July 25, 2016

So Much To Learn: Lesson #2

Saturday was supposed to be a poker ride with a friend riding Gem and me on board Pete, but a late Friday storm had them postponing it until Sunday and then Saturday they just cancelled the entire thing.

I was really bummed that the first planned ride in two weeks was off the books, but I still had a burning desire to actually ride my horse for the first time all summer and I was darned if I wasn't going to do it. The thought of trailering out remains very unappealing to me, so instead I used my wifey math skills to convince the hubby that by spending $35 on a lesson I was actually saving us $5 by not spending the $40 I had put aside for the poker ride (plus the gas money in getting there). He rolled his eyes in response as I texted the BO to see if she would be around for a lesson Sunday morning.

Typical routine upon arrival at the barn. Gem is hanging out with Pete in the front part of the pasture finishing up breakfast hay. She sees me pull in and saunters off as I get out of the van.
At 9 am it was already in the upper 80s and the horses were covered in a film sheen of sweat just hanging in the pasture. This summer has been the hottest of the three since being down here with the nights staying in the upper 70s and low 80s and the days breaking 100.
The BO was just finishing up her own ride as I got Gemmie groomed and dug out my old Ariat riding shoes. After putting them on, I recalled why I had ditched them in the first place and made a mental note to look into getting some new arena approved foot wear.

Then she takes off at a gallop to the far side of her pasture where she hides behind the strand of trees peaking out occasionally to see where I am. If I am taking too long, she will come galloping back to the front pasture snorting to get my attention only to disappear behind the trees once I talk to her.  
We also tried a new saddle on her. I do like the Stubben saddles as a whole, but the two models I had tried in the past just didn't feel right or worth spending the money. Both had me feeling perched on top of my mare instead of wrapped down around her. This time we tried the Roxane jumping saddle in a 17.5" seat, regular flaps and a 27 cm tree. We headed up to the grass field with a second saddle in tow to try as well and began to warm up at the walk.

She stands there watching me intently as I walk across the pasture talking to her the entire time. Once I get closer, she will duck behind the trees completely and hang out on the other side where I can't see her.

I have been the worst student ever having only practiced what I learned one time since the first lesson and that was while out on trail. Sorry, BO!! The biggest thing we worked on in the beginning, well besides my position which was much better in this saddle than the previous ones, was riding with more intent. I tend to just amble around with a general idea of going in a circle or from point A to B but without much actual intent on how exactly we would accomplish it.

She had me really working on picking an exact blade of grass or rock or dirt spot to ride to then riding to the next and the next so that Gem had exact guidance of where we were going and how we were going to get there. After that was established, and she called me out for using the arena fence and forced me to make a much smaller circle, we worked on maintaining our energy throughout the entire circuit. With the arena being on a hill, Gem had the tendency to get faster going down and slower going up. We worked at the walk for quite some time just working on using my body to get her to speed up going up the hill and slow down going back down to have an overall steady pace around.

I then cut over the the other side of the trees and she will walk over to meet me half way, stop to pee, and then shove her head into her halter and walk nicely back to the barn. She does this every single time I go out to get her. 
Once we established that, we moved on to doing the same thing at the trot. It went okay for a while but then she had me add in three walk transitions around the circle at random places and Gem got very, very tense. She hates transitions. She gets all nervous about when they will appear and the longer we work on them the worse she gets. BO talked me through it and we gave Gem plenty of pats and breaks to relax.

Near the end of the lesson, BO added a log as a ground pole. It was all of 6" in diameter and Gem could easily just step over the darn thing with minimal effort. It being a bare log and me being me, I immediately pictured imminent death. BO laughed at me. She placed the log on the uphill side of our circle and had me go over it at the trot keeping my bend in the circle and hitting the pole in the center.

The first time around Gem bowed out to the right and BO called me out on it. She asked me what I had been thinking of. "Going over the pole and not dying"

Wrong answer.

For the first time ever working with poles or jumps, I learned exactly what it is that I do so wrong and why Gem and I both suck at it.

BO explained that jumping is just glorified dressage and should be treated as such. When going over a pole, I am to not think about the pole at all. That is Gem's job. I am to continue riding with intent (my new favorite thing) and concentrate on my approach and then my departure lines and allow Gem to figure her own feet out to get us over the obstacle.

The next approach felt amazing. I concentrated on all the things we had done in the beginning part of the lesson: maintaining her pace around the circle, half halting with my core and seat, and riding a set path. The pole came up and I was so focused on everything else that we just trotted over it like it was no thing at all. I gave Gem all the pats and was so thrilled!!

We then reversed direction and went to the left and she wanted me to plan my turn off the circle to approach the log then go straight up the hill after it between two other jumps and make a left turn. We approached it and Gem fell apart. She got tense the moment we made the turn at the bottom of the hill and she saw the pole. I then helped the situation out by getting tense and bracing against the stirrups (insert sarcasm font) and we flailed over the log, hitting it with 3 of her 4 feet and nearly nose dived into the grass.

The next circuit we added a walk transition before and after the log. This helped me really have to get her tuned into me and not focus on the log before hand as well as keep her focus on me afterward and after two attempts she settled and we had a great trip over.

By this point she was dripping with sweat and we had worked on a lot of stuff, so we quickly changed saddles. This time it was the Juventus jumping saddle which is on the same tree as the Roxane, but is a kids saddle with a shorter flap and a 17" seat. It is also around $1,000 cheaper. The shorter flap was perfect for my short legs. It also put me in a much better position and I felt really secure in it. I'm not sure about the 17" seat though. I fit in it and it didn't look or feel ridiculously small, but I've gotten used to having so much real estate in my endurance saddle that I felt a little scrunched. I can order (well, I could order if I had any money) the Roxane in the shorter flap and 17.5" seat but then I'm paying a bunch more money for 0.5" more room to wiggle about. I am going to need more ride time in both to make a good decision and then will have to sell a kidney or something to get the money together to purchase it.

Looking cute as an English pony although hunter green is definitely not her color. 

By the time I did two circuits in the Juventus, Gem was done and I was near the point of getting a massive headache from being out in the sun for so long without water. We started riding at 9:30 am and got back down to the barn after 11 am. She got a shower with cold water, a ton of hugs and was put back out to roast in the 100 degree day. The lesson just reminded me how much I have to learn and how much fun I have learning these things. I don't have the ability to lesson very much right now, but I hope to take advantage when I can and sneak in some practices once it cools off. The evenings are just too hot right now (last night it was still 96 at 8 pm) but hopefully in the next month or so it will begin to relax a little so I can once again hit the barn after work.


  1. So agree about jumping being glorified dressage and letting the horse think about the obstacle while the rider simply (ha) thinks about the approach!

    1. Wish I could lesson with you. You sure you don't want to move to SC? I know a vet's office that is hiring :)

  2. Dressage with obstacles is exactly what jumping is. Growing up, I rode at a fancy H/J show barn and one of the instructors did straight dressage. Everyone rode with her because they knew it would;d improve their jumping.

    1. I always just thought of it as a death defyin activity to survive. My brain typically checks out when a jump is near.

  3. I think Ashke interprets transitions as him doing something wrong and gets tense in anticipation. He would be happy if I just let him decide what the gait should be and when he should change it. It is getting better, but sometimes I have to add serpentines or changes of direction to reinforce the idea that a transition is no different than a change of direction.

    1. That is an interesting thought. Gem has always disliked transitions and I'm not sure why. I think it's because she is always thinking about 10 steps ahead of me and when I ask her to change hair it throws her off guard. My fault for not being a better leader all these years.