A stadium lesson

Here’s a quick recap of Wednesday’s show jumping lesson.

For starters, it was a very brisk day–cold and slightly windy–just right for inciting freshness from OTTBs. Johnny was very forward, but he was also quick, so instead of a nicely forward relaxed trot or canter, we got sewing machine action. So M had me canter a small circle around her as she set up jumps, going from canter to halt, then cantering again in an effort to set Johnny more on his behind. She corrected my feet in my stirrups and reminded me to keep my heels deep (so much time between lessons–your position deteriorates!).
Our first exercise involved canter poles set four strides apart. As you’ve already guessed, she had me work on getting three and then five strides between. The three strides weren’t so difficult (just let him go a bit and follow with a light contact), but we really struggled with the five strides, especially coming from the really forward hand gallop. In the end, she told me to go for big and dramatic–as if I were trying to fit in 6 strides. We could work on refining it later, but right now Johnny needed to listen to my seat and submit to my request. We finally fit in those five strides! By this time, we’d already cantered/galloped more in this lesson than he was used to post-op. I wondered if he had anything left for jumping!
But, he did!! I realized at this point (and especially at the end of our lesson) that I have not been pushing him enough. As is typical with my own horses, I have been babying him to be sure I don’t overdo it–I can’t afford injuries.
M had a vertical set off the fence corner so that we cantered down the fence, then rolled off about 110 degrees to the vertical. It was a tough turn, and it meant I had to sit up and collect Johnny several strides in advance. Not only did I have to really watch my line, but I had to keep his shoulders in check with my outside aids. Not too much of a problem there–we’ve worked rollback turns, but I found I was forgetting to keep the engine revved, meaning he didn’t have enough impulsion to really give the fence a good effort. When she added the next element, I could really tell I’ve been too lax about our approach to fences. Because he’s such a confirmed rusher, I’ve sort of stopped asking him for impulsion. We finally got our act together, and she added the next element.
So now we were doing a right and left rollback turn to fences, then a good hand gallop to an in and out with canter poles everywhere. By this time, I could feel Johnny getting tired, but he wasn’t willing to quit. He’s lazy about using his butt, but as long as there’s a jump in front of him, he’s going to make the effort to get over it. There were a couple of times we got in there rough, and once I just threw the reins away ala Richard Spooner and let Johnny figure it out without my interference. But, by the end, we got our act together, I rode him to the line, and he jumped in and out successfully. We ended on a happy note, and I left with a lot of homework.
What I really liked was that she didn’t leave us jumping baby crossrails in an effort to take us back to the basics. Instead, she bumped up the fences and really made us work. Mistakes are blatantly obvious with increased height, and I was forced to really think about how to ride each element. I couldn’t just come in at any old gait and go for it. And, though we I made significant mistakes, we recovered and learned from them.
As a result, I realize we’re going to have to work harder and more frequently on our showjumping. Not necessarily by jumping every day, but at least focusing more on his adjustability and getting that stadium-quality canter. I also realized that I need to work more on increasing his fitness level–I can push him a bit further than I have been.
**You can click on Richard Spooner’s name to go visit the YouTube video, or I’ve included it here, in case you haven’t seen his infamous combination!


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