This has been mentioned time and time again in my posts over the last few months, but I’d like to take a minute and devote some time specifically to this:
Frankie consistently jumps much better now than he used to.
I don’t just mean that he jumps prettier- though he absolutely does. I mean that he jumps better- more strongly, cleanly, and powerfully. The “pretty” is a lovely side effect of these improvements.
So let’s take a little stroll down memory lane to see where we started together, and talk about some of what we’ve done to get to where we are today.
Let’s go ahead and contrast an early and more recent one together real quick:
The height of the fence isn’t a factor here- in fact, the warmup fence on the right is quite a bit lower than the one in the show ring from last year (same venue, funny enough).
What we had early on was a horse that knew to get to the other side of the jump, but didn’t know how to use his body to do that efficiently.
What I see more recently is a horse that pushes off more powerfully from behind, uses his back and neck more actively, and is tidier with his front end.
And I think this speaks to a couple of different factors: (1) fitness and (2) knowledge.
Frankie has now spent roughly 18 months in a consistent professional program- he was certainly in training before that, but transitioned to a stricter program when he was put up for sale (which has continued since I bought him). Through that steady increase in fitness, he’s better able to power off the ground by rocking back instead of “pulling” himself over the jump. His back and neck muscles have developed the strength to use them in different ways. I’d still like to condition him further and fitness will be our main focus in the coming months, but the consistency of our program has been good thus far for his muscle strength and endurance.
In terms of knowledge, we’ve tried to build exercises that set him up to jump well- that make it clear what the “right answer” is. This means lots of grids set fairly short- asking him to rock back and collect his stride to carry himself through. This also means lots of lateral work on the flat, to unlock some of that motion and get him stronger in his hind end and over his back.
I think those shorter lines and grids are absolutely crucial for Frankie. He has a naturally big stride- not fast, just big- and it tends to get bigger and more strung out as he gets tired. By building the strength he needs on the flat to carry some collection in his stride, we are able to set him up to carry himself to the jumps. These shorter lines also force him to rock back on his butt to launch off- there’s no room for him to lurch over. And these lines make him fire a little faster to get his front end up and out of the way.
These are not often big jumps- we jack the jumps up 2-3x a month, if that. We only jump 1x a week, and most of the time they’re kept at 3’ or (usually) lower. We spend the time working on more efficient turns, adjusting our stride, playing with our track, and setting ourselves up to make jumping easier for him. So while I think Frankie gives a better effort over the bigger jumps partially because he has to in order to make it over, we have built up his fitness and ability mostly over smaller jumps and on the flat.
I will say that Frankie still prefers to gallop up out of stride instead of riding to the “jumper chip.” Doing that makes his life easy, since he has plenty of time to get his legs out of the way and doesn’t have to shift his weight back as much for takeoff.
The big difference now is that even though he doesn’t love the close spot, he can still give me a powerful effort. In the past, he simply didn’t (1) know that the close spot was the right answer or (2) have the fitness to give me that answer even if I asked (which I didn’t because I also didn’t know what I was doing and mostly still don’t so luckily he does now womp womp). It used to be extremely weak and lurchy and gross and icky.
In the spirit of total honesty- it is still sometimes totally icky. This is a work in progress, and I definitely need to back up all of my asks with a crapton of leg, otherwise he says HAH I CAN HALF-ASS THIS TOO MAHM. Which is fair.
So I definitely think there’s plenty of room for improvement here. As mentioned, fitness is going to be a big priority for us moving forward, to continue building that ability and willingness to rock back, adjust, and power off the ground. We’d like to shift that close spot to more of an automatic answer for him instead of automatically looking for an out-of-stride spot.
I think this is a great example of form following function. We’ve never tried to make Frankie jump prettier- we’ve just tried to get him fit for his job and set him up to answer the different questions he’ll be asked on course.
Hopefully as we continue to build our muscle and endurance, we keep improving together!
Especially for those of you with young/green/inexperienced horses: what have you done to develop their jumping abilities? I’d love to see any progress pics y’all have to share!