Remember how I mentioned it’s been hard to get any real consistency going lately? Well. Case in point: when I checked my planner to figure out how many lessons I’ve had in the last couple of months, I realized I have had 0. My last lesson was October 2nd. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, I promise. But every time I tried to do a lesson Val pulled a shoe, or it rained, or I had to work. Fortunately we’re pretty independent and we’ve been working on a lot of things on our own.
When I school myself, I often do short exercises instead of full courses. Partially it’s much simpler raising just one or two jumps at a time, but also, it’s easier for me to keep track of what we need to fix or adjust each time through a short exercise versus a full course. Plus, it’s just good for Val’s brain to know he doesn’t always gallop around courses.
The last time I jumped Val in the main arena he was pretty wild, so I wanted to do a short school Thursday before our lesson on Friday (even though I usually avoid back to back jumping days, there was just no avoiding it this week) to make sure he was well prepared for some bigger course work. I kept things (deceptively) simple with a single that had a pole on either side, about 9′ away. The back rail I rolled out a few extra inches since Val has been known to jump landing rails as part of the jump in the past, and I didn’t feel like dying.
Once I finally figured out how to get to the front pole without forcing Val to break to the trot (it helps to remember that the back feet land past the front feel to a canter pole, unlike a jump where they land in the same place, which means they need a little more room but that took me like 6 ugly tries to remember), I turned it into a little square oxer. From there I put it up a couple of times and then ended on a decent sized swedish which Val gave a lovely effort over. He was very polite on both the front and back sides of the jump and wasn’t rushing at all. Mission accomplished.
As always happens, I accidentally rode longer than I meant to, and ended up helping my best barn buddy through the exercise with her guy as well since I was done anyway, so I was 20 minutes late to a party but it was well worth it. Val watched me raise the jump very politely and napped next to another unused jump. He may still be funny about cross-ties, but at least he stands nicely when he’s not attached to anything!
Friday was supposed to be in the 60s or possibly 70s, but fortunately for my hairy little mountain goat (not so much for me though) it never really got out of the 50s and was grey almost all day. Even though I had to wear a sweater for our lesson, the poor guy still actually got sweaty and was puffing most of the lesson. I’ve been putting off clipping but not sure how much longer I can get away with that.
Anywho. The lesson. Holy cow, you guys. All the work I’ve been doing on my own has really paid off. Val was definitely amped to be doing courses again, but he was on. Point. With the exception of one mild freak out over a newish coop in the ring that he hates. We had a brief discussion about that when he slid to a stop the first time I cantered up to it, but we had no issues with anything after that, and Val’s approach to anything that worried him was to take me to it and leap over rather than putting his feet back down.
That’s not a response he naturally has, and I was so glad to see that all the work I’ve been doing has made him feel confident enough to take that approach.
Best barn buddy had specifically asked for a lesson with bigger jumps, since there are now 3 of us looking to move up to bigger divisions. Everyone was feeling a little rough for one reason or another, and we started over a little course to make sure we all had functional horses, but then the jumps went right up to ~3’3, and then up again so that most were right around 3’6 or a little under.
On top of bigger jumps, trainer also gave us tricky, twisty courses than often turned the “wrong” way, and had us turning to the rail rather than following the typical track after fences on the diagonal.
I just can’t even express how good my horse was. Running away with me? Just a tiny bit. But also super adjustable, and even when his legs were moving fast, he let me place him to each fence, but carried enough of a rolling stride that I didn’t have to do much but wait to make that happen. He was really about the easiest he ever is on course.
When we moved up at the show, I had to help Val with a little extra leg at the base of each jump, and that was fine, but more like a 40/60 partnership and required a lot more accuracy on my part. The way he schooled on Friday, I still provided support, but was much more able to simply allow him to get to the jump and over. It felt like it was a much more equal partnership that allowed for pretty good distance, as apposed to feeling like we needed a perfect spot everywhere, and I was confident that even if I missed, we would make it over.
Val was actually so on top of things that we dug a couple of holes in the arena, and I had to push off of his neck to get back in my saddle through a few of the turns. Guess I’m going to have to work that core some more.
Really, Val just felt like such a grown up, and was so clever about everything we threw at him. Even when he was a little surprised, he was brave and scopey, and boy was he handy. The best part, was that the jumps never looked big to me, or to him, and they really felt pretty easy, even the one oxer we got a little deep to.
Now that the height feels comfortable, I’d like to work on smoothing things out. I need to stay with him through those turns so that I can complete the turn well, and be ready for the next thing. You’ll see in the video, we started the turn great, and then lost time while I was trying to get it together to get back out of the turn to the next fence. Even though I saved several strides early on, I lost them again getting stuck.
I need to get stronger so that I can help him to shape those turns a little better too. He’s almost turning too tight which isn’t a bad problem to have, but if I knock a standard with my knee on course and a pole falls, it’s still four faults. I know from first hand experience on another horse. It took forever to get the yellow paint off of my Tailoreds.
I also just need to work on my core strength so that when he gets a little upside down on course, I’m not in so much of a fetal position. That gets better when he’s not so amped up, and we’ve been hard at work modifying his way of going over fences a little, but that’s just always going to be him to some extent.
Val for his part was really good about letting me actually take a little hold on course, which really makes adjusting him so much easier. I now need to take that to the next level, so that he allows me to put him in a more rideable frame even on course. I certainly don’t want him heavy, but I don’t think that’s something that will ever apply to this horse. Now that I can finally take a little feel though, I think things will start to get easier.
It’s been hard to give up some of my hunter habits, like floating my reins if I’m not actively asking for something. But that’s not really how most jumpers go, and having a loop in the reins on course isn’t conducive to efficient course work when things go this fast. Sure I can just sit up and slow over several strides when I have the whole end of the ring and a slow, rolling canter. But when we’re zooming around the end of the ring, I need all my aids to keep him from counterbending too much, and I need an immediate response if I need to change our speed or the size of his stride.
Riding is so much work, only maybe 50% of which is physical!
Val will hopefully getting his teeth floated in the next few weeks, and once that happens, I’m going to start to amp up the work a bit more and ask more of him and myself. After a school like this, I’m extra motivated, and feeling pretty validated in what I’ve been doing so far.