Equine gymnastics: cures what ails ya

I took yesterday’s plan straight out of Jimmy Wofford’s Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider (Doubleday Equestrian Library, 1995). It’s Course 2, on page 228, and it consists of four trot rails, spaced 4’6″ apart, with a placing rail 9′ away. You keep building: the placing rail becomes the first vertical, then you add a second vertical 18′ away, and finally, you convert the second vertical to an oxer. It is a very relaxing gymnastic and one that I use frequently for Johnny. The trot poles give him something to focus on instead of staring down the line at a vertical, and the one stride to the second fence means he has to be logical about jumping in so he doesn’t end up cramped on the one stride out.

I arrived at the farm to see Johnny and his buddy Archie playing giraffe-neck. It’s akin to my three year old son playing swordfight, and it explains the various scratches and dings all over Johnny’s face and neck. I quickly grabbed my camera and slapped on the telephoto lens, but I managed to get one blurry shot of Archie picking at Johnny before they realized they’d been caught and put on their innocent faces.

Boys will be boys

Boys will be boys

Who us? No, we weren't fighting.

Who us? No, we weren’t fighting.

I set about putting up the jumps, but I’d left my measuring tape at home. I walked the distances, but in a gymnastic grid, it pays to be precise. Our barn manager was busy at the moment, so I retrieved Johnny from the pasture and set him up in the cross-ties. He seemed perfectly placid at that point, so I left him standing in the cross-ties as I crossed the 200 yards of open field to the arena to measure distances. I know he could still see me. And, he had a perfect view of his buddies in the pasture. And, he knows perfectly well how to stand still in the cross-ties. But, after 10 minutes of measuring and adjusting, I returned to the cross-ties to find this:

Oh. Hey. You left me alone, so I dug a hole.

Oh. Hey. There was a venomous snake here, but don’t worry. I killed and buried it.

Seriously?!

Seriously?!

Sigh. He was dancing in the cross-ties again. Something about that barn makes him nervous. He continually looks behind him as if he expects the boogey-man to jump out any minute. I have yet to figure out what makes my normally so-very-brave OTTB a nervous wreck. At any rate, I decided to lunge him before riding today. It took awhile before he remembered the appropriate etiquette. I think I’m going to add lunging to my repertoire for awhile.

Lunging seemed to have taken the edge off. We had a very nice warm-up over the trot rails. I added the first jump at the recommended height of 18″. Johnny simply trotted over it as if it were cavalletti. 🙂 I should mention here that, in an effort to improve my jumping position, I’m trying a new trick: I’m closing my eyes about 1 stride away so I can’t anticipate the jump. It’s hard riding on your own without the benefit of frequent lessons, and you develop some pretty bad habits (especially when you were taught them early on by instructors–be wary!). I couldn’t do this with other horses, but Johnny does not refuse a jump, so I figured I’d try it. And, it worked! My position improved dramatically–I can feel myself anticipating and jumping ahead, but it was like I couldn’t help it. By taking sight out of the picture, I had no choice but to wait for the takeoff. Additionally, when you can’t see, you tend to focus more on feeling your body position.

Once he was bored jumping the first vertical at 2’6″, I added the second vertical. (And, I kept my eyes closed through the entire line. You can feel when they start to drift.) Johnny made it seem like child’s play. He’s baaack!!!! After a couple of times, I opened my eyes to see if I could maintain my position. Oh yeah. Add that one to your book of tricks, folks. I could tell Johnny appreciated me not trying to tell him just when he should take off by jumping ahead. I was tempted to go ahead and build the oxer, but since this was only his second time jumping in quite some time, I decided to end on a good note. He made it obvious that increasing the height would not be a problem. And, he got excited about jumping–anticipating the turn towards the line on his own (and not in a nervous way!). Now my job is to build him up slowly so he has the required muscle and stamina to do it around a course. We’re going to focus on gymnastics–building up in complexity for awhile before we move back to courses.

All in all, we had a pretty good ride. Today’s ride is a hack out with possibly a bit of galloping in the soft sandy backroads. Our favorite!

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