Riding/Horses

Wednesday Night Lesson

Lessons do not generally make me nervous. I find them challenging and fun and since Trainer is so awesome I always know that while we will be pushed to do better, it won’t be scary. Wednesday, however, I found myself with some butterflies.

Dusty got home with Wyatt right as I was about to leave with Gem. Wyatt asked to come so I got some media. Not a whole lot because being on kiddo duty limits it but some pictures are better than none!

I wasn’t sure if I wanted Gem to be tense and rushed or not. I mean, if she was then Trainer could help me but then it would mean something other than she just doesn’t do well in the large boundary less field at home. Maybe she was in pain or just hated this new discipline and I’d have to make some hard decisions. If she was perfectly behaved then we could move forward, but then it would mean that I wouldn’t get any tools to help at home.

Trainer wanted us in the jump tack, which made my wimpy little jumping heart happy. ¬†After the onslaught of babble about the CT, we wandered to the arena and I started off with “Do you remember how Gem was when you first met us at my house back in February?” She sighed, made a face and told me she was sorry I was having to deal with that. Me too, Trainer. Me too.

Listening to Trainer giving advice. Lower body doing well. Upper body not so much

Right off the bat she called me out on my position. It’s frustrating. I’ve been riding for 30 years and I can’t even sit on the darn horse right. The lower half of my body has gotten a lot better, but my upper half still has a lot of work to go. She said that our number one priority this summer is going to be loosening up my arms. She kept telling me to be looser, looser, looser and when I finally got there and felt like a wet, sloppy noodle she told me I was nearly free enough. Ugh. It feels so odd.

Getting that ear, shoulder, hip, knee alignment. Arms too stiff

Gem held it together at the walk really well. In fact she nearly made a liar out of me. Then we moved into the trot and the wheels fell off. She was braced, rushed and hollow. We zoomed around the circle like a Boeing 747. I was trying my best to remain calm and not get anxious or tense or angry, but it was just so darn frustrating to be going like that when I know we can do so much better.

We go ZOOM!

Trainer called me out on a lot of things,but mostly I think she felt bad for me. It was obvious that neither Gem nor I was enjoying ourselves and as we kept getting worse I was getting ready to just call the whole thing off and go sulk in the truck like a 4 year old.

Curling into the fetal position with a braved and slightly forward lower leg. Old habits die hard.

Instead, Trainer kept correcting me: post lower to the saddle, lower, lower….good now slow down the post, s l o w e r… good now sit taller…good now quit bracing with your inside leg, bring it back under my hip, wrap it around her….now slow that flying monkey down to a walk as if your life depended on it. Walk. Now. Change directions.

Looking and feeling a little better. Connection and being on the by are distant and mystical words at the moment.

By the end of 30 minutes, Gem was deemed rideable enough to jump. There are so many things to talk about that I’m going to write up Trainer’s analysis in a different post. We talked a lot about Gem, myself and our relationship as well as our goals and how to get there. It was enlightening.

Once we were cleared to jump, Trainer set up a course at 2′ for us to work over. It had a lot of turns. The goal for this jump session was to work on my approach to the jumps and to quit giving Gem such a long approach. Giving her so much time helps me to prepare, but it also gives her a lot of time to get both bored and squirrelly.

I love her forward and happy ears here. I’m proud of my position too

The first jump was meh. Gem was game, but I was not and not only did I take my leg off, I also stared straight at the jump. Both told Gem that I had no interest in going over so she stopped. I wouldn’t call it a refusal since I didn’t actually ask her to go over it. Once I put my leg on she went over no problem and didn’t stop at another one the rest of the time. She really can be such a good girl.


After we warmed up over a couple of jumps, Trainer gave me the course: a gate with solid panel, left turn to a two cross rail bending line set at three strides (if I cantered them which I did not), then a sharp right to a vertical (when she pointed out the course I said “you mean that super tall vertical that is set tonway ober 18”? And to which she responded “Go jump”), a right turn to another cross rail then a sharp left back over the original gate for a small course of 6 jumps.

The first time I gave Gem a huge lead up to jump one and Trainer yelled at me for it making me circle and try again. I did and it went pretty ok. We went over everything and Trainer remarked again how she loves that Gem is the same horse before and after a jump. She called me out for pulling Gem up right before a jump. Gem locks on a few strides out and pulls me to it and I need to just let her. She is not rushing, even if it feels like it, she is just getting her energy sorted to make it over. I need to let her do it.

The second fence of the bending line

We did the course twice and called it a day. Gem did excellent both times. Trainer did tell me a few times that I was making good choices and I added a circle in once when Gem was getting sassy and throwing her head when I wouldn’t let her run through me.

I do need to work on ignoring the jumps better. She kept telling me to be looking at the next jump about two strides out from the current one and I wasn’t so gray at doing that the first time around. The second time I really got a better feel for it and was able to really look around to where I was going a lot better.

Add in some obstacles for me to worry about and my posture improves. On the flat I become an over thinker

We ended on a super good note with all three of us happy. Trainer told me that she loves watching Gem jump. She can see her brain going a million miles an hour trying to sort it all out. For my part, I’m trying to get more comfortable with how Gem jumps. With the higher jumps, specifically the panel and vertical, she has two separate motions: her front end goes over and then when her hind end is going over the jump she pops it up higher to clear. It feels odd like: ok here we go up and then pop she throws her hind end up. Trainer said that her Arab/Welsh gelding had the same technique and it was really difficult to sit so if I can do it well on Gem the other horses should be really easy in comparison. We also plan on beginning to canter our jumps next time. Eeek!

Happy horse and rider at the end
Riding/Horses

Jumping Solo

The rain cancelled my Monday lesson and there seemed to be no time to get another one scheduled. Trainer doesn’t teach on the weekends and Monday is really the only evening she teaches late enough for me to make it after work (I could do a Tuesday but that is my kickboxing night). With the only other Monday being Memorial Day, I was out of luck for one last lesson before the show. 

Wyatt loves coming and playing in the giant sand box

No worries though, the arena is always available and only 30 minutes away so Sunday I loaded up Gem and we headed out. There was someone else using the jump arena with jumps set at like 57′ (ok, really they were all set to 3’9″, but they might as well been set to 57′) and I was unsure what the etiquette in that situation was. She had just walked into the arena as I unloaded and I knew they probably wouldn’t be riding that long at that height. I decided to waste some time by practicing my braiding skills using the videos you guys so helpfully provided for me. Turns out I suck, so we will see what happens show day. I may lose my temper and roach her yet. 


By the time I was done fiddling with her mane, the lady was done riding. Out of curiosity what is the etiquette? I’m sure I can ride in there with her, it is public after all, but what about jump height? I’d think it would be rude to change them but there were a ton of jumps up and she had been using them all. Do people just wait until the other is done or do they take a few for their own use? 


Anyway…

I tacked up, thanked everything living and breathing that the 46″ girth fit her perfectly (thanks everyone for that suggestion!) and lowered everything to 1’9″ which was the lowest they went. 

Taking a good hard look but never stopping moving forward. I’ll take it.

I’m really trying to figure out a warm up and decided to work on what Dom commented about in my dressage post: brakes, rhythm, bend. I started with a bunch of halt transitions and guys she is really starting to get it! It is taking less and less to get her to halt and she is not moving until I ask. I was so happy. 


It wasn’t long until I asked her to trot and this time I worked on using my posting to send her forward and bring her back working on a square and using the long sides to send her out and short to bring her back. She was distracted by everything outside the ring, but listened well and so I asked her for some bend in a circle. That’s a work in progress, but going right is coming along nicely. 


After that it was time to jump. I gave the hubby my phone to take some pictures and I was off. My stomach only knotted a little as I made a crappy approach to the first jump, but I grabbed some good mane and kept my legs on. I also remembered how voice driven Gem is and I talked to her throughout telling her how good she was. 

Hubby is like the worst photographer ever. Enjoy his finger in nearly every frame.

We trotted everything and she never once refused, ran out or did anything bad. She wasn’t super locked on or pulling me to any jumps, but she wasn’t freaking out and trying to dodge them all either. 


It was amazing!!!!

It was also the exact thing I needed going into this weekend. It was a big confidence booster for me that she can go in and be sensible. I really have no clue where this new found calm mare came from but I adore it. I really feel like we are going places ūüôā

Her ears are forward!! Not back in me or grumpy. This is huge!!

I had wanted to work on our canter some, but she had been so good and it was about 9,000F out with 1000% humidity so I called it quits and bathed her instead. 

Post bath Gem is not a happy Gem

I am so excited for the weekend! Ride times come out Wednesday and then I’ll determine if I go the night before or not.

Me being super excited after we finished and she hadn’t touched a rail, backed off from a jump or run out one single time. Elated best describes it.
Riding/Horses

I Jumped a Course!

First time ever. Definitely deserves a title exclamation point.

So Monday night was lesson night and I dressed Gem in her jump gear. Trainer was right on board with attempting a course before we hit the show, so we began with some flat work focusing on the canter then began to jump. Nothing super earth shattering and limited photos, but I had a lot of fun and built up some major confidence.

We started by just going over a simple cross rail. The first time Gem slammed on the breaks and just walked over the cross rail, but she went over and never stopped so there was that. The next time I actually put my leg on and she popped over and cantered away. After that we strung fences together.

Approached going away from the camera

Jump 1 was this brown cross rail with pink flowers. I hesitated, got all nervous and took my leg off. Gem stopped. Not surprising and not her fault. If I’m not 100% committed to the jump, she will not go over.

Trainer told me that I have to go into it with the mentality of getting over the jump no matter what. I don’t tend to stare at the jump, but I do tend to lose all confidence and back off right before it so she told me to have the mentality that I want to go to x and there just happens to be a jump in the way. Gem does not over jump at all and will not go bolting away so really the only issue is me and my brain.

 

From there we circled at the far end of the arena to approach jump 2, my first ever vertical. It rode fine as long as I got Gem looking at it in advance and we popped over no problem.

Trainer told me that Gem has no clue what is coming and is not yet looking ahead for jumps. She is green and it will come with time, but for now I need to give her the longest approach possible so she sees it. She thinks most of our jumping issues comes from Gem not thinking we are going to jump so she is always surprised at the last minute when we get to it.

Approached coming towards the camera

The vertical led right to this Red Cross (so my phone keeps capitalizing it as if I’m talking about the American Red Cross and I am tired of trying to correct it so you get this version) rail with flower filler. It was actually really great because it made me get Gem back to a trot quickly and set back up for the jump.

I didn’t get a picture of the next cross rail but this line was the mirror image of the vertical to Red Cross rail only. By this time Gem was actually beginning to catch on to the game and was looking for the jumps.

Trainer was really happy by this point. She said that Gem actually started to look ahead here and she saw her prepare two strides out for the first time. On my end, I noticed that Gem’s ears actually pointed towards the jump and not back towards me. This also resulted in her balancing a couple of strides out which in turn made the jump smooth and much easier to ride.

After the cross rail we turned left down the far end of the arena again and ended with these two jumps. I majorly failed the first time and Gem ran out at the last minute. It would have been our second refusal if it had been a show.

We came at it again and it went fine.

We repeated the course a second time and I actually rode it and Gem did great. I gave her a big huge and pat and was grinning from ear to ear. My first course!!

I’m not sure why I get so freaked out jumping. Gem doesn’t over jump at all and she never bolts away from it either. I’m just not 100% comfortable with it though I really want to be. With time I’m sure it will get better. I’m actually not a particularly brave person at all, but I don’t let fear completely stop me from doing what I want. It just makes me really conservative.

Doing an entire course was really good for me too. I had to focus on my approach and bringing Gem back down to a trot right away, so I couldn’t stop riding after a jump nor could I focus on what went wrong.

At the end, we wandered over to the dressage court so I could run through the test quickly in a small court to see how quickly things come up. That’s when Trainer said that she could tell Gem was having fun once she understood the game we were playing. That makes me really happy to hear.

Riding/Horses

Falling in Love With Gem All Over Again: Jumping

Gem earned a walk break after all the canter work. I let her meander around a bit as Trainer set up an exercise for us.

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4 trot poles leading up to a jump standard without any jump.

First up was the above: 4 ground poles through jump standards with no jump. She was nice and picked ones with a center stripe to help me be centered.

The first pass through we just walked and um…well I didn’t steer at all and we weaved through them like a drunk sailor and it was embarrassing. I’m not even sure what happened. Gem didn’t hesitate. I wasn’t nervous. I just didn’t ride. Ooops.

Second time through I actually rode and did my best to keep her between my legs. I really am not particularly good with the whole straight thing. I think I’m going straight, but then I see my tracks in the footing and it is really bad.

Anyway…once we went over it in each direction at the walk we picked up a nice, even trot and got busy trotting over them. Steering was much better and Gem can handle trot poles like a pro. Trainer liked what she saw enough to add a small cross rail (no clue the size but I think it was set to 18″ or maybe 2′) at the end.

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This kinda blew Gem’s mind. She was so focused on the ground poles, that the jump just snuck up on her and she freaked. She went over and Trainer was really pleased that she responded with a yes answer, but she wasn’t liking it and it was too much. Trainer then removed the ground poles and left a placing pole and we did it again.

This time Gem focused on the jump and we went over it without much issue. But then the wheels fell off because….da da da…I stopped riding …again.

It was like I was so focused on keeping Gem straight to the jump, sinking my heel down and keeping my leg on to get her over the jump that I just didn’t really know what to do with myself after and we just kinda skidded around and did whatever on the other side.

Gem really isn’t much into jumping and she counts any hesitation on my part as a good excuse to just not do it. She is the queen of dirty stops and run outs. I’ve learned to really sink my heels down, look up and away from the jump and push her on. All that takes all my concentration and then I apparently like to celebrate the fact that I didn’t die and actually¬†went over the jump with my horse instead of on my own.

This made Trainer not so happy, so we worked hard on me continuing to ride after the jump and keeping Gem straight afterward.

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She did this by creating a shoot with ground poles after the jump

We came at it again, but this time I had to go straight after the jump and finish riding it. It went much better and Gem was a really good girl through out. While the mare HATES leg during flat work, it takes a crap ton of it to get her over a jump and I had to remind myself to use more leg, more leg, more leg.

Trainer dropped the first cross rail and added a second one to the middle jump standards allowing Gem time to get used to a new placement. She kept the original placing pole and dropped the two rails from the cross rail on the ground between that standard, so we had to go over one pole, two poles next to each other and then the jump. Gem was not happy with this. The first placing pole was no issue, but she really did not like how wide the two together were and was staring at that so hard that she never saw the jump. Once we were over the poles she was smack up against the jump and had to go from nearly a stand still. More leg, more leg!!

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The final configuration.

Once we didn’t completely mess that up, she raised the first cross rail back again and we were told that once we did that right we were done. I went into the exercise with as much leg as I could, sank my heels down and told Gem she was a really good girl. By this time she had gotten used to the first cross rail and went over no problem, but the did hesitate at the second. She went over though and cantered away. Somehow we managed it the first time and that was it.

Lesson of the century, over.

I was so happy with Gem. As soon as we went a few canter strides straight way from the jump I leaned forward and gave her a massive hug. I’m sure the little pony clubber having her 3’3″ lesson after me thought I was crazy for acting like I just won the Olympics having completed two cross rails, but it felt huge to me.

Trainer laughed saying that Gem gave the horse equivalent of an eye roll and looked like a teenager just embarrassed by her mom. I don’t care. I know she secretly loves it.

I was a little anxious untacking her to see what the saddle had done. I wasn’t 100% sure of the fit and with all the canter and jump work, if it was going to slide around it would have. I was happy to see that it was exactly where I had placed it to girth up. All previous jump saddles have ended up on her neck after that much canter work. When it was all off, she had perfectly smooth hair all around and no sore spots. After an hour of hard work, something would have been tender had it not fit well. I think it is a keeper!

What Went Well:

  • We jumped a jump, I stayed on and nobody died.
  • I wasn’t nervous. First time ever jumping without a knot in my stomach
  • Trainer complemented Gem on her brain here. She said one time she thought Gem was going to add an extra stride in to make the jump , but instead she just lengthened her stride to make it happen. Really smart horse. If she didn’t hate jumping so much, she might actually be really, really good at it.
  • I kept my position, didn’t get jumped out of the tack even when she superman launched or chipped in really bad and didn’t catch her in the mouth (if it hasn’t been apparent this is one of my biggest jumping fears – nailing my poor horse ¬†hard in the¬†mouth)

What We Need to Work On:

  • Riding. Like…really riding. I already know with Gem that she will not go over anything without a superhuman amount of leg, so I don’t stop riding before a jump, but I tend to completely quit right after. No more of that.
  • Ride straight away from the jump. We aren’t advanced and working on angled jumps or big courses, so I need to ride straight away from it.
  • My approach kinda sucked. I either turned her way too early or too late. I eventually got it right, but it needn’t have taken me so long.
  • More leg. Always more leg.
Riding/Horses

Shrinking it Down – Pony Jumping

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Misty – a New Forest Pony and my jumping partner Wednesday night

 

Trainer J texted me Wednesday that I was to ride Misty. Her description: the fat grey pony with a horse sized head.

I didn’t think much of it until I arrived and wandered the barn aisle looking for a horse that matched this description. It really didn’t dawn on me that she meant an actual pony until I saw her.

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I stood and stared a bit. I’ve never actually ridden a real pony, of pony height, before. She was so short! Where were her legs?

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The ground is so close to me!

She was sweet although a bit cranky that I pulled her away from her hay pile and striped her naked in the 30 degree temps. Misty has shown First Level Dressage, shown up to 2’6″ and gone cross country. She knew more than I did and right now that is what I am looking for, so I was game to hop on up and get to know her.

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The prior lesson was working over a course of this height  it was nearly as tall as my pony

The lesson was once again very basic – we worked on my seat and position a lot, worked on walk and trot without stirrups, sitting trot and then the canter which I am horrible at and need to write an entire post on because ugh. From there we strung together a small course of three cross rails all set to around 2′. It was a fun little course for me because it really made me focus on my weakest point: planning ahead and riding with purpose. It began with a cross rail on a right turn off the rail going across the width of the arena, then make a right turn at the rail and cut back on a diagonal to hit fence #2, after it was a sharp left hand turn back all the way around the arena at the rail and past fence #1 to get to fence #3.

It made me really have to plan my path and helped me keep things in focus. I’ll do my usual what I did well and what I need to improve at the end, but I want to talk first about my first ever ride on a pony. It was really, really different. To begin with, she is a kick ride. Her natural tendency is to stop whenever she can and holy crap did it take so much leg to get her moving at more than a snails pace. I even used a dressage whip. I am so used to my hyper reactive mare, that this was a totally new world for me. She would trot when asked but it was so slow and I had to keep applying more leg to keep her in the trot and the same was true in the canter. My legs were exhausted!

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The other thing I noticed was how quickly her legs turned over and how short her stride was. I was posting at a million miles an hour which on Gem relates to about a 10 mph trot, but on Misty was more like a 4 mph trot. In the canter, it was the same. My seat had to move with her so much more quickly even though we were not going very fast. It was hard work for sure and required me to be much more relaxed so I could keep up with her.

Being so close to the ground gave me a whole new boost of confidence. I got up on her and looked down and thought “huh..the ground is so close that even if I do fall off it won’t hurt so much” and you know what? All my tension was gone. I didn’t fight myself at all with grabby hands. i asked her to go and let her do it. It was amazing! If Trainer J had built a 5′ fence and told me to jump it, I would have. I was not scared one single moment on her. It was a new feeling.

She also was incredibly well trained. All I would do was sit tall, tighten my abs and she would down transition. I learned what a real contact felt like and barely had to squeeze the reins to get her to respond. It was really nice to ride something so well trained. I loved her by the end of it all.

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Cold enough to break out the insulated tall boots for the first time all winter

What I did well:

  1. My position was 1000x better and more stable right from the start.
  2. I actually got a canter transition without pulling on her face and asking her to stop right away
  3. Trainer continues to like my jumping position and I never lost a stirrup or caught Misty in the face over the jumps
  4. My shoulders twisted in the circle and the mare’s body bent around me instead of being a surf board going around the turn
  5. I didn’t mess up my jump course and planned my turns according to our pace.
  6. I had fun!

What needs work:

  1. My right leg goes all rogue on me. The left hangs nicely right where it should, but the right tends to want to toe out which put the zipper of my boot on her side and caused my hip angle to be way too open. Part of it is my own biomechanics. That ankle has had surgery and it doesn’t flex very well. so when I try to sink that heel down it toes out to get more flexion. Sorta cheating my way through it. It stretched out a lot by the end of the hour, so it is possible to fix it. It will just take time.
  2. Cantering is my nemesis. I’m terrible at the transition, great once in it, but then I can’t seem to keep the horse in it. Going to write¬†a whole post on this.
  3. Stamina!
  4. Figuring out a way to keep my leg on for forward momentum yet still be able to use that leg to apply aids. If anyone has any great tips, I’d love t hear them. I was using all I had to just keep the horse moving forward, that I had no way to use my inside leg in the turns to balance her or my outside leg to push her away from the rail.
  5. Keeping contact. Every time Trainer would tell me to shorten my reins, I would then extend my elbows so I had shorter reins but I cheated and kept the contact thrown away because my arms were so long. Oops.

Future Plans

  1. I really want to take Gem up there for a lesson. We discussed possibly doing back to back lessons with one hour on a lesson horse and the second on Gem. She thinks it would be really beneficial to jump on Gem right after and apply the same principles to her. I will be missing a lesson due to travel here shortly, so I am thinking of piggybacking next weekend.
  2. Potentially a fun jumper show in June. They do $10 classes and she said I can use Misty or Ralphie in it to do the 18″ and 2′ classes if I am feeling up to it. She also offered Misty for lead line classes for Wyatt which I am all for. Imagine the pictures!

 

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She lent me this book to help with my seat as well. I’m 1/2 way through it and already have a better grasp at what she has been saying.

 

 

 

Riding/Horses

Jump Lesson…Wait…What?!

I JUMPED!!!! 

I’m tempted to just leave it at that, but there is so much to say. First though – it was soooo much fun and I still can’t wipe the smile off my face.

Let’s back up to how it all began…

Last Sunday I sent a text to my trainer (squee!) asking to set up another lesson with Gemmie at home. She was happy to come out, but had plans to take her lesson girls to Aiken for a xc school and wasn’t sure which day. I responded innocently that I wish I was brave enough to do xc, but I was pretty sure Gem would kill me to which¬†she responded that I could use her school horse, Ralphie.

I froze. Really????

We decided that a jump lesson at her barn was a good idea before attempting anything over solid obstacles and the lesson became a reality Wednesday evening.

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A real jump arena. With lights. And a gazebo. I feel like a big girl now

I had butterflies in my stomach all day at work and vacillated between extreme excitement and nervousness. It has been 7 years of riding Gem and only Gem plus I have never had a real jump lesson before. EEK!

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And a dressage arena. With letters!

I practically ran out of work. It was 30 minutes away and I arrived about an half an hour early. The grounds were really pretty even in the diminishing light and odd time of year where things are just starting to wake up. Two girls on gorgeous horses were having a jump lesson and when trainer J saw me, she came over to give me the run down on where to find my horse and his grooming kit.

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This one is for Emma. The view out the barn aisle

Turns out Ralphie is a 24 year old Arab/Welsh Cob with dinner plates for hooves and great bone structure. Most of J’s clients have their own horses and Ralphie is her own personal horse. He was taken out of the lesson program when he had ¬†suspensory injury running in for his dinner (the man loves to eat) and was put out to pasture for a year to rest and heal. He came back stronger than ever and is mostly retired now. I brushed him out while he ate his dinner and then waited until her lesson was over to figure out his tack situation.

We walked back up to the jump arena and she asked my experience with other horses and jumping. Um…. I haven’t ridden anyone except for a few times on trail in 7 years and while I have popped Gem over jumps here and there, I have never had a jump lesson in my life. I’m sure she started to wonder what she got herself into.

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The walk from the barn to the arena. The Bradford Pears are blooming and it was so pretty even on a cloudy evening. 

AHHH…there is just too much to say!!!! Deep breaths…

We started at the walk as usual and there were so many things I noticed about Ralphie right away. Like he actually has brakes, a thing Gem most certainly thinks is optional. The slightest touch of my heel on his side sent him laterally with barely any effort. This horse is trained. What was really funny though was when J would start to apologize for him when he started to get “naughty”. I just laughed. Ralphie’s naughty is¬†nothing compared to my Gemmiecakes. What did he do? Well, he could get a little snippy and when I would push him over to the rail he would then basically run over the rail and I could just hear him thinking “oh..you want me on the rail do you? Well, how is this? Close enough for you?” No drop the shoulder and spin 180 degrees. No get hollow and run off. No pissy head shaking and crow hopping. I giggled each time. in fact, I think I giggled through the entire lesson. When a dream comes true, you just have to enjoy every single moment of it.

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Wait…these aren’t my typical black tipped ears…

The lesson again really doesn’t warrant a blow by blow. We walked and trotted on the 20m circle, then did the spiral exercises and played with transitions seeing how little effort it could take to get a nice transition. The canter was a shit show as I worked through some major Gem induced PTSD. My legs would tell poor Ralphie to go, but my hands would then clamp and tell him no. I finally got it sorted out and things were good. The second half of the lesson we worked over some jumps from the trot. She created two cross rails (here is where my complete lack of jumping knowledge is really going to shine through: I know nothing of your terminology) one was on a diagonal and if ridden straight had me on a line back to the rail and then it was a turn to the left for a second cross rail straight ahead. I think they were likely too far apart to really be considered on a bending line, but the turn had to be ridden correctly or I wouldn’t make the second jump. It also forced me to bring Ralphie back to a trot after the first jump, half halt and prepare for the second.

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A full course in the massive arena. 

And this is where the light bulb finally went on and EVERYTHING CHANGED FOR ME.

About half way through the lesson, I just stopped and looked at J. Something was wrong. My right ankle was on fire and everything was just really, really hard to do. She kept telling me that I was posting off the back of the saddle and to bring my hips forward, but I physically could not change anything. I tried. I really tried. I understood what she was saying, but it just wasn’t possible. I looked at her and told her something was fundamentally not right. I know riding is hard. I know it takes time to create muscle memory and everyone has issues with position and what not, but this just seemed more difficult than it should.

She had me come into the center of our 20m circle and she had me move my legs onto his shoulders and just sit. Then I brought them back under me and my entire posture shifted. My legs dangled, my heels breathed against his side, I was sitting on a  different part of my seat and it allowed my upper body to sit up straighter with shoulders back. All this without any effort from me. My ankle stopped burning, the tension went out of my elbows.

When I went back out onto the circle, Ralphie was noticeably happier about my balance. When I tightened my core, he listened. When I half halted, he listened. She had me cue the canter and it wasn’t scary anymore. He just went off with the slightest brush of my heel. The jumps came easily and I was able to balance him after each without any effort.

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The jump I did. Tiny and perfect. This was the first one and I was to go over it and head towards the rail on then make a left turn to hit the second one which you can see to the left of the picture. The grey striped poles were there to help guide my turn. It was so much fun!

I was grinning like a fool by the time we were done. I can’t wait until the next one and hopefully by summer I will be confident enough to do a xc day with the pony clubbers.

Things I did right:

  1. She didn’t have to tell me one time to move my shoulders as I turned or was on the circle. See, I can learn!
  2. My jump position was actually spot on and stable. I think I’ll be participating in 2 point tober next year!
  3. I jumped in good timing with Ralphie, neither ahead or left behind
  4. I never once caught him in the face with my hands.

Things that need work:

  1. Soften those darn elbows
  2. Raise my hands. I tend to bury them in his withers which locks my elbows in extension
  3. Don’t get grabby in the canter transition.
  4. Slow my posting down. I’ve gotten so used to posting at 12 mph along with Gem on trail that it feels normal. No, that isn’t a good pace in an arena on a 20m circle. Slow it down.
  5. Ride to the actual base of the jump. I tended to stop riding too soon creating a long distance for Ralphie. Ride all the way in
  6. Practice sitting correctly with my seat which allows everything else to fall deliciously in place.

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