Lesson Notes 7-22

Somehow I survived my two lessons on Saturday, and both horses lived to tell the tale as well. And considering whatever the heat did to potentially addle my brain, in addition to my head already spinning with deadlines and the impending show this weekend, I find that I need to jot down the things I learned from those lessons while I still remember.

TC’s Dressage Lesson:

  • Conservative and correct is better than up tempo and tense
  • Sit into the canter transition (and keep mentally reminding myself to push him off the right leg from time to time)
  • Keep my elbows heavy and hands low
    • TC can be a head wagger occasionally- keeping my hands low and together (thinking about having a low center of gravity) stops his mouth from taking on any movement that happens as a result of posting with my elbows up high
  • Think about 10 meter circles as 2 halves
  • Prepare early for transitions- TC needs more time to process than I realize
  • Look out on the stretchy circle to maximize the number of steps available
  • Think about walk in the transition from lengthening trot to working trot- show off the “coming back”

Jack’s Jumping Lesson:
I had a very different horse under me for this jump lesson, despite the near three-digit temperature. Jack came out and was much stronger than I was used to, which is a result of his getting fit and building confidence. It’s also a direct reflection of his time as a foxhunter, where I was told that he was taught to either trot fences or gallop them. While we worked on managing his stride in front of the fence, trainer had some words of wisdom:

I’m going to take the suspense out of the situation for you. You’re going to have some ugly jumps for a while.

And well, as you’ll see in the video, she ain’t wrong. Here are the other tidbits that I need to stick in my skull moving forward:

  • Our flatwork is coming together (yay!) but I need to remember to not camp my legs out in front of me
  • As he gets stronger/fitter, I shouldn’t be surprised about his wanting to take the bit
    • Add a running martingale to allow for more control
      • Keep my hands up and reins short for same
  • Do not lean for the lead
  • Hold to the fence, then be sure to release as his front legs lift off

Between fences, we also chatted about goals. I would like to do a recognized show by the end of the year, and we decided to aim for Stable View at the end of September as a result. Even if showjumping looks a bit ugly, we should be able to get around a Beginner Novice course by then as long as I stick with the program. And with lots of schooling options between now and then, including a clinic in a few weeks, we should have a lot more experience under our belts as a pair before taking on Aiken!


Jumping Jack Flash

Now with two real jump lessons under our belt, I finally feel like I am starting to get the hang of jumping Jack- or at least starting to understand his rhythm and needs for making the best jump possible. Our first jump lesson was at home, where mostly we trotted into the fences and focused on my following hand and keeping him straight and cantering after the fence. I’ve left the lesson audio on, mostly for my own benefit at a later date, so please ignore (or enjoy, whatever) my getting yelled at in the following videos.

Straightness in particular was also the name of the game in yesterday’s lesson as well. This was a new arena to Jack, with different types of fences and some exercises we hadn’t done before. While the jumps stayed small, we focused on the quality of the canter and keeping him put together before the fence. I really have to ride every step to accomplish this, keeping soft but communicating hands and half halts to remind him that rushing is not an option. Not that he’s to blame- the poor guy has mostly trotted or galloped fences most of his life- why should things change now?

Even though the jumps were tiny (and look even smaller on video compared to my giant horse), I was grinning (between pants) from ear to ear after the ride. New arena, galloping horses, and I had a fairly rideable experience and felt like I really connected with the giant blondie underneath me. Takeaways being keeping him especially straight and between my leg and hand before the fence, and riding more straight canter lines in general. Which surprise, also is a theme in my dressage lessons. Funny how that works!

Our next jump lesson will be in the form of a XC schooling day at the Horse Park, and while before I was fairly nervous about the idea, now I am starting to look forward to it!

Freejumping Smitty

Free jumping a horse is a great way to not only assess their ability, but also to allow him to work on technique or footwork without the effort of balancing a rider at the same time.

Despite Smitty being jumper-bred on his dam side, I had yet to see him over anything of size. Below 2’6″, he really doesn’t have to put much effort into clearing the fence, and 18″ fences? Well:

Smitty not trying

Smitty not trying over the baby fence

So we set up a small grid to see what would happen. Our set up was thus: a ground pole to a cross rail, then 18′ to an ascending oxer.

Smitty was surprisingly relaxed through the whole thing, and it was clear that the final height of roughly 3’7″ (or 3’9″? we didn’t measure) was no big deal. To encourage him to fold his lower legs next time I would like to add a landing pole, and begin to increase the width of the oxer. But overall, I felt like it was an exciting way to see the baby’s potential!


Horse Show Recap: GaG at CHP

While I’m having a serious bout of horse show hangover (y’all, it was 2 years since my last show!), I can definitely look back on Smitty’s first competition and smile.

We arrived Saturday afternoon and settled him into his stall, and he seemed fairly content to relax and munch his hay and drink his water like a good boy. We walked a few laps of the venue and let him see the bikes, kids, dogs, tents, and other general show atmosphere that was slowly building. Since he handled it well, I tacked up and schooled him a bit. Luckily for us, there was only one other rider schooling, which had little to do with Smitty and a lot to do with my mental composure. Once I relaxed my death grip on the reins and gave us both a job of moving forward and changing direction, life got suddenly easier and we were able to find a good note to end on.

The next morning  we went on another walk around the venue, which was decidedly much busier than the day before. All was well until about 10 minutes in, when the atmosphere got to Smitty’s baby brain and resulted in a minor meltdown. In the interest of self preservation, and of those around me (read: horses, children, dogs everywhere), I found a quiet unused field to lunge him and get the sillies out. It took a lot longer than I would have hoped to do so, but eventually he got his brain reinstalled and was listening and doing transitions politely on the lunge line and it felt safe to venture back into polite society.


At that point it was almost time for my dressage, and so we tacked up and found another somewhat quiet area to do warm up before heading into the arena. Baby pony was tired at this point, but put in an obedient test and was completely unfazed by his sandbox experience. We had wiggly centerlines (straight lines are hard, yo!), and geometry in general left some points on the table, as well as a lack of free walk (which we haven’t introduced yet). But given that, Smitty still scored a 29.7 and got his first 9 for a movement- what more could I ask for?


After dressage, Smitty got to nap for a couple hours before heading out to show jumping. The Green as Grass showjumping was held on the grass, and I was surprised to see the cross rails of the past replaced with a full set of verticals and even an oxer, complete with gates (which I have no idea if he’s ever seen) and ferns and the like. It was a proper mini showjumping course.

Celebrating with some dressage with some Chardonneighneigh

Celebrating dressage with some Chardonneighneigh

My warm up consisted of a couple trot circles, one lazy jump over the warm up cross rail, and heading into the arena. Smitty perked up a bit at the sight of the new fences, and we proceeded to fence one. At each new jump, I could feel the baby brain wondering why this one didn’t look like the last. But he was incredibly honest and with a little encouragement took each one with increasing confidence. As you can hear in the video, I did my best to convince him that he was superman after every fence, the dominator of 18″ fences all over the world. Apparently my nattering was highly entertaining to my friends, so enjoy the commentary.

Our clear showjumping result left us in 2nd place (or 1st, they haven’t posted official results) out of 10 horses, and I couldn’t be happier. With the help of wonderful friends, and a great venue, baby Smitty had a wonderful first show experience and hopefully set the bar for things to come.


Jumping Riley

Is it just me, or is a case of jumping jitters going around the interwebs these days? Well it turns out I’m not immune to them.

Yay new media! Riley showing off his newly acquired dressaging skillz

Yay new media! Riley showing off his newly acquired dressaging skillz

With the help of Ali I took Riley over his first (for me) jumps. He’s jumped before in his random spurts of training, but I’ve not yet been in the irons over fences. The only time I had seen him jump was years ago, being wiggly to some tiny cross rails.


Not (yesterday) today though! Riley was all game and go when it came to fences, and it was me who was looking like the numpty. My classic move, throwing my heels in front of me, came out in full force, since I was a bit nervous about how it would go.


Steering, or rather bulging, is still a bit of an issue. Because of his bendy, short neck, it’s easy for him to throw his shoulders around a turn with my opening rein aids doing nill. It’s like having a short rudder and a strong, wide boat to steer. So we’re working on those outside rein aids and blocking the shoulders.


Even considering some of our less-than-straight approaches, and though it only included a couple crossrails and an oxer, I would say the first attempt jumping was a rousing success. I’m hoping that I can learn to let go of some of my confidence issues and continue to have fun jumping, even though he’s a greenie.


Because over-fences bonus: There’s a sh*t ton of mane to grab!

Drawing the Bigger Picture: Part II

This didn’t get out Friday because I got caught up at the barn, trying to assess whether Foster is still sore from our jumping last weekend, or if there is something shoe-related going on there. I won’t even consider that it might be something else until tomorrow. *Sigh* Anyways, until then, here are the rest of our brainy break throughs (part 1 here) from the week of lessons.


Effectiveness of the Seat
To be a dressage queen is to have a good seat. But the seat is also important in jumping, as the rider has to make decisions about two-pointing versus sitting versus sticking close to the saddle (the last is BC’s phrase, used before XC fences). In dressage, I am really focusing on using my weight properly in the half-passes. I’m also working to fight against my own natural confirmation, the dreaded hollow-back ghetto booty combination, that makes it hard for me to stick with the full circle of movement my hips should make in the canter. For showjumping, Bobby emphasized a lighter seat and as previously mentioned, moving from galloping position to sticking “closer to the saddle” upon approach. One seat, used lots of different ways!

Locked on the fence- also, this photo just makes me laugh

Locked on the fence- also, this photo just makes me laugh [Portofino CT Oct 2013]

Commitment Issues
Damn all that baggage of the past. Committing to a course of action is an absolute necessity with jumping, and being less than confident can sometimes have dire consequences. BC picked up immediately on when I became anything less than a fence-eating-machine, and as of course, so did Foster. In his words, I am not to ride pathetically, and having that confidence and grit will help me be a quieter rider by not feeling the need to make any “big moves” in front of the fences. For dressage, commitment means being clear in my instructions and the level of my expectations. Even if it is a trot to walk transition, the horse should “land” going forward and in a good balance, not petering out or falling on the forehand into a lazy amble. It’s up to the rider to commit to asking for all those details, and thinking about these things until it becomes habit.


Thinking about the Landing
How many times have I heard this one? Probably a bajillion times, but it really resonated when BC asked us to halt in 5 strides after the gymnastic. That shit is hard. And why is it hard? Maybe because my horse is not used to expecting something to happen on the landing. Halting after fences is one of the big take-aways from our showjumping lesson, and a wonderful exercise for getting a horse listening. In the June Jump lesson, we did something similar in making small circles after landing from a fence before continuing on to another element. And guess what- in dressage, you know what is a great way to get a horse focused on you and “keyed up to your seat”? Transitions. Forward, backward, halt, etc. Never should we just careen around the arena without a plan, and that was the point I’ve finally figured out this week.

It’s going to take real discipline to remember all of these, and surely there will be times when I forget one or more of these major points. On the flip side, I really do think that if anyone can master all of these issues they would gain major ground in becoming a better rider. And that is, of course, what I aspire to be.

Drawing the Bigger Picture: Part I

3 trainers, 8 days. Information overload? Just a little.


In many ways though, the lessons do overlap, even though each trainer had different ways of communicating the same things. Here are some of the theories that I’ve noticed transcend two or more of the lessons in just a short time period.

Response to the Aids
Foster should always be listening (ideally), and always waiting for the next cue. We’ve been together so long that sometimes I fall into being repetitive or allowing him to be ho-hum, which makes communication when I really need him a challenge. In our June jump lesson, the trainer had us do canter walk or canter halt transitions and incorporate turn on the haunches or turn on the forehand to keep him thinking about balance and reactiveness. In Bobby’s showjumping lesson, we focused on halting after fences or a line, to keep him coming back to me as the source of instruction. Both accomplish a horse that is listening and reacting quickly to my aids.

My [mental] picture of the right canter

My [mental] picture of the right canter

Focus on the Canter
The quality of the canter in showjumping is everything, and Bobby stressed that he be balanced and active when approaching fences. Similarly, in our dressage lessons we have been working on increasing the activity of the canter, which teaches Foster to sit while engaging his hind legs. Even though the truly collected canter is not a gait that you would use through a showjumping course, the idea of increasing engagement certainly translates.

[From the Clinic] Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

[From the Clinic] Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

Following with the Hands
All three instructors have now said something to this effect, which is saying something. In my June jump lesson, she reverberated pretty much word for word what BC said in the February clinic– push your elbows to the fence. With dressage, this really comes into getting the most out of the free walk by actively following the bit with my hands- even if there is slack in the reins, the horse can feel it and likely take that room to stretch down. With the collected canter, this comes as making sure that I am not constantly holding, which would make him heavier and heavier in my hands.


Tomorrow- 3 more things that have been beaten into me this week…

Bobby Costello Showjumping Lesson Recap

I’m still coming down from Cloud 9 thinking about our showjumping lesson Saturday, which took place in a beautiful jump field in Southern Pines.

Walking Foster from the barn to the field, it was obvious that he was amped. He couldn’t wait to get started, and refused to be distracted by the busy road or the scary tarp jump. Bobby watched us warm up so he could check out my position and Foster’s way of going. Immediately he picked up on the fact that Foster gets a bit overbent and hollow going right, and therefore is harder to bend left- yes, yes, and more yes. So we talked about riding him more straight to the right and really asking for the left bend. I was shocked to hear that he liked my own position a lot and thought I was solid with my legs, but throughout the lesson did ask that I keep a very light seat if I was going to sit.

BC Video Screenshot

Without losing time we moved straight into the gymnastics. At first it was just a small fence with a placing pole, and Foster wanted to play a bit with all that energy- I think he was just so happy to be out and doing it all again! But the small fence quickly progressed into a full gymnastic, that was slowly built up to a placing pole/vertical/onstride/cavaletti oxer/one stride/oxer/one stride/cavaletti bounce/one stride/vertical/placing pole. Each time I was directed to halt at the end, and at first this was difficult, but we were able to make it happen more and more easily as the lesson progressed.

Through the gymnastic we talked about where to check him as he tried to rush through, how to get that halt at the end, and fixing a right drift that kept creeping in through the middle of the exercise.

After getting a really good go through the final gymnastic we moved on to single fences/courses. Of course I decided to show off my love for chippy distances the very first thing, but the re-approach was much better.

Because of my last lesson doing everything with bend, I was initially inclined to put the first fence on a circle. But Bobby noted that he looked like he was actually caught off balance when I did so, and preferred that I ride straight lines for now to allow Foster a chance to balance himself and get his shoulders square. He did say that there is a time and a place for riding with a lot of bend, and often that was for teaching the horse to land on the correct lead (as we were doing in that lesson).

Can we talk about my horse's knees for a second?

Can we talk about my horse’s knees for a second? Let’s ignore the fact that I’m getting jumped out of the tack…

Much of the conversation that we had was about the pace, and that before the fence I could add to or maintain the pace/canter, but was never to hold for the spot. Focusing on the canter also stopped me from pumping as much, or “making any big move” before the fence as Bobby put it, that would throw Foster off balance by distracting him. Another point he made was in talking about those fences course designers love, the lonely single with the long approach. He said though it’s tempting, do not even think about a distance until you are four strides out. Instead, think about the quality of the canter until you get much closer.

At the end of the lesson I asked if I could retry the skinny gate, since I’d been having a hard time finding a distance to it, and was so happy when he sailed over from the perfect spot. This lesson was huge for both Foster and I’s confidence, and all in all he felt like a showjumping machine. I do see plenty of things for myself to work on, such as folding at the hips and maintaining a light seat, but for not having jumped so much this year I’m pretty pleased with where we are now.

Tomorrow- sadly no video, but we’ll discuss the XC lesson!

June Jump Lesson Recap

Sunday I took a lesson with a new (to me) trainer, in hopes of getting some feedback and confidence before heading down to Southern Pines this weekend.

I started by explaining that half the battle is getting him responsive and in front of my leg, so we worked on cantering to walk, and throwing in some turn on the haunches or turn on the forehand before blasting off again. Foster was definitely not responding as quickly as I was demanding, and this may be a good exercise to get him listening right away and thinking about moving forward with gusto.

Getting a good canter back in February

Getting a good canter back in February

Then we proceeded to making a small circle at the canter over a pole, that then became a small vertical, that then became a larger vertical, and a few things became obvious:

  1. Cantering left, he wants to land on that left shoulder (no surprise there, that’s why we tend to land on the right lead)
    1. To fix, think about leg yielding him over the fence, before and after
  2. Cantering right, he still wants to lean on the left shoulder
    1. …so I need to think about pushing his haunches out, or bringing his shoulders in
  3. When we go straight over the fence, he tends to jump really flat and that’s when rails come down

In order to fix the last grievance, we then moved on to the next exercise:


In which I made a very tight circle over an [increasing in size] oxer, opening my left rein to get him to land left so that we didn’t take out the super wide brick wall/vertical amalgamation. The trainer wanted him to be bending and moving over the oxer, thus keeping him from jumping flat and stagnant. And what do you know, it worked.


We then added in the above line, whereupon on re-approach to the oxer I would go “straight”, add in a circle around the vertical/brick wall and then back over a 2’9″ – 3′ vertical. This exercise helped me think about my landing, and not let him get strung out or dive between the fences as we are wont to do. Before it was brought up in height he crashed (once) through the last vertical, and we had a nice long talk about how it is Foster’s responsibility to figure some things out for himself, and if he doesn’t react I am to gallop away from the fence, teaching him not to die/not think in front of the fence but to react, preferably in a forward-thinking kind of way.JumpLesson3

Because bending became the name of the game, we then moved on to putting a line together but adding a bend to it. The quality of the jump remained good over both of those efforts, and while I’m not sure I could realistically do this at a show, it was eye opening to see how much better the ride is right now with bend.

JumpLesson4To finish we did a very bendy course that allowed us to practice landing on the left lead. Going from right to left is definitely weaker for us, but as long as I really prepare it’s starting to happen more and more often. At this point in time Foster was also very in front of my leg, and feeling like he was putting in good effort over the obstacles.

All in all, this was a great lesson for us to check in and see where we are at. Getting a more forward pace is starting to feel more natural, though I’d like to see it on film before deciding if it’s the canter we need to do a 3’3″ course. I’ve realized that I need to be more specific about the landing that I want, and put some responsibility in Foster’s hands regarding the take-off. This was definitely the confidence boost I needed before seeing Bobby Costello this weekend!


Mentally Riding Combinations

Another failed cross country schooling attempt this weekend (although this time my fault) left me itching to jump something, come hell or highwater. And not just jump about aimlessly, which tends to happen when I inherit someone’s jumble of standards and put them up in places corresponding to how much energy I have that day.

So I determined that I was going to work on combinations, and specifically riding in with energy, and making decisions about my path through the fences.


So I set up this configuration of roughly Novice sized verticals, based on something I remembered from Emma of Fraidy Cat Eventing‘s blog. My version was three strides no matter the path, just enough time for me to plan my lead out.

[old screenshot] I also worked on putting my hands down!

[old screenshot] I also worked on putting my hands down!

The key to the exercise was definitely getting his shoulders straight to the first element while maintaining a forward canter (I rode with my dressage whip to really enforce the “go” which seemed to work), then balancing through the three strides and thinking about which way I would go after the ‘out’ element. Sometimes I would take the bending line left (single to top left option), then turn roll back right and take another bending line left (top right to bottom single fence), or continue left and circle back around, or take a single fence by itself… I found that this combination of fences gave me a lot of options and things to think about.

[old screenshot]

[old screenshot]

I ended the session when I felt like Foster was listening to my aids and getting the correct lead each direction. At that point in time it was also unfortunately quite hot, about 90*, and I was getting light headed and Foster was seriously puffing.

[old screenshot]

[old screenshot]

Overall I was really pleased with the day, and especially felt like we made strides in finding a more forward pace for Foster (damn why can’t I bring my dressage whip to the jumper ring- suggestions anyone??) and for myself, picking less to the fence and mentally riding every stride.

The exercise was so helpful, I think I’ll be setting it up again soon!