Thursday, February 4, 2010

Guess Who's Back?

My kickass jumping horse, that's who's back.

I took Pandora to a jumping lesson this afternoon with a trainer I've never ridden with. I've seen her around at events, and a fellow Pony Clubber rides with her and really likes her, so I decided to give it a shot. If you take a look at one of the sidebars on the right, it shows you that my goals for this year include mastering Novice and beginning to school some Training. To take steps toward accomplishing that, I have decided to focus on taking consistent private lessons with the same trainers over a long period of time.

I feel like this will help me make big improvements. Group lessons and clinics have their place--I learned a TON from them last year--but now is the time to hunker down and get some serious work done. I started bi-weekly dressage lessons with Leslie and I am already seeing huge improvements in both horses (McKinna has gone twice, Pandora once). After a few months of lessons with Leslie and a consistent jumping trainer, I really think we will have made some serious progress.

This applies to both Pandora and McKinna. At this point I am focusing on bringing them both along, since right now the plan is to sell Pandora and compete McKinna. Both of those require more training!

For some reason, after every lesson my mom and I wait to talk about it until after we've loaded up the horse and gotten into the truck. Maybe it's because gossip travels fast in the horse world and it's best to keep your opinions quiet? Anyway, after the lesson we loaded up Pandora (which is going very well lately, by the way) and got in the truck. As soon as the doors were closed, I turned to Mom and said, "That was awesome!"

Which it was!

We did some flatwork to get to know each other and she had me doing much of the same things that Leslie is having us do: supple until she softens and carries herself, ask for more forward, half-halt, supple, forward.... which is good. Congruity between trainers is always a good thing. We did some spiral-in and spiral-out on a circle at the trot, which went well other than a quite dramatic loss of forward momentum. I was wishing for a dressage whip instead of a crop, let me tell you.

Then came the canter work, where Devin (the trainer) laid down the idea that served as the foundation for the rest of the lesson: get some more forward in there! Please!

Here's our dilemma. Pandora, like any sane horse that's not built like a superstar, would really rather prefer to plod around on the forehand. If she can't be on her forehand, she would like to go slow. If she has to reach under herself with her hind end, she would prefer to lean on me. And so on.

So at the canter I have spent much time seeking balance. Carry yourself, dammit. Carry yourself. Over time, she has made vast improvements and she can carry herself quite nicely at a slow pace. This IS a valuable skill, and it's one that we needed to put in the time to learn. But now we need to get the engine going a little bit too.

Devin asked me to really send her forward by asking strongly once, not nagging. Forward is hard to balance, remember, so Pandora immediately said "Oh, well I'll just lean on your hands, thank you," to which Devin told me to politely say "Nope, hold yourself up please" by bumping her gently off the bit. (No, really, Pandora is so willing and cooperative that I swear a real conversation would go like this.)

This was really, really effective. Forward, no don't lean on me please, then leave her alone. The idea was to be firm enough in generating the forward motion that I didn't need to ask all the time for more impulsion after I half-halted. It worked very well. Pandora was a little fussy at first, which is to be expected, because carrying herself is very hard and she doesn't want to do things that require hard work. Then again, Pandora's version of "fussy" is a few small head tosses, so there you have it.

At one point, Devin commented on my very loose caveson. I explained that I leave it that loose because she's normally so calm and quiet in the mouth (she chews enough to make foam, but she's very steady) that I really want to know if something's going on enough to make her open her mouth or cross her jaw. Might not work with all horses, but it works very well for us, and Devin was fine with it since Pandora was so quiet.

So we went on to apply our newfound FORWARD and reasonably BALANCED canter to jumping. And, wonder of wonders, it worked! It felt wonderful. Counterintuitively, pushing her into a much more forward canter actually fixed a lot of the rushing. Devin explained that this was probably because she now had enough power to jump easily and make the striding, whereas before she was kind of puttering along and may have felt that she needed to run at the fences to get over them. Whatever Pandora's thought process was, I liked it.

It was actually a very interesting feeling: we nailed almost every distance. When things didn't go right, it was usually because I hadn't generated enough power before the half-halt. Coincidentally (or not), this is the same concept Brian Sabo had us working on at the clinic back in May. Anyway, Pandora felt great: confident, independent, and totally capable of making her own decisions about the distances. When she needed to hold steady the last few strides or even shorten a little, she did. When she needed to lengthen, she saw that from about three strides out and did so.

The interesting part is the control/lack of control I had. When I bumped the reins to remind her not to lean on me and get flat, she listened; but I had the distinct sense that if I had offered my input on the way to a fence, such as asking her to compress her stride a little, she may have totally tuned me out. This wasn't an issue, because she was making all the right decisions on her own, but it was an interesting feeling.

I discussed this with Devin and we agreed that it makes sense for where we're at right now. We just introduced Pandora to this new, more powerful canter; it's bound to take some time for her (and me!) to get used to it. In the meantime, we've given Pandora an excellent new tool that will no doubt increase her confidence. Devin said she likes to do a lot of adjustability exercises, lengthening and compressing, so we will definitely get to that in due time. I can see that as we progress, Pandora will be able to hold that powerful canter without so much effort or input from me, and at that point I will be able to ask her to expand or compress the stride.

In all, it was a great lesson and I really enjoyed myself. The plan is to take Pandora every other week.

Last but not least - a video! It's from my mother's cell phone and not the best quality. I swear one of these days we'll remember the camera. The video is from our last round. It's not perfect, but considering that this is (a) the second jumping session we've had since my rating four months ago and (b) the very last round at the end of the lesson when Pandora was pretty wiped, I think it went quite well. Hope it's at least somewhat visible...


Albigears said...

She looks great!

Andrea said...

That was awesome!

manymisadventures said...

Thanks, guys :) It felt awesome too! I'm really excited to see what the coming months bring.

Leah Fry said...

You guys look great. I bet it will be easy to fine her a good show home.

Austen said...

Long Time Lurker here: You guys looked really good, and smooth together! I wouldn't even imagine it was a first time going at a faster canter rate.
I know for me, it's always hard to push for more when my horse is already balanced and going well. I seem to not want to screw anything up by asking for more.
Good luck with your lessons!

manymisadventures said...

Leah Fry, I sure hope so. There are a lot of really good horse people in the area, and I know somebody would love a cuddlebug horse like her.

Austen, welcome to the commenting side of things, and thank you! I agree that it is hard to ask for more when things are going well - it's why I have to take lessons, because they MAKE me ask for more.

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