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 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

“Trainer” Ride on Gem

I went into Wednesday’s lesson curious to see if the confidence Gem showed over solid obstacles would cross over into the arena. Of course the fact that I didn’t ride her at all in the intervening two weeks wouldn’t help anything but it has been a very stressful couple of weeks. I learned a long time ago that I have no business throwing a leg over her if I can’t leave my emotions at the barn gate.

While I was tacking up Trainer mentioned that one of her star barn rats was there and could ride her a little before I got on. I was 100% down with that idea. Honestly, if I could afford it I would love to put Gem in a full training program but I can’t and besides that would defeat the purpose of bringing her home.

Gem was a bit perplexed why someone else was on her. She kept looking over at me with a quizzical look on her face

Trainer was interested in watching one of her best riders hop on board to sort out what were “Gem problems” versus “Sara problems”. The young woman worked Gem walk, trot and canter for about 20 minutes and then popped her over a few jumps at my request. Trainer had her work specifically on accepting that leg means more than go forward as well as the quality of the canter.

Some highlights:

Young lady’s leg position was the same as mine. Trainer remarked that her right leg was more forward and off Gem exactly like mine is and noted that Young Lady (YL) doesn’t ride like that on any other horse. She thinks this is in part physics: with Gems very round barrel and skinny girth area the leg gravitates forward easily. She asked YL why her leg was there and she answered that that was where Gem wanted it.

Gem was pretty relaxed for her at the walk which is something I’ve been working hard on and it has been coming along nicely. 

Gem responded much better to YLs more upright posture. I tend to still lean forward while YL had a gorgeous upright and sometimes slightly leaning back position. While Gem still tended to become tense and hollow she relaxed quicker and more frequently.

Gem was very tense through a lot of the trot work. She did have moments of relaxation throughout and YL was able to get some true bend on  20 m circle. It was nice to listen to Trainer tell her to do the same things and watch to see YL’s and Gem’s response. 

YL commented that keeping the outside rein constant and having a give and take inside rein creates more bend in Gem.

YL got a lovely canter out of Gem. And then promptly lost all ability to steer. Ok…not gonna lie I felt vindicated when this happened. Trainer is always on me for steering and now looked at me and said “huh…I guess that is solidly a Gem problem”.

YLs position is awesome in the canter and what I strive for. While Gem is gaping and tense, she did put forth an actual canter that was wasn’t motorcycling around. 

YL never got the right lead canter. I have but it is difficult.

Unhappy Gemmie begin asked to do real work. 

Gem stopped at the first cross rail she was presented to. Yup, this made me feel good too although bad because YL almost ate dirt. Gem just has to stop at the first jump she sees.

Where did this jump come from??? Moments before slamming on the breaks

At the end YL said that Gem was extremely hard to ride. Her trot was amazing and floating but she tolerates minimal leg on her, her canter is decent but then she motorcycles around on two legs and she needs a ton of support to jump. All things I knew but now Trainer also knew it wasn’t just me. YL didn’t offer up to ride her again, but also didn’t hate her. I personally love riding Gem, but I’ve been doing so for 7 years and know her inside and out.

From the ground I learned a lot myself. For starters Gem is gorgeous. I never get to see her all tacked up and moving and just….wow. Second, when her rider was unforgiving in her position Gem responded by relaxing and giving on her end. I need to cement this in my brain. She really can canter at a pace less than 100 mph and it is time to really start working on that.

What was the most interesting to me though was watching her jump. She has been over that same cross rail dozens of times now. YL presented her off a long approach and had plenty of leg on her. Gem still stopped and I could tell she was going to several strides away and the reason was obvious from the ground. Miss Busy Bee spends the entire time looking everywhere. She looks right, left, up, down and probably behind her if she could manage it. I know what she is doing. She is looking for anything she should be spooking at. She does this on trail too.

By the time you get to the jump and she sees it, she is right on top of it and slams on the breaks. The second time to it she understands the game and plans for it, but the first time even with walking her over or letting her sniff it, she still stops because mare is looking everywhere but straight ahead at the jump.

Anyone know a cure for that?

Posted in 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.

Posted in Riding/Horses

First Run Through a Dressage Test

Towards the end of my lesson on Sunday Trainer had me run through the Intro B test a few times to see what issues popped up. There were plenty, but it was really interesting to run through it. More for my sake to look back on than anything, I’m going to run through the test here and add Trainer’s comments in bold after the moves.

Gem got all englished up this weekend with a new to us black bridle with white padding. I need to poke some more holes in the cheek and it was adjusted after this picture, but all in all it was a good fit. She looked really pretty in it too. It was only $40 so I can slowly change it out over time to upgrade if I want.
Enter at A, working trot and turn down center line: we majorly failed at this the first time mostly because I didn’t get Gem deep enough into the corner and she couldn’t get all her legs sorted. She got all jumbled up and nearly fell on her face which granted us a start over. Use the corner to my advantage, make sure I start looking at my turn well before, turn a few strides too early and leg yield over after the turn if I have to. It’s better than shooting past and swerving in. Sit up super tall and tighten my core to prepare for the turn and help Gem balance herself. 

Dusty came with me so there is media! He didn’t watch the practice tests as he was Pokémon hunting with Wyatt, but he still grabbed some decent shots. This is how we go right now: not super dressage like, but also not tense and giraffe like so I am happy with it. As for me my legs are under me and my body is bent to where I am going. My elbows are still too straight and my hands super wide but again it’s an improvement from where we were 2 months ago. I’m pleased over all.
Halt through medium walk at X, salute: The start of Intro B is rough for us. Gem down transitioned to walk ok but would not halt. It is a known issue. Once she did she decided to swing her butt around so we were facing 90 degrees away from where the judges would be. Not good. Would we even get a 1 for that? This earned us a break from the test and 15 minutes of halt transitions randomly throughout the arena. We then started over from the beginning again. Only let her do 2-3 strides of walk prior to halt so that the walk is more of a prolonged down transition leading to halt versus a true walk. This gives me more time to get her halted. Keep both legs on evenly to keep her straight during the halt instead of throwing them off her like I tend to do.  Do not salute until her feet are done moving no matter how long it takes. It is worse to salute while she is still moving than to take a few extra seconds to fully halt.

Better elbows. Hands still a little weird. But I’m having fun and Gem is calm and relaxed. Two big picture items that were hard to come by a few months ago. I also love how she is tuned into me with one ear at all times. 
Working trot to C, track left: this we could do! Gem transitioned up to the trot from halt sharply although she sorta western pleasure trotted to start. I gave her enough warning to make the turn at C and carried on our way. Get her into her good trot quickly not the crappy western jog she tries to get away with when bored. Use the corners to my advantage and get her all the way to the rail before turning. Make the corners round and purposeful. 

I appear to be on a circle. Gem appears to be on a straight line. Who needs bend when you can surf board your way through?
20 meter circle tracking left at C then go straight ahead: Gem finally got into her good trot and we circled ok. I managed to remember to bend my entire body and we did create a mostly circle shape but it was too small to be 20 meters. Remember to keep Gem looking to the inside of the circle, in a small dressage court I should only be 10 meters away from the end of the arena on either side of my circle and on the rail on the other two. Bend my entire body around the circle, not just my head and neck. Do not start the circle until my body hits E. 

Talking to Trainer about something. Notice how bored Gem looks? This is such a major win for us! In the past she was always high as a kite and so tense. I’ll take bored any day!
Between K and A medium walk: we kind of trotted right through this and walked after A. Not so great. Since Gem tends towards fast, plan to walk at the first letter to give me more time. 

I’m proud of how tall I am sitting. No more fetal position for me! It is feeling really natural too. Very exciting. Some day Gem will go along without her nose sticking out like we are in the middle of the easiest endurance ride ever, but that day isn’t today.
Free walk across F to E then track right: yeah so Gem has no free walk. She doesn’t zoom off once I lengthen my reins which is nice, but there is absolutely zero stretching down or ground covering stride. In no circumstance should I decide to follow her head and topple forward. This does nothing for either of us. 

Obligatory shadow shot
Medium walk E-H: I picked my contact back up but outside of that I’m not sure there was any noticeable change. Don’t ask Gem for more walk. We should get a 6 for what we are doing now. Going for more walk may get us an 8 if all lines up, but it is more likely that she will break into trot and earn a 2.

I’m out of media from the ride so here is a pic of Einstein missing me while I mowed. Dusty and I are no fun when it comes to mowers. He has stitched up too many lost dog toes, so Einstein is locked in the house and I have stitched up too many human feet so Wyatt doesn’t get to sit on or be anywhere near a running mower.
Working trot tracking right between H-C: we had a really lovely up transition here without any jogging steps. In up transitions, don’t ask too early since Gem is typically sensitive and ready to go. Do not ask before my body reaches H. 

Gem and Pete made for some nice road blocks. I finally had to clap and shoo them away.
20 meter circle at B: my circle was still mostly a circle but way too small. Bigger!

Dusty ran a hot and hilly marathon Saturday. I signed him up as a surprise two weeks prior. He was excited even though he had no time to prepare, but his training runs are in the upper teens to low 20s anyway. It ended up being 87F and 1900′ of elevation. He still finished 3rd in his age group and 16th of 48 overall. Wyatt raced him to the finish and bragged all weekend about beating him.
Turn down center line at A, halt at x and salute: I got Gem into the corner better but still failed to let her know we were making a sharp turn. She didn’t trip so that was a plus. The halt was much better but then I thought she was done moving and saluted and she moved. Use that corner, sit up tall and prepare her sooner. Wait until she is 100% still before saluting. 

We ran through it three times before calling it quits. One big glaring issue came up that needs fixing, but I’m not really sure how to go about it.

During the first part of the lesson, I worked hard to do the things Trainer asked and even began anticipating Gem better: I would half halt before Trainer had to tell me, added some leg here, pushed her out to the rail with my inside leg there. I wasn’t perfect, but I was actively riding the horse I had under me. It was amazing.

As soon as we began the test though, for some reason my brain leaked right out of my ears and I focused so hard on the moves I was doing that I stopped riding my horse. Oh we went through each move, but that was all I did. No more well timed half halts, no more inside leg pushing her out, no more balance and rhythm.

Turn here, trot now, walk now. That’s it. It was like all the lessons were gone and I couldn’t ride. It was frustrating and I am sure Gem was wondering why I abandoned her, got tense and stopped riding.

Not sure how to fix that. I think a big part of it was that I really wasn’t sure of the test itself. I wasn’t prepared to run through it and hadn’t memorized it yet, so I was working hard at just not going off course. Going into it knowing the test 100% will allow me to focus on riding more but I’m not naive enough to think it will fix it completely. I need to remember to ride. Any tips on that from those who have done this before?