Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Art of the Two-Foot Jump

Casey and I are moving up in the jumping world! As in we have now progressed to tiny vertical jumps, rather than only being able to do cross-rails. Who knew I would ever be so excited about a two-foot jump? Let's start from the beginning though...

We started off today by waking up early so that our farrier could come and nail Casey's front shoe back on. She managed to step it off on Friday, but Farrier is amazing and lives right down the road from my barn so he came out first thing in the morning. We love him :)
Casey was not impressed with having to stand for the farrier first thing in the morning...
After Casey's shoe situation was resolved, I took her to the indoor arena to see if she wanted to run around a bit and be crazy, especially since she hadn't gotten exercised in two days in a row. She was being a bit of a princess (surprise, surprise...) and didn't want to do much of anything because the shoe felt weird. She was doing a bit of trotting, but was pretty unwilling to canter. I think that she just was readjusting to the weight of the shoe, because after I tacked her up and hopped on she started moving normally again.

Before our lesson officially started, I warmed us both up by having Casey walk on a loose rein. I usually try to hop on 5-10 minutes before my lesson officially starts so that we have plenty of warm-up time. She was relaxed and had a nice swingy walk, but as soon as my Trainer walked up to the arena with her dogs in tow, that nice, relaxed Casey vanished. She started trying to bolt, because obviously the dog was trying to eat her. It was a whole lot of giraffe-head, wide-eyed, panicky circles. I couldn't get her to calm down while the dogs were around so Trainer ended up having to chase the dogs out. My theory is that the dogs were just today's handy excuse to try to offload all of her energy, because it is quite normal for the dogs to hang out in the arena when Trainer is teaching. Although Casey always has to give them some serious side-eye, besides that she normally is fine with them.
The most relaxed walk I could get after the dogs arrived
For the flat-work portion of today's lesson, Trainer had us doing large, whole-arena, figure-eights. She placed two poles in the middle of the arena, on opposite diagonal lines so that each time Casey and I crossed the arena, we'd go over a pole. We would get a nice collected trot, maybe do a few circles at the end of the arena to get the trot really balanced, and then trot across the diagonal. Trainer always had me go down a gait when we hit the wall at the end of the diagonal (so if we trotted the pole, we would come to a walk; if we had cantered the pole, we'd come to a trot). After getting a few strides of the lower gait, we'd then pick up the bigger gait and come across the other diagonal. We did this at the trot at first, and then did it at the canter. Casey was getting a little bit resistant to the bit (she started bracing), but besides that was staying very well behaved, which is SHOCKING, because this exercise required lots of transitions (which normally get her hot and crazy).

Once we were all nice and warmed up, Trainer set up the jump line for us. We started with just a simple crossrail to a second crossrail. The first couple of times through, Trainer told me to get a walk or a halt before the second jump. The first attempt failed pretty miserably. We approached the first crossrail at a nice trot, but then Casey got very strong after the jump and I couldn't get her to slow, so we circled and got the walk. The second time through I knew I had to up-the-ante and get mean, so we nicely jumped the first crossrail, Casey tried to brace against my hands and trot over the second jump, but I gave a strong half halt and yelled "HOOO!!!" I think I startled Casey a bit, because she came straight to a halt. Satisfied that she was listening after that wake-up-call, we did it again and she came to a halt very nicely mid-way between the jumps. It's amazing sometimes how effective voice can be, hahaha :)
Once Casey was able to listen to me between the jumps, we allowed her to do the whole line through, crossrail to crossrail. She was being pretty good, but was still a bit strong between the jumps. We got a bit of a flyer when I allowed her to sustain the canter to the second jump, but overall she was trying. Then Trainer raised the second jump and made it a two-foot vertical. I set Casey up with a nice, balanced trot, we got a nice jump over the crossrail, Casey had a super balanced lovely canter, and then she gave the most perfect jump over the vertical. It was balanced, it was relaxed, and most importantly, she didn't speed up or get strong right before the jump! Both Trainer and I immediately started gushing over Casey, telling her how amazing she was, and with that we both decided to let her be done. It was a perfect line and we knew we wouldn't get better, so we wanted to end on that good note. We are both strong believers on ending when the horse does what you asked, rather than drilling exercises.
The best horse ever jumping the tiniest vertical
I was super impressed with Casey today. Considering how the ride started, she improved leaps and bounds within the lesson time. Not only did she improve within the lesson, I've also just seen huge improvement in her over the past couple of months. She still has that Thoroughbred brain that's missing a few screws and only ever wants to gallop, but she has been trying so hard to be good. I think she's finally figuring out what we want from her. She is becoming so fun to ride, because she is so much more adjustable & knowledgeable than even this time last year.
So thirsty post-lesson
The plan going forward is to continue working on responsiveness while jumping & adjustability on the flat. We are also still building Casey's strength. Each jump lesson we are adding in more jump attempts and also are slowing going up in jump height. Casey has felt so strong and so sound, so I bet we could increase the pace a bit, but since we aren't in a rush for anything, I feel good about taking our time. Sure it might take us a bit longer to get back to jumping three-foot jumps, but we are working on a lot of essential skills with these smaller jumps, and I'd quite frankly sell my soul to avoid rehab again. Right now I'm just so thankful that my horse is happy, sound, and being such well-behaved! 

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