Monday, October 11, 2010

Fun with Gymnastics and Success with Collection

Sunday was my first day shipping back to Alicia's for a lesson and it went very well.  Since Tucker has lived there for two years, he wasn't at all fresh or nervous.  He was very relaxed and really worked hard for me.  Alicia rode him on Friday night (which always helps), but this time as an extra bonus I was around to see her work with him, which always teaches me a lot.  I got to see how he moves laterally when he's engaged and crossing over with his hind end, how he looks when he's travelling straight, and watch his canter go from forward to collected but stay engaged.  For some reason seeing it makes it easier to replicate, it's like envisioning what I'm asking him to do makes my aids a little clearer.

So, the flat work portion of our Sunday lesson was very good.  He was straight and forward (for the most part) at the trot.  We worked on asking him to straighten off of my outside aids (instead of popping his shoulder) but not letting him counterbend, so that he held a correct inside bend while staying straight, instead of just switching the bend.  We did some shoulder-ins, at the posting trot, and they were very good.  Alicia pointed out that my right hand was blocking his forward movement because I was burying it in his wither as I applied more contact, so I concentrated on keeping my right elbow at my side and my right hand elevated, and the shoulder-ins tracking left got so much better.  I was very pleased to figure this piece out, since I had a hard time with shoulder-ins on my own on Saturday.  His canter in both directions felt wonderful today.  He was forward and engaged and stayed really soft the whole time.  And... we got a clean lead change, left-to-right.  What a good boy!

Then we worked on the above gymnastic, which included Tucker's first time jumping a bounce. (!)  It started out as a ground rail, 9 feet to a 2' vertical, 10 feet to another 2' vertical (the bounce), then 18 feet to another ground rail (which later became the oxer you see in the photo), with a placement rail halfway in between.  The first time through the bounce he rushed a little, but I worked on staying relaxed and getting a slow, collected trot coming in, and it got better and better.  Then the last ground rail became a vertical, and then an oxer (around 3').  The first time through when he saw the new element he sped up, but each time he got better and better about collecting his stride to fit into the 18-foot one stride (which, for those of you who don't jump, is a very collected one stride.  They're typically more like 21-24 feet long).

I love gymnastics because I get to concentrate on my position (plus, they're really fun!).  Alicia had me spread my hands wide in the air, for an automatic release, which forces you to balance on your own without leaning on the horse's neck.  This really helps me -- it gets my weight in my heels and keeps my upper body following the motion instead of getting ahead.  I had to work on keeping my back flat, not rounded.  When I first concentrated on keeping my back flat, I opened my upper body too soon over the oxer, instead of staying in jumping position until he landed from the jump. The next time, I stayed closed, but my back rounded.  Then I finally put them both together and kept my back flat and upper body closed until landing, and could really feel the difference in how he jumped.  Amazing how much our position changes their way of going.

Then we added a fourth element, two strides to a 3' vertical (a little hard to see in the photo above because the rails are dark).  The two stride was set about 3 feet shorter than normal (about 33 feet instead of 36), so he had to maintain the same collection he had through the bounce and the one stride.  When that went well, we kept going to the triple on the diagonal (the same one we worked on last week, collected four strides to another collected four strides).  The first time through, I asked him to wait in the first four, and he blew me off and ended up on top of the middle oxer.  He seemed to realize his mistake and wait for further instruction in the second four, where I had to close my leg and tell him to keep going.

Then we went back to the gymnastic and through the triple again a few more times, and each time the triple got progressively better.  The last time through the triple, in the second four, he was so correct with his collection.  He shortened his step without losing impulsion, instead of just slowing down.  I sat a little deeper, closed my leg and hand, and actually felt him compress, but the canter stayed engaged, his front end was light (yay for flatwork paying off!), and the jump was lovely and soft. 

The last three times through the gymnastic though, we had a major left drift between the oxer and the last vertical (common Tucker strategy for giving himself more room).  The drift was actually happening in the air over the oxer, he'd leave from the middle and jump to the left, so we'd land and I'd have to veer him back to the right to get to the vertical.  Alicia pointed out that he was taking advantage of the spread hands and automatic release, so the last time through I kept my hands together and he was perfectly straight (so happy the flatwork is translating to the jumping, finally).  Since I had done all that work with the automatic release, my hands were together but I wasn't leaning on his neck, so my balance was more secure, and he jumped a lot softer and rounder.  I have to remember that feeling for my next few jumping sessions. 

Then we headed back home and I wrapped his legs up for the night with some sore-no-more, cleaned my tack, and put fresh bedding in my trailer.  And took a few more shots of my handsome boy, this time with a real camera, instead of the camera phone (laser beam eyes set to "off"). 

Just a question:  How can you possibly resist this face?  I don't know how anyone could help but fall in love with him.  I certainly can't.  I absolutely melt every time I see him. 


  1. Your horse is gorgeous :)
    I love gymnastics too, they really help with your position! It sound like you had a great ride.

  2. Gymnastics were always my favorite things to do. It's great training for the horse and it's so much fun for me. Anyway, haven't done them in quite some time. Glad you had a great ride.

    He is adorable. How could you resist taking pictures and loving him to death.

  3. coolio..I would love to see a video of that :)

  4. I think you and Tucker are very clever and very brave! Gymnastics - very difficult!
    I agree how could anyone resist that little kissable face! :)


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