30 Days to Poplar Place: Getting back into the swing of things

A week-long hiatus from riding is not exactly my idea of a good time, but for family, I’ll make exceptions. Like most of us, I ate way too much, sat around on my butt, and am now feeling the guilt. I did go for a short run after a particularly heinous junk food session, but otherwise, my only exercise was getting up to go grab another cookie.
So, it was not surprising that my breeches felt a bit snugger in the waist, and my tall boots didn’t quite want to zip all the way this morning. If I had known today would be a jumping day, I definitely would have grabbed my more comfy field boots instead of my dressage boots that have never been quite comfortable. In fact, I had planned on some flatwork for Johnny’s first day back to work after the break, but with all the rain headed our way, I knew the arena would be no good for jumping for the next week. Thankfully, the jumps I had set up before I left were still standing.
I was still not quite thawed out when I led Johnny out to the arena, and I figured he could use an extra-long warmup as well, so I just sat on his back and let him amble around for awhile before I asked him to actually walk. Long story short, today was a bit of a lightbulb moment. There have been many great trainers who have said that the warmup walk should be more of a march–that the horse should move right off once you begin. But, today, I discovered that for my tight-backed OTTB, letting his back warmup slowly yields much better results. I know I could put him on the longe for 15 minutes or so before I climb into the saddle, but I’m not a big fan of the longe for warmup; mainly because Johnny does not relax on the longe. We spent about 15 solid minutes walking rather slowly before I asked him to trot any at all, and I never asked for any contact. In fact, I didn’t ask for any contact until we began our ‘real’ warmup when I asked him to walk with a purpose, long and low. Granted, this meant about thirty minutes of riding before we began actual work, but the payoff was huge. He was more relaxed, accepting of the contact, and swinging through his back. Maybe the week off had more to do with it than I’m admitting, but I felt like the extra time to warm up his back was the trick, as I could feel him start to loosen up on his own (versus me forcing it with lots of transitions, etc.). I’m going to experiment a little with this theory over the next few weeks.
Our jumping exercise was two verticals on a bended line: 3 to 4 strides, depending. I wasn’t so worried about the striding as I was trying to keep Johnny on a consistent path without popping out his shoulder and missing the line. I’m happy to say our new saddle has had a big impact on our jumping as well–both of us are far more comfortable in it, and he’s begun popping up those knees as my balance improves. We started out with the verticals as crossrails and ended with 2’6″ and 2’9″ verticals, which he jumped superbly.
I was very pleased with his workout today. His jumping is getting smoother, and he’s no longer getting as frazzled on the approach or after the landing. Hopefully we can fit in a good cross-country school before Poplar Place, but as long as he continues to jump like he is, I won’t worry too much.
Tomorrow promises rain, but my new clippers came in, so we have an alternate activity should the weather force us indoors. It will be my first attempt at full body clipping, and I’m sure I’ll have loads of hair plastered all over my body fun. Til then, enjoy this photo of my dad’s mare, Madonna, basking in the sunlight and snow.

Dad's mare really liked the snow; she kicked up her heels, acting like a little filly, instead of the 20 year old gal she is!

Dad’s mare really liked the snow; she kicked up her heels, acting like a little filly, instead of the 20 year old gal she is!

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