Sunday, September 12, 2010

Horse Show yesterday, and a Breakthrough today

Tucker and I went to a schooling show yesterday.  I'd say my performance, overall, was a bit mediocre.  Tucker was fantastic.  And once again, proved to me that he is, without question, the most trustworthy horse I've ever known.  We also had a breakthrough today using a hackamore.  Tucker loved going bitless!

I try not to blame a bad round on outside factors, but I have to say there were a couple of things I didn't like about the horse show that I thought impacted our performance, which is why I won't tell you where we were (I swore I'd never disparage anyone on the blog).  I wasn't crazy about the course, and Tucker wasn't crazy about the footing.  Alicia got on and schooled him first.  He was good, the lines were riding quietly for him, but he was balancing well.  He was jumping really oddly though, sort of jumping up really high -- almost like he was picking up all four feet at once -- and then instead of kicking out behind, he was sort of tucking his hind legs underneath him.  When I was on him, it felt like he was jumping straight up in the air instead of rounding his back over and across the jump.  I've seen/felt him jump like this once before at another show, and both have this super fancy, high tech footing with felt pieces in it that he seems extremely uncomfortable in.  It seems like it gets a little deep and he gets stuck, or maybe it's just too soft and it gives way as he's pushing off to jump, or maybe it's so springy that he pushes off harder than he needs to and ends up jumping straight up.  Whatever it is, he doesn't seem to care for this high tech new age stuff.  What can I say?  He's a simple guy.  Give him some good old fashioned river sand mixed with stone dust and he's happy. 

All of my trips had good and bad moments.  For the first trip, the first jump was a straw bale with three split rails over top of it, on the diagonal, off the right lead, toward home.  I crawled to it.  Ugh.  I even thought to myself as I picked up my canter "go forward," but for some reason I always feel like I'm going so much faster than I am until I get in front of the jump and realize I don't have enough pace. Since I crawled, of course we had no choice but to feebly add, and Tucker rolled the top rail.  I landed and sent him forward though, and then the next line, which was four strides on the outside going away from the in gate, off the left lead, was perfect.  This was the only line where I had more than two or three strides between the rail and the first jump. I softened my arm and kept my leg going past the gate so he wouldn't get stuck, the distance was right out of stride, and the four worked out nicely.  He landed right, and got his right-to left change.  That was the best line in this trip.  The next line was my least favorite part of the course.  It was a six-stride on the diagonal going toward home off the left lead.  It was set so that to find the straight line, you had to stay on the rail past the corner, and then turn with only about 2 1/2 strides off the rail to the first jump.  In this trip, I didn't stay out long enough, so we ended up having to add, and then I had to move up for six, but he did it just fine, and landed right.  The next line was a five on the outside off the right lead, going away from home.  There are shade trees along the rail here, and a stallion barn to the left of the ring.  One of the stallions called out as we were coming around the corner, so Tucker looked out and fell to the inside, which changed the distance coming in.  So we jumped in a little big, and then he bowed out to the right because of the shadows on the ground, which made for a very unsmooth feeling.  The last jump was a single oxer on the diagonal, which was set up three strides from the top of the ring on a shallow turn, so you had to turn off the rail pretty much at the center line to get to it, square the turn, and canter two strides to the jump.  So awkward, just not what you want to see in a hunter round.  It wasn't the prettiest, but we got it done okay.  He landed left, which was good. 

Second trip, I got a much better rhythm and we found the first jump right out of stride, which was a single vertical on the diagonal off the left lead, going straight toward the in gate.  He landed right, and then it was the outside five away from home.  I tried to stay out in the corner longer, but he still fell to the inside and then bowed in around those creepy shadows again.  It was almost a carbon copy of how we jumped the line in the first trip.  In other words... I don't always learn from my mistakes.  Then it was the crazy short approach oxer off the center line.  This time was a smoother turn, but the distance was a little long.  He landed right and then played ever so slightly (little head shake, little hop) through the lead change, but at least we did it.  I had to remind myself not to get stiff and relax, but I did, and then he relaxed again right away.  The next line was the four stride outside line off the left lead, which worked out perfectly again.  This time he landed left, and then it was the dreaded six stride diagonal.  This time I stayed out longer, but I still just couldn't make it work.  I swear they were set up on the half-stride purposely to mess with me.  So we added again and had to move up for the six, but at least he jumped out very softly, and landed right. 

Third trip was the same as the first.  Got a much better rhythm to the first jump and it was a very nice jump, but Tucker over jumped it and jumped me loose a little (I think probably since that one jumped up and bit him in the first class).  We landed and settled though, and then the four stride worked out again.  I still couldn't get the approach to the six.  It either looked impossibly long or tight.  We went with tight.  He bowed out to the left a little this time and then I felt like we jumped the last jump left to right, instead of straight on.  Pretty sure that's not how it's supposed to go.  This time, to the five stride outside line, I made sure to bend him right so he wouldn't fall in, but I needed to make him keep coming forward.  I lost my rhythm around the corner, and then had to move up two strides out, so we jumped in really big.  We landed and I thought for a second he was thinking four strides, but I tried to make him wait, and it ended up being 4 and a quarter.  When I tell you I put this horse's toes at the base of the jump, I do not exaggerate.  I actually thought he was going to tear the whole thing down. Then I thought he was going to stop, and I actually said to myself, "it's okay, he can't jump it from here, it's not his fault he has to stop, totally understandable."  But he was just pausing a second to think it through.  Hmm... let's see... yep, I can do this, just gimme a sec here, there we go, up and over.   He didn't even touch it.  I couldn't believe it.  Number one, what heart he has, for once again totally making up for a bad ride and getting us to the other side when almost any other horse would have said, "Forget you lady, you're nuts.  Try again."  He truly is the most honest and willing horse I've ever ridden.  And number two, that is some kind of talent.  Three feet really is nothing for him.  He jumped an oxer from a dead standstill.  Alicia said it didn't even look bad.  He's amazing.  I landed from the jump and gave him a big grateful pat for being so good to me.  The next fence was the short turn to the center line oxer.  I had to make a circle.  I know it's poor form, but I just had to get myself together and make the last fence halfway decent after what I had just done to him.  The turn actually ended up being just fine, and the jump was good. 

Today, I was getting on for a light, stretching hack.  Since I wasn't going to be doing much, I wanted to put him in a hackamore to see how that went.  I used one like this, which is a pretty basic one.  He was fantastic!  Stretching, bending, soft through his whole body, listening to my leg, rounding through his back.  Unbelievable.  It was the softest I've ever felt him bend to the left.  Which proves to me that the stiffness I feel when asking for a left bend has more to do with a clenched left jaw (he's got chronic TMJ) and much less to do with weakness or stiffness elsewhere in his body.  I still think we need to work on stregthening his hind end, but maybe a hackamore is a good way to accomplish that.  Since he was being so good, I figured I'd see if his lead changes were any better in the hackamore.  They were!  He stayed soft, and round, sat down on his hind end, got light up front and did them in each direction, back-to-front.  They were a bit more "dressage-like" than "hunter-like" (a little more flair than one might like to see in the corner of a hunter round).  For now, however, I will certainly take that.  I'm more than happy if he's going to sit down and use his hind end and give me a little more front end action at the moment.  That can become smoother with time.  The beauty of the hackamore was that he did his changes without getting stiff and pulling, because he had no bit to pull on.  I'm going to jump him in it next weekend.  I think it might be a really valuable training tool for us.


  1. Sounds really good - bitless seems to be making the rounds! I couldn't get your link to the type of hackamore your were using to work - could you put it in your comments?

  2. Hi Kate! I think reading your post this morning is actually what gave me the idea! I think I fixed the link, but if not, here's the address:

  3. I am glad you like the hackamore! I would like to see the link as well and can't.

    Glad to here you guys are doing so well even with some facility adversity. It has been so mucky and rainy here I am amazed at all the riders and horses that make it through their courses this season!

  4. I have seen several jumpers at shows in these
    It is just a basic sidepull (even though they call it a hackamore)

  5. You are stroking my inner tack whore. STOP IT!!! I want one of those for no particular reason and now you're giving me a reason.

    Your show rides sound fun. Do you ever have video?

  6. Haha, sorry... didn't mean to excite the tack whore -- LOL.

    I wish I had video more often. Usually only happens when the jumpers happen to go on the same day but not the same time as me, so that someone is around to hold a camera. Whenever I do get video, I try to post it, but it's been quite a while now.

  7. Hallelujah. I needed my hunter fix. I was riding the dang lines with you, and swearing at the 2 1/2 strides off the rail. Yuck! That footing is too poofy. Those dang shadows were aggravating. Nice feeling jumping out of stride the second time around though.

    I love getting to jump without having to actually close my eyes, throw away the reins, say "you handle it" to the horse, and jump. It's such a relief. I love how you describe your rides, I feel like I'm ON and jumping.


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