Jack the Jumping Bean: SJ lesson

Jack had back to back jump lessons this weekend, which means there’s a lot to cover if I’m going to do both justice here, but dang it I’m going to try to remember everything! Today I’ll recap our showjumping lesson.

Saturday was showjumping in Southern Pines with BC who generally takes no prisoners in his lessons- do or die baby! Our warm up typically includes an exercise of achieving various canters within a set distance- a favorite amongst eventing riders, I’ve noticed. Compressing Jack’s canter though is one of the hardest things to do, and I really have to fight for it and keep my upper body back to make the smaller steps happen. Here’s a video of us putting in 5 and then 6 strides in a 67′ line of cavalettis:

Then we moved on to a one stride combination- starting by just angling the out vertical so he saw something bigger than cavaletti and quickly moving to going through the exercise. It was again my job to make sure the canter stayed compressed to a 12′ stride, but active- too flat and long and we wouldn’t make the 1 stride, but if I had a smaller canter without activity we would just eat it over the large oxer- which happened once, though luckily before it got to training height.

We then moved on to course work, stringing lots of things together and making sure I didn’t let the canter get long (which I do). I don’t know why I was getting a bit busy with my hands around the course, but I support I’ll have to think on that.

Eventually we put all the things together, and as you can see I was definitely struggling to keep the canter contained. Jack was really fighting me, tilting his head and pulling and making me work was harder than I should. There’s plenty to figure out between keeping the canter small, keeping the shape of his body, and getting him sharper to my cues and not just blowing me off when I ask for a change (simple or otherwise).

LOTS and LOTS of homework here- just wonder if I can fit it all in!

Jump Around, Jump Around

Jack and I had a big weekend, full of learning and jumping all the things.
Friday was a semi-private lesson, and we worked on developing the shape and canter that we’ve been working really hard on.

Jack is tricky to ride mostly because he can ride like so many different horses all in the course of one lesson- bold, backed off, and everything in between . So our goal recently has been to find one canter and try to maintain it throughout the course.

In search of this canter, I’ve had to learn how to keep more contact with his mouth, and with that extra contact I have to back it up with more leg. Keeping him packaged in this way keeps him round, and keeping him round makes the shape of his jump better. A rounder jump is the key to a clean round for us, because it’s when the jump gets hollow that we get rails.

One of the problems that we have in maintaining that idea though is energy. Jack was understandably tired at the end of our lesson on day 1, so on day 2 (a private jumping lesson) he came out feeling even more so. And when he gets tired, he gets very difficult in the bridle, going against my hand completely and overpowering me with his size. So it was a tricky lesson on day 2 to try and get him soft, and we attempted to use bend to flex his neck so he couldn’t use it against me. You can really see some of this struggle in the video below- homeboy wouldn’t even come round at the walk because he was fighting me so.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have such a tired horse to begin with, so the other tact is going to be incorporating true conditioning work into our routine. Besides our weekly showjumping lesson and dressage lesson/schoolings, I’m going to do my best to work in trot sets twice a week.

July’s tentative plan

We’ll start with 3 sets of 4 minute trot sets, with 2 minutes walking in between. Then 3 minutes of canter with the same breaks. Hopefully at the end of 2 months we’ll have built up to 4 minutes of canter, for a total of 12 minutes canter. This fulfill’s Jimmy Wofford’s belief that a Novice or Training horse should be able to slow canter twice the time of their XC course. Seeing as our XC courses tend to be 5 1/2 minutes, we should be more than able to meet that criteria by the end of August.

Gotta love having a plan- and hopefully this will result in a stronger, fitter version of both Jack and myself!

 

Show Recap: VAHT Showjumping

Finally, we reach our conclusion.

Thanks to the top rider getting time faults on XC, I was sitting in first after cross country. But we all know that SJ is my/Jack’s weakest phase, and you know, that old adage about the only place to go from the top is down.

The showjumping arena at the Virginia Horse Center had lots to look at, including covered bleachers along the far side (where the text Virginia International… is), a beautiful tall carved bear where the bush is on the map, and random fences placed in the ring that we didn’t jump. And, as you can see, they were fairly crammed into the space available. Because of this, I honestly wasn’t sure how Jack would handle it- would he ping pong visually off of all the fences, or would he be ok?

I had asked my normal trainer if there was someone she could recommend to warm me up, and she nominated Bobby Meyerhoff, who very kindly held my hand through the warm up and got me in a better rhythm before heading into the ring. Of course his main comments were a twin to what I typically hear from Holly- that is, package the canter, don’t let it get flat and big. And he had me do both verticals and oxers until we were smooth enough to tackle the last phase.

Jack felt pretty tired in general that morning, which I don’t blame him for one bit, and maybe that helped him settle more than usual in the showjumping. Other than the tap you see to fence 3, I didn’t feel like he needed a ton of extra encouragement to get around despite the brightly colored sticks everywhere. Fence 4 ended up being a self fulfilling prophecy, since I was worried about it- long approaches to a vertical are definitely my bogey fence, and this one got away from me as I did exactly what Bobby/Holly told me not to do- I let the canter get big and then got in to a weak, deep distance and boom, thar she blows.

In complete honesty though, I don’t give a damn about that rail (though I’ll be requesting to work on those lines in lessons). Jack was so phenomenal and attentive and rateable, and I felt like we both had a complete 180 from the round from hell that was the War Horse show.

A toast to meeting life long goals!

I’ll save my continued gushing for another post, but walking away from the ring knowing we had officially qualified for the AECs was quite simply the most amazing feeling.

Show Recap: SPHT Novice Showjumping

Friday night around 4pm, it started raining.

I walked my XC course in a downpour. Poor souls tried to ride their horses or unload their trailers in the wet, and slowly our showgrounds turned into a city of drowned rats. Where there were puddles, lakes appeared, and the only upside was that the water complexes were looking more and more inviting as our horses desensitized themselves to wet toes.

This was all fine for the moment, as I smugly enjoyed hiding under the overhang cleaning tack, having already ridden and unpacked. And then I realized that we were warming up for showjumping on grass that was getting slicker by the minute.

And though the next day it had stopped raining, it didn’t get any dryer. So this is pretty much how the warmup went:

And of course I shared my SJ warmup with a couple of folks riding horses that were hellbent at killing us all. They went sideways, they went up, there was head tossing and rearing and cursing, and it was so slick that I couldn’t turn fast to get out of the way.

Jack handled it amazingly well- but as for me, well:

all while shooting bullets at people with my eyes

The trainer was wondering what the hell was wrong with me, while my brain was quietly cooking inside my head. I was relieved then when it was time to head over to the ring and leave that hot mess behind us.

Despite all that, our course was actually one of our best to date. Jack is really settling into his role as show horse, and bar a dumb spook turning to the final line, was fairly rideable throughout. For myself, I am finally learning to sit up, but still got a little leany about halfway through, causing Jack to pick up the pace and put in less balanced approaches. #mybad

So, coming in almost 10 seconds under, we survived wrapped up showjumping and then sat in second before cross country.

It’s a miracle!

 

Show Recap: Jack’s Novice CT with another pilot

While I was in sunny Florida stalking gorgeous [$$$] ponies, my own pony was trudging through the mud and muck, competing with another rider. Before the show she had taken a jumping lesson on him, and flatted him once on her own. Luckily though, she’s a talented rider (just placed 2nd at Pine Top’s Prelim!) and sensitive enough to absolutely have no problem with my occasionally spastic yellow pony.

Since I wasn’t there, I can’t go into the day in detail, but obviously it didn’t go too shabby. Together they scored a 27.9 in Dressage, which was fourth after a 3-way tie for 1st place (score 27.1 – dang it!). The video shows a test that is accurate with only small moments of tension, and I’m pleased that Jack had a fairly confidence boosting experience.

Then there was showjumping. Jack typically warms up beautifully for showjumping, then goes into the arena and ‘pings’ off all the fences in total sensory overload (the colors! the ferns! the poles! ah!). And you can see that A had a bit of that ride herself, though she implements the gag bit better than I to get his frame in a better shape so we wouldn’t go hollow over the fences.

They did get one rail, as you can see- where he got hollow on the approach and took out the back rail of an oxer. But overall, again, a really nice round that looked more settled than normal. Which is all I wanted!

Fake news

They accidentally recorded an extra rail, but Jack would have placed 5th overall. Since it’s a CT, and I wasn’t riding, I could care less, but it was good to see that overall he did fairly well in a course that looked like it caused lots of rails down.

In general, I’m happy with the experience that this rider gave him. I would say I would have preferred myself to be in the tack, but given the weather conditions, I won’t – Florida was glorious and that show looked wet and miserable. #sorrynotsorry

The next time we hit up the horse park it will be for a recognized show- and there’s a lot to prep between now and then! Thanks A for the great ride 🙂

Show Recap: Pipe Opener BN – SJ

So apparently after dressage we were somehow able to hold our heads high. But of course, dressage is my strongest phase and there were plenty of opportunities for gaffs in showjumping – right now Jack and I’s weakest phase.

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Trainer had us start jumping when we were 5 riders out, since there was little point in overjumping him. He felt substantially more relaxed, and when we started jumping we were catching good(ish) distances and clearing the warmup fences with room to spare. The course looked like a good sort for us, lots of changes in direction to keep the yellow pony from gaining too much speed and snowballing as we went along.

gotthis

We didn’t.

Did I mention that the course looked good for us? Well yes, it did. In fact I was feeling pretty confident about it. The fences looked small (hallelujah!), the turns were nice, and the trainer and I were discussing about using this as an opportunity to take tighter turns. I may have taken that slightly too much to heart.

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See the below diagram for my might mistake. The grey dotted line represents the sane, though tight rollback that we were supposed to execute. The purple line… represents my amateur moment. Yes, not even two fences into the course I presented my horse face-first into the wing of a fence, and then decided to ask him to jump it anyways. Which he did. Good lord, I didn’t deserve that but many, many thanks, Jack.oops-01.jpg

Annnnnd after immediately seeing the humor of the situation and vocally apologizing to my coach, I proceeded to allow my brain to melt out of my ears and ride like shite for the rest of the course. Pretty sure there is only one line where we are actually on the correct lead. Because you know, besides eventing, embarrassing myself is like my next best hobby.

So enjoy the below video, where we go double clear despite my obvious attempts to sabotage us from fence 2. Where we solidify our second place finish out of 20 competitors. Where I feel sorry for the people who had to watch us (listen to the audio), and get confused about how they were supposed to go from 1 to 2 (hint: don’t do what I did).

Sorry Jack, I’ll do better next time.

In Which I Piss Off My Horse Mightily

Jack and I had a CTJ lesson last week, and I think he has only now forgiven me since the occasion.

In that lesson, we were finally made to come to terms with his frame before the fence. This issue has come up a lot previously, because it’s Jack’s MO to lift his head and go hollow in front of the fence. As long as he approached the fence in a polite and steady manner, we tended to let it pass. But in coming back from his hiatus, Jack has been less predictable those last couple strides before the jump- either slowing down and losing power or racing towards the fence. And really the only thing consistent about it is his inconsistency. See the video below, where I try to keep him packaged but he runs through my aids as we get close to the jump.

It’s not all about where his head is before the fence, not just about how he looks and whether or not we make a pretty picture. It’s about him dropping his back before the fence when his head pops up, and as a result he can’t bascule over the fence as he should and can. If he can keep his back up all the way to take off, he will have a more effective jump and remain rideable through the entire approach. For these reasons, we need to install this basic concept in Jack – but I can tell it’s going to be hard won.

What’s difficult for me is that he is SO big and strong, and so wiggly. When I try to get him between my hand and legs before the fence, he escapes through a shoulder, or uses his neck against me – and no human is going to be strong enough to overpower and horse using their full strength in opposition.

So our lesson moved away from fences for the most part- instead making him stay low and soft over a ground pole, and let me tell you, this kicked off a battle of wills that Jack and I have not yet experiences with each other. We could be overbent but round and go over the pole, but if we were remotely straight the fight to stay soft became a war. He went sideways, he drew back to a jog, he threw his head from side to side, he tried to canter, or he went even more sideways.

When eventually we were able to ride the pole and stay consistent from front to back side of it, Holly let us try a small fence.

And guys, I have NEVER felt that before – he actually stayed soft right up until takeoff, and the bascule I felt under me was enlightening. I promptly dropped my reins and gave him all the pats and praises. And was just as promptly reminded to keep riding.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t repeat that success.

We spent the rest of the lesson riding the above pattern, and it was brutal. The fence was an 18″ crossrail, but you would have thought it was a Puissance fence the way he wanted to approach it. Let me tell you, my triceps were in agony by the end of the ride. We found an OK-ish place to stop and proceeded to have a long chat about next steps, all the while Jack standing with his head looking back at me with the biggest Fuck-you side eye I have ever seen from any horse. Even the carrot I gave him afterwards was eaten in ‘I wish this was your face’ stabbing angry bites. Ouch.

As it turns out, the above bit is our next step in the process. While I don’t like to rely on gadgets, I am simply not strong enough to ride through this. The hope is the gag action will stop him bracing against my hands, but we’ll still have the soft snaffle mouthpiece for all the moments when he’s a good boy.

Our next lesson is this weekend, so we’ll see how it goes!

 

First Jump Lesson Back!

Just so you know, I seriously contemplated calling this post “On Cloud 9 with a Turd Sandwich“. But that’s probably not the best SEO strategy in the world.

Thursday Jack and I headed over to the trainer’s, to finally jump some colored sticks after 6 months of being completely earthbound.

I expected the golden boy to come out in full spooky fashion, seeing as he hasn’t seen his shadow under lights in a long time, and you know, his tail is occasionally terrifying. But he wasn’t. Color me gobsmacked.

He was actually jumping so well, in fact that we moved past trotting 18″ and actually cantered fences and everything. See the below compilation of some of our finer moments:

And then the train started to come off the tracks. Jack got a little overambitious, dragging me to fences, one of which I wasn’t intending to jump. So, there’s that.

It took us some time to install brakes again and approach fences in a reasonable fashion, but luckily the video kept going:

We finished on a good note (not captured here as our videographer was cold and deserved to go home), and despite the naughtiness, I have to say:

I AM SO STUPID HAPPY.

It’s so nice to be back.

Show Recap: Longleaf Horse Trials SJ

Having won the tie for third place in the XC phase, I was fairly nervous that I was going to screw things up in the showjumping. Jack came out and warmed up beautifully, and somehow the gears in my head were still working enough to tell me to stay quiet and keep my shoulders back, despite my inner voice screaming “lean at it! Go go go!”.

Our tie-partner went into the ring before us, and I watched them put in a beautiful double clear round. Alright, so the pressure was really on now.

Then Jack and I got on course. We circled an oxer towards the middle of the arena, and after a few steps of his typical “holy sh*t, where am I?!” nonsense, he actually settled and started listening to me.

Fence 1 felt great, but as I got him straight into the approach to an oxer-to-oxer line he started snowballing into the first fence. A hard half halt to remind him that we don’t do that sort of thing and he came back enough for the third fence on course.

Fence 3

Fences 4 and 5 came up fine, and though we were booking we somehow made the rollback turn back to 6. This is where I went wrong- I let the canter get too strung out, and as a result he took out the top rail with his knees. I can tell you, there were a number of four letter words rolling through my head at that point, and after watching the video I’m glad that I didn’t actually say them out loud.

Fence 7B out of the 2 stride combo

The rest of the course rode beautifully, but our unfortunate rail cost us 2 places. Still, as seemed the trend for the rest of the show up to that point, I was just thrilled that Jack felt more relaxed and rideable than he had before. And Novice didn’t feel so big as it seemed back in February at the schooling day.

Fence 8 and a happy poneh

I’m also starting to learn to think and ride in showjumping, which is a big win for me- normally I’m so focused on the order of the fences there’s little room for anything else. We may have wrapped up the weekend a little lower in the standings that I had hoped (my yellow ribbon collection was coming along so nicely), but all in all it was a super debut at a new level for Jack, and he came back a little wiser and a little more confident as a result. For that I’m incredibly thankful.

Show Recap: SPHT Stadium

After learning that we were at the top of the charts after dressage, that really put the pressure on to go clear in the jumping phases. And you know what they say… when you’re at the top, the only way to go is down. And you know what comes down? Brightly colored sticks.

The showjumping course- very friendly overall

Our warm up went pretty well, but as we now know, that doesn’t mean that Jack will go in the ring all calm and collected-like. So the plan was to go in the ring and go– forward and packaged and get him thinking straight where possible. We expected 4 to be a little sticky because it was an oxer that appeared to be jumping into the stands, and 9a-9b was giving folks trouble all day because of the astroturf filler, but otherwise thinking positive and moving seemed to provide rewarding rides.

Even though we had a rail down (dammmmmmit), this was still our best round to date in terms of how obedient and relaxed Jack was once we found a rhythm. I did have to growl at him approaching 5 when I felt him back off a bit, but that’s just kind of how Jack is at the moment so I won’t fault him for that.

Our rail bumped us from 1st to tied for 2nd- still in the ribbons heading to XC and a fun course there awaiting us as well! Tomorrow we wrap it up!