Maybe G Does Like Jumping

Last Tuesday was the most successful day of jumping we’ve had yet. I’m just so pleased. Anne set up three jumps on a serpentine for us- the first was a set of standards with three poles set carefully on the standards’ bases (we don’t have any jump cups), the second was hay bales, and the third a legitimate crossrail propped up by two muck buckets (sometimes you have to get creative). I’m lucky the outdoor arena is so big; it really facilities great jumping exercises! Gina was a doll over all of the jumps- there was a strange moment over the hay where I just couldn’t get her attention and she decided it was a good idea to start pooping one stride out. It was an awkward jump, but I was extremely pleased she took it at all! This was the horse that wouldn’t jump anything two months ago, and now she’s taking fences even when she’s in a less-than-idea spot! Hooray! The best part: at no point did I feel like peeing myself! Progress.

After our third round of the serpentine, G started to feel a little tense. She was sucking back and doing this weird, pogo-stick sort of canter. Anne encouraged me to let her hand gallop around the arena without taking any jumps, and I tried. Gina had apparently had enough for one day and refused to canter or gallop on, deciding instead to do weird stuff like dive through corners and look at the sky.
Anne stopped us and had me pick up a collected canter. We continued with several minutes of canter work, doing a lot of transitions. Gina chilled out and did a nice job of holding herself together during the exercises. I was really pleased with how she came back so quickly after jump work. Lots of horses I’ve ridden just sort of those their minds and get super excited over fences- not my sensible girl!
This Tuesday included a bit of jumping. G and I set out at the crack of dawn (6:30 AM) for some gallop sets in the hay field. After warming up, we did three gallop sets of 5 minutes each. She felt strong and solid, despite swapping leads every two or three minutes. I think she’s figured out how to avoid getting too tired during these activities. Clever mare. We finished up with three jumps over the little log fence, which went beautifully. She didn’t hesitate at all and I felt very good about our ride. 
So has Princess G gotten over her thing with jumps? Maybe. I’m planning to get some jump cups soon so we can put a real stadium fence up and see what happens. And of course, cross-country schooling is something I’d like to do soon. But for now, I’m going to take these successes and run.

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!

Misadventures in Jumping

It’s official: Gina hates stadium jumps. Her performance today left no doubt in my mind about her opinion of jumps constructed of poles. Since G had recently been going fairly well over cross-country obstacles (hay bales and barrels), I decided to try stadium jumping again today. The last time we attempted this, Gina had a conniption and ended up leaping four feet over an 18″ crossrail after refusing to even walk over ground poles. With some positive work in the field, it seemed like a good time to reintroduce regular jumps. I set up two small crossrails in a two-stride.

First, the positive: she put in some fantastic work during our warm-up. She was relaxed, happy, flexing and bending. I couldn’t be more pleased.
Once she saw the jumps and realized what my plan was, she went totally bonkers. She refused to trot over them. I asked nicely. She refused again. I popped her on the hindquarters with my bat. She launched herself into the air over the jump and promptly stopped when she realized another one was coming up. I flew off and she galloped away. Sigh. (Note: I have fallen off G more times in the last four months than I have fallen off Moe in the last four years.) Anne and I wrangled G in, I hopped back on, and put her to the tiny crossrail again. And that’s when the rearing started. It wasn’t big, scary Lone Ranger-style rearing, thank goodness. It was more of a “lift front legs off ground two feet repeatedly” rear, but it was terrible behavior nonetheless. We circled in tiny circles and I couldn’t get her to canter more than a stride before she stopped and started her rear/hop again. Jeez.
Seeing few other options, I took her back to our warm-up arena while Anne went to grab a longe line. That’s when things got weird. Gina totally chilled out, cantered around beautifully collected, and even managed a couple of flying lead changes. Like, instantly. She could still see the jumps, but once I stopped asking her to actually deal with them, she was fine. Anne set the crossrails down and I managed to get Gina to walk over the now-ground poles in both directions with little incident. Then I dismounted and longed her over both jumps set as crossrails. She was totally fine with this arrangement and even looked excited to go over the fences. So the problem appears to be having a rider on her back. Which is really inconvenient. 
After talking with Anne, I think we’re going to start G back at square one with jumping. Treat her like she doesn’t know how to jump at all. Get her over ground poles until she’s confident that I’m not going to ride her like a psycho or hurt her. Then add a crossrail. And another. And so on. I hope this will restore her faith in the ability of humans to not ride like idiots. 
What do people do to horses???