Barrel Jumpers, Not Barrel Racers

It’s a double post day! Curse my poor planning. But I had such a great lesson, I just want to share it with y’all before the memories fade.

You may have noticed that it’s been a relatively quiet few weeks at the barn. After the pressure of preparing for team finals, we have taken a noticeable step back from our training.

I think that’s been more mental than anything else- I’m still lessoning every week, Francis is still getting at least one training ride every week, we went to a show and XC schooling and we’ve still been working hard.

But we also have not schooled any height since finals and my “homework” rides have been more about enjoying my pony than anything else. This week’s lesson was the first time that we played with tighter turns/combos/bigger fences since we went in for our last round at Culpeper.

And I think that taking a deep breath to relax was exactly what the doctor ordered. Our canter work felt balanced and adjustable, Frankie jumped out of his skin, he carried me forward through the combo, and felt really fresh the entire time (not like, sassy fresh, just energetic in a good way. Because Francis.) I didn’t have to find a spot to the jumps- we had such a great canter and so much adjustability that the spots came up to us. Funny how having the right canter makes everything better, right?

While warming up we did have a moment that warranted some strong correction: Frankie likes to dive left. Even if we’re on a nice straight track to the jump, he will throw himself left over the jump and then immediately fade left upon landing. If I let him. This time I booted him HARD with my spur off the left side as we were warming up, and lo and behold: my horse jumped a straight line. Correcting that firmly early on in our ride made him pay attention the rest of the time. And when we do that, we land our leads/get our changes!

We warmed up with a couple basic exercises, then Trainer jacked the jumps up and gave me this course:

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The first “jump” was just one of the brick walls we use as fill, without standards. Frankie was pretty sure that going around was the right answer, so I had to really over-ride this and get him balled up between my leg and hand. I sense more wingless jumps in our future.

Then it was down the single outside- this rode up wonderfully every time, since Frankie was carrying a lovely pace to flow up out of the corner. The short rollback to 3 was tough- I needed to get my left leg on HARD and then straighten with my left rein to get that to work.

Then the bending out over 4 was either a bent 5 stride, or a more direct galloping 4. The first time through I held for 5 and didn’t love it, so the next time I booted up for the 4 and LOVED IT SO MUCH OMG WE HAD FIRE IN OUR STEP.

Then it was down the faux coop- Trainer stacked some cavallettis and put some plywood sheets on them. My job upon landing was to control that left shoulder so that we actually had some straightness to ask for a change.

Then it was up the one-stride and I was honestly thrilled with that. I’ve mentioned before that Frankie tends to back off in combos and needs a ton of support from yours truly. But homeboy must’ve been feeling like a fancypants rockstar, because he galloped right up and carried me through like an absolute professional- even though the oxer out was a big lofty swedish.

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That one in the background. Frankie jump big!

Now for the fun part: it was a bending four strides from the green box down to the barrels. My trainer is a generally nice person, so these barrels were on their sides, with the fake bamboo acting as wings. But she hates me likes to challenge me, so she stood them up and said AIM STRAIGHT.

So I landed off the green fuzzy, locked on…and Francis did a drive by. I’ll be honest, it took us a couple tries to eventually make it over.

But I don’t really count this as a refusal. I genuinely think that Frankie did not realize that he was supposed to jump it. He wasn’t peeking hard or spooking or anything like that, he’s just always gone around the barrels in the ring instead of over. Once we made it over once (with the help of some guide poles), we had zero problem locking on and jumping it like a pro- even after we took the guide poles away. He’s not the fastest thinker in the world, but he is very willing once he understands the game.

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We started trying to get his ears up for the pictures, but AT said “this face is more true to his mood right now.” Poor, long suffering Francis.

Takeaways: we need to practice more wingless skinnies to test our steering! I need to be more active in telling him “yes this is a jump” and he needs to be paying attention enough to say “yes ma’am.”

Another takeaway is to let go and let my horse do his job. He’s so much more educated now and I can trust that education instead of needing to micromanage every step. We are going to be trying some new bits to take advantage of his buttons- remember I mentioned that I didn’t love the slow twist for shows? We’ve got some ideas to play around with so I’ll let you know what we end up using.

I do really wish we had gotten some video from this lesson. Not only did Frankie go SO well, but I had shortened my stirrups a hole. It was a revelation. Everything was better. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of bad habits went away. Like. Guys. The skies opened up and the angels sang. I would love to get a visual to see if it made as much of a difference as it felt like. If nothing else, I felt tons more secure in the tack so it’s for sure a win.

I’d also like to take some official confo shots of Francis soon, maybe this weekend. He got his first clip of the season and honestly AT did such a stupendous job that I want to capture it on camera. He looks like a stud. I also want to do a comparison- we’ve worked so hard on building muscle and developing him, I want to see if there’s a visible difference from last year. I also just want a million pictures of my horse, so sue me.

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His Coggins pic from the day we vetted him, March 2016. I def see a big difference in the shape of his body.

Your turn to share! What are some of the stranger looking jumps you’ve done lately?

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Daybreak Exercises

As part of ramping up to finals, I’m trying to hop in a few extra lessons. The more time I can get my trainer’s eyes on me, the better!

So last week Trainer asked if I wanted to sneak in a weekend lesson. I naturally said, “Of course! As long as it isn’t at 7am or anything crazy like that ha ha ha” you can see where this is going.

Yep. The only time we could fit in was 7am on Sunday.

Like a dutiful idiot, I set my alarm for 5:45am and was bringing Francis in from the field by 6:30 (he’s currently on overnight turnout). He seemed a little confused that he wasn’t immediately getting his breakfast, but was surprisingly snuggly as I was tacking up. Apparently Morning Francis is extra happy.

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I gotta say, the barn is stunning at the crack of dawn.

Despite the early hour, this ended up being a fantastic lesson! It was a private lesson because I was the only one dumb enough to go along with Trainer’s demonic schemes great ideas so we got to focus in on some specific exercises for Frankie.

One of these is bending/counter-bending along with haunches-in/out on a smallish circle. Moving his bum and asking him to bend through his  body gets him connecting so much more solidly to that outside rein. I think part of that connection comes from physically asking his body to step under and respond to the aids, but part of it is mental- it tells him that he is not a trail pony today and he needs to engage. Once we get that connection and engagement in our trot work, the impulsion and pace throughout our canter and coursework improves noticeably.

We also had a great canter pole exercise set up: simply three poles on the ground. They were walked at about 3 strides apart, but slightly different distances. We worked on adjusting our stride in there: 3 strides to 3 strides, 3 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 3 strides. So hard, especially with the different distances between them!

The 3-3 was decent- we had to stay balanced to shorten/lengthen a little based on where we were, but nothing crazy. And the 4-4 was ok too- we just came in a little bouncier and held that shorter stride. The 3-4 was definitely hard- we had to really open up for the 3, but immediately ask to shorten in the second half which meant he had to be super tuned into my aids. And the 4-3 was tough too- we wanted to super-collect in strides 1-2 so stride 4 could be powerful enough to set us up for the 3 strides out.

All of these variations tied in so well with what we’ve been working on lately. The biggest thing is that when we collect and bounce through a turn, it allows me to push to the base instead of pulling to the base. And then suddenly the skies open up and the angels sing and Frankie jumps out of his skin and we land balanced and the world is a better place. So I was glad we got to work on an exercise to a) improve my ability to ask for different stride lengths and b) improve Frankie’s sensitivity to those cues so that I get a reaction more quickly.

On to the jumping! Man, I hate trot jumps. I’m not very good at them. I trotted a few x-rails without stirrups last week and Trainer mentioned that I wasn’t very good at it (she said it with love), and I reminded her that I’m not very good at them with stirrups either. Womp womp. Once we managed to fling ourselves over a crossrail with moderate success we moved on to build up the exercise.

And I LOVED this exercise.

7am lesson

 

So a rollback left turn to the end jump, right turn long approach down to the ivy barrels, left up the corner tree jump, bend left up the brick wall, and right turn across the same end jump, turning left to finish. Jumps were big enough to force an effort from Francis without being intimidating.

The first time was….ok. We ended up getting a little chippy to the ivy barrels since I didn’t keep us straight and packaged, which meant that we got a late change through the turn and the tree jump was a bit unorganized. Brick wall was fine, but I overshot my turn to the end jump and Frankie (god bless him) had to scramble a bit to get to the jump.

I made a really nice mixture of mistakes here- sometimes I held too much to the base, sometimes I kicked too much to the long spot, sometimes I faded left, sometimes I drifted right. I’m non-discriminatory in my bad riding.

So we talked about how to fix it. The main image to keep in my head was keeping Frankie on the tracks- straight laterally and connected between my leg and hand. Keeping that image definitely helped me smooth out our track and get more straightness.

The end jump to ivy worked out great- I picked him up and got him off my left leg through the turn, which let me send him up to the base. Because we were straighter and more balanced, we got an early change and a nicer turn to the tree. Brick wall was good, then I sliced the end jump a little right to left instead of trying to line it up straight. That meant our track from brick to end was smoother, and it meant that Frankie knew he was turning left afterwards. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than before!

While it was only 5 jumps and seems like a fairly simple exercise, this was a great test for us. We had to be able to manage tight turns and long approaches, upright verticals and wide fill, and pay attention to our basics- pace, straightness, and connection. Everything came up correctly when we had our basics covered. Funny how that works.

I would lesson again at 7am in a heartbeat! I didn’t realize how much I missed my private lessons.

I loved being doing by 8am too. I took my time cleaning my tack, went to Dunkin and grabbed coffee and doughnuts for the early bird crew, gave Frankie a super intense bath, and just had some bonding time with my horse. He so clearly thrives on that sort of attention and so do I.

Only two weeks until we’re on site for finals! Getting so excited.

Do you like to ride/lesson early in the mornings?

Return of the Lesson Review

A real, bona fide lesson review! With all the craziness going on lately I haven’t really talked in detail about our lessons as much as I used to. I’m excited to dive in a bit!

We’ve been able to ride in our outdoor pretty much every time lately and it. is. amazing. So much more room to spread out, less congestion in the ring, more options, great footing, I could  go on and on about how much we love this ring. The only minor gripe I have is that when the wind is blowing, it gets harder to hear my instructor calling out instructions. I swear it doesn’t take me that long to halt once I know I’m supposed to. But honestly that’s the only thing I can think of that isn’t amazeballs wonderful.

Frankie warmed up really nicely in this lesson- he got up in front of my leg, stayed pretty light in the bridle, and gave some nice bend through his body. I was trying to stay focused on straightness in my own body to help him out– I know that I get in his way pretty often and I’d like to be less terrible about that.

One exercise that I liked was canter-extend the gait- collect the gait-hand gallop-halt. We have a nice canter- I think it’s Frankie’s best gait naturally, and we’ve been able to get more “jump” in his stride over time- he extends calmly, our collections have gotten much stronger, and he hand gallops quite happily. That halt is HARD though. I’ve mentioned that our downward transitions need work and that was really highlighted here. It’s not that Frankie has anything against stopping (holding still is his second favorite thing, right after eating), but stopping well requires effort and MAHM NOOOO.

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I like to help him out by throwing my upper body from side to side.

We warmed up over a small crossrail, and the only reason I mention this is because Frankie LAUNCHED over it the first time. Like, head between the knees staring at the jump as he popped 4′ in the air. Over the world’s tiniest crossrail. Because that was definitely the scariest biggest thing we’ve ever jumped.

Once we got that out of the way though, he was absolutely flippin’ fantastic. I had a lot more horse under me than I have lately- the cooler temps (it was down to 80F!) definitely helped, but I do think he’s responding well to our conditioning program as well. Some of the tighter spots actually ended up riding really nicely.

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The trick for the first exercise was to slice 1 a little right to left, to bend us out towards the rail.

Our first exercise was a simple trot-in-canter-out bending line at 10 strides. We wanted to shape it enough to let us line both jumps up perpendicularly, while maintaining a direct enough track to get exactly 10. That was definitely tough for me- I’m not great at counting past 7 or 8 in a line and this forced me to emphasize straightness and rhythm.

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This is the crossrail he launched. You can tell how he really hung on to that tension.
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Long course alert!

Next we did the same bending line (in 9 once we started to canter in), up the single on the long side, down the one-stride combo, inside turn to get back around to the end jump, left to continue over the brick wall towards home, up the ivy barrels bending out over natural, red vertical bending out over tree jump.

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Brick wall towards home rode really nicely every time

That dang combo gave me no end of trouble. I would land off of the red vertical and have a strung out horse, and I didn’t work hard enough to wrestle him back into some semblance of a balanced stride. It got moderately better but I need to work harder there.

That inside turn got a whole heck of a lot smoother when I shifted both hands to the inside. That made it a lot more clear to Frankie where exactly I wanted him to go- we all know that he’s happy to do anything as long as I’m clear about what that is.

I hadn’t walked either of those last two lines/Trainer hadn’t mentioned what they should be, but both ended up being sixes, albeit of different stride lengths (a flowing 6 for the ivy-natural, and a more controlled 6 for the red-tree). Frankie listened really well in both places when I asked for him to rate forward and back.

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Our last course was as follows: end jump, left over brick, right over tree; up the combo; down red to tree; up ivy; break to trot and out over the skinny.

That blasted combo gave me just as much trouble in this direction. I had decided I wanted a closer spot in but just kinda….took my leg off and did nothing. BECAUSE THAT’S USUALLY THE RIGHT ANSWER.

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Yeah, doing nothing and letting my horse bail me out is definitely sustainable.

The other tough part here was the trot jump. I already mentioned that I had more horse under me than usual, and so the first time through this it ended up looking like ivy jump-canter-canter-trotWHATNOCANNOT-ittybitty canter-skinny jump-snort because we are very pleased with ourselves.

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I don’t know what this was, but it was not a trot jump.

Yeah, we went back and tried that again- this time with a few actually discernible trot steps that weren’t fading completely left. This was another valuable exercise for us, and again highlighted those downwards transitions.

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It got…better? Even if it still wasn’t quite trotting.

We need to strike a balance between getting Frankie fired up to the jumps, while still tuned in to me and responsive to my cues. We’re pretty good at both separately- we just need to put those pieces together so that we can have snorty happy pony who also knows how to trot in a straight line.

I can always tell when Frankie is thinking hard about the work we’re doing when he starts (1) prancing at the walk (2) asking to canter before I tell him to and (3) getting SUPER round and soft onto the bit and offering a lot of collection. It’s a great feeling to get that sort of mental and physical engagement from him.

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EXCEPT CAN YOU GIVE ME A DANG SECOND TO PICK UP MY REINS YA DINGUS

So areas to focus on: downwards transitions, getting our stride back instead of getting strung out, and generally trying to be better at this whole “riding” thing.

What have you been working on lately?

 

Progression: Jumping

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.

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First time I tried him, March 2016

 

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Our first show together, Loudoun Benefit, June 2016

 

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Our second show, HITS Culpeper, August 2016

 

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Working hard over the winter, November 2016

 

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Playing over the bigger jumps, January 2017

 

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NEVER NOT SHARING THIS PICTURE. First big outing in our new division, HITS Culpeper, April 2017

 

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Warming up at Upperville, 2017

 

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!

Hang Time

Since Frankie and I have started schooling some bigger (to us) jumps, I’ve felt like I have to completely relearn how to ride over fences.

I was used to this motion: legs up, legs down.

Not a lot of arc, and by the time his back feet left the ground we were already coming in for a landing. Frankie doesn’t have a lot of roundness to his jump on a consistent basis (though there is MASSIVE improvement from when we got him), so it was a very flat, steady motion.

Now that the jumps are a bit higher and he has to work a little harder, the motion is more like this: front legs up-back legs up-hang in air-front legs down-back legs come down to push off.

The big difference here in his motion is that his hind legs are leaving the ground while we’re still on our way up, and there is a moment in the air as we “peak.” It is a distinct three-phase motion of takeoff, peak, and landing. The takeoff and peak don’t feel that different, but having his body crest over the top and then shift downwards was mighty disorienting at first. So really the big difference for me has been learning how to ride the “landing” phase.

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Half seat. Then a little less half seat-y.

All of a sudden, I can’t just get into my half-seat and stay there ’til we land. Unless I want to land on his neck every time, and even the most tolerant pony in the world (aka Francis) gets annoyed at that after a while. I have to shift my balance over his so that I can land with my shoulders already up and telling Francis was to do next. No recovery stride to haul myself back in the saddle.

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Usually looking like a sack of potatoes trying to stay over the saddle. See notes below about thigh and core strength.

Guys. This took is taking a lot of work. Having the world’s most tolerant ammy-friendly horse has been an absolute Godsend as I try to sort my parts out. My “recovery time” on landing is one of the biggest things my trainer and I are working on (along with riding to the right takeoff spot, but that is a lifelong struggle).

I won’t pretend to have good advice on how to do this, but here are a few things that have helped me start to get my body in the right place:

  • Heels down. I know, I know, we’ve all known this since we sat on our first pony. But being very conscious of this has helped- dropping my weight down into my heels and using that mental image to keep my leg perpendicular to the ground. I don’t always get this right (as evidenced by pretty much every picture ever), but there is a big difference when I focus on this.
  • Building strength in my thighs. This means lots of no-stirrup work, including no-stirrup half seat. Keeping my heel down helps me keep my lower leg stable and strong, but getting my thighs stronger has helped me keep my entire leg on to hold me in that centered position.
  • Building core strength. This is probably the number one improvement right here- maintaining that increased strength through my core helps SO much as my hip angle changes. When my core is loose, I collapse up the neck on landing. When my core is engaged, I stay over his back. I’m not as completely still and stable as I’d like to be yet, so planks galore to build that strength!
  • Thinking “shoulders tall” with every. single. stride. That needs to stay independent of my hip angle (see below), but keeping this mantra in my head helps me to constantly ~try to~ keep my shoulders facing forwards instead of collapsing up the neck.
  • Increasing flexibility in my hip angle. I don’t exactly mean by doing stretches or anything since my hips are decently flexible already- I more mean expanding the range of angles I use during my riding. This angle used to stay pretty closed as I stayed in a half-seat and then closed a little more over jumps. Now there is SUCH a wider range: slightly closed when I ask for a gallop, more open when I sit back and ask for collection, closed at takeoff, wider for landing. And not only is there a wider range, that range all needs to happen within 0.8 seconds. I’m still getting comfortable with a wider hip angle but Frankie responds well to my seat when I open up like that.
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Hip angle slightly closed as we open stride through a wide turn
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Hip angle opens a bit as I ask him to collect before sending him forward to a single oxer

A big part of the goal here is to make sure I can change my seat as soon as I can upon landing- staying off his back when I need to allow him, but getting in the backseat and driving him when I need to. This needs to be able to happen within a 1-stride combo, not 3 strides out from a jump. So yeah. That landing needs to be tight and balanced and I need to know what I’m asking for as soon as his front feet leave the ground. I should start doing some quick-thinking exercises too!

Like I said before, it does feel like I’m completely re-learning how to jump. I’m making a LOT of mistakes these days- big pats for Francis for truckin’ along while I play with my angles and slowly get stronger.

How have you approached adjusting to the motion of bigger jumps?

My Horse is a Prince and My Life is a Lie

We’ll start out with the part where my horse is a prince and get to the lying later on.

We had our first lesson of the new year! I hadn’t ridden in almost 2 weeks (one brief hack in there doesn’t reeeeally count), but one of our junior riders flatted Frankie around for me while I was out of town. 10/10, would recommend barn rat usage to all people. So the only one feeling flabby and out of shape after the holidays was me!

Naturally, Trainer had me do a decent amount of no-stirrup work. She said “sorry” at first, but I told her to take that back, we both knew she wasn’t sorry. Lots of circles and changing rein and changing the bend helped keep my mind off that oh-so-pleasant burning sensation in my legs and core.

We also played around more with our shoulder-in which has developed very nicely, and then worked on that leg yield exercise I told you about before, where we leg yield diagonally down the long side. I’ll wait here if you want to review the professional diagram I made of that.

This exercise has come a long way! I’ve been able to keep his haunch in off the wall and give little corrections to keep his body straight. I still have to exaggerate my aids a bit, but they get a reaction more crisply and more quickly. My homework is to continue working on our lateral work and get that shoulder and haunch more precisely where I want them. We’re really happy with how well Frankie is retaining and progressing with these movements- he may be solid bone between the ears, but he truly is supremely trainable and wants to please.

No crazy canter exercises in this lesson, just a couple large-ish circles and extension-collection exercises to get us tuned in and listening. He felt absolutely fantastic in his canter work- up and light in the bridle, round over his back, listening well. We kicked it up into a hand-gallop for those extensions but he still came right back to collect. Good pony!

We warmed up over a crossrail end jump a few times going to the right….and every single time we landed the left lead, no matter how strongly I asked for the right in the air. So we cantered it and angled it to ask even harder for the lead, then went back and trotted it again. Bam. Right lead. He just needed a little louder message on that one. Of course, he then proceeded to land the right lead after EVERY jump for the next 5 minutes, but we’re working on it.

We built up our course in pieces, here’s the diagram:

jan_sturns

The first exercise was trot in 1, canter out 2 in a bright five strides. Not much of a story here- we had to be nice and forward to the first jump in order to kick up for the five.

Next was 3-4-5: trot in the end jump, hard left for the yellow, then s-turn to the corner vertical in a balancing 5. The key was looking over 3 and leading with that left rein to get us looking where we were going, and then holding out and shaping to make 4-5 fit in more evenly.

Next we did 6-7-8: canter up the quarter line, bend out in a waiting 5, then down the single gate. The five was a little tight but not terrible when this exercise was done alone, but it got much tighter when this was at the end of the course. Single gate was….a single gate. Not much to say there.

Then the jumps went up and we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Corner vertical bending up the outside in a balancing five (now cantering in), then immediate left over the end jump, hard left over the yellow oxer, s-turn out back over the corner vertical in a shaped five, immediate turn up the quarter line oxer, bending out in a collected five, and ending down the single gate.

Overall, I was very happy with how this rode. We were able to get a nice conservative distance to one, which set us up to rock back for the five. The turn to the end jump came up fairly easily, and once I remembered to look where I was going and start the turn over the jump, the yellow oxer came up nicely too. We shaped out for the five and jumped the left side of 5 to give us a little extra room to get to the quarter line, and sat back for the bending line. And then the single gate continued to just be a single gate. Whatevs.

We did end up doing 4-5-6-7 one more time to practice that turn from the corner to the quarter line- once I got back with my shoulders and sat my butt in the saddle like ze Germans this rode up really powerfully and I could feel Francis jumping the heck out of that green oxer. Of course then I was excited and galloped out in four, but we made it work.

Overall, a fantastic lesson to kick off 2017! We did discuss bumping up to a slow twist- not because we want to slow Frankie down, but because we want a titch more responsiveness for those turns. Now that my legs are stronger and Frankie has developed some of that jumper-fiery-fitness, we’re going to play around so I can be lighter with my hands.

Now on to the whole “my life is a lie” part of the story. As I finished up my lesson, the following conversation ensued:

Me: Thank you so much for a great start to the year! And thank you for not putting the jumps up too high, I’m glad you’re easing me in after the break.
Trainer: …..you realize part of that course was 3’6″, right? You really have no idea how big jumps are, do you?
Me: HAH awesome. Then props to me for not being intimidated by 3’6″. Big progress! Less than a year ago, 3’6″ was the biggest I had EVER jumped, and even that was only once or twice.
Trainer: And look at you now, jumping 4′!
Me: ….you said 3’9″.
Trainer: Well the course overall was set to 3’9″, but some of those jumps were 4′.

So I officially quit. I give up. I completely give up on knowing how big the jumps are. From now on, I will no longer even attempt to estimate what we’re jumping unless we are at a show and someone officially tells me what the deal is. Because clearly I have no earthly idea what’s going on.

Womp womp. Extra big pats for pony for not even blinking and dealing with my ammy mistakes every day ❤

We have another lesson this weekend where Trainer said she would jack the jumps up, and all I want in this world is to get some media from it. Private lessons are great, but it means I haven’t been able to get pics/videos of our rides in over a month and I’d love to be able to review our progress! Maybe I can coerce a barn rat….

My question for you today: How do you get media of your riding when you’re the only one in the ring? I need your tricks!

The Last Lesson of 2016

A short and sweet lesson recap of our last lesson of the year!

This lesson actually ended up being very funny- Frankie kept sneezing over. And over. And over. And OMG I SWEAR YOU’RE FAKING IT NOW BUDDY. Coincidentally, I had over-oiled my reins a little ways back, but thought they were adequately dried out enough to use.

LOL NOPE. I had absolutely no grip on the reins WHATSOEVER. Like, at all. Of course it was Frankie so his only response to the super inconsistent contact was to just get super heavy and long and try to drag me around, but it was definitely annoying to feel the reins slipping through my fingers every time I tried to take a feel.

Of course, this was the day that we practiced a lot of canter in-trot out of a 4 stride line. We quickly realized that this was NOT working without a proper feel, and tied knots in my reins so I could at least have SOMETHING to hold onto. Things improved rapidly after that.

Trainer also had me do my trot jumps this time without reins- it turns out that when you take away my hands, suddenly my leg stays in place and my upper body folds better and I don’t jump ahead and things get magical. So my tentative plan in the show ring is to drop my reins before every fence and put my hands on my hips. Seems like a good plan, yes?

We finished up the lesson by doing a no-stirrups course with the jumps around 3′ ish, as seen here:

dec_nostirrups
Similar setup to last week, just slightly different course

Long approach down the oxer, up the quarter line in a galloping 3, down over the stone wall and rollback between 1 and 6 to come up the red outside vertical, then down the liverpool.

This whole thing rode fantastically! Frankie was really up in front of my leg and locked on to every fence- the rollback rode really powerfully and came up out of stride, and he powered right up to the base of the liverpool. I think riding this without stirrups really helped place me in more of a driving seat which got Frankie more revved up. And you know Frankie. A little revving is just what the doctor ordered.

We decided to end on that note since it rode so well, and chatted for a bit. We discussed how much more educated Frankie is about the contact nowadays and how we can continue to progress that education. We talked about different exercises we can do to keep Frankie fit even when the ground gets harder over the winter. And then Trainer gave me the best birthday present she could have given me.

I mentioned to her that the jumps last week looked pretty big to me, and I was excited that we’re really getting used to the bigger fences. To which she responded, “that’s kinda weird.”

Um. Sorry? I explained that the 3’6″ is quickly becoming more manageable, but sometimes when I first see them I get a bit star-struck and intimidated.

So she explained,”Olivia, the reason I’m surprised that 3’6″ looked intimidating to you is because I’ve had you schooling 3’9″ pretty regularly for a month or two. You never ask about the height so I assumed you knew. Are you sure those jumps were only 3’6?”

So yeah. My birthday surprise was that I’ve apparently been schooling higher than I realized for a while now. Hooray for jump height ignorance!

I’m headed home for Christmas and you may not hear from me before then, so in case I forget to post:

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, your families, friends, and animals!!! Much love to all of you ❤

Eff You Winter: A Tale of Show Prep for a non-Show

But like actually, people. I hate hate HATE being cold. And I hate hate HATE freezing rain. Mostly because freezing rain means shows get cancelled.

Yes, our move-up show has been cancelled due to weather Y U DO THIS TO ME WEATHER GODS.

Honestly though, if the weather is going to be that bad then I’m glad we’re staying home. It’s nerve wracking enough to jump all the big jumps for the first time, I’d rather do it when I’m not also panicked about the trailer sliding off the road and sending Francis to an icy doom. Not that I pictured that at all when I saw the forecast. No way.

So a little disappointed that the show is cancelled but also grateful for the chance to 1. sleep in omg I haven’t slept in for MONTHS it feels like and 2. have a bit more time to prepare for the move up. That can never hurt.

Our lesson this week was under the assumption that we’d be showing, so it was prep time. Assistant Trainer taught so you know it was good. Her style of teaching really works with Trainer’s style so well and I LOVE lessoning with her- I always know that we’re going to do something super challenging and I’ll be majorly sore the next day, but I’ll also walk out of the lesson feeling really accomplished. She won’t sugar coat things when I mess up, but she’s the first to throw a big party when I get something right. Seriously, both my trainers are amazing and I can’t say enough good things about them both.

Anywho, I’ll hop off the love train and actually tell you about our lesson.

Flatwork this time was much more basic, mostly to get us moving and warmed up. Lots of extensions and collections within each gait to get us tuned into each other and adjustable. Frankie started out a little sluggish so my job was to get him moving forward and powerfully first before trying to contain and recycle that energy. Lots of big circles to small circles, serpentines and changing direction to make sure he was moving off my leg and suppling throughout his body.

Warmup was trotting a crossrail a few times which UGH TROT JUMPS ARE SO HARD and why can’t we just canter everything pls. I think they’re getting better- Frankie has figured out that they do actually count as jumps, and I’m trying to wait with my shoulders a bit more. Maybe someday they won’t be terrible.

Then AT put the jumps around 2’9″-3’ish (I think?) to give us a bit of a warmup course, seen here:

dec_liverpool_course

So it was single outside vertical, down the bending line in a waiting four strides, up the single oxer, down the box again as a single, up the one stride combo on the outside, liverpool, and up the quarter line in a GALLOPING three strides.

You read that right. The famous liverpool indeed made an appearance. But I’ll get to that when I get to that.

Single jumps off a long approach are kinda our jam at this point so the first jump came up nicely. Getting to a nice close spot to the box meant sitting back for the four strides was very do-able, and we held out to get a nice wide track up the black oxer. Down the box was another straightforward jump, got some power through the end of the ring to get up through the combo, and then it was a long approach down the diagonal to the liverpool. I sat up, legged on, held my breath, channeled Frankie straight, prepared for a peek or a hard jump….and nothing. He galloped right up to the base and popped over it like any other wide jump. There was no time to celebrate though, because that turn to the quarter line was TIGHT and we had to really dig in out of the corner to make the striding, especially at the lower height.

But then I was done and BEAMING because bucket list item totally checked off! I’m sure we will jump many more liverpools in our career but this was the first time I’ve ever jumped one! Remember that I only started doing the jumpers a year ago, I’m still new at anything that isn’t huntery haha. But seriously, if I needed another reason to love my Francis…he is such a confidence booster and takes SUCH good care of me.

So with my confidence high and my horse warmed up, AT put the jumps up. And up. And up (except the liverpool, she left that around 3’ish). And holy crap my heart kinda went into my throat because those jumps are so freakin big and you actually want us to jump that are you sure this doesn’t seem right maybe we should go back to the 0.65m division for a bit because those look way bigger than 1.10m and now my internal voice is babbling oh god oh god oh god. I’m sure none of them were over 1.10m, they just looked HUGE because our standards are not tall and the ring itself is not big. So yeah, definite nerves. Of course, as soon as I picked up the reins and moved out the nerves disappeared- Francis has that effect on me.

dec_bigjumps
BIG AIRY VERTICALS OMG DO YOU EVEN SEE THAT BLACK OXER ON THE LEFT OMG

AT had me pick up a gallop down the long side to get our energy up before packaging down at the short end for our first approach. We had to work a bit harder to fit the four stride into the broken line, and power up out of the corner to the black oxer. I got Frankie a little too tight to the single box and we popped it a bit, and then I just absolutely mangled the one-stride and had to come back around and try again with more leg. The liverpool came up just as nicely as last time, and the quarter line was another HAULING ASS down the line.

AT’s comment: “Not bad, made some good decisions and some bad decisions, but you look a little starry-eyed at the height. Give him a break and then try again, this time with more gusto and intent.” She was totally right- I was a little intimidated by the height and I let that back me off.

So we tried again. And I didn’t necessarily make better decisions, but this time I kept my leg on and RODE instead of just steering around the course. We still got a few fliers and a few tight spots, but they weren’t as “sticky” this time around because it turns out keeping your leg on really helps support your horse WHO KNEW.

Final comments from AT: “Was this your best coursework? No. But you’re learning that the answer when shit hits the fan is to just keep kicking and GO. So we can work on smoothing things out, but that intent is more there and that’s what we need to see.”

I gotta tell you- I’m thrilled. We managed around a full course at the bigger height including a liverpool and made it happen. Pretty? Not yet. But my horse tried his heart out and jumped the big jumps for me without question. We only had a single rail the whole lesson when I biffed it HARD and to quote AT, “he didn’t even look like a moose over some of those.” Progress! Best jumping moose in the world.

dec_liverpool
And yes, obviously I needed to take a pic with the liverpool to commemorate the occasion.

Haunches-Out and Outside Leg

No political discussion from me, guys. All I’ll say is this- I have seen so many people reaching out to each other today to express love and support, and that gives me a lot of hope.

Let’s talk about happy stuff though- I got to ride my horse for the first time in a week! I can’t even tell you how happy that made me. AND it was a lesson, so we were able to really buckle down and work hard.

We’re continuing our pursuit of stronger lateral work- for my last few lessons, Trainer has had me drop my stirrups and sit the trot so I can really get deep and drape around Frankie more as I ask for these movements. Our shoulder-in has progressed and is much more consistent (though there’s still a ways to go), so we’ve started working more on our haunches-out.

To do this we’re practicing a lot of true counter-bend throughout his whole body- it isn’t enough for me to ask for the bend in front of me (seriously Olivia that’s not bend that’s just crooked). We’ve been doing circles on the counter-bend and asking him to push his haunches to the outside and it’s hard!! Frankie is eager to please, but making him move his body in these new ways is tough for him, and he generally tries to evade by speeding up. It’s taking a lot of core strength to pick him up and say, “no friend, we move sideways now with tiny powerful steps.” We got a couple good efforts from him last night, and we’re going to keep working to develop his sensitivity to my leg and ability to isolate his front and hind ends.

Our canter exercise involved a lot of circle work: canter a large circle, BALANCED sitting trot small circle, canter large circle, BALANCED canter small circle, repeat. When he stayed round and balanced and up off my hand, this worked well. When I let my leg get weak, he decided that breaking to a giant trot was easier than continuing a collected canter. Frankie really is such a tattle-tale: he will put in exactly as much effort as I put in.

My key takeaway here was to make sure my outside aids were present and pushing him around. I needed that inside leg to shape the circle, but he needed that outside leg to push his body around and channel the energy around the turn. And at all times, I need to sit up and get deep in my seat- Frankie needs that support right now and he doesn’t get that when I hover up out of my tack.

Then the jumping part! We warmed up a couple times over a little vertical off a diagonal turn, focusing on finding the right track out of the corner and channeling him straight to the base. Once we were feeling that, we started building up our course:

nov_bending

Our first exercise was 7 to 2 in a bending 7 strides. This was still pretty much part of our warmup, but Frankie was nice and forward and responsive so this came up nicely without having to go back and make any fixes.

Next was 1-2-3a-3b-4. Outside vertical, end-ish jump, four forward strides to the oxer into the combo, one stride to the itty bitty skinny box out, hard right over the other end-ish jump. The first jump came up nicely- we motored out of the corner and homeboy carried a nice pace up and over- then I needed to hold that outside leg to push him across 2. The four stride was a bit gallop-y, but that set us up for a decent combo. Luckily Frankie is super point-and-shoot, so the skinny was very straightforward for him. Then it was lots of right leg to push him out the the corner and give us more space to make the turn to 4.

Next part: 5-6-7-8. Diagonal vertical, rollback over outside (going between 2 and 8), back up the white gate, and bending out over the wall in a forward bending four. I had to look through that rollback so we didn’t get sucked out to the wall, and motor up out of that turn. Then again- we had to motor up out of the rollback to the gate. Then it was holding my outside aids in the bending- left leg to push him over on the track, and left hand to straighten him out once it was in view.

Then we put it all together! 1-2-3a-3b-4-5-6-7-8. The only different part here is 4-5, which was a bending 4. Nothing crazy there as long as I landed looking through my turn to set us up for the rollback.

nov_wall
This was the hilarious last jump on course. Pic was taken from Frankie’s back so perspective is a little off, but this was about 3′. I giggled when I saw it.

Overall I was happy with this course. Some takeaways:

  1. Ride the frick up out of the corner. Yes, we need to package and balance into our turns. But then it’s time to hit the gas and get him to dig in and power out of the turns up to the jump. When he has that power, we can make pretty much any distance work.
  2. Outside leg 5ever. Two legs, two hands. All the time. Outside aids are what get him straight, and straight means power.
  3. Use our power to push across the jumps. Yes, even from the short tight spots. This was such a noticeable difference- when he had a bit of fire in his step, he jumped so much better, which allowed me to maintain a stronger position and land galloping.
  4. On that note- land galloping when we can. Obviously if there’s a combo or set striding we have to recover quickly off the jump and balance, but when possible we want to land and immediately rev the engine back up. That way we don’t have to build our pace and power back up from scratch every time.

I really feel like we’re making great progress- sometimes I get discouraged by how much difficulty we (mostly I) have with certain exercises, but then I realize that these exercises are much harder than what we’ve done in the past. Of course we’re going to struggle more, this is difficult stuff! I’m so proud of how far and how quickly Frankie has developed a lot of skills that are new to him, and it’s getting me really excited for our future together.

And lucky for me, work has slowed down enough that I can get back to my usual routine of riding 6x/week! Frankie might not be thrilled about the extra work, but I sure am.

What are some exercises you use to develop haunches-out?

Nice and Simple

JK LOL NOTHING IS SIMPLE EVER

Since Trainer and Assistant Trainer were in Kentucky for the RRP last week (they got 4th and 9th in the 2’6″ Hunter division out of >70 horses! Yay sweet baby TBs!), I was able to fit in a make-up lesson over the weekend. And yes, I’m sore.

We started by flatting around in the outside ring since it was hotter than Hades, but Frankie was a bro about handling the heat. There was a fun groundpole exercise set up with a lot of options:

trotpoles

We started out by trotting straight through down the long side- the goal was to stay super duper straight and bouncy through them, instead of letting the slant force us to drift left or right. I needed to keep my shoulders back and half-halt, and channel through more strongly with leg and hand.

Then we went through all swervy- doing a shallow serpentine down the long side through the “channels” created by the poles. This was a tough one! The key for us was sitting Frankie down on his butt to collect and counter-bending through all those shallow turns. If I didn’t have strong enough outside aids, we got really swervy and overshot a lot.

Next, Trainer put the pairs of poles together to make 4 canter poles set at diagonals down the long side. The catch- they weren’t really set at a real stride length. It forced us to focus on a truly bouncy, adjustable canter so that we could shorten or lengthen as needed to make it through the poles.

So hard! But I’m happy to say that our canter is coming along really nicely, and we were eventually able to bounce on through there with an energetic, collected canter. It was super tricky though to stay straight and not fall in at the end without swapping out, especially to the right- Francis loves himself his left lead.

Then it was time to jump!!! We warmed up over a crossrail and then started doing separate pieces of our course. There were only 6 jumps in the ring, so I knew it would be a simple course HAHAHAHAH PSYCH NO WAY.

simplecourse
I promise I will explain

Our first exercise was 1-2-3: up the single diagonal, roll back around over the green end jump, and gallop out over the vertical in the combo in a forward 4 strides. Staying nice and straight into the corner after 1 helped give the room to make the turn to 2, and we had to hit the gas and gallop the final stride to 2 so we could keep rolling out over the vertical on the wall.

Next was 4-5-6a-6b-7: outside vertical, down the diagonal, up the combo in one stride, and down the other single diagonal. Not much to say here- we had to rev up out of the corner and ride strongly to 5, the combo came up nicely, and then waiting with my shoulders to get to the base of 7.

After that, we did 8-9-10-11-12: outside vertical, right hand turn to the end jump in 4 strides, back over the outside vertical, then diagonal jump to diagonal jump in a SHORT 2 strides. I needed to power my canter up out of the corner to 10, but surprisingly the 2-stride rode fantastically- we sliced 11 a bit and then sat back hard to fit the two in, but Frankie was super chill about it.

Then we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6a-6b-7-8-9-10-11-12. Who says you can’t make a 13 effort course out of only 6 jumps?! At this point most of the jumps were set to 3’3″-3’6″ish (I think, we all know I’m terrible at judging fence height, but these looked decently big to me), and the oxer out of the combo was definitely the biggest.

Guys. Frankie is such a bro. There were really good pieces and then there were sloppier pieces, but Frankie gave me EXACTLY what I asked for every step of the way. I literally went “woohoo!” over the oxer in the combo since it felt like we were jumping the moon. And proud moment- Frankie had a bit of a stumble about 2 strides out from the final 2-stride and I let the reins slip so he could recover. In the past it would’ve taken us a while to regroup and I would’ve circled, but instead I just kept my leg on and supported him to the base, and the combo rode perfectly. With no reins.

We did go back and come down the single outside vertical a few more times so I could practice riding more strongly and actively to the base, and when I finally got it right I could feel Frankie stretch and use his neck better, and Trainer said he used his whole body over it.

Overall, I really loved getting to do a bigger course. Frankie jumps more strongly once the jumps hit around 3’6″ and that helps my position IMMENSELY- it’s so much easier to hold myself up when he gives me that little *push* out of the saddle. It’s also much easier to see my spots to the bigger jumps, and I feel like I can really gallop Frankie up to the base.

I may have trouble walking the next day because my legs and abs are sore, but that just means I’m actually working my muscles properly! My friend said she got some video, so hopefully she can send that along soon for me to share with you guys 🙂

Do you have any tricks for setting a challenging course with limited number of jumps?