At the fall clinic, we entered the 3′-3’3 section, because we were still at kind of an in between stage, and we weren’t quite comfortable at 3’6 or jumping that height on a regular basis. Val was great, we had fun, and we learned a lot.
I also mentioned to Ragan that we were in the process of moving up and asked for some tips, which he happily provided.
9 months later, we’ve been jumping much bigger at home, and even though we haven’t actually showed at the bigger height, it was time to move up. I was a little nervous since our last school over bigger jumps wasn’t great, and my eye was really off. And of course, the two weeks between my lesson and the clinic we had almost non-stop rain and I only managed to get in like 4 rides, with one school over small log jumps in our grass arena.
But YOU GUYS. My horse came to play. Like, who is this amazing beastie and how did I get so lucky as to be his mom?
My day started at 5 am, because I had to meet a friend at our barn to load Val up and take him to the farm where the clinic was hosted (Glendaloch Farm for the record, and it was beautiful!), and our session was at 8:30 so we needed a good 45 minutes to an hour just to get Val settled in and leave a little time for lunging in case he was feeling goofy.
Of course I’m not actually functional that early in the morning, and I made my morning latte with no sugar. Oops. Lucky me, I was stopping at Starbucks for coffee for my shipping friend and grabbed some sugar, so crisis averted!
Val loaded right on the new trailer like a pro (He’s really one of the easiest horses to trailer I swear. Thank you 6 years on the track!) and when he arrived at the farm about an hour later, he got off the trailer quietly, and settled into his stall with a flake of hay.
I took my time grooming and then got on with a few minutes to tour the ring so Val could take in the sights, then we starting trotting around and stretching Val’s legs. Once everyone had trotted around a bit, Ragan had us all relocate to the bottom half of the arena and once all of the horse were loosened up and stretching along their top lines nicely, we started working on extending and shortening the trot without the horse getting inverted through the transitions.
In the past this has been a hard exercise for Val, but all of our hard work has really paid off, and he was great about changing his stride without losing or avoiding the contact, as long as I remembered to use mostly my core and posting to make the change, and just gently squeezing the reins. At first we would ask for a bigger trot for about half of the ring, and then go back to a normal trot, then to extended, etc. We did a lot of strides in each before we would transition to the new trot. Then we introduced a more collected, sitting trot to normal trot and back.
Our biggest struggle here–which is something we always have trouble with–was that Val really wanted to lose all his forward momentum and in the sitting trot and translate it to up and down momentum instead (So I guess in dresage terms, he’s more of a piaffe horse than a passage horse?). This did get better though, and we gradually worked in a more open trot so that we were working in all three, with less strides in between each type until we were only doing 4-5 strides in each before transitioning to a new trot, sometimes pausing for a normal trot in between, other times going right from extended to collected or vice versa.
By the end of the trot work, my horse felt like he was willing carrying just a little weight in the contact and like he was responsive to my aids.
This was important. While Val was actually really good, another horse in the session was a bit more “reactive” than responsive, and that used to be Val’s MO as well. Ragan stressed the importance of a horse who is responsive to the aids, rather than a horse who is simply reacting. In my mind, this is the difference between a horse who is quietly and calmly listening to and understanding your aids and a horse who is maybe not on the same page, or is worried and not fully understanding the aids or is even anticipating too much rather than relying on its rider to provide any information it may need to do its job.
After all that good trot work, we cantered a few laps, just working to get relaxed horses that were using their whole body and coming from behind, rather than inverting or scooting at the canter. While this wasn’t our best canter work to date, it was really quite nice, and Ragan didn’t have many comments for us.
Though we didn’t do the same lengthening and shortening exercise at the canter, Ragan did talk us though how that should be ridden, and the group after us got to play with it. He had everyone start in a light sitting canter that was just a quiet, round, and nice. The more open canter was not meant to be a gallop, but just a bigger step, with more of a half seat or two point, and the collected canter needed no more heaviness in the seat than the original canter, but required more leg into hand to package it up and make the step shorter without getting too up and down.
Once we’d all cantered around, Ragan set up three canter cavaletti on a curve, and we each went over one at a time. The first time over, I barely even made it over the first pole because Val was peeking, the second time we got over two of them, and then things smoothed out and got nice.
The point of the exercise was to let the horse push you up into a “jump seat” and continue to use your hand and leg to steer to the middle of each pole without cheating by angling the first or last pole. You also had to come in with a quality canter that wasn’t too rushed or sluggish, so that your stride length didn’t need to change within the exercise.
We went several times to the left before really nailing it, and to the right Val was great and we only had to do it a few times.
After the cavaletti we moved on to jumping. We started with a single vertical that we cantered over back and forth, and we were asked to have a plan and think ahead so that we acted appropriately on the back side of the jump so that we were training the horse. If the horse scooted on the back side after the long approach and only a short distance on the back side, we would need to halt, but might need to plan to ride around the turn. If our horse landed on the wrong lead, we should probably plan to trot before the corner, etc.
Val was very quiet and I was quite pleased with how we hit the vertical each time, and Val landed straight and relaxed each time, so that I was able to quietly canter around the corner and halt by using my leg and seat to push him up into the halt, rather than having to haul him up.
When everyone had cantered the vertical nicely, we started building onto the single. I really liked his approach here which was not to dive straight into courses, but instead to practice a few components of course work at a time. There was nothing hugely new in our jumping, but after our great warm up, my horse was really responsive to a little leg to close a gap, or a tightening of my core to wait it out, and I thought our course work was really solid. There were a few times cantering up to a big jump where my heart went pitter patter, but I remembered to wait and not throw my body, and all it took was closing my leg just a little at the base and Val popped over everything no big deal, regardless of the size of the fence or the approach.
I worked hard all day on planning ahead, shaping my turns, and thinking through my course as far as what kind of distance I might need to jump through a line well, and what kind of turn to make to hit a jump straight. We had one bobble on a bending line that had the second fence set on a blind turn when I didn’t plan well or support with my leg, which ended in a run out–one of Ragan’s big no-nos.
Despite breaking what I knew to be one of his big rules, Ragan was patient and had us reapproach the bending line without any sort of punishment for the first run-out. Ragan’s reasoning for this was that the horse was genuinely surprised and was not intentionally being bad. When Val still didn’t zero in on the fence and jump, we changed the approach. Since the bending line from the first jump was not setting him up well to really be between my hand and leg, Ragan had us come through the middle of the ring and turn to the jump instead, so that we would be carrying a bit of bend on the approach that would prevent running by the fence to the other side. We hit a funky distance when Val tried to stutter to a stop, but we popped over nonetheless, and after one or two more times over, Val was jumping the fence no problem, and we were able to reapproach the bending line and jump out confidently.
We ended on a single off of a similar blind turn to a 2 stride to end on a positive and forward note, and though the other two riders too the approach off of the rail, I rode the same type of turn we had done to our problem fence to really reinforce what we had practiced, and Ragan was pleasantly surprised. He explained that while he expected me to take the same approach as the other two riders, he thought that given what we’d been working on, my approach was the better choice for my horse. It’s always a good feeling when the clinician is pleasantly surprised that you made a good decision from a training standpoint!
Val was really good at the clinic in August, but he felt so much more rideable this time around, and was so so brave and never tried to put his feet down an extra time (except at the one jump that was really an issue of not being asked that question before than being unrideable) like we did in August on several occasions. I felt like we really belonged in the group we were in, which was a big deal since the two girls we rode with show on a regular basis and have both recently moved up to the high child/adult jumpers (3’6-3’9). We have significantly less miles at horse shows, and as a result Val has not seen as many of the more difficult questions that we were presented with, and has only recently been jumping 3’6 regularly.
Next week, I’ll post the day 2 recap, and all of the nuggets of knowledge I gleaned from the other sessions! I even have real photos from day 2.