Riding/Horses

Tuesday Night Under the Lights

Spring is finally arriving down here and it is my favorite time of the year. Sure it is still oddly overcast and rainy, but it is warm and the flowering trees are starting to burst forth in all their glory.

Tuesday night I headed to RB for the first time in what felt like forever. I had texted with Trainer about Gem’s newest behavior with jumps: namely the fact that she is going over every time but then flying away on the back side. I’m not sure how much to get after her about this since it has taken us just over a year to get her enjoying the jumping game. Trainer was in agreement that we can’t really shut Gem down too much right now in fear of ruining the progress we have made, yet we do need to do something about this new behavior.

The issue we face is that Gem doesn’t do repetition. After the third or fourth time through a particular exercise she shuts down. I’m not sure if this is boredom or what but she shuts me out and decides that it is best to just race through it because you know we are just going to do it again so why bother? This is neither fun nor productive. The problem is that she needs grids in her life, yet the very essence of grid work is repetition. No amount of changing from turning left to turning right helps either. By the end of the lesson Trainer said she was going to have to set up a few different grid patterns scattered throughout the arena next time and have us randomly go through them to keep Gem entertained and focused.

She is a difficult mare, folks.

But back to the lesson….

Trainer always has me start out with flat work. I love that we spend the beginning focusing on bend, installing the half halt and working on m own position. Sometimes that is all we get to do if Gem is being particularly hard. Tuesday Gem was being really wonderful and I even got multiple compliments on my lower leg position!! It is really coming along and starting to feel more natural to carry it under me instead of letting it slip forward forever in a chair seat. After about 15 minutes of figure 8s and circles we moved to the exercise at hand.

This started off with four trot poles set on the short side of the arena in the center-ish. The tricky part for me was making the turn off the rail, dodging all the really fun looking but death defying jumps throughout the arena and forcing Gem to trot through the puddles left by yet another rain storm. There was a lot going on that made the path hard to get right enough to put Gem;s eyes on the poles before we got there. The other learning point was that I need to get better at lowering my hands and pushing them slightly forward to allow Gem to drop and stretch her neck as we went over the poles.

Ignore Trainer setting up the cross rail here. This started out as just the 4 poles. 

On Gem’s part, she didn’t change her pace or rhythm going over and was a really good girl once she understood what we were up to.

Trainer had me working on alternating between posting and two pointing through the poles and really concentrating on sinking my heels down while giving with my hands. Having the neck strap was a big eye opener for me which I will get into in a bit.

Once we had gone over several times, Trainer added a small cross rail at the end. The first time up Gem gave it the hairy eye, but still said yes and went over. I don’t even know if I can explain properly what I was feeling but it felt so good! Like coming home, you know?

You can kinda see how tight the exit is and the entrance was fairly the same. Tight turns going into the grid made me really have to sit her back and slow down before entering so we could make it through without falling on our faces. Trainer would ask me as I came up to the grid “could you walk from this trot?” If the answer was no, I had to half halt hard to get her to a point where the answer was yes and then I could enter the grid. 

My issue with my jump position was two fold: 1) in an attempt to “release” and not hit Gem in the mouth I would throw my hands way out by her ears which would not only throw her away but also lead to 2) my upper body would be thrown too far forward due to this which would also cause my butt to come too far out of the saddle. All this lead to the bigger issue at hand: instability and an inability to really follow Gem wherever she decided to go.

Of course this all wasn’t solely due to me sucking. A big part of it was that Gem was so squirrely in front of a jump that I had to basically sit on her until we were mid air and then do whatever I could to get over to the other side. Now that she is firmly saying YES every time I ask, I could focus on fixing my own bad habits born out of necessity.

And that is exactly what we did and it felt so good. I felt invincible up on her. Like I could handle anything she threw at me and that made me more aggressive to the jump and made Gem more confident as well.

And all this was due to the neck strap.

Coming into the ground poles, I would post until the jump and then grab that neck strap, sink my heals down and sink really low to the saddle. All this gave me a base of support I have never felt before and even got a huge grin, clap and exclamation from Trainer. It looked as good as it felt although I have zero media to prove it. Having the neck strap to grab meant that my hands stayed low and back while still giving to Gem and this had the domino effect of letting me sink into my heals and keep that butt low. Trainer kept yelling out “sink low to that saddle”.

Once my base felt secure, I knew that no matter if Gem tried to duck left, right or go flying away in a hand gallop that I would be following her and could control the situation. I never lost a stirrup. I never felt scared.

AMAZING doesn’t even come close to it. ADDICTING is better.

Once we nailed the single cross rail, Trainer added a second one one stride out. The first time through the new set up, Gem was pretty unsure but again said a hesitant yes and went over.

The final configuration which should have made my wimpy self hesitate with how short that exit was as before we would have had a 75% chance of running through the railing at the end. But not now!!!

Lest you think everything was sunshine and roses, throughout all of this Gem and I were arguing. Going through the mini grid was the easy part (ha!! who am I?!). The before and after were what nailed us every single time. After the first few go throughs, Gem decided that she had this and I was no longer necessary. She would land at the end of the grid and then try to take off a million miles an hour back to the start. The problem is that this leads to motorcycling around the tight turn off the rail, between the oxer and then to the poles. A shitty turn led to a shitty entrance to the grid and a shitty run through it.

I really had to sit Gem back hard to get her to stop and pay attention to my direction. A few times I even halted her to get it through her head that I was still making the calls here. As we kept going, it kept getting worse and worse. Finally Trainer had me mix everything up. Instead of exiting the grid, turning right, making it back around in a circle to the start again, I would turn her right and make a 20 meter circle or make her walk through the middle of the arena all the way back to making a left hand entrance or do a figure 8. Anything except head right back to the start of the grid so that she had to listen to me for direction.

It was both frustrating and a crap ton of fun all at once and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face at the end. The difference in both gem and myself from a year ago continues to astound  me. As she gets easier and more rideable, I can focus on myself which makes me more stable and effective which boosts her confidence in me and what I am asking and that it turn makes her say yes more often and the cycle continues.

Riding/Horses

In Which Gem Redeems Herself Yet Again

Sunday was a whole other story and this folks is why I keep my Gemmie around. Well, that and nobody else would want her and I’d never forgive myself if she ended up in an auction or feed lot.

Anyway….

After a ridiculously disgusting Saturday (seriously weather yo-yoing from 79 Friday to 45 and raining Saturday then back to 75 and sunny Sunday is ridiculous. Take your meds please) Sunday dawned gorgeous. Just that morning I saw that RB is hosting a spring H/J show March 10 and I plan to be there so it was time to get jumping.

Nap time. Sunny 75 and with a gentle breeze. Had me wishing I had a hammock so I could join in. 

With my new found bravery, I set the jumps at 2′ verticals and set three in a generous circle with two on the long side and one set perpendicular on the short side.  I really like this placement for Gem. It allows me room for my newbie errors which avoids me inadvertently punishing Gem, but still keeps me honest and steering. By having it on such a large circle, it forces me to ride her straight away from the jump and then set up my turn which helps fight my really bad habit of only riding up to a fence and then leaving Gem hanging on the backside with no directions.

The third jump is just off screen against the far fence line and just in front of the near fence. 

Gem came out well behaved and listening. Sure she still wanted to go faster than I did, but she actually listened to my half halts and would slow down for multiple strides at a time. It felt good and rideable on the flat so I proceeded to the jumps and went right to start.

Gem was amazing. She locked on, never said no or tried to run out and while it wasn’t always pretty going over she did try her best.

After the first two jumps I settled myself and really focused hard on my own position. I paid attention to sitting back before the jump instead of leaning forward (a very bad habit I do for fear of not getting into two point fast enough once she does jump), sinking those heels down, shoving my butt back (while I two point nicely on the flat it goes out the window in favor of standing in the stirrups over jumps which isn’t good) and grabbing that neck strap. It felt good to know she was going over so I could focus on myself.

I had a creeper the entire time I rode. Now that the horses are out in the  big pasture, they have access right up to the arena gate. There is a back entrance right off the barn which avoids entering or exiting via the horse pasture. But it does allow little creepers to stand and stare hard at me the entire time. Thanks for the judgement Nash!

After a few go rounds of doing each fence individually I focused on doing all three in a row with the turns. Going right she nailed it every time, coming back to the trot between fences so we could make the turn. I praised that crap out of her each time, loudly telling her how amazing she was and giving her great big pats.

I may have over done it because it definitely went to her head. Shortly thereafter she began celebrating after each jump and began to get a bit harder to get under control on the back side.

After a really good go to the right where she hit every jump near perfectly, made the turns and listened I gave her a walk break. She was starting to have that sweaty horse smell to her and I wanted to reward her effort.

Then we went left and it wasn’t near as good. Left is her harder side as it is and by that point she was feeling pretty proud of herself which typically translates into her believing I am no longer necessary and that she has it from here. Plus she was also just about done with me.

She stayed with me going into the first jump but then took off after and it took me circling all the way back to the start to get her to trot again. Needless to say we didn’t make it over the other two fences that time.

We suck at selfies

The next time she listened well enough to make the turn to the center jump but then I lost her after when she yet again took off. I’m not ready to start getting after her after jumps since she is finally saying yes 90% of the time now. Instead I let her canter back to the start and tried again all the while praising her for saying yes and going over.

It took a few more attempts to get her over all three going to the left but once she did I quit for the day. I was really proud of her for going over, trying hard and the fact that the jumps were set at 2′. I was never brave enough to go that high before.

I texted Trainer and set up a jump lesson out at RB which will be the first time I’ve trailered there since early November or maybe late October. Its been a while. But I want to be able to work a more complicated course before we go to the jumper show there in March. My plan is to hit up as many classes as possible this time: cross rails through 2′ both the hunter and the jumper classes both to try and stave off boredom as well as to get us as many low key miles as I can. I really believe Gem actually deep down enjoys this jumping game after all. It gives her a purpose in the arena and I can really feel her start to understand and take to it. She gets super proud of herself once she completes a task she didn’t think she could and it is big confidence boost for us both.

Also, the month is coming up fast and I don’t have any hours entered for the volunteer challenge. It’s going to be an easy random drawing with no names in the invisible hat. If you’ve volunteered in February get those hours submitted!

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?

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!

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.

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
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.