Trainer however is and wont take my wimpy crap too much, so she told me to circle around and pick up a steady trot. "Remember to steer and add lots of leg."

I turned Gem away, picked up a slow trot and prepared to jump it. I was scared shitless. Not gonna lie. I've taken Gem on so many miles of trails and dozens of hunter paces and she has never once liked even walking over anything solid out and about. Jumping a log across the trail was always an impossible feat. Adding to it, the approach was in the shade and had a super long grassy lane leading away from the jump between the trees. My biggest fear out on course is that Gem is completely untrustworthy in big open spaces. She tends to look for monsters that don't exist and spook at random. Trotting through a field has always been a big risk as she zigs and zags and jumps out of her skin at absolutely nothing.

I swallowed my fear like a rock in my throat and pointed her to the rock pile. I'm pretty sure Trainer was holding her breath waiting for a train wreck.

Gem trotted happily and loosely up to the wall, remained steady and even and hopped over it like no big deal. Then she picked up a beautiful canter and floated away. All this with extremely limited input from her rider who was in mortal terror sitting on her back like a useless monkey.

Trainer looked shocked. My jaw was on the ground. No theatrics. No issues. No unsteady "maybe I'll go right, no left, no stop, no forward" squirrelyness. Trainer just said "huh. Um. Well. Ok. Come back around the other direction where you'll be going from light to shadow. Be prepared because the change in light can back horses off. Lots of steering. Lots of leg."

So I did. And Gem repeated her performance of nonchalance professionalism.

My face split in a grin that would make a jack-o-lantern jealous.

Trainer stood there with her jaw on the ground. I could tell she hadn't really planned much more than attempting to get us over the rock wall. I mean, I don't blame her. I would have bet the farm we would have taken an hour to get over one single solid jump. And even then it wouldn't have been that safe or pretty.

"Ok…. I want you to jump the coop into the pasture then. It's narrow and wide so be prepared." It was also the highest I had ever jumped to date.

I brought Gem around and lined up. I was a bit timid. I mean, a coop? Solid triangular shaped wood? And the tallest to date? I put my leg on and Gem took it like it didn't even exist. Holy shit mare. What is going on?

"Go jump the stone wall again"

"But I'm inside the pasture. How do I get back out?"

"Over the coop"

"Oh."

And this is where Trainer's master plan finally came to light. We were now inside the pasture. The only way out was either back over the coop or over a jump I didn't know was there at this point, but would be introduced to soon enough. I had to jump the coop to leave the pasture.

She had me exit over the coop then take the stone wall again this time stringing them together. I was to let Gem canter if she was controlled enough to do so. Honestly at this point Gem began to tell me I was useless in this whole partnership and that she had this. We cantered.

We turned around and repeated the wall to coop to enter the pasture again and I've never felt anything so wonderful in my life. If that is what stadium is supposed to feel like, I've been missing out. I finally understood what Trainer had been telling me all along – act like the jump is just in the way of point A to B and ride it like it doesn't exist. For once I could. Gem just trotted or cantered along and never once even held back. It was AMAZING.

Once back inside the fence, we walked over to two railroad tie fences. On the left was a teeny tiny one that up until that point would have sent me into cardiac arrest, but now looked a bit wimpy. Gem proved me right when we went over it and she barely stepped it.

Given that response, Trainer made us do the larger one next to it. Now this fence gave me some major anxiety. It was really big. Big enough that she couldn't just step over it and would have to jump. My crutch of being able to crawl to a walk and step over it was gone. At this point Gem had begun to think that she knew better than I did (she was probably right) and was just starting to lose her breaks a little as well.

I had wanted a trot which is my other crutch, but three strides out she disagreed and broke to canter then flew over it.

Having yet to expose her to something that phased her, Trainer had us jump out over the coop and then turn left down to the driveway to come at a new fence. We flew over the now easy peasy coop, but then I completely pissed her off when I turned her prior to the stone wall and she had really wanted to go over it.

Seriously I have no clue where this horse came from. Mad that I didn't let her jump? Flying over solid natural obstacles like she was a pro? Huh??!

I got her turned down the driveway and met the new fence: a small but very wide railroad tie at the top of a super steep, short hill. The hill doesn't really show up well in the picture, but the approach was short due to the 90 degree turn off the driveway, headed straight up and then continued up on the other side.

Again, my Wonder Woman mare didn't even bat an eye at it. Except now we had an issue. Gem had decided she had no use for me, my half halts or my steering. She galloped up the hill and locked on to anything she thought she could jump. Um, no mare. I'm still the navigator.

I turned her back around and approached the jump going down the hill. This was much, much harder for me. I had to sit way back and wait patiently. Since I tend towards jumping too early, this was an exercise in fighting myself. We did fine over it, but I lost all ability to steer going down the hill and we ended up hitting a tree. Oops.

Back around and back in over the uphill jump and then Trainer had me halt to set up a plan. As I was chatting with Trainer about what we were going to do Gem started to wander, then trot and went right over to the coop in glee and fully intending to jump it. No mare. We are standing still now.

The plan was thus: uphill jump into the pasture, small railroad tie, loop around to the large tie, coop, stone wall.

I came up the hill and it was apparent that I had lost all steering and most of my brakes. Gem was having fun and had tuned me out completely. We barely made the turn to the small tie, which she then just stepped over in disdain, and by the time I turned her back to the larger tie I had lost all control. She broke to a gallop and we were off.

I freaked. I mean, this whole Gem having confidence thing was new to me and I had zero trust that we would make it over and not die. I turned her off it and Trainer wasn't very happy. I explained that I had zero control and felt really uneasy about jumping like that. She was okay with that decision but told me I needed to take control way before the jump or else I'd teach Gem to run out.

Not wanting to end on a bad note, she had me go back and try the tie again, but this time make her halt right after. Well, the halt after took 5-6 canter strides as Gem was locked onto that coop and had no intentions of doing anything but going over it. I did get her to stop though, then picked up the canter and out we went over the coop and ended over the wall.

I forgot to mention that all the times we did the coop and wall I whooped in joy. The first time Trainer, who remained inside the fence, asked if I was ok. I was more than ok. I was elated. I was having the time of my life. I never wanted it to end.

As I loosened her girth and ran the stirrups up, I was shaking. A bit adrenaline, a bit overwhelmed and lot excited. Neither Trainer nor I ever expected that out of Gem. Trainer walked over and exclaimed "You have an event horse!" I think she was as happy as I was.

I have no idea where that came from. She had never shown any interest out on trail before. A log on trail makes her jump 50 feet sideways. She balks in the arena over the smallest fences that she has seen a million times and yet when presented with solid obstacles on varied terrain with wide open spaces or with treed lanes, she took them like a pro who had done it all in her sleep. I'm floored.

I am a little scared of the beast I awoke within her. Trainer said that a lot of gymnastics are in our future to teach her to slow the poop down and wait for instruction. Guys, the future is wide open!!!

Posted in Riding/Horses

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 2, Stadium

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.

More hiking pictures to break up the text. 

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.

Same old cross rail, same old hesitation

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.

My little guy is growing up so fast. Not only is he getting tall, but he has lost all remnants of his baby body and is looking like a little man

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….