Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rough lesson

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Horse Show Journal (one more day at HITS to tell you about) to bring you a post about a decidedly rough lesson yesterday. There was a lot going on, and I think I just need to write about it to figure it all out.

He flatted reasonably well. We were working on getting him to hold his inside bend and not swing his hips to the outside. He was listening to my outside aids pretty well. He seems to hold the left bend much better and not swing his hips to the outside if I really step my weight into my left stirrup. This is tough because I need to keep my right leg on him at the same time, but when I can manage to do that, it works. He did get pretty distracted at the canter though, just wanted to look at and think about everything except me. I should have nipped this in the bud right then, because this carried over into the jumping.

We started off adding a little verticle into a canter circle. It was tiny, so I wanted a conservative distance, which at first he was just ignoring. But then Alicia told me to carry my hands and square my turn to it, and it immediately got better. I have a terrible habit of letting my reins get too long, burying my hands in my lap, and leaning over my hand. It's so ineffective and I don't know why I can't stop doing it. But it's a habit I am trying to break.

Then we did another little bending line, which I rode well. Again, these were tiny so I just got conservative distances. Then we did the same bending line, but this time instead of the little verticle on the out, we jumped a bigger oxer that was set beside it as the second fence. This is where the trouble started. I didn't see anything, got him down there in nine and a half, and curled into a ball. Again, not very effective riding. He jumped it, diving left because that's what he does when I bury him, took the top rail down with him, wasn't too pleased about that. Then we started having problems with the little verticle jumping in. He wasn't paying attention, didn't leave the ground when I thought he would, and kept taking that rail down as well (very un-Tucker-like). Then I tried putting my leg on to get him to focus, that just goosed him and drove him past the distance. Finally jumped in decently enough to continue to the oxer. Worked it out in nine but the nine was actually tight this time. We then pulled my spurs, which did help. Except a couple of times he broke from the canter back to the trot (what am I, five?).

Next we added a verticle that was set on the center line in the middle of the ring, off the right lead. The first time we jumped it, I didn't square my turn and he just bulged out through his left shoulder (a continuing problem) and then the distance I saw out of the turn wasn't there anymore and we were really tight to it. Came around again, squared my turn and kept him perfectly straight. This is where I got a little annoyed with him. Even though I rode it well this time, he still wanted to dive left as we were leaving the ground. I felt it though, dug my left spur in on take off and made him stay straight. He landed pissed off, we had to walk a minute to let him settle.

Then we added another bending line, a verticle plank bending to a liver pool, then 3 strides to a little gate (can you tell we have a lot of jumpers in my barn? I told Alicia when we paint the jumps we have to have at least one natural jump that remotely resembles something you'd see in the hunter ring). This would be where a rough lesson became a lesson we will be talking about for a while. Tucker never even notices the jumps, so we figured he wouldn't care about the liverpool even though he's never jumped one. Oh, how we were wrong. We're cantering up to it, and I feel him back off, but I don't want to scare him so I just supported with my leg gently and figured we'd add one more in than I had planned. He gets to the base of it and jumps straight up in the air. If it had been 5'6", he would have cleared it, no problem. We land, I have no power steering, he is running blindly in terror from whatever monster he just climbed over. I just stopped him, somewhere toward the end of the ring, and patted him and told him he was okay.

[And here's one of the things I love about riding with Alicia. The moment when I look over my shoulder at her after we've just done something ridiculous, and she is doubled over and laughing. The first time this happened, when I first started riding with Alicia about a year ago, Tucker put a two in a three stride line, and I thought, "oh god, is she going to be horrified? yell? stomp her feet at my incompetence? refuse to continue teaching me?" And when I looked over, she was laughing. What a relief. We are on the same page. Tucker is hilarious.]

So we made the liverpool a tiny cross rail and we came around again to it at a trot. This time, two strides out he gunned it and took it at a gallop. Apparently, he figured he'd just get it overwith as quickly as possible. Again, landed running blindly and this time I had to pull him up a little abruptly because at some point we can't allow that behavior. At least his reaction is to run at the scary jump and take me to it, instead of suck back or refuse it. Then we went back to one of the plank verticles at the top of the ring, just to give him something a little less scary to jump, and came back to our trot and trotted over the bay-horse-eating-monster-qua-liverpool. This time I talked to him the whole way to it and in the air over it. That really helped. He overjumped it, peeking at it between his legs, but not nearly as scary.

Went back to the plank, from a trot, and he was distracted, looking at something else, put one too many trot steps in and whacked it pretty hard. He was pissed, kicked out so hard that I actually saw his hind right leg out of the corner of my eye (again, all very un-Tucker-like behavior). I was a little annoyed. I don't usually blame him for anything, but he was the one that didn't pick up his feet there, and it was a trot jump, so all I had to do was sit up and relax my hand, which I did. Kicking out at his own silly mistake is just a little rude, I think. But maybe it stung him. We came back around to it and this time he picked up his feet, jumped it fine, landed quietly.

Then we trotted our liverpool and kept cantering four strides to the white gate, which was not easy because it was a three stride line, but he did it. We did that again, and then added an oxer that was set on the opposite diagonal (our ring is huge, which is why this course probably sounds a little confusing). Here is where I made one of the mistakes that really makes me mad at myself. When I am worried that he is going to land and be fresh, I tend to not want to let go of his face on the way to the jump. Which is totally counter-productive. It is basically like coiling up a spring. He's in a ball, he jumps the jump straight up in the air, and then he does land all pissed off and bronc-like and yanking the reins out of my hands. If I would just let go and be soft on the way to the jump, he will jump it soft. I don't know why I can't seem to grasp this. But I endeavored to fix it on our last course of the day.

So we did the whole thing again, and it was admittedly a lot better. The bending line in nine (which worked out fine when I just let go of his darn face), the center line verticle (kept him counter-bent to the left and rode it square, much better), trotted our plank, trotted our liverpool (which had ceased to be a monster at this point), cantered four strides to the gate (which was still tight, but putting four in a three is really hard for him), and then finished up with the diagonal oxer (where I told myself no matter what, LET GO OF HIS FACE). I let go, he found his own distance, he landed forward but not running and much more relaxed, and did a perfect left-to-right change on the straight line before we got to the corner. Good note to quit on.

So now that I've written this post, I can reflect on what I learned from this lesson, instead of just thinking "wow, that was a rough lesson." What have we learned? 1) Everything goes better when I let go of his face; 2) Even if he is terrified of a jump, he will jump it no matter what; 3) When he gets pissed off, if I just ignore it, he will get over it. Oh, and given that he jumped an imaginary 5' wall the first time we jumped the liverpool, if Alicia needs a back-up mini prix horse, she can always use Tucker.


  1. You think about what happens - and you have a good trainer! Liked your conclusions - and you ended better than you started, which is great!

  2. It doesn't sound tooo terrible to me. There was progress made, no crashing or falling off. I think when things go so well consistently you aren't used to less than perfect days. He's young and still learning. You worked through the problems and some days our horses have an off-day (like us).


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