Riding/Horses

Falling in Love With Gem All Over Again: Jumping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The final configuration.

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

Lesson of the century, over.

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

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

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

What Went Well:

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

What We Need to Work On:

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

Falling in Love With Gem All Over Again: Flat work

(This post and the following were written and scheduled to go up prior to saying goodbye to my Scrabs. It seems an odd juxtaposition to have such a happy and loving life type post the day after the other published, but in real life this lesson took place on my birthday, the 13th, and we said our sad goodbye on the 14th. I wanted the Scrabble tribute to post first though)

Not one to be overly gushy and mushy, but wow….Gem restored all my faith in her times 1000 and it is wonderful. This horse. She gives me everything she can, sometimes in ways I don’t know what to do with, but she is honest as the day is long and I am loving getting the chance to ride her.

Maybe my little come to Jesus talk with her during our last ride really did the trick, maybe all my lessons have given me more confidence and tools in my toolbox to work with her, maybe the new saddle (did I mention I got a new saddle for my birthday?!? squee!!) worked magic, maybe the new venue changed her attitude, maybe Trainer is just that amazing…or maybe, and more likely, all those things clicked into place to give me the best ride I have ever had on my Gemmie in seven years.

I started off a little worried, then began to smile, then grin form ear to ear, then full on little school girl giggling. I think Trainer thought I lost my mind. Maybe I did. I don’t want it back.

Thorowgood T8 Jump. Adjustable out the butt, fits the hard to fit mare and my butt loves it.
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Delicious dark brown leather pared with synthetics so I don’t have to be anal about cleaning it or riding in the rain. I adore it.

The lesson was broken up into a flat work session the first half and a jump session the second. This post would be way too long to write both up, so I am splitting it in two. I learned SO MUCH that keyboard diarrhea is imminent.

I was a little concerned with the fit on Gem. It seemed too narrow at the gullet, but it didn’t rock and the balance was spot on. The panels fit her like they were custom made which was not surprising as the dressage T8 I have does the same. The flocking was a bit much in the rear, but it is brand new and it should settle with use. I’m going to give it a few months of rides and then have a saddle fitter come in and adjust as needed.

Trainer hadn’t worked with Gem since the very first time at my house where Gem was her typical spazzy, tense and not listening oh-my-God-any-leg-means-gallop self. I think she was a bit nervous. We began with walking with a purpose and created a smaller rectangle in the large jump arena. Right way she could see the difference in Gem and I: I asked Gem to do something and expected it to be done and Gem was respondeing by doing it although sometimes begrudgingly.

The angle is helping any but she really has become a little portly. Ignoring that though: look how shiny she is. And dapples!!!!

We began with walk-halt-walk which is Gem’s worst thing ever. She really sees no point in stopping just to go again and Trainer even laughed about it remarking how she could tell that Gem thought halting was something other horses had to do. She could tell Gem was annoyed because she knew we would just be walking on again and what was the entire reason for doing this? For my part, she had me ask in a small series of quick bursts starting small then escalating to let Gem know I meant business but not create a tugging war with the reins. Eventually Gem acquiesced to the request to halt more promptly and we moved on.

The flat work half focused on one thing: adjustability. Gem and I worked hard at home on rhythm and it paid off as she picked up the nicest working trot that was fluid and forward but not braced or rushed. In fact trainer exclaimed that she was very cute when she behaved and had really nice movement. Maybe we wont completely fail at this English stuff after all.

Wondering what new form of torture I have in store for her

We kept on the smaller rectangle in the center of the arena and began to work on that adjustability thing. It was SO MUCH FUN!

Trainer had me think walk and really, really slow my posting down, sit up tall and tighten my core all while not touching the reins at all and I could feel Gem slow down nearing the walk. Right before she actually walked, I was to amp up my energy and send her on in the trot.

My timing was not quick enough in the beginning and we ended up walking a good bit or I would add too much leg too soon and we never really sowed down. It took a few circuits around before we got the hang of it. When we did though: magic. Gem began to really tune in and all I had to do was change my body posture and my energy level and she would slow then speed back up. Trainer then had me work on going from a working trot to an extended trot the same way.

Pretty soon she had us alternate between working, extended and slow trot at each side of the rectangle. It was a blast. Gem was relaxed and thankful that I wasn’t touching her mouth and really listened, coming back immediately and going forward with gusto but remaining relaxed. Holy crap! I didn’t know she had it in her and it was SO MUCH FUN. Have I mentioned how fun it was??? I could have just done that for an hour.

Right before tacking up. The angle makes her look way less rotund.

After we played with that in both directions, we moved on. Drilling Gem is never a good idea. She is wicked smart and once she learns something it is time to move on or she will get bored and find something else to amuse herself with. Typically, I don’t find humor in the same things she does.

Next was canter work though and I immediately lost all my zen and relaxation. Trainer saw the response in Gem and asked me what happened. I told her I got tense. She told me to relax.

Part of my canter issues comes from my own misunderstanding that canter = faster. Since I can go a million miles an hour at the trot, I don’t really want to go any faster in the canter. Trainer is working hard to break this thought process and for me to think of the canter as shifting to a new gear, but maintaining the same speed. It is helping…a bit.

All my prior work at getting Gem desensitized to my leg cue for canter has paid off though. She can be cued with the outside leg without completely losing her head now. We picked up the left lead and while we did canter and I didn’t pull her face off, we also completely lost any steering we had.

When Gem canters, she just goes wherever she darn well pleases, bulging out a shoulder here and her hindquarters there. Trainer told me to put my outside leg on her and prevent the bulging out, but when I did Gem went wildly careening at a million miles an hour. Or so it felt. Trainer understood my dilemma. Gem is hypersensitive to the leg and believes it means go faster at all times. We have come to terms with this at the walk and are beginning to understand it at the trot, but the canter is currently in the crapper. It did improve a bit and we went both right and left, but it is going to take a long time before it is pretty. Or rideable. We will get there.

The mare likes selfies as much as I do

And that was the first half of our lesson. I was so proud of Gem. She came ready to work and while she was still highly opinionated and her typical self, she was honest and tried hard for me when I did my part and rode correctly.

Trainer had a lot to say about Gem as well. This was only her second time seeing her in action. Her thoughts:

  1. Gem is a super cute mover when she wants to be
  2. She is really sensitive to my leg and we need to work on getting her to understand that I can touch her and it not mean forward
  3. She has a massive canter stride. She was really impressed with how much ground the mare covers in her canter and mentioned it a dozen times during our canter work. Maybe that also plays into my canter issues.
  4. Gem doesn’t like to be surprised by anything. It is up to me to give fair warning about a change like in a transition or direction to let her know what is coming up soon.
  5. Gem is very in tune with me. If I’m tense, so is she. When I relax she will too. I have to be better at controlling my own self before I can expect her to do the same.
  6. Gem likes being in charge. When I get firm about one aspect, say pace, she will try to take charge of another, say direction. This was most prevalent at the canter when she picked up the gait and lead I requested, but then decided she had all the say in where we went. And I let her because I get all flailing and forget how to ride when I canter.

Things I did well:

  • She didn’t correct my position at all. I did ride with less leg than in my prior lessons, but she soon learned why and we are compromising at the moment. She stated that my leg position was perfect for where Gem is at right now and will take time to be allowed to bring it back and around her without causing tension and anxiety.
  • My elbows were the best yet, still need work but I’m counting this as a win because she only had to tell me to bring them back half as much as before and the alterations I made were minimal versus massive.
  • I rode my mare off my seat. BIG HUGE IMPROVEMENT FOR US!!
  • I used circles correctly like I learned last time out. Gem actually bent around the circle and it helped to rebalance her.

Things to improve:

  • I need to begin to work on getting my seat completely independent from the rest of me. Currently its not so much.
  • Continue to improve in my transitions. Don’t throw her away going down and don’t run her into it going up.
  • Canter work. Lots and lots of canter work. Transition, speed, steering. All of it. One big thing she told me is to never let Gem canter from a bad trot. This sets up a bad canter and then I’m immediately having to correct it.
  • Keep Gem focused. She tended to get bored and look around for something to do. I have to keep her mind busy, but not overwhelmed. This is hard for me as I tend to either drill or let it slide.

Up next…the jumping half!!!

 

 

Riding/Horses

Dressage Lesson – Breakthroughs Galore

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I adore shadow pictures and find myself taking one nearly every time I ride. It must be my thing. This is at the entrance to the dressage ring. 

Traffic can be really finicky which puts me at the barn either an hour early or barely on time depending on if I leave 15 minutes earlier or later from work. Growing up 15 minutes early was on time and anything after was late, so I always err on the side of way too early and Wednesday was no exception. It was 85F and sunny when I pulled into a crazy busy barn and I really enjoyed getting to sit in the grass and watch the lesson ahead of me. They were working on a really cool jumping exercise that I hope to someday be good enough to get a shot at: four cross rails were set creating an inner 20 meter circle. The girls would jump into the circle at the trot, maintain the canter after the jump and circle depending on which direction the instructor told them as they jumped in, and eventually she would tell them which jump to exit the circle on. It was all about maintaining a rhythm and rideable canter and planning ahead. It looked really hard and really fun!

But that wasn’t what my lesson was about.

I tacked up Ralphie, the Welsh-Arab cross gelding I rode the first time, and Trainer J told me we were going into the dressage arena. I was a little disappointed to not get to jump, but that soon evaporated in the lovely weather and good horse under me. Any time spent riding is good by me.

She explained the inner workings of the large dressage court I would be riding in which was all new to me having never been in an actual legal size one before and she put me to work riding down the long side on the quarter line, making a sharp and direct turn and back down the opposite quarter line. The goal was to work on straightness. I failed. When I turned down the other short side and headed back down my original quarter line I saw my woefully drunken sailor line I had previously made. Straightness is not my friend. We did it again and this time I worked really hard at keeping my horse between my legs and gong straight. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much improved.

Dusty and Wyatt showed up around the time we began a series of exercises that really helped me 1000% and I actually got some pictures to show you!!!

In order to better figure out both my own and Ralphie’s body, Trainer created a 20 meter circle at C placing a cone at the pinnacle f my circle at the center of the arena (no clue what letter belongs there, but it was a 20 meter circle at C). She asked me how many corners are on a circle: none. Then why was I adding 4? Oh.

It was pretty difficult at the walk to get Ralphie to actually bend and I wasn’t riding it right anyway. I wasn’t preparing far enough ahead and was making more of a flat tire at every single point of the circle.

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Love my paint skills, don’t you? The point was to only take 1-2 strides anytime I hit the rail or cone and to make sure my horse was bent into the circle, my shoulders were turned and my inside leg was pushing his body out while my outside aides stayed on and steady. 

I’m pretty sure she was about to just give up on me when we started to trot and it just hit me. I began to sit taller, and actually look ahead. Once I figured out to look one full marker ahead of where we were and turn my entire body to reach that point, Ralphie’s body bent around my inside leg and we maintained bend around the entire circle.

It was like a light bulb cam eon and it felt amazing to ride him like that!

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Back to walk. You can see how much I LOVE to keep those darn elbows locked out straight. ugh. But…..all those tracks were mine and they are actually CIRCLES!!! Like my horse was bending and tracking up and we made 20 meter circles!!!

She then took us to the very far end and we repeated this going the other way. It took e a few revolutions to get back to where I ended before, but we got it and I saw her grinning just as  much as I was. I wasn’t  a lost cause after all. We finished this exercise by adding a third circle in the center.

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They were all actually circles, but you get the point

After that was done and we took a short walk break, she had me string it all together in a steady serpentine along those same circles. This was my favorite exercise to date. I’ve done serpentine exercises with Gem, but apparently never really correctly as I always squared mine off. This time I had to keep on those same 20 m circle tracks I made earlier and really plan as they came up quickly in the large dressage court.

serpentine

We did this at the trot mostly and everything really clicked for me here. I had to be constantly changing the bend n my body to allow Ralphie to bend too and it forced me to really open up my shoulders and relax my body. Trainer was being gracious and mentioned that I try to sit so still to be quiet which makes me stiff. I replied that I am really just that stiff of a person. Seriously, you should watch me try to dance. I look like Frankenstein. Loose doesn;t come easily to me.

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I really like this picture. My arms are a lot looser, Ralphie is relaxed and head down and we are still on the circle. 

I thought we were over at this point having accomplished a lot, but she said it was time to work on the canter. My stomach knotted up a little. I was doing so well. Why end it with so much horror?

We went back down to the circle at C and did a few revolutions (pretty sure that isn’t how you describe it in dressage terms, but oh well) to get the feeling back and then she told me to sit two strides and cue the canter.

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Yes, that is me with a grin while cantering!!!!

And I did. And he did. AND IT WAS AMAZING!!!

We just cantered. Trainer let out a whoop of joy and clapped. WE WERE CANTERING. In a calm, easy and bent manner around the circle while I continued to steer. It was SO MUCH FUN!

Ralphie dropped to a trot without me meaning to and all I did was sit and ask again. No fuss. No theatrics. No taking 3/4 of a turn to do it. He cantered immediately. And on the correct lead. We repeated it the other direction and the wheels fell off a little as he was now super racey in the trot and it took me a while to gather him back up, but once I asked to canter he did again. I was grinning like a fool by the end.

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ZOOM!
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Grinning and giving Ralphie a big pat. 

We called it a night after that and I was on cloud 9 the entire way home.

Things that went well:

  1. CANTER!!!
  2. She didn’t have to tell me to fix my lower position at all. I’ve dialed in what she calls a neutral seat since she had me fix myself two lessons ago and it has already become second nature
  3. My circle were circles and we actually bent around them

Things to work on:

  1. Relax those elbows and bring my arms into my body. Ugh. Will this ever happen?
  2. Plan ahead more. Quit riding one step ahead and ride three or four. Planning makes everything better
  3. Be greedy with my posture. Don’t let Ralphie pull me out of position in a down transition and don’t throw myself at him during an up transition

 

Riding/Horses

Cantering…Ugh.

Give me a wide open access road or an inviting single track or even a meadow and you’ll find me cantering down it like a boss. A slight uphill grade on an inviting trail is almost always going to be taken at a canter, hand gallop, or if the stars align and Gem is in the mood, a full blown racing gallop. I love cantering. In fact, Gem prefers to canter at anything above 10 mph and we quite literally cantered about 80% of the first 34 miles at our last endurance ride.

I can canter.

Or so I thought.

Put me in an arena and it all goes to crap extremely quickly. Turns out that while I can canter and my seat is good (light but solid and flowing with the horse) I can’t actually steer for crap. So in an arena where there are actually rails and turns are a must, things start to flail quickly.

Ugh.

Someone fix me, please.

When I rode Ralphie, I thought I was just dealing with some Gemmie PTSD. You see, the mare couldn’t/wouldn’t canter the entire first year I had her. When we moved to WI and had an indoor, I spent the first winter (winter of 2010-2011) focused on her canter. Any time my leg hit her side she would either kick, buck or rear. Not good. I backed off and started on the lunge and taught her word commands. Then I used those same verbal commands under saddle keeping my leg steady. Then I began oh so slightly introducing my leg along with it and by the time spring came we were able to perform a canter transition with a leg aide only without dying.

Except….

Then she would flail around the arena at 100 miles an hour and even wiped out on her side once. I stopped asking to canter indoors.

My next thought was to use jumps. We would trot in and she would pick up a canter on the landing and would typically be pretty steady. I would then let her canter a few strides and bring her back to a trot. That seemed to work better and we settled on that for the rest of spring until I could go out on the trails and work her outside.

Cantering on trails came easily and naturally and we spent the summer eating up the trails. The following winter we were stuck indoors and the cycle repeated although she no longer reacted negatively to my leg aid.

All that to say that I have some serious baggage.

Flash back to the present. With Ralphie, I would ask to canter but then tense up and grab with my hands preparing for some major zoomy flailing that never came. He quickly got angry with me though and trying to get him to canter was a mess.

On Misty, I had zero fear. She was fun and safe, yet I could not get her into a canter for the life of me. I was using so much leg to get her to even trot that when Trainer said to canter, I tried to bring my leg back to ask and she would immediately slow down and all would be lost.

When I finally managed to get the canter, we would make it a few strides and I would lose it back to a trot and have to suffer the humiliation of trying to get my caner back all over again. It seriously took me the entire width of the very large outdoor arena (we worked in one end only) to get her to canter.

Trainer would tell me to sit two trot strides then ask for the canter but I never felt organized enough to do so. I am much better from a rising trot, but she insists on using a few sits to make it work.

Then…if I do manage to get into a canter and maintain it longer than a few strides, I am completely incompetent at guiding my horse anywhere. How do you all do it all day long around a course?

Its frustrating to be so horrible at such a very basic thing that I know I can do in a different setting yet seem to be a sack of half rotting potatoes inside the arena. And I can’t really progress much in terms of jumping anything meaningful until I can at least canter around the arena.

Ugh.

 

 

 

 

 

Riding/Horses

Shrinking it Down – Pony Jumping

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

 

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

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

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

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The ground is so close to me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I did well:

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

What needs work:

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

Future Plans

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

 

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

 

 

 

Riding/Horses

What Can I Say? I’m Not the Monogamous Type Anymore!

Many moons ago I took a few lessons with a crazy lady. Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t have mounted up with them at all, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Anyway…back then I always felt bad for lesson horses. I’d throw my leg over a horse I didn’t know and have to ask it to work and I just had this deep seated feeling of being sorry to do so. Like it wasn’t fair for me to be working a horse who didn’t know me. Plus with a lot of lesson programs, you just never know what the care is like and how many times that horse has already been worked. It is actually what led to me purchasing Gemmie. I didn’t want to ride horses I barely knew – I wanted a relationship.

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Misty –  a new set of ears to look through Wednesday night

Flash forward seven years and my thought process has flipped 180 degrees.

Last night was a jump lesson (more details to come when I have more time to type it all up) and I was riding a new mount. As I groomed and tacked her up I was surprised to notice that I didn’t mind. Its not that I no longer care about the horse or that I want to use a horse as a means to an end, but I think owning Gem has taught me that it isn’t really so bad to ask a horse to do some work for an hour or so even if you don’t have that bond with them. As long as you are fair to the horse, act kindly and don’t ask more than they are capable of giving, it really can be a enjoyable experience for both.

My current situation is really different than any lesson barns I had known before. Maybe times have changed, maybe it is the regional difference of being in the south versus suburban north or maybe I just lucked into something great, but the lesson string of my past is nothing like my current trainer’s set up. The horses I ride are either her personal horses or a boarder’s who doesn’t mind allowing their horse to be used for a lesson from time to time. So these horses are being used judiciously, have a person who loves and cares for them and isn’t just being taken out to go around a ring all day long.

Whatever the reason, I am loving my new found infidelity. Not only am I being pared with horses that allow me to work on new skills and focus on me (you know instead of just trying to tame the beast beneath..umm…looking at you Gemmiecakes), but I am learning what it feels like to ride different horses and what suits me best. Gem will turn 19 this May and while she is in great shape and capable of being tortured by me for years to come, I know that in the nearer future I will be on the look out for a new main squeeze. Getting to ride different types of horses of various personalities and training levels is teaching me what I really want and need.

Being a one horse at a time type of gal and turning 35 soon means that if I get another horse in 3-5 years, it may very well be the last horse I purchase. That means that I want to get exactly what I am looking for.

In short, I am loving getting the chance to ride new things and learn what I want, need and enjoy. Of course, the better I become at my new found discipline of…well, I’m not really sure since I’m just working on beginner basics stuff but something english and arena/course based…what I want and need may change, but for now I am enjoying the variation quit a bit.

 

 

Riding/Horses

Jump Lesson…Wait…What?!

I JUMPED!!!! 

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

Let’s back up to how it all began…

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

I froze. Really????

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

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

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

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And a dressage arena. With letters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A full course in the massive arena. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I did right:

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

Things that need work:

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

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