Bounce on Bounce on Bounce

Short lesson recap!

We decided to move my lesson to Tuesday so Frankie could have a couple days to not jump before the show. Actually, starting next week I’ll be lessoning on Tuesdays in my new private spot! But this week there were two of us there.

I hopped on and actually had a moment where I thought Frankie might be sore or NQR. And then I realized that he was just being lazy and slow. And the reason I thought something was wrong is because I don’t think I’ve ever had him be lazy and slow before.

Legit my horse slows down a bit and I’m like DID HE BREAK?! Spoiler alert: no. The shift in temperature combined with his high workload made him tired. Kinda funny that 6 months in, this is pretty much the first time he’s been slow.

But he felt great once we got moving a bit more. I’m asking more and more for him to keep that poll high and come onto the bit, and it’s coming together. A better rider than I could definitely develop that more quickly, but Frankie doesn’t have a better rider as a mother. He has me. So we’ll get there when we get there.

You don’t get a diagram today, because it was gymnastic day so my rich vocabulary and vivid descriptions should serve you just fine.

vocabulary

We started out warming up over a crossrail and some canter poles. And then more poles started getting lifted up off the ground and I’ll save you the progression but what we ended up with was a gymnastic on the outside- one stride x-rail to vertical, one stride out over oxer- and then four jumps on the quarter line set to be fairly tight bounces.

That’s right folks, we made the Amazing Leaping Alpaca do three bounces in a row. I am the meanest mom in the world and made him pIcK uP hIs FeEt WhY1??!11/1? He was such a good boy about it though! Required TONS of leg to get through it and it definitely wasn’t his favorite exercise, but was very game every time.

alpaca
Literally exactly like this

We ran into the exact situation my trainer warned me about- we’ve been working SO hard on packaging and collecting with our flatwork, but once the jumps go up we need to get that spicy forward motion back. That delicate balance between packaged and energetic. I don’t want to run Francis at the jumps, but I can’t be holding him together the whole time either. We need to get the energy up and get him tuned into my aids so that we can package or extend as the need arises, and don’t get stuck exclusively packaging (which is what happened in our lesson).

moose
HEY MOOSE YOU’RE REAL CUTE BUT THERE IS ZERO IMPULSION IN THAT LITTLE HIPPITY HOP YOU GOT GOIN’ ON

Trainer ended the lesson the way she likes to end most gymnastic lessons- going to a larger single jump set on a long approach. I think Frankie was quite happy to open his stride out after all those bounces and very obligingly brightened up to it. It was a nice physical and mental decompression from the grid work we had been doing, and the bigger height made him actually stretch a little bit.

goat

Bonus: I’ve started to get better about not changing my ride based on the height. I used to run my horse at bigger fences which was SUPER counter-productive, but I’m getting much more comfortable waiting to see the spot and then riding to the spot. You know, like you’re supposed to do. Doiii.

Really though, that bounce exercise was SO good for Frankie. I plan to incorporate raised cavaletti/pole work often over the winter so we can have a low-impact way to practice PICKING OUR FEET UP ALL THE WAY, HORSE.

elk
ALL the way up.

Frankie is already at the showgrounds this afternoon and I’ll be there tomorrow morning bright and early! Planning to follow pretty much the same schedule as last time- tomorrow is a 0.90m to get us warmed up and thinking, and then our first Low class will be an hour or so after that. Updates as events warrant!

What kinds of grids do you like to use? Have you found bounces to be helpful to get your own pet llama to pick their feet up?

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Deep Breaths and Big Smiles

The DragonMare is SO GOOD. Srsly she’s the  bomb dot com.

Our lesson yesterday did not involve any tight turns or crazy difficult exercises- we worked on a grid and then a couple single diagonal jumps. Our main focus with this lesson was getting Addy to come in quietly so I could leg up to the jumps instead of holding her to the base. She has a tendency to run at jumps a bit and I end up having to holdholdhold or we’ll run through the distance, and we’d really rather not have me hauling on her face in front of an oxer.

Addy was such a good girl about this! We came through the grid a couple times and she got better each time- coming in nice and quietly so that the one-strides were soft and flowing, with the oxer out looking like a million bucks.

Once we had the grid in a good place, we added two single diagonal jumps. The goal here was to land off the grid and get a nice short bouncy canter back before coming down a swedish oxer. Then we wanted to get that nice short stride back again before going up a stone wall on the diagonal.

The first few times through, I chose to circle before heading to the single jumps. I tend to tense up a bit when heading down to a single, which leads to Addy getting tense, which leads to freight train mode, which leads to holding her face, which leads to no bueno for anyone involved. So instead of heading straight down the diagonal to the jump, we circled and made sure we were on the same page and breathing. And whatdya know, we got a wonderful relaxed stride up and over the oxer! Then I used the short side to get our little stride back and *GASP* I actually legged up to the stone wall jump!!!

Seriously, OMG. I know this is a pretty normal thing, but legging up to the base has not been something I’ve done with the Beastly Unicorn on a regular basis. It felt SO good to have that adjustability to see the spot and place her exactly where I wanted her. Even when the jumps went up to 3′ (ish? Maybe 3’3″? She jumped it like it was 16′ so I have no idea where the rails were set) we were able to get a bouncy powerful canter to round over the jump. My main instruction from the lesson: “Replicate this ride every time.”

So how am I going to do that? By remembering these main steps:

  1. Ask big, ask early, and then soften. Do my homework setting the pace and stride as soon as possible, so I’m not fussing on the approach. Ask as hard as I need to in order to get a response, and then soften and allow her to maintain. Ask again if needed, but every time, give her the opportunity to develop that self-carriage we’re looking for.
  2. Believe in the spot. If I lean up her neck every time we get a short spot in, she will decide that the short one STINKS and we’ll go back to taking fliers every time. Shoulders back and wait for her to come up to me.
  3. Breathe and smile! Jumping is just flatwork with a few big steps thrown in. And we love to fly. I’ve gotten much better about breathing and relaxing on course lately and I’ve noticed a HUGE difference in the quality of our rides.

I wish I had gotten this on camera, but when I voiced that to my trainer, she just said that I can get this ride every time now and film it next time. I appreciate her foolish faith in me.

This weekend is going to be SUPER awesome- Jenn from Stories from the Saddle is coming to visit!!!  She’s going to come meet the DragonMare, she’ll come with me to try out a couple horses with my trainer, we’ll go to some wineries and brunch and it’s going to be SO MUCH FUN!! She’s promised to write a guest post about the Beastly Unicorn, so get pumped to see that 🙂

Hope you all have as good of a weekend and Jenn and I will ❤

DragonMare Attacks

I’m baaaack!

So I realized that I didn’t give a lesson review last week (I was busy hopping on a plane to RI and it got lost amidst the many festivities happening). I’ll briefly say that we did some fairly simple courses with a couple tough turns, and that Addy was a very good girl. Extremely heavy and barreling around without listening very carefully (we almost ran over my trainer because Addy disagreed with what jump we should be heading to), but she was honest and jumped everything from all sorts of angles.

On to this week! First of all, I got myself some fancypants and a new bonnet for Addy, so I was pretty psyched about looking cool. I’m a big fan of “dressing up” a little bit for lessons, I always feel like I ride better when I’ve put effort into my appearance.

july_getup
Not too shabby, eh? I promise I’ll show you Beastly’s face soon too.

Once I was fully satisfied in how cool we looked, I hopped on and started warming up. Addy was good for this- she just got new shoes so I was feeling much better about the state of her feet. They’re just growing so fast these days! All that green grass. Our warmup was nothing special, just WTC with some extensions and collections. Addy was nice and quiet for this.

Aaaand then we started jumping. The quiet did not last. Here’s how the jumps were set up:

july_grid

We warmed up over 3 as a crossrail a couple times, and Addy realized that OMG IT’S TIME TO JUMP THIS IS SO EXCITING I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE EVAR. Much excitement. Our consistent note from Trainer was that “there’s one more step in there, hold to the base,” which was definitely a struggle. Homegirl was launching from downtown. But we did get a couple nice ones in there.

july_smile
I even smiled about it. Check out her awesome new bonnet!

We then slowly built up the gymnastic. At first, it was just the first crossrail and the other two were ground poles set at one stride each. Addy being a snorty unicorn, decided that she would gazelle-leap over the crossrail, bounce over the next ground pole instead of cantering a stride, and then leap the final ground pole. Because, you know, that felt right. I did eventually get her to trot in marginally more quietly and put the correct striding in.

Then the second jump went up to a vertical and we did that a couple times, and then finally put the final jump to a crossrail. That first one-stride was set very short and we kept coming up on it too hard, so my big focus was getting a super slow backwards trot to the first fence. This was kinda hit-or-miss, but it did get better over the course of the lesson.

We then put the last jump up to a nice wide oxer (I know the diagram is backwards, so sue me) and continued through that way a couple times. Once she was going through the grid in a more civilized manner, I shifted my focus to staying straight down to the end of the ring so that we didn’t cut in our turn.

This was put to the test by the following: up the grid (1A-1B-1C), then turn right at the end and do a circle down at that end of the ring, then come down the outside vertical (2), then come back to a trot and go back up the grid, turn left, circle, and come down the other outside vertical (3).

By this point we had the grid pretty much down, but adding the outside verticals just stoked Addy’s internal fire. Her zest. Her zeal. Her pep. We came up through the grid nicely, got a surprisingly decent canter circle, then came to a nice quiet distance to 2. And then GOT REALLY EXCITED LET’S GO WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME TO TROT WOMAN. I sure as hell made her trot into the grid, but we were veering all over like a drunken sailor. Canter circle to the left was a little less pretty and we ended up galloping up to a longish distance to 3. We then proceeded to prance around the ring like a carousel horse instead of sitting quietly and waiting our next turn.

july_trot
If you look closely, you can see actual flames shooting out of her nose and a glint of madness in her eyes.

But we tried again- got back to trot a little more sedately after the outside vertical, held the canter a little more nicely in both directions, and fit that last step in to the last vertical. It wasn’t pretty, but homegirl needs to learn to love the base instead of blasting through my aids and picking her own distance. I was very happy to end on that good note of her listening to me.

All in all, not a great lesson. I didn’t really bring my A game, and Addy wasn’t inclined to be charitable. Nothing particularly bad or dangerous in any way, just not super rideable. I’m thinking that I may start using the Pelham more consistently if we’ll be jumping; it’ll be harder for her to lean on that and drag me around.

That being said- while this has been my worst lesson in a while, we still managed to hop around all the jumps the way we were supposed to, we were safe, and I still had those moments of joy in the air with my girl. I’m extremely lucky that this counts as a “bad” lesson for me.

What happened in your last “bad” lesson and how did you work through it?

Mirror Images

We’re in the final stretch until showtime this weekend, people. My first show since I was a wee 15-year-old. Addy’s first ever hunter show. Her first time off property since she’s arrived. A lot of firsts. It’s going to be AWESOME.

Anywho, last night was a very very good lesson, but not the same *click* lesson that we had before. It was simply fantastic, not amazingly fantastic (but, I mean, still fantastic). The paddocks are a total muddy mess because of the snow thawing out and a bunch of rain lately, so she hasn’t gotten a lot of playtime lately- too much potential for injuries in the slippery mud.

Well, Pretty Girl loves her playtime. So I got there early and took her for a walk around the farm, hand grazed her, poked our heads into the other barn, and made sure she got plenty of fresh air. Which I’m sure she appreciated, but it didn’t make a whit of difference under saddle.

Go, pony, go! We usually walk around quite a bit when I first hop on and Addy likes that time to wander about and relax while I do some stretches. Not yesterday. She stood still like a princess for me to hop on, waited for me to settle in my stirrups and gather up the reins, then moved off at a nice little jog. We half-halted back to walk. Three strides later, off again at a jog. I got the message- it was time to move.

We had a good warmup with some no-stirrup work (slowly getting easier) and getting limbered up. Cantering to the left gave us a little headache though, and I’ll explain why: when Addy is relaxed and lazy, she will pick up either with lead no problem. Her left lead is actually her easier one. But for whatever reason, once she gets excited it becomes the sticky lead. So that’s going to be something to remember at the show- in the flat classes, move my outside leg back and ask hard for that left lead.

Warm up over a little cross rail and some ground poles, then on to jumping! We didn’t do any huge courses yesterday but it was wonderfully happily symmetric. Here we go:

march_grid_course_diagram

Up through the grid, turn at the end to go over the diagonal vertical, bending line to a cavaletti (speedbump), then around and up the diagonal oxer. It was the exact same in both directions, hence the repeat numbers. So it was either: grid, yellow plank, bottom cavaletti, white oxer, or: grid, pink vertical, top cavaletti, green oxer.

This was a pretty nice return to basics. I would jump grids every single lesson if they let me- they’re such a good training tool for both horse and rider! The striding was a little short for Addy in there, but let’s be honest. All striding is a little short for Addy. Once we realized that we should come in at a nice balanced trot she backed off and nailed it. She built a bit going down the vertical towards home in both directions, but balanced super well for the bending to the cavaletti! Then she rocked back and let me call the shots to the oxers.

Things that went really well in this lesson:

  • Pace around the course. Adding leg and packaging her up made her SO much more adjustable- when I saw a distance to the oxer I was able to push her up to it! We weren’t already fully extended, so my options were completely open. Her canter has improved so much now that I’m being stronger about supporting her with my leg and seat- we didn’t miss a single distance all night! (Which is super rare for me, I have a pretty rusty eye)
  • The oxers. They weren’t too big- somewhere between 2’9″ and 3′, but there was no fill. They were just rails set somewhere between 2’9″ and 3′ off the ground. Addy loves fill. Addy hates no fill. Addy jumped this without flinching. Addy is the best pony in the whole wide world.
  • The grid. Just because I love grids and Addy loves grids. We didn’t go up quite as high as we did on Monday, but that was fine. I still got to practice my automatic release and staying straight through the grid.

What we need to work on:

  • Mainly getting her relaxed into the canter. She only tends to get squirrelly about this when she hasn’t gone outside in a few days, which I totally get. If she gets full playtime then her leads are nice and even, she’ll pick them up easily, and she will stay very straight and bend around the turns. On days like yesterday, she REALLY wanted to run around so our canter transitions were messy and crooked. She bowed out through her shoulder around the turns and coming back to a trot was an interesting proposition that she rejected out of hand. I’m learning how to correct these behaviors, so we’ll just need to keep at it. But hopefully she’ll relax a bit once the ground hardens and she can horse around outside (get it??? Horse around??).
  • Canter-trot transitions. Man, these are the worst. We can canter-walk like a boss, and even our canter-halt is improving, even if we do need the length of a runway to accomplish it. But canter-trot transitions are the worst. She just wants to move back up into the canter so out comes the giraffe and we goose-step around the ring. Not particularly cute. Again, I’m learning how to correct this and it just needs time to sink in with her.

Any and all of our sticky spots yesterday came from the fact that Pretty Girl didn’t get to roll around in her favorite mud puddle, and all of those sticky spots manifested while we were warming up on the flat. Of course she was perfect once we started jumping. I think that’s the answer- we need to avoid U/S classes at all costs. The jumpers is looking like a better and better option for us! Because if you’re bad at something, avoid it. Right? No? Fine, we’ll keep working on our flatwork.

PSA- FLATWORK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER.

march_lesson_grid_course
Bonus: a creeper picture of the course. Taken through the window while an innocent was trying to school her horse in peace.

Time to talk show prep.

I’m doing a half-day at work on Friday so I can get to the barn and get everything set up the way I want it to. I know, it’s a tiny local show 10 minutes down the road, but it’s been 8 years! If I want to set aside 6 hours to bathe my horse and clean my tack, then by golly I will set aside 6 hours. We’re also fitting in one more small lesson to get her moving and tired for the next day.

The plan on Friday is to get to the barn after lunch, hop on for a lesson, get any last minute pointers, bathe and groom Addy, clean ALL tack, and arrange everything so it’s ready to load in the trailer the next day. Theoretically on Saturday morning all I’ll have to do is load everything up on the trailer (including the squeaky clean horse) and head out. My paperwork is together and my show clothes are ready. We’re almost there!

What is something you never head to a show without? Do you have a certain show-prep routine? Any advice for this re-entry to the ring?