Monday, January 30, 2017

Working on the Basics

After my last lesson with my trainer, I have really been focused on getting Casey & I's basic skills cemented in. We've come a really long way in just 5ish months, but in order to start working on more complicated things (like higher jumps, more complicated courses, and potentially some more dressage training) we really need to work out the kinks that we have in our training.

Over the weekend, we spent our riding time working on these basic things. We worked on getting a nice solid trot. I focused on keeping my hands super soft and I asked Casey to focus on keeping a solid pace and a slight bend.
Trot work
More trot work

Then we worked on the canter. I did not care about the length of time we cantered, but rather the quality of the canter. I would ask Casey for a calm, collected canter on a circle. Once she was balanced I would allow her to continue along the rail. If she started to get unbalanced again or tried to throw her body into my hands I would ask her to circle again until it regained its balance. The first day we did this it was a struggle and we probably did 6 circles and 2 laps before Casey lost her canter, but on Sunday she really started to figure it out and was able to canter for much longer and it was a higher-quality canter. I am hopeful that this will continue to improve.
Cantering along
More cantering

In between all of the hard physical work, we also worked on mental work. In order to do leg yields, and eventually shoulder-in and haunches-in, Casey really need to be more responsive to my leg. We worked from a standstill and I would give her a nudge with my foot to try to get her to move her back legs and swing her butt one step over. This is a work in progress. At first I had to use a dressage whip, because she was just ignoring my leg. So I would give a leg nudge and then if that didn't work give a butt tap with the whip. She eventually figured that out and now we are at the point where she will move with just a foot nudge (although she's still not great at this). We are going to keep working on this and hopefully it will just keep improving.

After doing all of this basic work, we then tried applying this to jumping. I set up pitifully small cross-rails (maybe 6 inches) and we worked on controlling our bodies before, over, and after the jumps. I asked Casey to trot nicely all the way to the jump, not letting her gallop over it. Over the jump I tried to keep my body movements very subtle and not interfere. After the jump we would mix it up. Sometimes I would ask her to do a calm, collected canter circle, sometimes I would let her continue to the next jump, other times I would ask her to walk, and sometimes I asked her to stop in-between the jumps. My goal is to get her paying attention to what I am asking, rather than her just deciding to charge the next jump. This is really a struggle for Casey, as she doesn't seem to get why she can't just flounder her way along, but it is really important for her to learn this skill because it will allow her to control her body much better to the jump, which will result in a much better jump. Even though Casey struggled with this, I did see improvement from the first line to the last line that we did. I'm going to keep working on this and hopefully it will just come easier and easier for her.
These were the cross-rails. So tiny she could literally just step over them.

On Saturday, I decided to let Casey actually jump real jumps, so I set up some interesting jumps that would get her thinking. There was the hogsback jump, the skinny wall oxer, and the broken oxer. I have noticed that Casey seems a lot less confident over jumps that aren't just rails and so I want to build her confidence over "scary" jumps. She ran out on the skinny wall oxer the last time we jumped and although I did get her over it that day, it required me really telling her that she was going to go over it (I just applied leg before the jump and she popped over it). Saturday she still seemed a bit hesitant about that jump, but jumped the other two with ease. 
Here you can see all of the jumps. From left to right: skinny wall oxer, hogsback, broken oxer.
She seems more hesitant, but with added leg is willing to jump.

I think that her lack of confidence is really just a lack of experience. She is more than capable of jumping that height and width (she's jumped much bigger) so it's just the way that it looks that is freaking her out. I think that if I continue to work with her over these types of jumps than her confidence will grow. Also it really shows me that I can't be a passive rider when we start getting to the more interesting jumping situations. We are a team and we have to support each other. Sometimes that will mean that I need to be the confident one and get us over fences, and sometimes I will be able to take my confidence from her.
She's super jump over these jumps even if she doesn't care for them

Overall it was a really good weekend with her. The tough part about owning a green horse is that there are so many things that she is new to and so many things that she needs training on and so it is my responsibility to expose her to new things and train her correctly. I hope that I am doing it right! I wish that I could have weekly lessons as I think that would really help progress our training, but alas, finances just aren't there at this moment.

Has your horse ever seemed to lose confidence over certain types of fences? What did you do about it?

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