30 Days to Poplar Place: there’s a silver lining in the clouds

The torrential rainfall began last night and continued through this morning. Somehow, the arena managed to maintain tolerable footing except for a small area near the top. Despite the wet drizzle, I tacked up Johnny for a final jumper schooling session. Based on the advice from Lesley Stevenson (www.myvirtualeventingcoach.com) and Andrea, I formulated a plan of attack–a new strategy, if you will. Both of them had advised bringing Johnny to a halt randomly in front of fences so that he would learn to listen and wait on me versus rushing over the fences. So, I decided to go one step further and work on really bringing him back and getting him to listen. Instead of doing big laps, circles, and figure-eights at walk, trot, and canter, I did lots of walk-halt, walk-trot-halt, and halt-reinback-canter-halt. I never cantered or trotted him for more than six to eight strides so that although he never really developed a good rhythm, he never fell on his forehand or got ramped up (as he is apt to do when he realizes we’re going to jump). And then I began approaching fences: we would trot in to about 20′ out or so, then come to a nice, quiet halt. I was very careful to keep my hands very soft and ask with my seat, and then I’d ask for one or two steps of reinback before rolling off and walking away. When he got very quiet and soft, I trotted him towards the smallest fence, an empty brush fence. Because he anticipated me asking him to halt, he kept his attention on me, which caused him to be a bit surprised, but I expected this and stayed with his awkward jump. After that, I continued to alternate halting and jumping so that he never knew whether I’d ask him to halt or continue. And suddenly, instead of rushing and getting flat, he was jumping up and over the fences! I could trot him into a three stride combination fence and halt him within two strides. He even jumped the one stride somewhat quietly (though, I think if I’d added the placing rail in the middle, he would have slowed down even more). Because I’d gotten used to his flat leap, my position wasn’t exactly textbook perfect, but I did a fair job of not getting left behind–though he did jump me darn near out of the tack once! I’m looking forward to seeing how this exercise progresses. My guess is that he’s going to become one super-sharp show jumper once he figures out to load his hindquarters and use them for power instead of speed.
Tomorrow, though it will likely be pouring rain again, we’ve arranged for a riding lesson with the FEI dressage rider in the barn–in exchange for caring for her horses for the weekend, she’s offered a lesson–definitely not turning down ‘free’ lessons! I’m looking forward to hearing her input on improving our dressage test.


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