The fourth jump lesson

It was very pleasant to be looking forward to a jump lesson rather than dreading it. Whichever instructor it turned out to be and however many horses were in it, I was pretty sure I’d be fine … until I found the lesson had been moved inside as the outdoor schools are so boggy today.  That meant we were moving from a 60 x 30 m school to one 40 x 20 m and there would be 6 horses in the group. This did not feel good to me,  but at least we were having the owner teach the class, so I was hopeful that she would organise the available space as well as possible.

From the beginning she made it clear that at any point everyone except the one person jumping should be on the outside track, i.e. against the wall. The open order warmup was not to include canter – there would be an opportunity to canter individually after the initial warmup was done. This did wonders for my concerns.

During our individual canter we got the correct canter lead on the right rein first time. Woo!

In the indoor school it was more obvious just how many spectators watch the jump lessons, but I wasn’t too conscious of them.

We began with a pole on the ground some distance before a little cross pole.  We had to count the canter strides between the two.  When I was watching the others I couldn’t get the hang of it,  but when it was my turn it made more sense, and handily it was on our good canter rein.  Drifter got praise for his perfect neat 3 canter strides, which I managed to count on the second approach,  as on the first I was so focused on counting that I forgot to steer and we missed the jump.

Then we linked two jumps together that were not in a straight line and needed us to take a gentle reverse s shape to link them. To me this sent alarm bells ringing regarding canter leads,  so we did it in trot, and it went very nicely.  One of the others, a large horse inexperienced at jumping, did it in canter. I don’t know if the canter lead was the problem as I wasn’t watching his legs, but balance and steering were an issue as they came off the second jump and they pretty much crashed into the pony at the front of the ride, head to head. But nothing bad happened. This was the first time I’d seen a horse and rider actually get right inside the personal space of another horse and rider – it is something I worry about in these group lessons if I lose steering and Drifter loses his balance, but judging by the lessons so far, it seems we’re not as much in danger of doing it as I feared, because he understands how to jump. I also think that Drifter is quite submissive to other horses and so even if he is off-balance I think he would do his very best not to get in another horse’s face. But also I’m relieved to see that even when this crash that I had feared did happen, everyone was fine. Obviously the horses and riders involved were a bit ruffled, but the horses kept quite calm and gave their riders no trouble over it. So that’s another thing that I probably don’t need to worry about as much as I have been.

After that we tacked a third jump on the end of those two, but this was quite a straightforward line afterwards so we trotted over the first two, picked up canter and popped over the third, in a very satisfying way.

The next challenge added two more jumps to the beginning and one to the end. While part of me was insisting I couldn’t remember where to go over 6 jumps, other parts of me managed OK. So far I’d jumped everything on the right rein from trot and everything to the left in canter. This time I had a go at the first two, which were to the right, in canter. We got the right canter lead but as we jumped the first my foot and stirrup almost parted company, leaving the stirrup under the wrong part of my foot, so I steered away from the next as I didn’t feel secure to jump until I’d adjusted that. We went around to try again, this time struggling with the canter lead and going over in trot anyway. Ah well. I remembered the course and we got stronger as we went on, finishing with me feeling quite proud. The merit of jumping 6 things in a row is that if the start is not what you planned there’s still time to do better!

To finish off, we ended with two jumps in a straight line and a return to the ‘counting the strides between’ task. Unfortunately for us this was on our unbalanced right rein. The instructor suggested I approach in trot and just canter between the jumps. I’m sure this was a sensible suggestion but it confused me mightily and we did not manage a canter between the jumps. Then we were told to cool down. I was really sorry that the lesson, which I’d felt really good about until then, was going to end with me being all confused like that so I asked if I could just jump one more thing so I didn’t finish on a bad one. After being told that the instructor will decide when it’s a bad one, not me 😉 , she told me to do the same again. It went worse, to the outside observer, but mentally it went much better for me so I didn’t care. But as it looked worse she sent me to do it one more time. I’m not sure if that was any better, but I’m glad I had those extra goes.

It’s difficult because I want to get my confidence up by jumping from his balanced trot, not his unbalanced canter (whether right or wrong lead he’s always unbalanced on the right rein) but on the other hand if I don’t try then it will turn into a big deal and that will make it more difficult.

On the subject of the canter lead, I managed to lunge him one night this week (owing to the waterlogging issues lately it’s been really hard to get a chance to lunge unless you’re there at seriously antisocial hours, so I haven’t managed it for about a month) and it was very productive. I started with him in the pessoa to get him working, but after 10 minutes I took it off to work on the canter without it. I wanted him to be free to move how he chose so that he would better learn which canter lead was balanced and which unbalanced. Using Lee Pearson’s advice, when he was on the wrong leg I brought the circle smaller so he could feel why it was wrong. Once he got it right I let go out on a bigger circle and let him “have a coffee break” in walk. It worked really well and he got the correct leg maybe 80% of the time, which is real progress. There was one moment where I rolled my eyes at him for getting the right lead, then doing a flying change to the wrong one, but by and large he really seemed to be learning. I hope I’ll be able to repeat that, but the school situation is still problematic.

From a jumping point of view, I think it’s now feeling much more “ordinary” to leave the ground on the back of a horse. From an all round point of view I wish that the jump group was once a fortnight and I could have  a flat lesson in between. Working on the canter alone is going well, but I could really use eyes on the ground more often to let me know if I’m correct when I feel like the lead is wrong or right. I had thought I was making progress on feeling the lead, but today it felt wrong to me when it was actually right, so I still have work to  do there that I can’t really do alone. I could decide to go to the jump group only on alternate weeks, but I would miss out. If I hadn’t gone today I would have missed the work on counting a stride, and then when the group built on that  in future that I would have been at sea. At the moment I don’t feel that I have the stamina for a jump lesson and a flat lesson in the same week, and of course like everyone we have January finances to consider!

Richard from Centaur Biomechanics is coming back later this month but I don’t know if I want a session with him or not. On the one hand I think highly of him and you get lovely videos out of it, but on the other I have so many new ideas and new opinions on my riding in my head at the moment and not enough time for it to all settle out and sink it. It’s not long since we saw the-dressage-judge-that-upset-me and Lee Pearson, and since then I’ve had two different instructors for the jump lessons. Do I really want to add another set of opinions right now? Especially as we’ll be seeing Lee again in February. But Richard doesn’t have an intrusive style of coaching, so he probably wouldn’t add too much to my overfull brain…

I may find that by the time I make up my mind there aren’t any slots left and this will all be academic. Hmm.

Time to tie up this waffle, I think, and wish you all a very happy 2014. Let’s make it a good one.

Third time’s a charm!

I knew that jump lesson number three was to be taken by the yard owner, as originally advertised, but I didn’t know what to expect from that. Having been though the wringer in the previous lessons I didn’t think it could be any scarier than the previous ones. Early indications were that there would be 5 in the lesson, although as it came closer to time another 2 had booked in, taking us back up to the 7 that had scared me so much in the first class, and meaning that we would have a mix of big horses and little ponies.

Although I’d very much hoped to be feeling 100% by this lesson I was still not totally well but feeling much better than I had before either of the previous lessons. We all went round and started getting on board and walking round. This time we were only asked to use open order for our walk warmup – in trot we were all told to stay on the same rein, so everything was a lot less chaotic, and there was no canter warmup at all. Then the lesson proper began.

We began on a circle around the instructor and she asked if anyone who was particularly nervous would put their hand up. I think all of the adults present put their hands up and all of the kids kept them down. She asked each nervous person what in particular were they afraid of. I said, “Too many horses in the school and The Right Rein.” I can’t remember what most of the others said, although when the last lady said, “Falling off!” everyone rushed to agree with her. What I do remember is that no one’s fears were dismissed or laughed at and no one was told they were being silly. It felt like an atmosphere of trust was created.

Next she explained about jump position. Not just how to get into it, as others had explained, but where the muscles should work, where your weight should be, what would go wrong if your leg was in the wrong position. The she asked to see each of us do some canter poles in jump position, either in trot or in canter as we chose. Not as the horse/pony chose, as we chose. She also said that anyone who chose canter had better do well, so we chose trot and received a complimentary comment.

Once everyone had been assessed like that we came back onto the circle and she asked us each about our goals. Had I had longer to think of this I might have answered that I want to see if I can jump and see if I like it, but being on the spot my answer probably came more from the heart, “I want to keep my horse interested, because he likes jumping.” This earned me a, “That’s a really good answer.” That was particularly pleasing as I had had a feeling the “correct” answer would have been more competitive/rider oriented. At this point I began to hope that the lessons might be about the particular needs of the horse/rider combinations present, not just one-size-fits-all. In this I was correct. Everything we did had flexibility. If people wanted to jump from trot not canter, takeoff poles were set accordingly. At no point were D & I made to canter on our right rein, but for those who wanted to that option was there. Everything was managed calmly but quickly, so that there was no hassle about accommodating different needs and no pressure on anyone to do anything. The whole atmosphere was calm, organised and supportive.

We approached our first jump in trot. I hadn’t been expecting to go next, but we were called and I didn’t have long to get my brain, legs and hands in gear before we were over the fence. We’d been warned that she’d ask us how it felt. All I could think of to say was that my jump felt confused. She asked me to elaborate. “I think he was confused because he didn’t know what I wanted from him. And I was confused because I didn’t know what I wanted either.” The lesson learned: have a plan. Even if the plan is just what line you’ll take on the other side of the jump. This was a very useful idea for me.

During the lesson we did canter poles to a fence as well and gradually worked up to a little course of 3 jumps. But the progression was very gradual. We got at least two goes at anything before it got more complex. And each time we had positive feedback. I can honestly say that I felt no fear at any point in the lesson. We were eased into jumping rather than pushed into it. At every point I felt like I achieved something, even when it wasn’t going quite as I would have planned. With the calmer approach and the managed atmosphere I was able to jump each time without going blank with fear. That meant I was actually present to try to sit up and steer on landing. At no point did we fail to go round a cone or miss anything I was aiming for. At one point I did an extra circle before a jump because I didn’t get the canter when I first asked, but in terms of inaccuracy that was it. I was pretty proud of that.

Close to the end I realised Mr S was standing at the gate with a camera on us. Apparently he’d been there some time, but I hadn’t noticed. He actually filmed quite a few of our jumps and it was so nice for me to be able to watch them back.

The below is one of the better videos (because there weren’t any horses or people in the way!) It’s not one of my better jumps as it was early in the lesson. Please don’t ask me to explain why I seem to be trying to rise in the canter after the jump, because I have no idea what was going on there, but please ignore me and see my pretty boy jumping nicely despite the rider 😉

Jump lesson no. 3

(If you notice that I didn’t go round the cone, it’s because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to, but I did go round it on the next go!)