Freddie the jumper

I flatted Freddie in a dressage saddle last Friday morning. This particular saddle is a Wintec that’s on loan from Richal’s sister. It’s a nice enough saddle, but way too slippery and way too small. However, it does help me keep my legs and seat in a more appropriate place for dressage, so in that way, it’s a vast improvement over doing dressage in my cross-country saddle. The only notable thing about Friday’s ride was that Freddie cantered an entire lap around the indoor arena without bucking. Y’all, I just about fell off, I was so excited.

dressage wut

Since the Fred and I have been dressagin’ exclusively on our early-morning rides, I thought we could both use a little change in routine over the weekend. Johnny came to the barn and we set up four little crossrails in the outdoor arena. Johnny also assisted in grooming Fred; he brushed her mane and tail and commented that she looked like a big dork because her super-thick mane parts down the middle.

Johnny is the best.

Freddie was super riled-up and raring to go. She spent a few minutes jigging around the indoor before we went outside, where she walked pretty calmly for most of one lap before jigging some more. I just about had to stand on her head to get her to stop.

I mean, she is basically Will Smith at this point.

I settled her onto a big circle and got her to walk quietly in both directions for a few minutes before asking for a trot. Surprisingly, she trotted beautifully all around the arena, circling and changing directions like she was an old pro. 

I trotted her over all the crossrails several times and was impressed by how well she behaved. She was initially a little hesitant, but with some leg and a cluck for encouragement, she hopped over all the jumps without a problem. She improved as she went- she felt far more confident by the end of our ride. Johnny dutifully reset the few rails we knocked; I was pleased that Freddie didn’t scare herself knocking them down, or get spooked by Johnny resetting them. (Gina could learn something here…) 
And, get this y’all: little baby Freddie cantered away from 90% of the jumps without bucking! Hooray! Toward the end of the ride, she bucked a couple of times coming off a jump. It felt like she just had so much momentum going that she didn’t quite know what to do with it all upon landing. I am very optimistic that as she becomes stronger and more balanced, she will stop bucking. 
Face of a champion.

Maybe baby Fred and I really will have a good show next month!

A week of firsts for Carson

First, thank you to everyone who’s chimed in with advice and opinions on the wedding posts! It’s helpful to have so many perspectives!

Onto the fun stuff:

Tuesday, I was itching for something to do, so I headed out to Richal’s barn and immediately set up $900 Facebook Pony‘s zigzag jumping exercise. I set the two end jumps as small crossrails, the middle two jumps as ~2’3 verticals, and had some barrels as standalone jumps off to the sides of the zigzag.

I tacked up Carson, who was much more motivated to move forward in the outdoor arena. He’s a big, heavy boned, warmblood-type Thoroughbred and is a much different ride from nimble, speedy Moe or dainty Gina. Carson feels powerful. His turning radius is approximately equivalent to that of a Mack truck, so the rollbacks were difficult for us. However, he was very eager and willing to go- that’s never a bad quality!

I convinced his owner to get on him and pop him over some fences- she is a dressage rider for sure, but she’s a good sport (and good rider) and put Carson through the exercise with very little trouble. After she’d gotten him through a few times, I raised one of the verticals to a solid 3′. I told her if she kept her leg on and kept him straight, he’d sail over it without a problem. On the first approach, Carson ducked out to the left, but his owner admitted she hadn’t been very committed to going over. On her next approach, she was much more confident in where she was going, and he stepped over it like an old pro!

Just jumping like a good event horse should.

I was absolutely tickled that he had zero qualms about going over, as he’d never been asked to jump anything bigger than about 2′ until a month ago.

Yesterday, Richal invited me to go on a trail ride at a nearby lake with her, Carson’s owner, and a couple of her eventing friends. We arrived at the lake just after noon, ate a quick lunch, and headed out on the trail around 1 PM.

I was on Carson, who’d never been on a trail in his life. He was curious without being spooky and fearlessly led the way for the first half mile or so. I was relaxed and had him on a loose rein while I turned around and chatted with one of the eventers about foxhunting. All of a sudden, he gave a mighty snort, leaped straight up, and somehow teleported sideways. I fell off in total surprise while Carson trotted down the trail. He was eventually chased down (apparently, he just kept trotting along as if he had some destination in mind), but not before he destroyed his reins. One of the eventers offered her curb rein, so I was back in action before long. 
The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful- Carson got belly-deep in the lake (on his first time encountering water!), he didn’t mind when the other horses crowded around him, he was content to trot along the trail when everyone else was trotting, and he plodded over rocks, fallen trees, and plowed through branches, sticks, and vines.
Bringing up the rear on the road.

Riding along the lakeshore.

Playing in the water with his pals Diamante and Andy.
Left to right: new friends Linda & Rio, me & Carson, Richal & Diamante,
Audrey (Carson’s owner) & Andy
Map of the ride from the GPS tracker app.

It was definitely a fun time and I was happy to meet some more eventers! (I was beginning to think they didn’t exist here.) I’m proud of Carson- from jumping big jumps to handling the trail, he was a superstar this week. Onto cross country next week (hopefully)!

Dispatches from “Modern Showjumping”

A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of a book titled Modern Showjumping by one Count Ilias Toptani.

I’d never heard of Count Toptani, so I did a little reading on him before starting the book. He was a member of the Albanian royal family who competed as an international showjumper in the 1940s & 1950s. He also coached South American showjumping teams to success in the same era. He was frustrated with the typical design of English saddles, which he felt were too bulky and placed the rider in a terrible position to jump. So Count Toptani redesigned the English saddle: a lightweight (9 lbs), narrow-waisted saddle with the stirrup bars recessed inside the saddle tree. His influence in saddle design is still seen in today’s close contact saddles and the Count Toptani MkII and MkV are still in production. You can find the saddles, and the whole fascinating story of the man’s saddle crusade on this website.
Modern Showjumping was originally published in 1954 and revised in 1972. I have a copy of the revised edition, printed in 1973. 
The contents of the book are fascinating, and I feel Toptani’s advice is sound. Here are some highlights:
“Every young horse needs to be taught respect for man. Respect it can get only if correctly treated- with kindness when good and with a little harshness when spiteful. Young colts are just as spiteful and mischievous as young boys and quite as nasty- if they can get away with it.” (p. 39)
“We must always bear in mind that neither young nor old horses love man. It is a popular fallacy that horses often love their masters- only dogs will do that and no other animal I know of. The horse just about ‘tolerates’ man, if trained correctly and broken in with patience. The horse truly loves only three things: to eat, to sleep and to roll happily on a dunghill after careful grooming!” (p. 39)
“I observed earlier that the horse does not need to be a perfect haute ecole horse before starting to learn to jump, but like the rider, it must have elementary dressage training before being taught anything else.” (p. 45)
“This, in a nutshell, is the whole theory of modern show jumping:

(1) Remember that you are only a passenger, so be as little of a burden as possible.

(2) It is the horse that is jumping, not you, so let it jump freely at the speed it requires.
(3) Let the horse decide when it has to take its forelegs off the ground and jump. Never try to show it when to jump- the horse knows better than you do.” (p. 50)
“The best thing is to ride, ride boldly and with decision, give the horse encouragement and the necessary speed to get over the obstacle and not bother about when or how the horse is going to do it. Remember, horses have horse-sense and four strong legs of their own.” (p. 55)
“The worst thing a rider can possibly do is to slow down his horse.” (p. 95)
“I admit that at first it was most difficult to make the riders see my point when I introduced this new saddle. Practically all insisted that any old saddle was good enough for a good rider and that a good rider did not need such a ‘sissy’ contraption to win an event! This attitude was naturally too stupid to bother with…” (p. 133)
“The indicated bit for a show jumper is the snaffle with a drop noseband. Personally, I prefer a soft flexible rubber snaffle to an ordinary one.” (p. 145)
“To my mind the moment a horse needs a standing martingale to get its nose down it no longer has any business in a show ring. It should either be in the manege or in a vegetable cart!” (p. 147)
“Moreover, if the horse needs a standing martingale, it is entirely your fault and the horse is being penalized by your mistakes. My advice is: if the horse is not entirely ruined, take this terrible contraption off and throw it away; take your horse back into the manege and start working it properly by sitting correctly and using your legs as they should be used.” (p. 148)
“If you want to enjoy riding and jumping it is essential to remember the following points:
Never rush the training of your horse.
Never brutalise your horse.
Never try to teach your horse something you don’t know yourself.
Never lose your patience- a horse does not reason like you but like a horse!
Never rely on luck and hope for the best.
Never try to place your horse at a jump.
NEVER try to overcome the efforts of your wrong seat and lack of training by short cuts. Take your horse back into the manege and start again. It will pay in the end.” (p. 150)
Count Toptani also has advice for training the aspiring rider, which includes a great deal of flat work before tackling fences. Count Toptani would like riders to be able to perform an “around the world” movement (you know, where you sit on the horse and turn 360 degrees) at the canter before they even think about jumping, along with a variety of other exercises designed to develop an independent seat, hand, and leg.
He also has advice on training horses to jump and conditioning them. He recommends an hour of slow walking, trotting, and cantering every day in a small arena (or manege, as he calls it) with no reins. As for jumping? As long as you don’t make a big deal of it and reward the horse generously, you will eventually have a lovely show jumper.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in jumping. While I’m not sure that I’ll succeed at performing around the world while cantering, Count Toptani has inspired me to try!

Three fence course

Still from the video; we are possible a little far to the right!

Yesterday, I dragged all three of my jumps out and set up a course for Gina. There was one 18″ crossrail and two 2’6 verticals. (I like to be able to jump fences in either direction, which is why I stick with verticals. And I also only have 3 sets of standards.)

Blue arrows/lines are the first half; green are the second.

Gina warmed up beautifully, walking, trotting, and cantering quietly on a long rein. This is a far cry from a year or two ago when she’d freak out at the sight of ground poles! We trotted over the crossrail a couple of times with no refusals! Is this thing on? Gina jumped without hesitation or refusal! I almost called it quits right there, but I’d spent a solid 15 minutes lugging jumps around, so we continued on.

The verticals were a breeze; we had mostly good distances and I managed not to duck as hideously as I do with Moe. There was one very long spot to a vertical that made me grateful I remembered how to slip my reins and not catch my horse in the mouth! (Thanks, Moe!)

Since we were totally in the zone, I perched my phone on a barrel that was doing double-duty as a support for a standard that’s missing a foot. I managed to get some video proof of The G jumping stuff like it isn’t even a big deal. I’ll spare y’all the whole video, as it’s 4+ minutes of me fiddling with the camera, walking Gina, and swearing when we hit a nasty spot and I almost went off to the side.

I knew you could do it, Gina! That’s why I bought you in the first place, you wretched creature!

Now, here’s the question: Take Gina to the event derby at The Woodlands on June 15, or take her to the Sport of Kings Challenge for dressage and jumper classes at Remington Park June 22? Both are about 2 hours away; they’ll also cost about the same. I feel like Gina is equally reliable (or unreliable) for either show. I’m kind of leaning toward the event derby, as I know Gina enjoys cross-country and it won’t require me to braid. (And who am I kidding? I like cross-country better, too!)

Moe the jumping machine

Both horses had their regularly schedule trims today. The farrier discovered a small bruise on Gina’s right hind heel; it’s nearly healed, but he recommended I give her a few days off anyway. So I embarked on a jumping adventure with Moe.

The part of the property I typically use as a jumping area is being used for a wedding next weekend. Setup starts Wednesday, so I figured I’d get in a jump school before I hauled my jumps elsewhere.

The jumps were set up nearly identically to the way they were when I last schooled Gina over a small course, except instead of a 4 stride line, it was a 2 stride line. I had the isolated vertical set as a crossrail with a pole on top at about 2’7. One of the jumps on the line was at 3′, the other at 2’9.

“JUMPZ, DERP, I WAS MEANT TO STEEPLECHASE”

Moe was acting totally bonkers while we warmed up; he refused to trot and would only walk and canter. “Canter” is a term I’m using loosely, as it was a hand gallop at its slowest point and a nearly-out-of-control “I just came off the track yesterday” gallop at its fastest.

While Fruitcake got his willies out, I attempted to use the neckstrap I’d finally remembered to affix to my horse. I have a terrible habit of over-releasing. I like to think this is a better alternative than constantly hitting my horse in the mouth by not releasing, but it makes a lot of things difficult. Turning in the air. Turning rapidly after a jump. You get the idea. The neckstrap is an old belt; I practiced reaching forward and grabbing it while we were zooming round at Mach 10. It went okay.

I took him over the isolated vertical a few times before recruiting the farrier’s wife to take a video of us jumping and running around like the maniacs we are. One of my favorite things about Moe is that I never worry about if he’s going to go over a jump. He’s very reliable. So over the vertical, I concentrated on staying out of his way, grabbing the neckstrap, and finding a distance. It went pretty well; we had good distances every time. Twice, they were spot-on. Once, we were long, but I saw it, took it, and things were fine.

Now, of course, as soon as someone was recording our ride, I forgot how to ride. Moe forgot he knew any speeds other than light-speed.

“WHEE JUMPING WHEE!”

We took the vertical nicely, took a very long turn to the line, and promptly had the ugliest distance ever to the first jump. He pulled it with his hind legs; whether that is from our hideous approach or because I did something like sit on him in the air, I don’t know. I’ll have to watch the video again. We squeezed a very awkward two strides into the line, Moe wrenched around like a hooked fish over the second jump, and we landed without incident.

I sent him on to the vertical again. He enthusiastically galloped around, ignoring my requests for a turn, until he belatedly realized “Oh, what? OH! Pulling on the right rein means turn right!” We took a decent distance to it and managed to slow down to a walk within half a mile of landing. Success?
I’ve apparently forgot how to jump. At least the horse remembers.
I didn’t want to keep the farrier’s wife waiting around taking videos while I attempted to get a few less ugly jumps in, so I thanked her profusely, stuck my phone in my boot, and took Moe around a couple more times. We improved on the line and made better turns before we called it quits. 
I think Moe would have happily jumped a dozen more times, but yours truly was sweating bullets and desperately needed to use the ladies’ room/stall. He cooled out quickly, got brushed, smothered in fly ointment, and kicked out in the pasture. 
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that fearless jumping horse is 19. Shouldn’t the arthritis be kicking in now?