Success Is A Six-Inch Jump

We jumped this. Oh yeah.

Despite the oppressive heat, I managed to ride Gina twice last week (Monday and Friday). We put in some nice dressage work, concentrating on shoulder-ins and lateral movements. We also managed to get around our little jump course again in the opposite direction. G wasn’t very pleased about going the other way; at first, Anne and I were a bit confused. After thinking on it a bit, Anne suggested it’s probably because of the turn from fence 3 to 2 (remember, we’re going over the fences in reverse order).

We approached fence 3 on the left lead, but over the pole, I started to look for fence 2 and shift my weight, asking for the right lead. G had a bit of a fit and popped her left shoulder out, threw her head up, and generally acted like a brat. She didn’t refuse to go over the pole, or run out, or have a huge blow up, though. I consider it a success. We took the tricky turn a couple more times and both she and I settled down and rode it with a minimal amount of fuss. It’s easy for me to choke up on the reins and try to muscle her around, but G isn’t the sort of horse that takes kindly to that sort of treatment. Riding her is a give and take on both our parts.
Last week we also had a very pleasant ride over the ‘jump’ pictured at the top! I couldn’t be more pleased with that. Two months ago, this combination of standards and one pole propped up six inches would have thrown Miss G into a frenzy of backing up, leaping four feet into the air, and/or rearing. Last week? Trotted over it without batting an eye. This is progress, people, one six-inch fence at a time.
I also rode Monday and set up a less twisty pole course. It went swimmingly, with Gina trotting and then cantering around it eagerly. I think we’re almost to setting up tiny crossrails. Almost. Another victory on Monday: Anne, a self-described weenie, hopped aboard G for her cool-out! Anne and Gina are a nice-looking pair and both seemed happy with the ride. 
I’m going out of town tomorrow through next Wednesday; Johnny and I are visiting Milwaukee with one of my collegiate friends. G gets to enjoy a few days off, but then it’s back to the grind. There’s a dressage schooling show at the end of July that I sort of have my eye on…

Riding Against The Wind

Oklahoma is a windy state. That lyric from Oklahoma! about how the wind comes sweeping down the plain is absolutely accurate. It’s usually a minor annoyance, only noticed when I’m driving my SUV on a highway or attempting a jog. (Have you ever jogged into the wind? It seriously saps any motivation and energy you may have had.)

Today, however, the wind whipped at a ferocious 30 miles per hour, making riding nearly impossible and certainly unpleasant. Here are some tips when battling the wind while attempting to ride a horse:

  • Heave your saddle pad, riser pad, and saddle onto your horse all at once. Your horse will not like this, but it will like the alternative of having the saddle pad blown off even less. 
  • Buy your instructor a megaphone. This will enable you to hear things like “Sit on your butt!” and “Give the inside rein! GIVE IT! NOW!” clearly. This is important.
  • Sit quietly while your horse has a minor panic attack over plastic bags dancing along the rail. Think to yourself “Where did these plastic bags come from? Why are they here?!” and resolve to pick up plastic bags after ride. (Note: they will have disappeared by time you dismount.)
Wind aside, we had a great ride this morning. G warmed up well and wasn’t fazed by plastic bags after seeing one or two. She didn’t seem to notice the “jump” course I’d set up. 
There are ground poles here, I swear.
Here’s a map of the “course”. 

I think she was a bit surprised when I trotted her toward the first pole, but she went over it without a problem. Turning to the second, I think she was really surprised and popped her right shoulder out and danced away from it. We quietly circled, approached it again, and continued. Pole 3 saw G pop her left shoulder out, so I simply circled and did the first three “jumps” again. G was collected and cool as a cucumber, so we continued on through our course and performed it beautifully. We went around once more at the trot, and then we were ready to canter.

I half-expected her to explode into a frantic gallop after the first pole, but Gina took it nicely as you please. The turn to the second pole was fairly sharp, and on Anne’s advice, I rode it as if it were a 20 meter circle. I’ve decided this is how I’m riding every turn in a jump course from now on, because instead of diving for the “jump”, we approached it on a smooth, continuous arc. G broke into a trot around the curve, but I didn’t push her for the canter until we’d cleared pole 3. It was smooth sailing after that. We did the course twice at a canter and Gina was calm, on the bit, attentive, and eager to do her job. Anne commented that G looked as if she was really enjoying herself.

I think G felt great- no hesitation, no fits, no anxiety. She isn’t the kind of horse that will give you a nice ride unless you ride her well. I could feel myself making conscious choices about how I would set her up for these poles and really focusing on riding her to every fence. As any of my Pony Club friends can attest, this is something you’re told as an eventer before every cross-country round. Ride every fence. It means don’t get tired or lazy. Don’t leave all the work to the horse. Help your horse. Tell him where he needs to put his feet, where he should take off, if he needs to lengthen or shorten his stride. Give him a confident ride, because at huge scary drop into water or the weird log going into the woods, he needs that confidence. Your confidence and skill are what will get you around that course. Riding Gina is a constant exercise in riding every fence- or in this case, every step. She isn’t a horse that will give you anything, unless you ask correctly and pleasantly. That’s not always the most fun horse to ride, but it’s definitely the most rewarding!

More conditioning is coming up on Wednesday, and this course in the opposite direction! on Friday. Excitement!

Jump, Er, Ground Pole Course

G’s been doing beautifully with ground poles lately. There’s no more fear or hesitation when she approaches them, and I think she’s beginning to enjoy stretching her neck and back while walking or trotting over them. I’m pleased with her progress.

While I believe it’s still too early to reintroduce jumps, I want to keep Gina challenged. I don’t want any more of last week’s bored, sour attitude. Anne suggested something I think is a great idea: ground poles laid out as a jump course. Gina will have to negotiate corners, perform lead changes, and shorten and lengthen her stride as necessary without the stress of actual jumps. It’ll be easy for me to give a forward, positive ride. I hope she’ll enjoy the exercise!

Here’s the course I’m going to set up tomorrow morning:

It’s a very simple hunter course that I think will bolster her confidence and make her think about what she’s doing. If it’s too easy for her, it should be simple enough to change, given that we’ll just be using ground poles!

I’m really excited about this idea. Here’s to a good ride in the morning!

Conditioning, Ground Poles, and Heat

View from the top. 🙂

After Monday’s blow up, I thought it best to give G a positive ride before attempting anything remotely resembling a jump. I saddled her up Wednesday evening and set off for a nice, long conditioning ride. The equestrian center has a huge hayfield where I frequently school a couple of cross-country jumps, but it’s currently waist-high. It’s also full of holes. Not the best combination. We settled for a large, flat grassy area behind one of the barns and had a lovely ride. G felt strong and energetic and eager to work. We did a five-minute walking warm up, staying nice and loose before moving to seven minutes of trotting. We took a two minute walk break and then picked.up a canter for seven minutes.

This is where I must briefly digress into a discussion on G’s awesomeness. Most horses I’ve competed on are total psychos when it comes to cantering around in a grassy area with a rider in two point. Darling Moe (my TB gelding), for example, gets more and more excited and as a result, gets faster and faster until he’s having flashbacks of the track. G, on the other hand, picks a nice forward pace and sticks with it. I can settle into two point, give her a loose rein, and enjoy a nice ride. It’s pretty deluxe.

We cooled out after our canter work because the heat index was in the 100s. G had a nice hose down and a good roll. She cooled out nicely, so it seems she’s getting in better shape. Hooray!

I got up at the crack of dawn Thursday to ride before the sun heated things up too much. Anne met me at 7:30, and after a beautiful warmup, we got going on some trot poles. G walked over them in a very relaxed way, but fell apart at the trot. She was anxious and unhappy, but went over them a few times. She finally relaxed a little bit by the fifth or sixth time trotting. I’m taking this as a good sign. We still have a long way to go, though.

G’s had the weekend off since it’s been wretchedly hot. I’ll drag myself out of bed early a few times this week to beat the heat for sure; oh, summer. How I hate you.

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