Posted in Riding/Horses

FENCE Cross Country Outing

Summer is my slow month for surgery. Seems like nobody wants to have elective foot surgery and ruin their entire summer. It works out for me though because that gives me some free Fridays here and there. This past week I took full advantage of one of those slow days and went out to a real cross country course for some schooling.

Can’t be a this view on a work day morning
Better than my paved parking spot at the office

The weather was gorgeous, the footing near perfect and the horse under me was ready to go. She was light, responsive and willing. During our brief warm up, Trainer remarked that it was the best work we have put in to date. We circled and halted and walked and trotted all lightly without any fuss and with actual bend. Gem was tolerating my legs on her and the world was spinning happily along.

Eating. She is a marvelous traveler and never gets excited when she unloads to find herself in unfamiliar territory

I was….nervous but oddly not really that scared. Mostly I was curious to see if she would be as happy to go over these fences as she had been at Riverbend or if we would be fighting the same demons we have in the arena.

Trainer led us down a hill to the cross country warm up area. There were four or five log jumps of various heights set on the only flat piece of land FENCE has to offer. Every single log looked huge.

Trainer: Ok, pick up an even trot, give yourself plenty of lead up and go over the log. If she canters after, use it and let her canter.

Me: Which log?

Trainer: You’ve seen these out on trail. Put your big girl panties on and jump the log on the end.

Me: The tall wide log?

Trainer: Do it.

The log was wider than it was tall, but Trainer told me it was shorter than the coop we jumped before. I still had butterflies in my stomach leading up to it

So I did. I looked up, put my legs on, clucked her on near the base and Gem popped over no big deal, ears forward and super happy. Trainer laughed out loud and praised the hell out of us.

I was grinning like a lunatic. Gem is just such a different horse out in the field.

We popped over that jump both directions several times and each time it was…well…fun. She was easy to ride and always answered yes.

A few times over and we headed back up the hill a ways to an interesting looking question. A log about the same size as the prior one, but flanked on each side by a tall bush. This jump was also set perpendicular to a hill so we ran across it instead of up or down.

I was very nervous about this one. The approach was very different than anything we had done prior and I wasn’t sure if Gem would be put off by the narrow entry. 
Skinnier than the prior log and with a super inviting exit

I was a bit more hesitant on this one. We had never jumped through a shoot like that before, but I needn’t have worried. Gem was on fire and took it no issues. I was riding that high big time.

We didn’t waste too much time going over it since it rode so easily. Perpendicular to this one and up the hill a bit was my nemesis for the day. I didn’t even get a picture because I hated it so bad.

This fence was, darn I wish my knowledge base was bigger here and a google search proved fruitless for a definition, sort of like a massive mounting block with a step up on the front side, then the height of the jump was skinnier than the base and a flat back side. Like a single stair going up. Make any sense?

Well, anyway I believe it was a little shorter but wider than the prior jumps we did and was on the uphill slope. To the right of it and a little offset was a training size hanging log. We came up the hill and I panicked and pulled Gem off it to the right.

Rightfully so, Trainer scolded me. I just taught Gem there was a way out and guess what she did the next time I went to approach it….she veered right. I didn’t yell at her. It was my fault.

I wasn’t even scared of the height of the jump. My issue was that coming up the hill I felt like I had zero momentum and that Gem was just going to splat over it causing us to fall. The answer? More leg. Sigh.

The third time she dirty stopped on me but again it was all my fault and now I was pissed. Did I just break my horse?

Trainer told me to go do the log between the brush again and use that momentum to come up the hill and go over this one. I was actually pretty proud that she let me go over the log all by my lonesome without any advice or words from her watchful eye.

We took the log and I had her canter partly up the hill and put my game face on. I shoved my heels into her and we went over!! It felt like such a big moment.

As we left that behind us and headed to the water complex, Trainer mentioned that Gem is super honest out in the field. As long as I steer, put my leg on and mean it she has always answered YES. This is certainly not her behavior in the arena, but it is outside so I need to use that.

She also asked me how Gem was with water.

No problems there. She goes through anything all the time.

Ha. Hahahahahahha. Ha.

You can see our path through the water here. The center was surprisingly deep and I made sure to make Gem go through the deepest part just because. 

She wanted no part of going into that alligator pit. I didn’t time it, but it took us a good while to get her in and even then she walked so deliberately and slowly it was hilarious.

Once through it though, she became a champ and we worked our way up to trotting through and entering and exiting all over the place. Trainer even grabbed a short video. Please ignore my horrid chair seat. I swear I’m working on fixing that.

We talked a bit as I played with Gem in the water about what challenge the water adds. According to Trainer horses tend to either lose all momentum through the water and it adds drag against them or the love it so much that they see dup and “play” through it. My task then was to get Gem to enter, go through, and exit at the exact same pace without gaining or losing no matter the depth of the water. It was difficult to do, but was an enjoyable break from the excitement of jumping.

On the far side of the water was an interesting little fence. The fence itself was easy (wait what am I saying??!) but the position with the terrain made it tricky.

Would this be a very small roll top? 
This was super fun to go over. I could have done this one all day

It was set only a few strides away from the lip of a small plateau. From the bottom of the hill, the fence was invisible and you had to ascend over the lip of the hill before you saw it.

The biggest trick for me was not letting Gem either a) lose all momentum up the hill and have to crawl over it or b) gallop wildly up the hill and have to try to package her somehow right before it. The question was pretty fun to play with and eventually we strung the fence and then through the water together.

The last question Trainer wanted to tackle was the bank complex. FENCE has the teeniest little bank to play with and Gem was very unimpressed with it either way.

We started by just walking up it and then trotted. My take away was to stay up in the two point longer than I thought. I tended to sit down once her front end was over, but that was obviously not the correct answer as the saddle would then hit me in the butt.

Going up was fun and I got the hang of the timing after a while.

Tiny little bank just right of the ditch

Going down was another story. It was only about 12″ and Gem is an energy saver at heart so there was no super man leaping off but I couldn’t feel comfortable down it. Trainer told me to lean back and grab mane.

Me: my arms aren’t long enough to do that

Trainer: she has a long mane. You can grab it and lean back just fine

Me: no I can’t. See. I have little T Rex arms. Not going to happen.

Trainer: Just do it.

That’s her answer to most of my complaints. Shut up and go do the thing. It works for me.

Eventually I did somewhat sorta ok but then lost all steering because I’m incapable of doing that many things at one time. We didn’t die though so there was that.

By that point my adrenaline was on empty and it was getting blazing hot. We had been playing around for over an hour and felt like it was the best time to quit. On the way back to the trailer I saw a small ramp and a set of three stacked logs and told Trainer they looked very doable. I was tempted to go jump them (again…what am I saying??!) but Gem had been so good and deserved to be done.

Some day I am going to be brave enough to jump this one:

Probably not any time soon, but I can dream, right?

It was a great outing. Trainer remarked several times how much fun Gem was having and it is great to hear that she is loving this part of her job. We don’t have any plans at the moment to go again, but I hope to get out at least once a month until the HT in December. Trainer wants to see if we can go school at the facility hosting the HT so that nothing is new there once we show. I’m going to do some research on that and hopefully we can pull something together.

Posted in Riding/Horses, Uncategorized

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 3, Cross Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go jump the stone wall again"

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

"Over the coop"

"Oh."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Riding/Horses

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 2, Stadium

The flat work had gone extremely well and while there is still a ton to work on, the differences were easy to see from when we started way back in February. Trainer was super happy with the work we put it and I was really proud of Gem for working so hard to try to give me the correct answer. I’mm to a point now where I feel like I can start to push Gem a little more. Before she was a little delicate. Too much pressure would send her over he edge and it would take a week or more to bring her back. Now she can take it.

It was time to get jumping though.

More hiking pictures to break up the text. 

The same course was still set from last Wednesday only this time Trainer set up a cavaletti with a ground pole on either side to make it wider.  She wanted to introduce a jump without standards to Gem to see how she would handle it. I hadn’t even thought about that difference in stadium versus cross country.

She first had me take Gem over the cross rail we had been over a dozen times before. I kept my legs on, looked up at the gate opposite the jump and rode towards it. Gem went over but it was hesitant and squirrelly. Trainer just shook her head because she saw me ride it hard and yet, even though Gem has jumped this same jump before, she still got all squiggly before it.

Same old cross rail, same old hesitation

It is a little frustrating when she is all “maybe I’ll go left, maybe I’ll go right, maybe I’ll stop, fine I’ll go over but I’m going to keep you guessing if I will or not right up to the base”.  Trainer remarked that Gem requires steering the entire time including in the air and that makes it very hard. I used to blame it 100% on me and my lack of confidence going towards the fence, but on Friday I had no butterflies, no hesitation and was not backed off at all. Gem was still the same.

We came at the jump again and this time I booted her pretty good right before it to make sure she kept up her pace and went over. Well, this caused her all sorts of confusion and she lost track of her legs and tripped right in front of the fence. We managed to make it over, but it was ugly. The third time was decent enough for Trainer to set us loose on a small course.

Carrying over from the flat work, Trainer set up three small fences: the cross rail, the cavaletti and a vertical. She told me the order to jump them, but that was all. I had the entire arena to do my thing in and she wanted to watch my decisions as I made my way around the course. I could trot or canter depending on how balanced Gem was.

And this is where I got sorta frustrated. When I very first started jumping with Trainer, she stressed allowing for bigger and deeper turns to give Gem more time to notice and realize the plan. So going around the course that was my thought. I made big sweeping turns, got deep into the corners and chose to overshoot and come back rather than turn too early and lose my rhythm.

Trainer kept shouting out to steer, turn and better prepare. I told her what I was thinking, but then when I went around again and made my turns sharper and didn’t overshoot I got told I needed to give her a better set up. I honestly didn’t know what the correct answer was as either way seemed to be wrong. I was steering and I did have a plan, it just never seemed to be the correct one.

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

For Gem’s part she jumped as she always does: needed more leg support than I have access to, required precision steering and would duck out or stop if given the smallest opportunity. Thankfully, I didn’t give her the chance to duck out and kept my legs on her blocking the path, but she never felt locked on or enthusiastic about the whole thing.

After a few trips around, Trainer ran out of the ability to stall any longer, said it was time to leave the arena and begin work in the wide open over solid obstacles. Honestly, I’m convinced she was nervous about the two of us. I mean, in the arena we pretty much stink and I had been pretty vocal about my concerns on cross country.  For my part I was on the verge of telling her never mind about the whole thing. We had already been riding for an hour, it was getting really hot out and I was chickening out big time. I didn’t let the inner voice win though, and nervously followed her out the back arena gate….

Posted in Riding/Horses

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 1, the Warm Up

Yup, this is going to be in multiple parts because, well, there is a whole lot to say. Also, limited media because I was alone.

Okay, lets back up shall we?

The original plan was to have a group outing at FENCE, a venue about an hour away, Friday at 9 am. I was super excited for not only our first cross country experience, but also the first group lesson we would be involved in. Trainer also had plans to put one of her students going for her A pony Club rating (basically professional level) on Gem during the outing.

But then this exchange happened Thursday evening:

Trainer puts up with my sense of humor

I admit to being really bummed. Pretty much everything I was excited about had evaporated and I briefly thought about canceling. I had taken a day off work for this and was thinking maybe it wasn’t worth the time away from the office anymore. In the end I decided that any lesson was better than no lesson.

Instead of riding pictures you get some shots from the hike Dusty, Wyatt and I too at Ceaser’s head over the weekend.

We started with a warm up in the jump arena. Trainer gave me the reins (hahahahahahha funny pun) and told me to warm up on my own while she watched so she could see what I was doing. I started off by working on those slow, purposeful turns maintaining rhythm and trying to achieve real bend at the walk. She had good things to say about my posture, my elbows being fluid and unlocked and my attempts at bend although my turns could have been planned even earlier.

Then I picked up the trot and Gem was floating and light. She really is liking the Baucher quite a lot. I think she needs the stability it gives her plus I am riding a million times better and more steady myself which helps create the balance we are looking for.

Devil’s Kitchen.  Wyatt overheard the Park Ranger telling us about it. As we walked up to the area, Wyatt was walking really slow. Then I heard “I hope he isn’t home. I don’t want to make him mad.” Poor guy has really scared that it was a real devil.

Honestly, the flat work was boring simply because it was so darn good. Gem was listening and while we are still fighting a lot of the same things, each time I can feel it improving.

A serious Wyatt surviving the Devil’s Kitchen

One of my (many) flaws in riding is lack of preparation. Gem can turn on a dime, but that doesn’t mean she should and it also kills off any momentum we have. Trainer is working hard on the training pyramid and we are just now beginning to get the whole rhythm thing down so we can begin to work on relaxation more. When I stuff her into corners or turn her sharply, it ruins everything. Plus it can’t be that comfortable for her.

So we worked on lots of changes of direction focusing on planing well ahead, giving Gem plenty of notice by using all my aides and turning like an 80 year old driving on ice. My main task was to keep the exact same trot pace and rhythm through it all. No slowing, no speeding up and maintaining equal weight on all four feet. No more motorcycling around turns on two wheels.

And….we nailed it!!! I started planning well in advance and it felt like we were barely working at all even though I was doing way more while riding than ever before. She turned here, she turned there. I made her go past all the scary objects that she was trying to spook at, I changed diagonals, I let go of one rein to give her a scratch on her withers.

Through it all she remained steady and even. My half halts were being listened to, my posting speed was getting through and we floated around like magic.

I didn’t think my smile could get any bigger.

And then……

Posted in Riding/Horses

Mega Breakthrough Lesson

Holy crap. Wednesday night was….well….super, uber, amazingly awesome. Even Trainer had a huge smile and recapped all the breakthroughs that happened during the lesson.

Lets back up a bit. Wednesday night was lesson night and I am really starting to love my summer evenings in the arena. I had my choice of either dressage or jumping and chose the latter. With jumping we typically spend the first half on flat work anyway, but then I get to work on jumping too and it feels like a bit of a reward for both Gem and me. Plus, I really want to work hard on beating down my fear when it comes to jumping and only practice will solve that problem.

Hot horse has no interest in working.

True to form, the first half an hour was spent working on the flat. I was really proud when Trainer complimented my posture and even said my elbows were loose and following. I have worked really hard over the last four rides on my own to get my hands to remain with steady 1 pound of pressure on the reins and follow Gem’s head instead of being stiff. I was so happy my hard work paid off. It still isn’t effortless to ride like that: if I stop thinking about it I revert to my motionless arms, but I can more easily return to it once I think about it now. Soon it should become automatic.

It was hella hot out, near 100F and humid, and the sun was still full blaze at 7:30 pm, so we stuck to the middle of the arena where the shade was and made a square. My first exercise was focusing on maintaining her rhythm around the entire square and making my turns without letting Gem fall to the inside. At first I floundered pretty hard. I’d put my inside leg on to turn, but it still wasn’t right. After many attempts I finally got it. After spending 7 years falling in like a motorcycle on every turn, having her weighted evenly felt so good.  I was giggling like a 12 year old again.

Breakthrough #1: how to approach and make a turn correctly. Trainer finally got me doing it correctly by doing this: when approaching my turn begin to turn just Gem’s ears inside, when I get to the spot I want to turn add inside leg to push her rib cage out, at the very end of the turn allow her hind end to follow. She told me to act like an 80 year lady driving on ice making a slow, long turn instead of jamming Gem into the turn and breaking through it like a sports car. In this way I was controlling her entire body in segments as we approached, went through and ended the turn.

Not only did it help make the turn even, but I also felt how she could maintain her rhythm throughout the entire square without losing it in the turns. After we made several circuits in both directions, she had me repeat the same exercise at the trot. The purpose of doing this on a square was to have purposeful bend at each corner and then make Gem get square again for the straight aways. In doing so, I really felt how I needed to block her movement out of the turn with my outside aides to get her straight.

The trot work took a bit more effort since Gem barely tolerates my leg and basically insists that any leg equals “go faster”, but we are slowly chipping away at it. As usual we started off braced and rushed, but then I had my next epiphany.

Breakthrough #2: allow my body to melt into my saddle. Sounds weird, but let me explain. Trainer is always after me to slow my posting down and stay closer to my saddle. Her words kept bouncing around in my head but never created any action. Well, this time she told me to melt like ice cream into my saddle and get sticky. I needed to still sit tall, but that “tall” should be in a melty sort of way. I don’t know why this imagery worked so well, but it did. I started to really feel what she was talking about and began posting the way she wants. This created two changes: Gem was much more responsive to my half halts since my center was closer to her and I was able to use my legs more effectively as they remained draped around her with a soft knee.

It was also a heck of a lot more work than my typical style. My legs were screaming for a break after a while and they never do that!

We both got a walk break after that and moved towards one end of the arena. There was a solitary jump set up and Trainer marked that as the center of the circle she wanted me to create. Since the footing had been recently dragged, she would be able to see my geometry perfectly. It was time for the dreaded 20 m circle.

We once again began at the walk and I immediately got called out for only looking with my head. Once I turned my entire body in the direction I wanted to go, Gem became soft and bent as well. I know this. Why I can’t just do it is beyond me. Then we moved back into the trot. We started going left which is Gem’s weaker side by default that it is mine. My left leg tends to want to drift forward. When I lost my bend, Gem lost hers and got tense. Trainer did allow for the fact that any time I put my left left back and on, Gem scooted forward and gave me a little allowance for that but it is something we still need to address. Going right was much better.

I was still in giggling school girl mode as Gem was listening so well. Yes, she sometimes got too fast or sometimes went super slow and heavy but she was easily brought back to where I wanted her. Trainer commented that it was the most rhythmic 10 circles we have put down to date and that we were working together and not at odds with each other.

I would have been happy to call it a day after that, but then Trainer said the C word. Wahwahwah. I really, really, really need to get over my concerns with cantering. I can canter all day long on the trail. I can canter after fences. It really isn’t the cantering I mind, it is the transition. I suck at them. I make them tense. I make it so that I spend the first five circles fixing what I created. Ugh.

Back on the circle we went to the right, my stronger side, and I did my best to ask for a nice canter transition. I sat tall and leaned back a bit. I gave with my hands. She cantered. Then I threw her away and we went careening out of control. Seriously, I can chew gum and walk at the same time. But then I did it again and this time I forced myself to look where I was going, keep my damn legs on her and steer. And you know what? It led to

Breakthrough #3: steering during the canter produces a nicer, more relaxed canter.  Odd how not abandoning your horse actually helps things, isn’t it? But honestly, when I forced myself to stop thinking “cantering, cantering cantering we are going to die!” and actually rode by keeping my posture upright and stable and then maintaining a path of travel in which I looked 5 strides ahead of where we were to give Gem a clue as to what we were doing, she moved into a nice rideable canter that was nearly fun to do.

Left was harder, but again my left side is weaker and it is predictable. Trainer was really pleased with it though. She said it was the best canter work we have done. I told you it was an amazing lesson!

After the canter work it was time for the fun part: jumping! I was determined to not let my nerves get the best of me. She set up a solitary cross rail that was set off the rail and required a very particular approach to get it right. We came in at the trot off the rail going left and I made the turn at the correct spot, but let Gem get buried in the turn and she ran out of gas. Then she was so focused on me nagging at her to trot while simultaneously having a death grip on the reins, that she never saw the jump coming and slammed the breaks on right in font of it.

Coming at it from the left I needed to turn at the start of the gate you can see in the background. The first couple times I stuffed her and let her lose all momentum in the turn which made the jump poor.

Yeah. My fault. Sorry, Gemmie.

We approached it again and this time I rode her through the turn and did my best to tell her I wanted to jump. It was still a bit stilted because I stared at the ground and held her back, but we went over it. trainer had us approach it from the other direction and then she added in a 2′ vertical. I was to come at the crossrail going left, aim for the rail on landing, sneak between another fence and the rail then loop back going right to hit the vertical. True to form, I freaked before the vertical because it was a new fence and Gem ran out. Again, my fault.

I’m pretty sure Trainer was screaming inside at this time. I mean, I say I want to jump and I am on an honest horse, but then as soon as I see a jump I freak out. Sorry, my brain is messed up.

Anyway….

Trainer set up three jumps all easy enough on their own but with tricky, tight landings. The point was to get me focusing more on where I was going and not at the jump itself. The first jump was our old friendly green and blue crossrail with a tight turn left off the rail, this led to a red and white cross rail set on a bending line which if failed would cause us to run smack into the rail, coming out from jump 2 was a longer approach with a loop to the right then hitting the red and brown vertical which required close attention to thread the needle on landing between the rail and another jump.

The red and white cross rail was jump two on a bending line then I needed to turn right and come over the vertical coming towards the camera

Breakthrough #4: Quit caring about the jump, it is a non event, and focus all your attention on the landing. By doing this, Trainer forced me to quit staring at the jump itself or else my landing was awful and we ran into things. By changing my focal point, I was able to keep my legs on and take the jump as it came and then immediately take control on the back side to get us to point B.

The first time through I was still a little hesitant coming towards the jumps. Gem was perked right up and taking me right to them and it was a new sensation for me. It felt like she was speeding way up, when in reality she was just locked on to her target.

The second time though?? Magic! I looked where I was going, kept my legs on the darn horse, let her take me to the base of the jump without holding her back, and then kept my position after to steer.

If felt amazing!!!!!! Like 20 million exclamation points amazing. Gem was up and willing, she was obviously having fun and even dragged me at a canter over the bending line. I had SO MUCH FUN!

And the best part??? All the butterflies were gone from my stomach. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t even nervous. Now if only I could go out that way the first time, but baby steps. I felt like we could have jumped anything at that point.

It was the best lesson I have ever had both on the flat and over jumps. It felt like a major breakthrough happened and we all of a sudden reached a whole new playing field. Gem was happy and relaxed and I enjoyed every single minute of that hour. So much so that I did something maybe a bit stupid – I penned us in for a cross country outing next Friday the 28th!!! Eeek!

I’m not 100% sure where it will be yet, I think at FENCE for those local. All I know is that Trainer mentioned working on water, ditches and banks. All of it sounds scary yet fun so here is hoping it works out.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 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
Posted in Riding/Horses

Did I Make the Right Decision?

Eleven weeks and six lessons ago I started on a new riding journey with the goal to learn, improve my relationship with Gem and perhaps find a new competitive outlet. As I prepare to enter my first ever horse show, I think it’s a good time to ruminate on what has been accomplished thus far and where I’d like to go.

In the beginning I would have bet quite a lot that I would have taken to dressage and been scared of jumping. Eleven weeks later and I find myself not enjoying dressage all that much and nearly chomping at the proverbial bit to jump.

Our one peony opened up.

Part of the equation is that dressage is very boring right now. 20 meter circles, halting, trotting a ton and some little canter bits thrown in. There isn’t a whole lot to be excited about, but it also has to do with my innate personality. I’m much more of a shoot from the hip, ask questions later, why not go for it, type of person. It’s difficult for me to get lost in all the minutia that is dressage. It’s just not what I geek out about, I suppose.

Still, I understand the utility of getting at least the basics down and plan to continue with it and see where we go. If all was perfect, I’d love to reach first level with Gem as I think that knowing those skills and that level of connection, rhythm and balance is really important for basically everything else. I don’t see myself going to a pure dressage show, but you ever know. A year ago I never thought I’d be doing any of this.

But in the larger picture of honing my skills and wants to better be prepared for when Gem is retired, I think I can cross a dressage specific horse off my list. Sometimes knowing what I don’t want helps more just as much as knowing what I do want.

Wyatt helping brush Pete and looking like a mini Dusty.

As for jumping, I love it. There is so much that goes into it that I never imagined. The balance required, the planning, the rhythm. To me it is just like doing dressage, but with the added bonus of jumps thrown in. I love it. Gem isn’t so keen on it, but that’s ok. At 18″ she can deal.

I also like the speed of jumping a lot. While I’m only doing 18″-2′ cross rails right now, the fact that the exercises can be changed all the time keeps it interesting and not repetitive. This helps both Gem and me not get bored with doing the same thing for the dozenth time. While we basically are doing the same thing, it’s over a different jump, coming from a different direction or at a different gait which makes it seem new.

As of right now, subject to completely change, I believe I would look for a horse with some basic jumping skills installed with both a knack for and a propensity towards enjoying the work.


I have neither had the opportunity or the lady sack big enough to attempt cross country yet. Maybe this fall although Gem just plain hates bare wood and that’s basically what 99% of the jumps at my level include so it just sounds like no fun at all. Perhaps once we are both better at this whole riding thing we can attempt it and see. There are a ton of courses close by to school on so it wouldn’t take much to go.

Ack. This post is already getting long winded and I haven’t even gotten to what I set out to write about: the changes already palpable in both of us. I guess I will save that for another day.

For today, let’s wrap this up by saying that I 100% believe I made the correct decision in putting endurance on hold and exploring other disciplines with Gem. I adore my trainer and feel like she is the perfect fit for me right now. Gem and I are already so different than that first lesson it is incredible. I’m so excited for the new path we are on and I can’t wait to see where it goes.