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

Monday, February 8, 2016

In Which We Really Do....JUMP!!


This happened on Sunday!
Let me backtrack first though, since many of you might not be familiar with Lily's initial history and won't get why this was such a huge deal! :)

My story with Lily, back before starting the blog, started with her as a resale training project: I would train her while my BM at the time took care of the financial aspect of keeping her, and then we'd sell her and split the profit. Lily has always had a very nice jump, nice enough for me to think she'd make a nice lower level hunter, so that's what I was originally going to train her for. During her first week at our barn, I tested her over ground poles...and discovered a mare that was terrified of GROUND POLES. I had a lot of work in my future if we really were going to turn her into a hunter.

I didn't need to worry though because less than 3 months later she was mine, and I was able to dump the hunter prospect training.

She had such a gift for lateral movement and seemed to be so confident outside of the arena (HA on the regression she'd have later...there came a time where if you'd told me that I'd be doing 50 mile endurance rides with her in the mountains, I would have laughed in your face, she was so bad!) that I entertained the idea of eventually turning her into an eventer. No big aspirations there, just a lower level eventer.

We did work over ground poles and cavaletti and she eventually became more confident over them, and I've longed her over jumps throughout the years as cross training. It wasn't her favorite thing though, and often we'd come back to work on ground poles and cavaletti after a few days off from them and it would feel like I was re-starting her over them. Back in Florida our arena was small and when my dressage instructor took over as the BM, our BO forbade jumping on property. So there went that pipe dream anyway. I wasn't upset about it because by this point I really did just want to focus on dressage. I rode in the jumpers for 17 years; I trained horse after horse after horse for it, from older greenies to baby OTTBs just off the track to start in new careers. I also seemed to have a knack for getting horses that had formerly quit jumping to start doing it again for me. It was what I did in exchange for lessons. At one point I loved it. I lived for it. But as I became more skilled, I was put on more and more technical horses and in the process got badly burned by push rides, which is what I suspected Lily would be, and I didn't really want to tackle this type of issue by myself sans jump trainer. Lily had enough confidence issues as it was without adding my own to the equation.

So we didn't jump. I was amused when she started offering it on trail: when she is particularly happy or when riding on familiar trails, she is more than willing to jump fallen trees, logs and small streams. There is even proof of us doing this...

I encouraged it and she loved it.

We'd re-visit arena fences on the longe and it was always like starting over from scratch. She did it because I asked her to, not because she enjoyed it. This became even more obvious after the acquisition of Gracie, who will hunt down jumps in an arena if you let her!

G-Mare proves that gaited horses CAN jump!
Lily always preferred natural jumps though. Like these coops that she jumped as if they were twice their height...

The first time I ever tried longing her over this, she refused. I let it go. This was on a separate day; I was longing her in the field and miscalculated my circle, which put her right in line with the coops. To my absolute astonishment, she jumped them. So I proceeded to longe her over them a few more times. These were TWO coops next to one another, at least 10' wide.
The problem was never her ability. It was her desire. And there might also have been some fear on my part: she has a knack for cracking her back over jumps and overjumping when she's in doubt, and I didn't want to deal with that particular combo of jumping style (because that's the kind of stuff that will unseat you!) + developing her confidence. If she had been super eager to jump from the get-go, this blog literally would have all been a completely different story.

This past weekend I was on call for work Sunday which meant I couldn't head out on the trails (I have to be able to get into work within an hour of being called in). So I decided to just do an arena ride with Lily. I told Charles to stick to the landfill area with Gracie, since the trails were going to be mush from the snow that continues to melt. I asked him to return in about 30 minutes...because there was a single jump set up in the arena and I was thinking of popping Lily over it.

Mind you, I have never properly jumped with Lily with me in the saddle. Like I said: only ground poles and cavaletti. We had just built jumps when barn management changed back in FL and BO decided to forbid jumping. And I just hadn't felt the urge to try it...until this particular day.

I set up a tiny cross rail, then warmed Lily up w/t/c. She was SUPER adjustable at the canter on this day, which I figured boded well for what I wanted to do.

After 20 minutes, I slowed her to a walk and pointed her at the cross rail. It was small enough that she could easily step over it. Except she looked at it as if she had never seen a cross rail before in her life (believe me, she has. And she has been longed over this particular jump before too) and wouldn't step over it. I kept my leg on her and calmly kept looking forward, not down at the cross rail. Lily danced sideways then stopped and decided to step over the jump. Except she stepped ON the rails and knocked one over. *face-palm* She half-reared in startlement. I kept my leg on but instead of going forward, she rapidly backed up. I continued to stay calm, turned her around and had her walk back up to the fence (she actually did so without protesting), where I dismounted and set it again.

Since I was already on the ground, I simply led her over the jump at a walk, only once in each direction. She was fine. I then mounted up and walked her over it, once in each direction. She continued to be fine. Right around then Charles and Gracie showed up.

I asked Lily for a trot and circled her around towards the cross rail. Her ears pricked and she picked up the pace.

"OH! We're JUMPING????! Why didn't you just say so???" she said.
"Silly mare. Since when do you enjoy jumping?"
"Since now!"

She overjumped a little bit...
Please ignore the chicken elbows and me bracing against her neck. I corrected all of that later.
Also: I'm jumping in a dressage saddle with giant knee blocks AND a sheepskin cover. I'm thrilled with my leg in these pics: this was the very best I could do given the saddle circumstances! Other than one session jumping Q during our first time visiting Liz 3 years ago, I had not jumped in 6 years!!
She got a "GOOD GIRL!" and pats after the jump. To my surprise, she was completely rateable over the fence: she went in at a trot and trotted out afterwards, no matter how much or how little she overjumped it. I was impressed: a lot of greenies will want to bolt or at least canter after a fence their first few times.

So we continued, alternating directions.

Long spot. But look at her face!! :)
And a deer jump! SPROING! I got left behind but let the reins thread through my fingers so as to not catch her in the mouth. She wasn't the least bit bothered.
Following her quietly.
I love this photo. She is listening to me (one ear flicked back) and we are both absolutely correct: she is taking the jump conservatively from a reasonable distance, my leg is solid with heels down, my back flat, I'm looking ahead at the turn (the jump was at an angle so we had to sort of figure-8 to it and away from it) and my crest release is pretty damn near perfect except for the flapping rein...which is on purpose anyway.

She was doing so WELL, so steady, so trusting, that she was giving me time to think about every single thing I was doing on our approaches. Eyes up, heels down, leg steady, wait but don't drive with your seat, etc, etc, etc. Which only helped her more in turn. So I got brave and started asking for a canter towards the jump. She continued to be a total rock star. So I got off and raised the X. Then we trotted in to it.

She noticed the height change. 

She felt the need to jump the height of the sides of the cross rail...hahaha...
Her expression though! She was so HAPPY!

We continued in both directions until she realized she didn't have to jump the height of the sides of the "X", just the center height!

Lily goes "WHEEE!"

Holy long spot. Lol!
At least it wasn't from me jumping ahead!!

This one was my favorite in the entire series, despite my leg (though again: giant knee blocks! This is a Wintec Pro Contourbloc saddle. The blocks on this saddle are no joke!) I just love her face here and you can see she's realized that she can just canter over this. 
Also: can we give Charles a round of applause for these pics? These aren't video stills, they are actual photos taken with an iPhone from a wiggly mare's back. His timing was impeccable.

We jumped for a good half hour, finishing with the giant X at a canter in both directions. She barely broke a sweat throughout all of this. We were doing a nifty figure 8 around the entire arena to approach the jump and she was, for the most part, nailing correct lead changes after the fence. Halfway through the session she was locking onto the jump when I pointed her at it, but remained quiet and listening. Like, REALLY listening: she would stay at the same speed approaching the cross rail until I put my leg on during our last two strides. 

I was so, so, so, SO impressed with her. SO impressed. 

I walked her back to the barn, Charles riding next to me on Gracie. He pointed out that I was beaming: I was grinning so wide my cheeks hurt. 

Lily received a mash and a huge hug thanks. I might still be a little shocked by her awesomeness on this day!

Monday, February 1, 2016


I had had every intention of riding last Monday after the snowstorm but, while our BO had managed to get the front driveway fairly cleared, word was that it was still quite treacherous even for 4WD. It's a paved road on a pretty steep incline and temps were still below freezing so the driveway was icy. The back entrance of the farm is safer but they had deeper drifts back there and were still working on getting that cleared.

So I decided to wait.

What ended up happening is that during the week I had my car so I didn't even attempt the barn driveway, as it was still dropping into the 20's and teens by the time I was leaving work at night and I didn't feel like negotiating black ice in the dark on the twisty curvy back road that leads to and from the barn. Charles usually takes the truck to work during the week because it is his vehicle and with his swing shift hours he rarely encounters traffic. My car is far more economic on gas and I do drive through rush hour both ways...hence why I use my car: less $$ spent on gas.

By Friday temps were in the low 50s during the day and I got to leave work early! So I swung by the barn to see the girls.

BO had done an incredible job clearing paths to and from the barn and large swaths from around the hay feeders and sheds so the horses could move around comfortably in the common areas. Also, the snow-covered pastures were just screaming "GALLOP!"

Up the driveway we go!
There is nothing as inviting as untouched snow.
I was beyond pleased to see that Lily was fat, fuzzy, and happy. BO had been able to keep free choice hay available for all the field board horses and it showed. Both mares are shaggy yaks. I haven't clipped either one of them this year because we haven't been riding as much this winter and also because I'm in charge of my own blanketing: I'd be removing their blankets before work at the very coldest time of the morning, which kind of defeats the purpose. So they've been allowed to stay fuzz and naked. They've been comfortable in temps into the low negatives like this, so they weathered the storm sans blankets because, given the forecasts, I wasn't sure how long it would take for my neighborhood and the barn to be plowed out and I was afraid of them overheating under midweights. Sheets would have just flattened their coats and made them cold.
Lily was like, "Oh! You came back!"
Gracie stopped eating and came right over to the fence, "Where have you BEEN????" Love her expression!
I honestly just wanted to tack up and go ride. But there was a wicked icy wind blowing and I did not have even remotely appropriate riding clothes. If it had been warmer I would have ridden in my scrubs! But it was too cold.
Winter sunsets are the most spectacular.
On Saturday I was raring to go ride. But I had a coworker's bday party to go to and Charles was exhausted after work so I went to the party and let him sleep in. We were able to make it to the barn by 4:00 pm, where we quickly tacked up and took the girls down to the arenas.

Charles worked G-Mare (who was the most amped) in the round pen. Lily was quiet and calm but I set her free in the arena to see if she wanted to run around before I got on. Neither horse had been ridden in almost 2 weeks, so I was expecting fireworks.

I got none.

The shallowest snow was right by the gate!
Lily trotted 3 steps then walked around and came to a stop. When I tried coaxing her to continue, she looked right at me and made a huge show of walking slowly, holding one leg up in the air at a time like, "Mom, this is TOO DEEP. I'm not working in this!" I didn't blame her!
She wouldn't come to me (she just stood there and looked pathetic) so laughing, I walked up to her, clipped the reins back onto her bit and led her over to the mounting block. She made a point of stepping in my footprints: it's easier.
Only a little deep...
I got on in the arena and walked Lily over to the gate. Gracie had been charging around in the snow in the round pen and had settled by now, so I asked Charles to come over and open the arena gate for us. He did, then mounted up and we headed over to the landfill: the main truck dirt roads had been cleared of snow, so we had some nice flat snow-free footing that we could work the horses on.

No ice, just puddles. The footing was perfect: damp but not muddy.
The sunset was spectacular.
Both girls were UP! Gracie especially. Charles sat her antics beautifully and completely ignored her attempts to buck: she wanted to GO. Lily was also hyped but she was listening well. The snow next to the main straightaway of the landfill was shallow, 12"-18" deep, and I know the footing underneath is smooth: it's going to be part of a hay field in the future. I told Charles to just take Gracie into the snow and let her run so she could burn off some of that excess energy. He was going to be fighting with her the entire time otherwise.

Gracie thought she was going to get to be all uppity in the snow and she charged through the small wall of white stuff by the road when Charles pointed her where they were going. She was not paying attention to where she was putting her feet and assumed that the footing was deeper than it was. She floundered about, almost falling onto her chest but managing to both stay upright and not throw Charles off balance. She recovered smoothly while I cringed, and moved off without a hitch. Neither her nor Charles were worse for the wear and my heart fell back into its normal spot in my chest.

She learned her lesson real quick though: she paid attention to the footing AND listened to her rider after that!! Huge change from the horse she used to be this time last year.

Halfway through his first run, I realized Charles had never actually cantered through the snow. We rode in the snow last year but it wasn't like this. I went crazy taking photos. Lily was awesome and cooperated for the most part to allow me to get these!

She has such an awesome canter.
Slowing down to a rack in a deeper patch.
All the way to the end. Also: you can see the road next to the strip of snow we cantered.
Turning around for another go. She was much calmer now.
MUCH better.
If you "embiggen", you'll see the huge grin on his face!
Dude: check out his form. It's hard to believe that he's only been riding for a year and a half. He seriously wins the horse husband award, hands down.
Rocking horse canter.
Then it was my turn! 

I am a dork and I was laughing as I trotted her to the beginning of the straightaway.
Charles was filming from Gracie's back, who was also trotting.

I rode her to the beginning of the straightaway and waited for Charles to give me the go-ahead while Lily bounced around underneath me like a racehorse at the start gate. She KNEW what was coming and she had no intention of just cantering.

I slid my hands forward up her neck and unleashed her. She lunged forward, up out of the snow, the white stuff flying in sparkly powder around us with the power of her movement. 

I threw my head back and laughed. And laughed and laughed, as Lily galloped through the snow.

And again...

And here are the screen captures.


After that, we trotted them up and down the dirt straightaway a couple of times to let them burn off some additional steam and settle down further. Then we walked them back to the barn to untack. They barely broke a sweat during all of this.

We only rode for 30 minutes: we just wanted to see where their brains were at and let them move out and stretch their legs under saddle.

It. was. AWESOME.

Charles hand-walked Gracie while I rode Lily on the flattened snow next to the road: it had better traction than the paved parts of the driveway.

On Sunday we were at the barn earlier, with plans to do a longer ride....on the trails this time.

Have the photographic story of our adventure. :)

The hitching posts are still under 2' of snow and a farrier was using the barn aisle so Charles held the girls in the barnyard while I groomed and tacked them up. They just stood there patiently while I got them ready.
And we're off! We took the route through the landfill so we could use the dirt road to access the trails: it meant a good mile of snow-free footing. Ever walked through deep snow (deeper than your ankles) without snowshoes or skis? That shit is exhausting! We definitely had that very much in mind when we set out on this little expedition with the girls. 
Virgin snow. The only tracks were those of deer. No one else had ridden through this yet.
Trail that leads into the woods. Lily had been leading up until this moment and here she stopped and wouldn't budge: she needed a break from creating the path. Being the first to step through deep snow is also especially tiring. It's easier when you can step in another's footsteps.
I took advantage of this short break to snag pics!
That's one of the hay fields!
Gracie and Charles then took the lead, which G-Mare was more than happy to do.
You can see just how deep the snow was in this spot: we were on an incline where the snow had especially accumulated.
Lily started walking of her own accord, following in Gracie's tracks.
View from between Gracie's ears.

Lily continued in Gracie's tracks.

Charles wanted to go down to the property's hunting cabin to see it up close in the snow. BO rents it out to family and friends during deer season. For whatever reason Charles finds it fascinating. Lol
Down the hill towards the cabin.

Since we had confirmed going downhill that the footing was fine under the snow, we let the girls gallop back up the hill after checking out the cabin. Lily thought she was going to get to gallop all the way back home...it took a bit of effort to bring her to a stop at the end!

Screen shot from the video above. :)

I asked Charles if he'd get a video of Lily and me cantering up the hay field trail. I trotted on a head, turned around and let her canter one last time...

Screen shot from the video above. :D
Except it wasn't the last canter. That sloping snow-covered trail was too tempting...we let Gracie and Lily walk down to the bottom of the slope and then unleashed them. They both happily bounded forward into a gallop, snow flying backwards from their hooves as they eagerly raced one another.

Too much fun!!!

We brought them to a halt once we were back at the landfill area, then took the trail that would eventually take us to the river.

Riding past the landfill on our right.
G-Mare was still all, "I wanna keep going fast!!"
No one else had ridden this trail either! Only deer and geese tracks on the snow.

Finally at the river.
There was a crust of ice right next to the shore, which you can see in the photo above. The water underneath was very shallow and I wasn't worried about the horses stepping on it. Lily and Gracie both willingly stepped forward onto the ice edge and the ice cracked as expected. Lily was about to continue on into the water but Gracie startled, which in turn startled Lily. With minimal coaxing I urged Lily into the river.

It took a little more convincing for Gracie. Poor girl.

I ultimately walked Lily back upstream so we were next to Gracie and turned around. Charles gave her a little kick and she followed Lily into the water.

It was beyond gorgeous.
We let the girls walk on until I realized the bottom sloped off into a deep pool of water that would have been chest-deep on Lily. Since none of us really felt like going swimming in icy water, we turned around.

Gracie enjoying the river. :)
We headed back up the trail, backtracking towards the landfill so we could take the snow-free route back to the barn. The girls had rested in the river and were eager to move out again...so we let them.

We cantered the first portion of the trail back towards the landfill, slowed to a trot to go over BO's small bridge, then let them open up into a furious gallop on the last hill.

Lily was in front and as we rounded the bend in the trail she suddenly engaged into a sort of fifth gear, leaping forward into the fastest she has ever moved with me on her. It felt like her hooves weren't touching the ground. I laughed into the wind.

Charles saw when Lily turned on the afterburners...he said she flagged her tail!

We brought the girls back down to a prancy trot to get onto the dirt path and walked them home on a loose rein.

They were both breathing normally and cooled down by the time we led them into the barn. They received sloppy mashes that they had more than earned.

Charles is still talking about the snow gallops 24 hours later. I think someone is hooked. ;)