So, obviously I have been slacking off big time on the blogging front... Sorry about that! Life has been busy, I was sick all last week so didn't ride a terrible amount and after I got over being sick the weather was cold and crappy so I didn't ride much.
This past Sunday and Monday I took part in the Suzi Gornall clinic at my trainer's barn. Ben was awesome both days and I really feel like we learned a lot. His flatwork was great, especially Sunday. Very consistent in his frame which is something we've been struggling with for a while now. Monday his flatwork wasn't so consistent but that was his fifth day in a row of moderate/heavy work so he was tired. He got a well deserved day off yesterday and its starting to look like he's going to get another one today due to the rain... Depending on how cold it is I might suck it up and ride anyway.
Suzie told me that he was going around fine but he needed to have more push from behind. She gave me the great analogy that I should have more of him in front of me then behind me. That really was a great visual. He gets complacent where he is, he needs to spice it up a bit. I didn't realize how ho-hum he really was going until I pushed him way forward and felt how much smoother and powerful it was.
After warming up at will on Sunday, we individually trotted and then cantered over three poles set on a 20 meter circle. I'm sure most people have done some variation of this exercise at some point in their riding and I'm sure everyone hates it as much as I do. But, I don't know why more trainers and more riders don't do it more often because it is the perfect exercise for adjustibility, which a lot of us work hard to achieve. We practiced on keeping straight on a bend, with the shoulders and haunches on the curved line, and lengthening and shortening our strides at trot and canter. I know that this will be going on my list for winter exercises.
Then we moved on to a couple of itty bitty jumps, one on each diaganol, that we jumped on a figure eight. We focused here on bending around the turns, and going for a deep, balanced spot. We discussed the difference between a deep spot and a chip, which is something that we all know, but don't really think much about, so it was good to have that thought in the back of our heads while jumping. Then the jumps went up to about 2'6" or 2'9" and we did the same exercise. I really had to focus on keeping my upper body up and straight, as I tend to keep my upper body too close to his neck. He's a little guy with a short neck! She also gave me the visual to ride every fence like it was downhill. I know a lot of people tend to pretend they are riding every jump uphill, but for me, riding a downhill jump makes me lift my shoulders and keep my body back. We ended on that note for the day.
Monday, the flatwork warmup was similar. Again, pushing him out in front of me and wanting him to want to surge out of the corners. She gave me the visual of doing a shoulder-in in the corner, then straightening, and having him surge forward, and go almost too fast. The idea was after he was surging forward on his own consistently, to then contain the energy by a light contact, so he still had the engine behind, but it would be propelling him up into balance, instead of out into a long, rambly trot. We then cantered over a couple of ground poles set five strides apart, then did the same exercise as Sunday, with the two fences on a figure eight. Ben and I had some serious issues bending around our turns. For some reason, our flatwork goes completely out the window when we jump. Its my fault, I know, but why it gets ten times harder to bend when we're jumping then when we're trotting or cantering a circle confuses me...
The fences were set at about 2'9" and 3'. Ben was jumping fantastically. She used the same analogy of raising my hands and keeping more of him in front for jumping too, which was helpful in keeping my body back in the approach to fences. At the end of the clinic, she told me that he should be jumping 3'6" courses right now because jumping these 'little' jumps weren't enough for him. (Last I checked 3 feet wasn't that little!) I should jump him higher progressively of course, but thats where he should be. Obviously, he can do 3'6" as shown in the gridwork video I posted a while ago but oxers and courses of 3'6"? I have full confidence he can do it, I don't know if I'm brave enough for that just yet!
She also asked me how often I jump him. I told her usually around twice a week, once at my lesson, and once at home. She said that that was a lot, and that instead of jumping twice a week over 3 feet or less, I should be jumping him once a week or once every other week over fences and exercises that would be beneficial to his training, such as lower, wider oxers, exercises over ground poles instead of a jump school, or occasionally jumping bigger courses. She mentioned that there is no use jumping those little fences if its not going to make him any better. Which makes a lot of sense. And honestly, I would love to just jump him once a week but at my jumping lesson, we jump about 18 inches high because the school horses work a lot and its hard on them to jump bigger all the time so even though we have our own horses, we don't jump bigger either. So obviously that can't be his only jump school, so I'll jump him about three feet at home once a week, usually doing some form of gridwork. I don't think the itty bitty jumps he does in the lessons actually count as jumping, but it seems like a waste if neither him or me is learning anything from it.
I also asked her about the ditch issues and she gave me an awesome visual. If I'm galloping along with 50% percent power in front, and 50% power in back, and I come to a ditch, and he peeks and drops back, then only 25% of him is still left in front and thats not enough to jump the ditch. If I go up to the ditch with 75% power in front, even if he sucks back, there will still be 50% left, and that is enough to jump the ditch. I think that schooling in the spring will be a huge breakthrough for Ben, but I do imagine that he will still be looky at ditches so that analogy should be particularly helpful to think about then. It also applies to any other spooky fence or water too. In general, its probably a good thing to think about in front of any fence.
I definitely learned a lot and enjoyed myself over the course of the clinic and I can't wait until she comes back again next year. This also made me super excited for the upcoming season!
A few other notes:
My Point Two vest came in the mail last week and I am so excited!!!
The first schooling jumper show is this Sunday and I recruited my friend to bring her horse and show with me because she used to groom for her hunter/jumper friends and actually has a clue to what's going on! I have been learning everything I can about how to do the jumper thing and I am super excited!
Ben's leg was sliced open and incredibly swollen last time I posted. After three days of cleaning the cut, cold hosing, and handwalking...okay fine walking on his back over his blanket because he was trying to bite me when I was walking him...his leg returned to normal size and now there's just a small, incredibly ugly scab, left on his leg. Also, the hair around it is incredibly silver because there's still AluShield spray all over his leg that will.not.come.off. I love the protection that stuff gives wounds without having to wrap it but I really wish it came off more easily.
I think that is all for now! I will certainly return with the adventures of how the jumper show went. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be jumping itty bitty fences which could be good or bad. Probably bad, because Ben will feel no need to pick up his feet... I guess we'll see! And if any one knows anything about this jumper stuff and wants to share any tips to ease my uneccessary anxiety, please do! I shouldn't be this worried, but I hate not knowing exactly what I'm supposed to do.
As always, thanks for reading guys!