30 Days to Poplar Place: Day 1

Technically, I suppose this is day 2, since I’m counting yesterday’s dressage work, but for update purposes, we’ll call this day one. Today was a jumping day, and I am happy to report that yesterday’s downpour did nothing to dampen the arena footing, as I had feared it might.
Our exercise today was straight out of Mr. Wofford’s book (see previous post, 30 Days to Poplar Place). It’s designed to help teach horses to learn to shorten their stride, and since Johnny is a whopping 17 hands, I figured we’d have trouble with this one…
I set up the exercise like this: one ground rail set 9′ from a 2’6″ vertical (with ground lines), then 16 feet from the vertical, I set standards up with a rail on the ground, and finally, another ground rail 9′ from the second vertical.
We warmed up for 15 minutes on a loose rein finished by trotting over a cross rail a couple of times. I started the exercise by jumping from the direction of the vertical already set up so that he could figure out the placement of the rails without the complication of jumping. We had a nice go at that and again from the opposite direction, so I jumped off to set up the second vertical. The idea behind the exercise is that the horse trots in over the first vertical, lands, has one short canter stride before jumping out and bouncing over the final rail.
Our first attempt over the exercise, Johnny had sort of a “meh” attitude and knocked the first rail down. I normally don’t have a ground person helping out, but Andrea just happened to walk up as we made our first approach. She came in and replaced the rail, then settled in to watch our session. Our second attempt was much better, but Andrea instantly yelled out that I was opening my hands completely over the fence. As a result of trying to compensate for bad habits originally learned, I’ve started opening my fingers, afraid I’ll hit him in the mouth as I learn not to overjump. We came through again, and I kept my fingers closed, but she chastised me again for sitting up too much (I am an overachiever–I went from overjumping to sitting up straight), so we turned to come through again. At this point, I don’t know if Johnny was trying to help me learn to follow his movement better, or if he was just trying to show off for Andrea, but he grabbed the bit in his teeth one stride out, took a monumental gallop stride over the first fence, and bounced out over the second fence, managing to clear the ground rail on the opposite side, 9′ out. For those of you lacking math skills, let me calculate this for you: halfway between fence one and two is eight feet, plus nine feet on the opposite side, with a 2’6″ vertical in between. That’s a 17′ leap over a 2’6″ fence. I had no choice but to just hang with him, and strangely enough, that’s when my riding immensely improves–I stop thinking and just stay with the horse. As I pulled up Johnny afterwards, I turned to look back at Andrea with a sheepish grin on my face. She stood there staring at me, jaw dropped open, and said, “Holy crap! Johnny’s got air!!” Which, I finally understood, meant that Johnny has serious jumping ability. Our next time through, Johnny was back to normal, and I was doing a much better job of following Johnny in the air. For good measure, we jumped the grid one more time from the opposite direction (we had been alternating directions), and Johnny seemed to realize that this was the one that counted, because he jumped it beautifully, and I got that nice automatic release that George Morris wants everyone to achieve.
After today’s exercise, I vowed to call Auburn University’s veterinary hospital this week to inquire about the partial arytenoidectomy procedure for Johnny’s roaring. I’m sure as I continue to do further research and speak with the vets, there’ll be several posts about laryngeal hemiplegia and current treatments. Right now, I’m in favor of the above procedure as opposed to the current trend of the tie-back surgery, but that’s another post.

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