Wednesday, November 27, 2019

simple but effective: jumping exercise

I feel like it's really easy to get caught in a cycle of complaining about the weather haha. It's too hot. Too cold. Too wet or too dry. This summer we were as dry as we were wet last year. And, uh, idk if you forgot but the Mid Atlantic region of the US was very wet last year.

But the dry is equally problematic too, especially as it relates to our poor beloved behemoths existing full time on increasingly hard and unforgiving ground. Charlie was.... not a fan lol.

early morning means harsh lighting angles, but i'm super grateful that trainer K nabbed so much video!!
But. Actually, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate the truly pleasant fall weather we've had lately. Daytime temps are more or less around the 50s, with overnights still hovering above freezing. Plus we've had enough intermittent rain to make for pretty pleasant ground.

It's clear that the winter cold and wet are on the way, but for now I'm just gonna enjoy it haha.

simple yet effective exercise! you can basically endlessly loop through it, too
Charlie and I have been capitalizing too. Lately we've been riding a lot with our barn's resident upper level eventer, Trainer K. Loch Moy and Waredaca both ran on Saturdays, Trainer P's normal teaching day, so we had to tweak the schedule a bit. Luckily it worked out that Trainer K was available to help with the show prep rides.

Unfortunately I don't have any media at all from those rides. So they've languished growing cobwebs in the back of my head instead of germinating into fresh posts here. Sorry...

Realistically tho, this act of writing out my lessons has very real value to me. Often I can uncover new takeaways or knit a more cohesive narrative of the lesson just by writing down the details. Like taking the unstructured fleeting wisps of memory and feel, and cataloging them for future reference.

Or. Um. Something haha.

hard to tell that this is an oxer, but this is the red oxer in the bottom right side of the course map, ridden right to left according to that diagram
Anyway, tho, about halfway through our most recent lesson, trainer K whipped out her cell phone and started taking video - completely unprovoked!! Which, ya know, is awesome haha. I'm such a visual learner and it's so so so useful to connect my memory of a feel with the real time instruction and what Charlie looks like.

This was especially helpful bc it's been a few weeks since I've gotten to see real time footage of us in action. Considering the changes I've been trying to make with my hands since the Martin Douzant clinic, this was a bit overdue.

vertical going out of that same red 60' line
Anyway, onto the lesson. Specifically, that exercise trainer K set up in the above diagram. I don't recall ever doing anything exactly like or very similar to this construction of elements.... But actually I really liked it.

It's super simple, extremely symmetrical, and offers a wide variety of options depending on what you want to address with your specific horse. It doesn't require an inordinate amount of poles and/or standards. Plus, it's easy to keep just looping through over and over. And actually - if you made all the oxers square you'd have even more options.

So yea. Two thumbs up for that pattern. Would highly recommend for anyone looking for ideas.

this is the dark green single vertical according to the course diagram. we'll land and roll back to the left to jump that vertical on the right edge of the frame
For me and Charlie, the goal would be maintaining balance, rhythm and shape in our canter on a proper 12' stride.

You may recall that much of my training with Charlie has been about compressing his stride, asking him to move and jump on a shorter step. The idea is that on a short step, he's forced to sit down more, to rock back and use himself over the fences. And I'm fairly convinced that especially in the early days, this really helped Charlie unlock his longitudinal balance.

like so - vertical jumping into the blue 60' line from the diagram, again ridden right to left according to that image
Now-a-days, tho, it's kinda a different story. Charlie knows how to jump a jump now. With ever-unreliable Emma in the irons, Charlie's become quite adept at jumping from a very wide range of distances haha. Over time, we've sorta learned how to make all the mistakes.

And, for the most part, Charlie's got an answer for almost any gauntlet I throw down (intentionally or otherwise...).

out over the final oxer in the top blue 60' line per the map
However, as we all have learned the hard way at some point or another, sometimes horses are learning a slightly different lesson from what we think we're teaching.

For Charlie, this means that he's kinda figured out the secret to shortened distances. I mean, sure, he could engage his abs and step under and find that big compact basketball bouncy canter... But like, that's hard work, yo. It's MUCH easier to just slug down the line behind my leg to make the short distance work.

yellow diagonal single oxer per the map. and proof that i can still get left behind even when i hold the neck strap!
Meanwhile, because we haven't practiced as much on open distances, I lack the feel and eye for them. I'm too good at riding Charlie on a short stride backwards, but then can't keep our shit together when we start opening up.

This, you may have observed, explains in part why our show jumping courses in competition kinda start falling apart by the end. Like at our last two shows, where it seemed like we only kiiiiinda just barely made it over the last fence by the skin of our teeth haha. Like if we had to go right back in for a second course immediately after, it'd possibly be a bit of a shit show.

charles smashies!!
So this lesson was really helpful bc you can see in the video (plus obvi hear Trainer K commentary) how I tend to chase Charlie a bit. My calibration is totally off. In my head, I think I need to make a big difference in the canter from what I'm used to on the more compressed step.

In reality, tho, when I think I'm dialing up from 11 to 12, Charlie's hearing me go from 10 to 15 haha. Because, shocker, Charlie has a HUGE stride and needs very little invitation to stretch out. Quite a few times we only barely fit in the 4th stride down those lines.... The 14' stride for Charlie is literally right.there.

charles goes LONG!
I do *not* need to fight for it. Rather, it's got to be much more subtle. The sliiightest adjustment to our rhythm.

And what I'm looking for is an almost comfortable feeling. Not flat, not reaching out front. But a steady comfortable push from back to front. Ya know. If only it were that easy haha!

go with him, emma!!
Actually, this was why trainer K set the fences up a bit more than I've seen in.... a while haha. Obviously we don't want to train such that the only way I can get Charlie to respect a fence is to make it giant. But... Also I've got to learn how to make these mistakes on a forward distance and it's gonna take something more than 2'6 to keep Charlie from plowing through the fence.

To this end, we set the lines at ~3' from the start, then bumped them up to around 3'3 to finish. So mostly proper Training height, tho the oxer widths weren't fully up to spec.

same yellow oxer from the other side
A big part of helping me get the right feel for our pace had to do with getting my own position and balance dialed in. Again, you'll hear it in the video, but trainer K talked a lot about the relative position of my spinal column from head down through seat.

I'm still mostly holding the neck strap to help keep my hands committed (tho I'm happy to report that the muscle memory IS happening!! Yay!!!) but it turns out that there's still more to it than that. Trainer K observed that I tend to freeze a bit in my position. As in, if I'm very upright, or if I'm a bit tipped forward, wherever I am, I just kinda stay there.

will land eventually then roll back to the right
Which in some ways is nice that I'm not really moving around a whole lot in the saddle or shifting my center of gravity every other step. This is probably why I always feel "secure." But it means that if I'm going to stay in one spot, it better be a good spot lol.

Specifically, K wants to see me bring my shoulders a bit more back. In the video she uses the description of bringing my head back, tho I'm not quite sure that's the right trigger for me ("sternum" might be what I recommend). Basically, as I understand it, when she tells me to bring my shoulders back, my hands inadvertently follow too. Which... they should not haha.

the harsh angles of the sun for this early morning ride made the whole blue side of the map tricky to video... but i kinda dig the silhouette effect! good boy, charlie <3
You can see it in the video a few times to that yellow oxer in particular, and also the red oxer. My shoulders coming back are ok -- but the rest of me kinda wants to follow, and it's like the second I get my upper body behind the motion I can't see a forward distance any more.

Mostly this is a symptom of not having independent hands (**siiigh**), and is also the reason why Martin told me to use a neck strap lol. Which, yes, is helping. This lesson, and specifically the pattern of single-turn-line off each lead, looping again and again, really helped me dial into the right feelings.

Also, a bit unrelated to the feelings from the ride, I was kinda happy about the progression too. Charlie's a clever horse, ya know? He will very often give a pretty good answer right off the bat, with the expectation that "If I give you the answer, you won't ask the same question twice!"

But ya know. These lessons are for me as much as they're for him so we *do* repeat exercises. Often, this means that we start on kinda a high note but end up devolving a bit from there.

Which was... the case in this lesson. We'd already done the exercise a few times pretty smoothly before Trainer K pulled out the camera. Maybe seeing that she was videoing made me change my ride or whatever, but you'll see our first few passes in the video had some blips.

Naturally in my mind I immediately started feeling like "Oh boy, here we go, it's all gonna fall apart now!" But... actually, it didn't.

pic unrelated: my new crop has kinda this chunky handle that it turns out makes my hand cramp a bit. i still like the crop.... but maybe if you're crop shopping make sure you're comfortable with the, ahem, girth of your new weapon
If anything, having those few blips forced me to work even harder at internalizing that feel trainer K was trying to convey: The consistency in balance, rhythm, pace in a more forward (but not chasing!) canter throughout the whole exercise. And, go figure, we were able to end on some really solid jumps. Yessss!

Obviously there's still a lot of work to be done (particularly on the back side of lines) but we got a lot of good mileage in this ride. Here's hoping the weather will cooperate a little longer into the season ;)


  1. ahhaha so much good about this post... first of all, he's looking fantastic condition wise.

    "He will very often give a pretty good answer right off the bat, with the expectation that "If I give you the answer, you won't ask the same question twice!"" - Spicy is totally about this. It made me realize how detrimental drilling things is and how many breaks he actually needs when I ride just to confirm that what he did just then was good boy.

    And girth is very important. Maybe even more than length.

    1. oh man, yea the distinction between repetition vs drilling is so tricky, for a horse like charlie it can be a very fine line. he learns really really well through repetition and pattern recognition. like if i can set him up to see something as a "puzzle" where he already knows the answer, he does really really well. but go too far and repeat too many times and he kinda just shuts down or stops trying. tho on the other hand we've had to do a fair amount of training around the idea that he doesn't get to decide when a ride is done or when he gets to quit.... so yea, tricky balance haha!

      and re: the crop, this puppy has it all - girth *and* length ;)

  2. You guys are looking good! I always hand Shanea my phone and she takes video of our rides. I find them so useful to go back and look at while I hear what she said. The only thing I wish is that she would also record the crap stuff that happens- I want to see it so I can analyze it from the comfort of my couch and not recall it.

    1. thanks!! i agree completely - the video is so so so so SO useful. for some reason tho i kinda have this aversion to asking my trainers to take video. but.... in thinking on it, i'm wondering if that's kinda the result of having always ridden with kinda old-school trainers. like, Trainer P doesn't always like taking video while she's coaching bc it's kinda distracting to her. and i figure i'd rather her focus on the coaching. but Trainer K is a different generation and is more of a digital native, so taking the video while teaching isn't really an issue for her. so maybe i should be better about asking for it haha!

  3. Really interesting read, thanks for distracting me! So interesting that we all struggle with so many of the same things, but in different way? In many ways, it comes down to pace and stride and all of that relating to distances. Change one thing (usually related to that) and it changes everything. Obviously you covered much more, but my brain is mush and I can't write coherently so... yeah.

    I think that is type of beating stick my trainer is talking about when it comes to Bob. I, evidently, need a serious stick. Lol.

    1. ha we're always down for some good distraction around these parts ;) and yea, it really is the same struggle, the same details, over and over again forever and ever amen. for me, the hardest part is what you say about how changing one thing can have unintended consequences elsewhere. like.... i'm working so hard focusing on my hands right now, but then that impacts other aspects of the ride too and not always as i'd intended....

      lol, turns out riding is hard. serious sticks help tho ;)

  4. I prefer my serious sticks to have a hefty girth.

  5. Ooh I appreciate the diagram of how this little exercise was set up. I really want to try this!

    1. you definitely should!! it occurred to me that it's actually more or less a standard hunter course haha... but honestly it has so many options. like the diagonals could be tight roll backs to the lines, or bigger sweeping turns. could also be useful for practicing landing the lead (which i suck at but hey, #goals yo)

  6. Large strided horses are sooo, soo tricky to calibrate our brains do. I feel like I could have written this post about either Ramone or Dante lol

    1. ha for real, it's so true too. and like, charlie's so good at kinda tricking me bc he can be that kinda lazy sluggish lethargic dinosaur where i start thinking i really have to push him to get going.... but then once he's going he's GOING lol

  7. I had the same troubles when I had Jampy. I spent so much time compressing him that I forgot completely how to ride forward. It's coming back though! Slowly but surely! You two are looking great!

    1. thanks!! and yea, finding that balance is so so hard sometimes lol. in a way tho, esp after some of the issues this summer it's kinda nice to have a horse that's really moving out and covering ground again!

  8. Yeah jompies! lol It always amazes me how coaches come up with exercises you haven't seen before. My coach used to do that, even after I had been riding with her for a couple of years.

    It must be tricky to work on striding - I have never jumped, so it is a bit foreign to me. Western trail horses have a 6ft stride over lope poles! Very different from jumping!

  9. This post was so helpful! Loved it! June doesn't have a huge stride, BUT so much of what your trainer was saying relates to what we are working on. I, too, love to chase to the jump and lift my hands. Asking you to push him off the inside leg, or use your outside leg in the turn is something I'm working on too. It was nice to see it executed well! I think I spend so much time thinking about the actual jump, instead of all the minutia that needs to happen between the jumps.
    You and Charlie look great!

  10. TOO COOL that your instructor filmed so much! The screenshots are awesome, too.

    And thank you for sharing the exercise diagram! I'm always on the lookout for things like this that can be endlessly looped through, provide lots of opportunities for learning, and don't involve too many jumps. I think I will set this up in the near-ish future to utilize on the drier days I'm gifted this winter.


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