It poured all night Sunday to Monday and by morning it wasn’t looking any clearer. By 9:30am I was starting to think my morning lesson would be cancelled. I needn’t have worried though. Trainer is the best person I’ve ever met and once I verified that the footing was solid under the 3″ of standing water, she was game to come over and get drenched.
This is noteworthy because had it been with Gem I’d never have even thought of riding. The puddles would have made it impossible to get any actual work accomplished. But Eeyore is a different beast and after riding through a few puddles on Saturday I knew he’d be ok. Maybe not thrilled, but ok.
I was a bit nervous going in. Trainer had come over to meet Eeyore once before and had seen him crippled but never under saddle. Would she think he moved like a camel? Would she tell me I made a mistake? There was only one way to find out!
Eeyore didn’t disappoint. He never so much as batted an eye at the puddles. He quietly squealed his disapproval of being worked in the rain a time or two but other than that he went to work happily enough. In fact, he was the most energetic I had seen to date and even dolphin leaped into the canter the first time. No worries though. If that was his worst I’ll take it! I never once felt out of control or uneasy on him.
There were three main things I wanted eyes on the ground for and Trainer was on board to see where we were at with him. She is a very hard sell when it comes to horse partners so I was interested in getting her overall judgement too.
The first thing was his trot. Of course the rain, cooler temperatures and earlier hour had him much more energetic to start than my previous rides, but he is still Eeyore and I’m still me so cooler weather didn’t make him magically more forward or me less of a nag. She was impressed with his natural rhythm and inherently steady pace. Both things that will serve us well as we progress in our training. However she noticed that he tried to ooze back to the walk and caught me nagging quite frequently. In the end she told me to be crisper with my ask, more proactive with asking for more before he starts to slow and then letting him be able to maintain it. It helped and prevented him getting annoyed. All in all though she thought the pace of his trot was just fine for the majority of our work.
The second item to cross off was his obstinate refusal to bend left when we hit the barn side of the arena and thus headed away from the gate. Which is odd since he didn’t do that going right. Again, laser eyed Trainer honed in on the issue. Me. Shocking I know.
I’ll back up a tad for this one. Gem hated my leg even thinking of touching her side. It forced me to ride with a too forward lower leg and absolutely no leg aides. Eeyore though needs those aides to keep his body in line. Thankfully Trainer never once told me I needed to bring my leg back under me so win for that! The position nazi had nothing but good things to say. However, since I’m not used to using leg aides I sorta dropped the ball.
Eeyore is responsive to my left leg and dull to the right. This results in him blowing through my right leg aid. On a left hand circle it means his hindquarters bulge out and we lose our geometry. On a right hand bend it means he circles in making the circle teeny tiny. I really needed to be firmer with my right leg, set him up way earlier than I thought and keep that inside rein still. The moment I went to bend via the inside rein all it did was let his hind end slip out to the outside and make matters worse.
She recommended that I set up cones to mark a circle and then work on staying on the inside then the outside of them to really focus on controlling this.
The last item was his head. For the first 40 minute he was light in the bridle, offered up some really lovely low stretching and elevated his back. Then he got tired and decided that real work is hard and he couldn’t hold his head up at all. His chin was dragging on the ground.
Having never dealt with this before, Gem is a natural giraffe, I was clueless what to do though I suspected the answer was more leg, more forward. I was right and wrong. Yes he needed a cue to move his lazy butt. He also needed me to hold my core, bring my darn elbows back to my side and loosen them and refuse to get tugged on. This was hard. Very hard. My core was yelling obscenities at me and my shoulders weren’t far off.
We livened him back up with canter both directions which worked for a while but he quickly remembered he was tired and couldn’t horse any more. It was a rough last 15 minutes but I think we both started to improve by the end. Trainer plans to hop on him on Thursday to get a good feel and figure out some tricks for me.
Her end analysis? He is mostly a good boy who wants to do the right thing. Until he gets tired and then he quits. She saw his worst behavior I’d ever seen and it was laughable. She thinks he is a good match for me and we have some work to do but it should get there in time. He isn’t going to let me get away with being lazy but won’t punish my mistakes either. Exactly what I was looking for.
If it ever stops raining, 10 day forecast says rain at above 60% chance every day, the plan is to do another flat school at her place to judge how he does away from home plus have her get on him, then do some jump schools and mid summer hit up a cross country course.
The best part? Even soaking wet and covered in mud I walked in the house with a big grin on my face and a hankering to ride again. It’s an unbeatable feeling.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The word of the day Sunday was BEND. We had none the last few times I rode on my own and I was growing frustrated trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Turns out a lot. Go figure.
We stuck to the near end of the arena, using my ground pole chute from a few days before as the farthest point. It is much easier to keep Gem contained in a smaller space than let her gain speed in the arena at large. The lesson was a tale of the bi polar horse. The first 30 minutes Gem was lazy. Like walking as slow as physically possible while still doing what I asked lazy. It was a nice change of pace and allowed me to get some good work in.
First Trainer had me ride a large rectangle working on keeping Gem straight until the turn and then creating the bend in the turn while quickly regaining the straightness after. The teaching point here was that you can’t work on bend if you are never straight in the first place. I had to work on keeping her between my aides on the lines I chose and needed to be more deliberate in my path. It wasn’t good enough to get from A to B. I had to get there on an exact path that I planned in advance and then turn exactly where I wanted.
From there we added in a circle using my chute to anchor the circle at 20 m. Trainer immediately called me out for over compensating with my upper body as I tried to create the bend for Gem by twisting like a tornado. Not useful. Instead I was to have just enough bend in my shoulders to allow me to look 1/4 of the circle ahead at all times and just enough in my waist to shift my weight in the saddle to cue Gem to bend around the inside leg.
Since Gem was being lazy, she actually accepted my lower leg on her side pushing her out into my outside rein. It felt delicious. Is that a word I can use when describing riding? Typically any inside leg results in going faster, so I have to use it judiciously. However, without the proper aides our circle tends to turn into a spiral getting ever smaller as I can’t push her out with my inside leg and catch her with the outside rein. Sunday however I could at least for a few small steps at a time and it created a lovely geometry.
The biggest learning point in the first half was to be more deliberate with my path, my turns and in riding in general. I tend to not hold myself as firm when riding and I need to be greedy with everything.
Then the second half happened and Gem woke up and got angry that I was still asking her to work when…gasp..she began to sweat. Mare hates the sweat. As soon as she starts, she shuts down and quits. Silly Princess.
We had just taken a short walk break where I got nailed for throwing her away and not continuing to ride (oops!) and took the trot back up when my nice, calm and quiet mare became speed demon. Sigh. The next 30 minutes were then spent getting her head screwed back on and paying attention.
When the circle became too much for her and all we were doing was zooming around throwing in half halts every 2 steps, half of which were being ignored, Trainer had me go back out on the rectangle adding in a 10 meter circle at each corner with the goal being to maintain the pace and not fall into it. We were semi capable of this, but still I heard the tell tale “slow down, slower” from Trainer about half a million times.
Still, there were good things to come out of the second half. First, I didn’t give up. Sometimes when Gem is like this my head shuts down and I get tense, braced and want to get off and cry in the corner. Sunday though I actually laughed at her. I knew she was tired and that this was getting hard for her which is why she acted out however I also knew that if she just calmed the heck down and did what I asked it would all be over and she could go chill out int he pasture again. The biggest teaching point here was that I needed to be patiently persistent in what I wanted. Gem could act out all she wanted but she darn well better stay on my circle or rectangle or whatever and maintain the bend. I had to keep asking and asking and asking until she realized I wasn’t going to go away ever and she had just better cave and do the thing.
By the end of the hour, Gem was pretty sweaty and I was really happy with all I had driven into my head. Basically it boils down to me holding both of us more responsible to getting the work done. No more letting her get away with pushing out on the circle or falling in. I need to be firmer about exactly where I want her to be at all times while actively working and that is a big shift from what I have always done.
With endurance, Gem and I had come to an understanding. She was in charge of her feet and tackling the trail in the safest and most efficient way possible and I was in charge of setting the pace. If she needed to canter a certain section, as long as our pace didn’t change, she could. I didn’t mess with her very much and she didn’t challenge my sense of direction or pace requirements. But this is a whole new ball game and I need to get more firm with every part of her. Our path is just as important as the speed in which we get there now and it is a big mental change for me.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
YL never got the right lead canter. I have but it is difficult.
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.
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.