Monday, July 25, 2016

Grid-work Jumping Lesson Recap

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):

The jumps were just a simple cross rail oxer and a teeny tiny upright and we were aiming for six things with this particular grid.

i) getting a good canter into, through and out of the grid.
ii) stretching my horse out over the fairly wide oxer, as his jump is apparently quite snappy.
iii) encouraging Oscar to figure things out without me trying to place him at the base of the fence.
iv) building good muscle post injury using small fences.
v) using the poles to improve my ability to see a stride. 
vi) improving confidence across the board, for the pair of us. 

So one grid, two poles and fences, had a whole host of benefits/things to work on with the above in mind. 

Our first target was to establish a canter that allowed us to really travel forwards and into the grid. 
Oscar is happy to collect deep to the base of the fence and tidily pop over whatever obstacle is in front of him, but L wanted more ground coverage without compromising the collection in the canter, and we worked on a surprisingly simple and effective exercise to achieve this.

We took things right back to the circle, where we picked up a light skippy canter straight from walk. When we had a good rhythm going L asked me to sit deep and bring Oscar back to the slowest canter we could manage, right back until he was about to break into trot at which point I was very quickly to push him forward again. It was an ugly and difficult exercise but the first two or three strides of canter offered after I got after him were perfect, exactly what L was looking for. The key with this exercise is to be assertive enough to push your horse out at the critical 'just about to trot' moment, and back off when the horse leaps into the forward-but-still-on-his-hocks canter. I could feel exactly what L was asking us for, which is always a great thing, and so we were able to progressively get more and more strides of it as we continued to practise. Once the concept had stuck we'd alternate from circle to grid and back to the circle. It kept Oscar's brain busy and fresh, and was super effective (Pokemon Go lovers will appreciate that description) to maintain the exact same canter on the flat and through a grid. 

Show hunters watch out ;) (tricking).   

The improved quality canter did have the added effect of encouraging Oscar to reach more over a jump, but also widening a parallel oxer to the right effort-inducing distance helped out too. Especially the third or fourth time when Oscar had gotten comfortable working his way through the grid.

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.


  1. Sounds really positive! I'm trying to figure out if I recognise the trainer haha! Oscar is so cute!

  2. Weeee jumping is the best! I can't wait to see how you progress xx