"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Jump School!

Today Lily and I were going to do a dressage school. I was going to play with her mullen-mouth baby pelham and double reins...except when I got down to the arena, the jump field next door looked so much more appealing. And then I got exasperated with the double reins and tossed the "snaffle" reins to the side and kept the "curb" ones...and Lily was still giving me a lovely warm-up either way. She was happy, forward and relaxed. I was riding in the Alta because I had not felt like switching the stirrups back to my dressage Wintec (this involves dealing with sheepskin stirrup leather covers. I was not in the mood.)

The jumps in the little grass jump field were set in such an awesome way...two singles, two bounces, and a set of 3 cavalletti set for trot strides right across the center of the arena, placed in a diagonal. The grass there had been mowed recently so the jumps had all been set in a way that could be strung together into a little course. I kept eyeballing them and I finally said to hell with dressage, we're jumping.

Lily picked up a wonderful, wonderful collected yet elastic canter from where I could extend or collect her stride even further. We circled around the arena and the jumps so she could see their elongated shadows in the late afternoon sunlight and confirm that they weren't holes in the ground (she is towards the end of her heat cycle, which means she is lookier than she would normally be). I then had her trot over the cavalletti going both uphill and downhill (the jump field is on a very subtle incline) and she put her head down to look at them but went on, figuring out the striding while I stayed in a quiet half seat as she went over them. I didn't throw the reins away but just kept a light contact on the bit and this seemed to give her confidence. We then picked up that awesome collected canter again and I pointed her at the single vertical at the far end of the arena. It was two Blocks set on their sides with a wooden pole over them, maybe 2' high tops. We cantered up to it. Lily was a bit dodgy on the approach; I think she wasn't sure about what I was going to ask her to do. She took a half step to the right but I closed my right leg on her and she straightened out. One more stride and we were over the tiny jump, cantering away. Praise!

We did this three more times, always going uphill. On each approach she was still a bit timid, but she responded every time I closed my left leg to keep her going forward and straight. She received a big "Good girl!" after each jump.

I then dismounted, set up my phone on the fence with the flexible tripod (thank you Liz!!!) and jacked up the other single, which was nearest the fence where I had just placed the phone. The jump had originally been set to maybe 12"; I hiked it up to somewhere between 2'3" and 2'6". I also raised my stirrups a hole. The Alta isn't exactly conducive to jumping with its high pommel but having dressage-length stirrups wasn't going to help anyone either!

We trotted around, then picked up the canter and circled before going into the approach to the single. With the phone set to record on the tripod, the music I constantly have going when riding (a variety of trance, dubstep, reggaeton, reggae and 90's rock & alternative) was off, and I swear not having it playing rattled Lily. She felt a bit "up" and insecure as we cantered around the small field. I put my leg on and let my weight sink deep into my heels, and sat up as we approached this bigger fence. Remember now: this is my second jump school EVARRR on this mare! This mare that used to be terrified of ground poles, even! I haven't jumped consistently in at least 6 years myself. But all of my rider fitness came into play now: I felt tight in the saddle, my heels down, abs strong, as I reminded myself to look UP beyond the jump and NOT down at it, and also to NOT kick Lily into the long spot.

Unedited video of our three goes over this vertical. Pardon the lags!

She did that tiny half step to the right. "Nah-ah!" I said, closing my leg. She jumped, timidly, but with enough impulsion to nearly pop me out of the tack in the process! I sat up and collected her again, continuing the canter as we circled around the arena. The second approach was better, though still timid and she overjumped. "Whoot!" I exclaimed in surprise. You can hear it in the video!

Automatic release ftw!
I was really happy with our third approach to the vertical. Much more confident mare, though I felt my heart pumping hard in my chest as I locked onto the fence. I forced myself to sit back, look up beyond the fence at my turn, and exhale as we cantered up to the jump. Lily only paid attention to my breathing, and chose a beautiful spot.

Mareface can really pick up her knees when she wants to.

I left it at that for the videoing and dismounted to turn off the phone's camera so we could have music again while riding. While I was at it, I also converted the vertical into a large cross rail (sides set at 2'9"). My reason? I wanted to boost her confidence since she still felt timid on her approach. It wasn't fair to her to be aiming her at a vertical when she's only really schooled over cross rails with me on her back.

We did both singles at the canter, then strung it all together into a figure 8 by trotting the diagonal cavalletti in-between: canter one vertical, canter away, down transition to trot, cavalletti, up transition to canter, second vertical.

During our second go of this pattern, Lily started locking onto the jumps herself. She lifted her withers on the approach, giving me that lovely uphill canter that good jumpers are known for. For our third go, she took the long spot...and despite realizing what she was doing, I let her, because I realized I was encouraging it with my position + the uphill: I was stringing the jumps together in this figure 8 pattern so that we were always taking them uphill. Neither Mareface nor I are mentally prepared yet to canter downhill fences together. (I'm used to jumping on true flats. I've only ever really jumped downhill ONCE in my entire life! And with my trainer at the time to instruct me!)

As we started our fourth go of the pattern, Lily took a HUGE long spot towards the Blocks single, jumping flat and low and almost landing on top of the fence: that's how far away she leaped from! I threw the reins away so as to not grab her in the mouth. She cantered calmly on away from the jump as I apologized to her and gathered her up again. We maintained the canter and circled around to return to the Blocks single.

"Wait, wait," I said out loud on our approach, both for hers and my benefit, as I sat back and asked for that extra stride in front of the jump. She had no problem at all adjusting and I had no problem at all following. It was beautiful. We did this three more times, cantering around in a circle to return to the Blocks single, and then changed directions and did the same going to my big cross rails single. Lily was so very adjustable, trusting and confident. She gave me one last gorgeous jump, where I followed her perfectly, and afterwards I immediately asked for a walk, dropped the reins to pat her neck with both hands, and called it a day. We had jumped for all of 35 minutes but I had just found the perfect note to end on for both of us. Short and sweet! She was sweating because it was hot, but she wasn't even out of breath!

We then walked back to the barn on a loose rein.

This was easily my smoothest and most beautiful jump school of the last 10 years. Without a trainer to watch us, on my mare that is still insecure over jumps (and understandably so, from lack of experience with them!) and in a saddle that isn't designed for jumping. I was very proud of both of us: of Lily for trusting me, and of myself for trusting her and keeping calm and cool.

I was originally going to ride Gracie afterwards but decided to call it a day altogether: I was on such a high note that it was going to be tough to beat with anything else, and I wanted to keep it that way! :)


  1. I just read a book (blog review coming) that said something interesting about horses' vision - that they do not see jumps with binocular vision at the moment of take off. Of course, that makes sense, but as a binocular human I'd never thought about it before. They are literally judging the distance using the memory of where it was when they last saw it with both eyes. And then I realized that they do this all the time with any item they must step over, and it's no great feat for them. Just, jumping seems so much more dangerous than simply stepping.

    Oh to see like a horse for a day, we'd learn so much. (Or to hear like a cat, or live in 3 dimensions like a bird..)

    The book also said that horses will tilt their heads (to adjust their view) as they approach a jump - is that true?

    1. We do live in 3 dimensions! ;) I would love to *see* like a cat for a day...

      I had read before about horses not being able to see the jump right before take-off. Which makes it even more remarkable that they'll jump enormous crazy obstacles for us without a second thought. They also can't see very well at dawn or dusk when the world is gray: not enough contrast. They are much more likely to spook. I experienced this first-hand when I used to take jump lessons in the early evenings: horses would spook so much more with the time change, when our lesson took place right after sunset.

      I have never, ever seen a horse tilt its head when approaching a jump though. Ever. And I've jumped close to 100 horses of different breeds (QH, OTTB, Arabs, Warmbloods, Pasos) throughout my lifetime!

    2. You know what I mean - we are mostly stuck on this plane, we can't go straight up like a bird, nor down like an earthworm very easily: )

      So I guess that book I reviewed was full of some dubious stuff too. Thanks for clarifying.

  2. She looks awesome! For timid horses a straight ground line is very important to an airy vertical. I'm betting her step to the right was due to that slanted bottom rail. I love your form and especially your release!

    1. Good point! I wanted that bottom rail to be straight across but it wasn't long enough to reach both bottom jump cups! Arrrgh!

      Thank you Dom! <3

  3. Replies
    1. It was! This mare used to hate the entire concept of jumping so much...feeling her lock onto the jumps today for the first time was beyond awesome!

  4. What a good mare! Love the knees in some of those shots. I'm all for throwing dressage aside in favor of jumping.

    1. Hahaha I believe it! ;) She's funny: she'd rather overjump and hang her knees a bit than jump conservatively with tight knees. Probably a green-horse-over-jumps thing though.

  5. Love your header photo more than any other so far: )

  6. That looks great! she is really trusting you