Thursday, September 17, 2009


So Tucker and I had a great lesson on Saturday. (I realize it's currently Thursday, but it's been a busy week.) We tried a new gadget, called an Irish martingale. This is another one of Anne Kursinski's brain storms. Anne is sponsored by Arc de Triomphe, so the Irish Martingale we have is made by them and I'm guessing will be available at Smartpak soon like the rest of Anne's gadgets. Since Alicia rides with Anne, we sometimes get things early, like the layered reins and the instant gag. I know I've already explained all about the instant gag and its benefits for Tucker. Though of course, like any gadget, overuse is counterproductive, so we don't use anything on Tucker all the time.

We are currently using both the layered reins and the Irish Martingale. The Irish martingale you see to the right. From what I've read, it's very popular in European racing. I love it because it helps me keep even pressure on both reins and seems to prevent Tucker from bulging through my outside rein contact. It's very subtle, it doesn't seem to come into play too often but it's definitely there when you need it.

The layered reins have also been really effective for us. If you click the link above, you'll see there are loops in the reins through which you put your hands. It has the dual purpose of teaching you the feeling of having your reins short enough all around a course and teaching your horse not to root the reins or yank them out of your hands. Tucker isn't generally a horse that pulls you around, but since he is used to his mother riding with her reins too long, and since he is much more comfortable with a big stride, he sometimes protests the contact and roots the reins to buy himself another foot of stride or so. But the layered reins have really helped him learn not to do that. We used them in the winter, switched back to regular reins, and for the past few weeks have been using them again. This time, Tucker is far more understanding and accepting of the contact. Progress!

So our lesson on Saturday was really great. We were in the indoor due to the rain (ugh) but it was really nice to see how Tucker is so much more balanced and jumping a course in the indoor was a lot easier for him now. We did a verticle on the outside to an oxer on the diagonal, to a 4 stride line on the other outside. Sounds simple, I know, but sometimes the simplest exercises can teach you so much.

For one, I learned that I really truly can just trust Tucker to find his own distance. He comes out of the corner and locks on to the fence like one of those radar guns you see on fighter jets in movies. I learned that once he does that, I need to just kind of follow along and not break his concentration. As Alicia put it, chances are, the decision he made is the right one. I also learned that when the jumps go up to 3 feet, I think I need more canter. I don't. When I just keep the same rhythm I had when it was 2'6", he jumps it right out of stride.

Tucker also seems to have learned from the gymnastics. The 4 stride line was set 3' short, so we had to jump in quietly and stay collected. He jumped in quietly and was so good about landing and staying collected that I actually had to soften and follow down the line to have it work out nicely in four. This is huge for us! It seems we have finally conquered the huge stride problem. He really understands now about jumping in quietly and then keeping that same collected, balanced canter when he lands from the jump. I think fixing my position has helped a lot with that too. Alicia has jacked my stirrups up to my eyeballs (I type lovingly) which has really helped me keep my leg underneath me and thus keep myself balanced and in the middle of the horse (rather than lounging somewhere on his neck and having to peel myself off of him upon landing). When I stay in the middle, he lands balanced, instead of landing on his forehand and then us having to regroup.

I had this great feeling at the end of the lesson. We jumped the diagonal oxer one last time, and I just came out of the corner, lifted my eye, and exhaled. My contact was there but soft, my leg was supporting but not chasing, my shoulder stayed back, and then he just casually, gracefully, artfully jumped this 3' oxer like it was no big deal, landed on his right lead, cantered softly around the corner, and that's the note we quit on. All I could think was: "Wow. Magic." Even now, I get chills just thinking about it.

It's amazing how far we've come. When I think back to the struggles we had a year ago, to being able to comfortably jump around a 3' course, it really does seem like magic. And despite all the troubles in my life right now, for that brief moment, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.


  1. I have never heard of any of those gadgets! Thanks for the information. The layered reins concept intrigues me.

  2. Whoo hoo!! This is BIG. Even not knowing a thing about jumping, I can feel how big it is from the way you describe it (okay, I lied: and what little I do know from listening & watching those who do jump).

    I've looked at the layered reins with contemplation...tend to ride with my reins too long. Might have to try it! Great update.

  3. I highly recommend the layered reins. At first they felt like torture and I thought I was going to get pulled right over Tucker's head. But now they've taught me to be more giving and soft with my elbow and not brace against him through my wrist in order to keep him from resisting the contact. I think even in the dressage world where (from what I gather) gadgets are looked at with the nutritional value of a big mac, they could (maybe?) be viewed as useful for that purpose. I love a good gadget, but then I'm a hunter princess.


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