Why Jumpers?

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BECAUSE THE JUMPERS FRIGHTEN ME

Nah all kidding aside, I was ruminating on this the other day. Frankie and I have played in the equitation, I grew up exclusively doing the hunters/eq, we’ve toodled around baby XC, Frankie has done eventing and hunters and pleasure classes with other riders. I’ve even mentioned that I hope to take him in a hunter derby at some point.

So with all that time spent in other rings, why do I keep our main focus on the jumper ring? It’s not a question of ability – we’ve both been perfectly happy and capable in other disciplines. And it isn’t a question of access – I’m in comfortable driving distance of high-level barns of practically every English discipline. Even my own beloved trainer has a strong record in all three H/J/E (she’s even a hunter R judge).

Circumstances have not forced us into the jumper ring. It is by no means a default, and by no means an accident. In simple terms, I focus us in the jumper ring because I love it there.

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PC – ESI Photography

In my world, training for and competing in the jumper ring combines all of my favorite parts from each discipline and turns them into something even greater than the sum of its parts. There is the precision flatwork of dressage, there is the speed and thrill of eventing, there is the careful effective position of equitation, there is knowing how to bring out the best in my horse from the hunters. And it takes all of these parts and gives back a sport that is pure strategy and focus and fun.

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PC – USHJA

I love the focus on results above all else, but that the results reward the process. Sure, you’re not being judged on your position – but try to go clear on the Frankfurter without a supportive leg and balanced body. See how that works out. And you’re not being judged on your horse’s steadiness of pace or bascule – but try to beat the time and leave the oxers up without a good jump and adjustable stride. At the end of the day though, when the rubber meets the road you have to be willing to dig in and throw out the pretty to make it work.

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PC – K. Borden

I love the strategy of it. How it’s a thinking ride with every single stride. Once that buzzer sounds, there’s no time to be nervous or notice anything else, because a good course demands your attention. It’s all about playing to your horse’s strengths to set them up to succeed through the entire course, with each component building on the next. How you need to ride the plan, but above all else ride the horse you have under you in that moment.

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PC – Hoof Print Images

I love the people. The Zone 3 Adult Jumper riders are all fantastic, and getting to see them and catch up at shows is a treat. We cheer each other on, we wave hello in the warmups, we take pictures for each other. The show crews in our area are wonderful people, ready to say congratulations on a good round and answer my many questions. The warmup rings tend to be surprisingly civilized since most people have done this before and behave accordingly. For all the horror stories I’ve heard of snobbery at the big shows, I’ve never failed to have someone smile back and say thank you when I tell them how pretty their horse is (which I do constantly because I really really really like ponies).

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Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years with Frankie, I love it even more because of how professional and eager he is to do this job. How he starts asking me to move out when he hears the buzzer. How he lands already looking for the next fence, even after we’ve passed through the timers. How he struts back to the gate after a good round with his ears up, proudly knowing he’s done a great job. How I know I can trust him to be right there with me every step of the way.

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PC – K. Borden

It’s not about the speed – we’ve made amazing times not by galloping, but by being deliberate and efficient with our turns. It’s not about the height – I’ve had just as much fun at 0.80m as I have at 1.15m. It’s the power and precision and exhilaration of working with my partner to pull together all our skills to perform.

I’m excited to keep trying new things with the Frankfurter and find great joy in expanding our horizons, but my heart will always be in the jumper ring on the back of my favorite big bay.

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Chapter 2: In Which my Horse is a Fire-Breathing Dragon from Planet Unicorn

Show number two is under our belts!! Those of you who I’ve connected with on Instagram already know how it went, but don’t spoil it for the rest of the gang. Suspense is always fun.

Anywho, I had a really bad feeling about this show. Addy has been stocked up in her left hind for a couple days, and even though she’s been perfectly sound, I’m a paranoid horse mom (or aunt or nanny or whatever). I rode her yesterday briefly and she felt A-OK and both Trainer and Assistant Trainer gave the thumbs up, so when my alarm went off at 5:45am on Sunday, I figured we may as well give it a try.

Well, that lasted until I got to the barn. After eating her breakfast I noticed that her leg was still pretty puffy, but she still didn’t mind me poking and prodding around it. Trainer said we should toss her on the lunge line for a bit and see how she was moving and if the swelling would go down.

OH THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT. Oh my word. Pretty Girl just ran in circles, threw bucks, snorted, pranced, and was generally full of beans. So glad we got her moving around like that BEFORE anyone got on.

Once she had tired herself out a little we checked and saw the swelling had already started to go down. She hadn’t taken a single ouchie step, so it was time to load onto the trailer! At this point I was feeling SO nervous- the stress of worrying about her leg for the past couple days, wondering if today was the day she became a bucking bronco pony, worrying about the fact that I didn’t have any buddies with me so who was going to hold my horse if I had to pee?! and just general show nerves. But I’ve been a weenie in the past, and I was determined to at least make it to the show and put in an effort.

We made it there, and Beastly over here came off the trailer with nostrils flared and tail pricked. Showoff. I asked Trainer to hop on her first to take her around, which turned out to be unneeded. It was like Addy remembered her job and instantly relaxed once someone was on her back. She went around the warmup ring with absolutely no problems, both with Trainer and with myself.

She went back on the trailer just long enough for me to get my number and sign up for my classes, then it was back on! My first round at 2’9″ was, um, interesting. I’d like to think of it as a warmup round. We chipped, we took fliers, we had one memorable oxer where we stuck a 5 in a bending line where a lot of horses were putting 7. Ah well. Such is life. We needed to box it in a lot harder- I thought that because she was relaxed in the warmup she would be relaxed on course, but that was not the case. She seems to know when it’s showtime and transforms into the racehorse half of her heritage.

Second round was a little bit better- still not one of our best rides, but a definite improvement. Nothing too noticeable here, except for the fact that we did manage the comfortable 6 in the bending line.

We won both classes! I think we were the only person in one class and there was only one other person in the other…but hey. A win is a win. I’ll take it.

Then it was flat class time. Note to self: we do not do well in flat classes. Addy gets very confused why we’re not jumping any of the pretty jumps and wants to run and be freeee and feel the wind in her mane and is having none of my “please trot you beastly little dragon.” She was an absolute fire-breathing dragon. Manfriend was giggling at the video I showed him- and that was the direction that she was behaving decently in. We cantered when they said walk. We cantered when they said trot. We hand-galloped when they said canter. I ran her into a wall when they said walk and line up. It was all very exciting. I think if they could’ve given me lower than second place they would have, but alas there were only two of us in the class. Bright side: my trainer saw me struggling and called out that I should forget about trying to make her hunter-y and just make her listen. So this flat class ended up being a very useful schooling session where she ended up listening, even if she was framed up like a dressage horse instead of on the buckle.

This did end up being enough for me to get champion in my division out of two people, but like I said- a win is a win! And now we have a big pretty champion ribbon hanging on her door!

Our 3′ division was canceled since no one else signed up, but my trainer convinced them to offer a 3′ option in the Child/Adult Hunters (which was listed at 2’6″). Warmup for that was uneventful, but she was definitely charging around with me a bit. We bumped her up to a slow twist recently, but I think she may need something stronger for shows because she was blowing right through my hand.

But we went in for our first 3′ round!!!! And it felt amazing. We got packaged up, got nice distances, she jumped sooo cute, and it flowed smoothly. I walked out of the ring with the absolute biggest grin on my face. I wasn’t surprised when we won that class, and I don’t mean to sound cocky there. But you know that feeling when you just click with your horse and it feels so good and you just know that you rocked it? It was that feeling.

Second round was ehhhhhh not great. We didn’t package up nearly as well, and it was a bit of a hot mess. By this point Addy was a little tired and less inclined to collect when asked. Also for some reason, I did not see a single distance in this round. For the life of me, I could not see anything. It was like my eye had gone out the window. All I could do was close my leg and hope for the best. Addy, of course, is the best pony to exist in the whole wide world and carried my butt through the whole course very good-naturedly. This was enough to get us 3rd!

Second flat class- we went into this one with a schooling mentality so it was less eventful. I literally said the words to her: “Do not be a dragon. You are not a unicorn. You are a horse. Please act like a horse. This is a horse show for horses.” I think some rando got that on the video they were recording of their buddy in the class and I’d love to get a copy of me giving Pretty Girl a pep talk. We were still much too “up” and had some breaking-into-canter moments because oh man trotting is boring IS THAT A JUMP CAN I DO IT PLEASE. But overall it was less fire-breathing. We still got 5th out of 5, but that’s as expected. Seriously. Flat classes are not our friend (though I think we could do well in eq flat classes where there’s a little more to distract her with, she loves dressage-y movements and going in a frame).

For your viewing pleasure, a selection of our trips! I’m trying to figure out how to edit together all the funny parts from our flat class, so hopefully I can share that later in the week.

  • First 2’9″ trip at 0:00 (obviously)
  • Second 2’9″ trip at 1:13 (this is truncated for some reason, and a little fuzzy)
  • First 3′ trip at 1:34- if you’re going to watch anything, just watch this one. It’s the good one.
  • Second 3′ trip at 2:45. You can ignore this one (please).

We did the 3′!!! And we even managed to win one of our classes at that height!! I am so so so unbelievably proud of my girl, who has handled this transition to being a show pony with her usual sweetness and dependability. She gets Monday off to play outside with her friends all day, and then it will be business as usual in our lesson on Wednesday. Can’t wait to keep progressing with her!

PS- regarding Addy’s leg, we think the stocking up is probably due to some crazy weather changes, inconsistent turnout, and a changing riding schedule. By the end of the show, the swelling was almost completely gone and she was still completely sound. We’re tracking it closely and taking some steps to make sure she’s not ouchie in any way, but so far she’s been perfectly fine. I’ll keep you posted!

Victory Gallops

WE GOT TO JUMP LAST NIGHT!!! For the first time in a couple weeks, the weather and my health cooperated and we got to hop over obstacles. Sure, it was only two weeks since we had jumped, but it felt longer! And Addy certainly let me know how happy she was to have some “real” work to do.

We warmed up with some nice stretchy walk and then trotted big circles and serpentines to encourage the horses to reach for the contact. Addy was pretty pokey- for her, this means that I wasn’t actively trying to slow her down. I still didn’t need to add leg. We worked on our half seats a bit, some sitting trot/extended trot transitions, and she was listening wonderfully.

We moved on to canter, and she definitely woke up! She still listened beautifully, but pokey pony was gone. We think that she wasn’t taking the ride seriously until we started moving. We did some collecting and lengthening in the canter, with our lengthenings looking much less like a wrestling match than the collectings.

Then it was time for jumps! We warmed up by trotting over a crossrail a couple times- my trot jump is feeling a lot better thanks to the advice I got from you guys!- and then over a broken line in 8ish. I say 8ish because the other horses put 9. But the 8 worked so nicely for us!

Now on to the course! Presenting this week’s professional diagram- jumps were 2’6″-2’9″:

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How this course was meant to be ridden: 1 to 2 in a bending 8, balance around the corner for the Swedish oxer, balance around the corner for the bending 4 to 5 in 6 strides (my proportions on this diagram are clearly off, I swear that was the striding), balance around the corner to 6, then you’re done.

How we actually rode it: 1 to 2 in a bending 7 once the jumps were up. Careen around the corner to the oxer. EXTRA CAREEN around to 4, almost miss it and slice it straight to 5 in 5. CAREEN AROUND THE CORNER to 6. Ask for woah. Do not receive woah. Realize that this is Addy’s version of a happy dance for a course well done.

So we did a victory gallop.

While the turns were quite tight and we probably didn’t balance as well through them as we should have (hence the wild careening about the ring), this course ended up riding extremely smoothly. The bending 7 was very comfortable, and the oxer was in a sweet spot off the rail so we got a nice close distance to it. The tight turn meant that we had to slice 4, but that worked out for the best, since slicing that line straight to the end gave us more room to maneuver around the left turn to the last jump.

We also reversed the course: 4-5-6-1-2-3. Similar turns, similar careening. This time it was the 1-2 line that got sliced- the horses build a lot over 6 since it’s towards home and pretty big, so balancing around to 1 is HARD! But the slice ended up working beautifully again.

And when we ended the course, we did a victory gallop.

Instead of getting tired as the lesson progressed, she got more excited about what she was doing and our victory laps got longer. She wasn’t trying to take off or be bratty, so I let her express herself. There’s nothing quite like being on a horse that is telling you so clearly, “I’M HAVING SO MUCH FUN RIGHT NOW!!”

A couple things I noticed and was really happy about:

  1. I’ve been trying to focus on my release more and I felt that it paid off yesterday. Addy has such a big powerful jump, and I never want to discourage her by knocking her in the mouth. I don’t want to exaggerate my release by any stretch; I want to be conscious of staying out of her way so she can use herself. She responded yesterday by giving me a tremendous effort over every single jump!
  2. While the corners were tight and we did a bit of barrel racing turns to get around them, I was able to sit deep in the tack and keep a feel on her mouth. I’ve struggled in the past with getting popped out of the tack around hard turns; this time I felt more secure and comfortable, even if we were listing to port.
  3. Our distances were very deliberate. As I’ve been getting my eye back, I’ve admittedly had a couple “Jesus take the wheel” moments. Or more accurately, “Addy please get me out of this mess” moments (or even more accurately, a little of both). There was none of that yesterday. I saw my spots and either moved up or collected to reach the spot that I chose. I even asked her for a couple close spots and she didn’t get nearly as upset about it as she usually does- either she was happy to be jumping, or she finally thought that I was there to support her. Progress!
  4. I could feel her hesitating a lot and getting wiggly to jump 5- this was a very simple vertical with no filler. For some reason, this is Addy’s least favorite type of jump- she will go over any flower box, stone wall, gate, or any type of filler without blinking, but give her a plain vertical with no filler and she gets very wary. But this time instead of letting her call the shots and duck out, I closed my leg and rode more actively to the base. Once we made it over once she didn’t look at it again. I think she needed to get the reassurance that I wasn’t going to let her go it alone- I was there to help her out.

The pattern here was that this was a much more active ride than I’ve been doing lately. My requests to Addy felt deliberate and I was able to support her to the base of every jump, then get out of her way. I know we have homework to do- our downwards transitions are still sticky and getting those will  be the key to balancing around those tough corners- but this lesson felt like such progress! I finally felt that our success was due at least in part to my riding and not just Addy’s ability.

I also found out about our new plan for a first show! There’s a VHSA show about 20 minutes away on March 14th, and we’re planning on being there! They have some 2’6″ hunter classes we can do, and if things go well we may enter the 2’9″ benefit hunters. Trainer asked if I’d want to try out the 3′, but I’d like to stick to our original plan and see how Addy behaves at shows before getting to the top of my comfort zone. I’m so excited!! Anyone in the area planning on going to River Chase on the 14th?

Have you had an “aha” moment where you realized you were taking control of your ride? How do you handle tough turns in your course- do you ride them a certain way, or are there flatwork exercises that help you prepare?