A week or so ago I asked the world of Facebook for jumping instructor recommendations, and a good friend put me onto L (at this point I realise most horse people that I interact with and talk about on this here blog are either L’s or C’s!!). We scheduled for this weekend which ended up being lovely and uncharacteristically warm for this time of year, perfect lesson weather.
L liked Oscar right off the bat and said so which was a nice surprise. Usually I tend to gravitate towards harsher instructors who don’t fluff around with compliments, and that suits me just fine – if I’m paying for lessons I want critique, not pats on the back. I know that some people prefer the more encouraging instructors, but that teaching style has never really been my jam. Still, I’ll gratefully take a nice compliment about my horse’s general existence and dashing good looks.
We talked briefly about what Oscar and I had done (training level eventing), were doing (beginning jump work following hunting injury) and aiming to do (get back to eventing again) before we began warming up on a canter circle over two poles at opposite sides of said circle.
This exercise is one that always needs work; and we usually have the same issue whenever we try it, being falling out of the outside shoulder (yes, that old chestnut). L also wasn’t overly pleased with the way Oscar carried himself to and over the poles, though I will point out that he was feeling particularly lethargic and behind my leg that day. A couple of vertical half halts at strategic points on the circle seemed to help slightly, but I opted to grab a whip for the rest of the lesson as I was already feeling a bit puffed.
In the interests of being honest, I don’t believe that I was helping Oscar carry himself nicely over the poles – anyone who spends the majority of their time in a dressage saddle knows it takes a good ten minutes or so to warm yourself into a jumping saddle. I didn’t feel like I could weight my inside leg enough to sit straight for a while during our warmup, which obviously makes it more difficult for my horse to travel straight underneath me.
On top of that it’s ten times harder to get a horse between your seat and hands when your seat is unbalanced, any energy you are channeling forwards is able to be diverted through the weakness – or as was the case with us – blocked by, your seat.
The final straw before grabbing the whip was as we trotted into a tiny cross rail with a ground pole in front of it – Oscar got stuck on having a pole right before a jump so ended up clambering through the jump. I picked up my stick, circled and came back around, pulling out the old one-handed-pony-clubber a stride out so I could tap him behind my leg as he took off. Oscar jumped out of his skin, threw in a buck and I didn’t have to touch or nag him again the whole lesson. Whips and spurs are his least favourite, the boy is as far from Rihanna as they come.
Once warmed up and when Oscar was in a good place between my seat and hands, we moved onto grid work (red dashed lines are poles on my oh-so artistic diagram below):
Teeny tiny fences are all you need in a grid, especially in early stages as your horse figures things out.
I am usually of the opinion (and I don’t know where this theory came from) that a horse needs something at chest height or above in order to improve his jumping technique. Well I was certainly shown otherwise today, as Oscar felt a hundred times better the last couple of times than he did in the first couple, and it was basically just down to engaging the haunches in the canter and engaging the brain by leaving the horse alone.
We opted to finish the lesson early as we’d already made big improvements, we have plenty of homework coming out of the lesson and most importantly, Oscar was tired. I never mind finishing a lesson early when my horse is tired as he means the world to me, but I see no sense in ever pushing anything on a tired horse anyway. We’ve rescheduled for another lesson and I’m thrilled that I now have a genuine understanding and feel for what I’m teaching my horse in a jumping context, and we no longer have to just aimlessly canter between jumps in order to feel we’re schooling something. Good times indeed.