Friday, July 6, 2012

I'm a Chicken (amongst other things)

Out to the barn again yesterday, revelling in the fact that it was the third straight day of riding this week for Mr. Moon. FINALLY. I can honestly say, there is something MAGICAL that occurs when one rides their horse with some consistency. If I ride Moon once a week, I have to spend most of the ride returning to the point we left our last ride. Which essentially means, week after week, I'm making no forward progress. I'm standing still. On the other hand, if I ride him twice a week, we make a little progress, not a whole lot, but enough that I don't feel like we're stuck in knee deep mud, or worse yet, a batch of quick sand, rapidly swallowing up all of our training and competency.

Now, there is nothing, not near anything, that compares to three or more rides in a single week. I've been so lucky to ride Moon up to 6 days in a single 7 day period, and I can honestly say that rainbow sprouted from his hind quarters, diamonds dazzled in his eyes and leprechauns leapt from the arena rails. It's true. Now that being said, 6 days a week is certainly a stretch for any "regular" joe, who must work an intolerable number of hours (typically the hours that are daylight, warm, cool, not raining, bug-free...). That being said, 3 days a week SHOULD be manageable for someone like me, who prioritizes riding their horse over laundry, grocery shopping, non-horse friends and television reruns. I do apologize to my non-horse friends if they happen to read this. I adore you, you're awesome, I DO show up to birthday parties and shindigs, but let's face it, four legs are better then two.

So having 3 days on horseback, in a row none the less, is stellar. My pony suddenly makes good forward progress and I can actually divide my attention between disciplines and activities. Instead of just trotting around doing flexion, I can actually do a day of dressage, a day on the trails, and a day...JUMPING!

And NOT have a horse with half a head and four front feet.

So I swapped over the stirrup leathers, shortened them and hopped aboard. I'd set up my favorite gymnastic grid at the moment, on the rail where run-outs can only happen in one direction. While this gives me less space overall, I save the number of poles that I have to use as wings and I can focus more on my own screw-ups instead of trying to direct my horse through the grid.

Our x-rail to Oxer combo! Not bad...

I had it set up initially pretty "easy". Low x-rail to an 18" vertical, ground poles on all of them, single trot pole before the x-rail.

No biggie.

Moon transitioned REALLY smoothly into trot (he used to get rushy the instant my stirrup leathers went up) and I headed for the jump...


Well, I am AWFUL for anticipating the jump. What's mildly amusing (not that I laugh or find it funny), is that I can FEEL myself anticipating, feel myself rising before him and trying to jump FOR him, and yet am helpless to stop it. It's literally like watching a car wreck where you SEE that someone is going to crash, you brace yourself for it, and just WAIT for the mass casualties. Seriously, that's me in true jumping form.

I'm way ahead of him over that little x-rail and wind up on his neck when we land. I mean, like legs are way out behind me and I could have been taking a nap there up on his body, since there's no way a human would ever be dumb enough to try to ride, let alone jump, in that position.

Now, fortunately or unfortunately (I haven't decided which yet), my horse is a rather honest and brave fellow. Or so I claim. In reality, he probably realizes there's a crazed lunatic clinging to his neck, plastered across his back and not even touching the reins, and the best choice is to try and get the h*ll away from them. So despite me literally laying ATOP him, Mr. Moon jumps the 18" vertical.


While the whole thing is embarrassing, I WILL say that a little piece of me (the dumb piece) was a little proud that despite my horrible position, I didn't fall off. No, I literally jumped him from my napping position, didn't haul on his face (I wasn't even steering!) and we didn't knock the rail.

I gathered myself back up and we tried again. Things got progressively better as we went, though I still anticipated every time. It's just soooo hard to let him go to it!

After a few rounds, I changed the back vertical over to an oxer. Nothing impressive, just 18" at the front, 2' at the back and maybe 18" of spread. Off we went.

We survived, no rails down, but I knew it still wasn't pretty. I also was noticing that I was almost standing UP in the stirrups, instead of going in two-point. Hmmmm...

"I see London, I see France, I see Daylight below your underpants!"
Anyone else think I'm a little high above the saddle??!

At least I can notice my failings, right?? Ignorance however, would be bliss.

Coming through again, I had a crazy idea. What if I stopped using the reins?? I was too concerned about bashing him in the mouth, that I couldn't focus on my riding position during the jump. So as we came down the long side towards the jumps, I loosened off my reins and just held the buckle end to keep them from accidentally flipping over his head during the jump. While I WANTED to ride with my arms out to the sides like a bird or a plane (or superman...), I hadn't worked out in my head how one does this without risking those reins from flying over the horse's head and causing some sort of catastrophic event. Better to keep a few fingers on the end of them...

My gut was telling me that Moon would try to deek out to the side, since I wasn't steering him, I was a terrible jumper who spent most of my time on his neck, and let's face it, he's a 13 year old stock horse meant for chasing cows or something, who spent his whole life ambling down trails when he wasn't getting podgy. There's ZERO reason I can think of in that little head of his why he WOULD jump, especially when there was no pilot up there.

Up and over and up and over my little pony went. I didn't shorten those reins until we were on the other side and he was making the corner.


With zero steering, my sweet boy went right through the gymnastic line.

And I was finally able to work on my position!

We did that a lot more. Over and over. I'm not going to say I ever got "good" at jumping or improved my position a ton, but I felt a lot more solid and confident over the jumps. I suppose for me, being someone without a ton of jumping experience, riding a horse with minimal jumping experience, this is the important bit. Just getting comfortable. Keeping the jumps low enough that chaos won't occur, and learning what works.

Thankfully, I got some video that I could use to evaluate myself afterwards. Unfortunately, I didn't have a good angle to tell if my legs were slipping back. What I DO know, is that when I thought I was standing, I WAS (holy, that's a lot of daylight between crotch and saddle!) and apparently, I DO think I'm a chicken and jump with a full set of wings : P Seriously. Anyone wanna tell me to get my elbows in? What is this, flight school? Could I flap my way over these jumps? Not likely. The only comforting thing is that I do the same thing when nervous on flat work. Huh. Character defect.

"It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's SuperSand!"

Slowly, I upped the height until the front x-rail changed into a 2'3" vertical, and the back oxer was 2'. My heart thumped royally in my chest, and I had one of those "flash moments" where I could envision myself flying off Moon and landing over a rail, snapping myself in half.

Yeah...I've got some mental problems...don't ask me about the horrible visions I get when I load up the horse trailer... : P

I bit my lip, urged Moon forward and prayed just a little. And flapped my arms for good luck...


And over.

Yup. 2'3", from a trot.

Followed by 1 stride to an oxer.

Not saying it was perfect, but I didn't fly off his back, didn't ride it on his neck, and didn't bash him in the face. And none of the poles came down. It probably didn't even look half bad.

Now, you amazing Eventers, and 4' jumpers and impeccable 3' hunters can look at that and roll your eyes. It's cool. But I haven't jumped that high in 2 years, never on a green jumping horse, and NEVER on Mr. Moon. "Regulation" height. REAL jumping height. Eventing height?? No. But 4" off...(and you know, solid...wider...scarier...faster...). Needless to say, I was practically bouncing in my saddle, smacking Moon happily in his neck and telling him he's the most awesome pony in the world. Ever. Forever.

I knew he was getting tired (did I mention that his transitions were still smooth!), so I dropped all the jumps down to x-rails, and turned my oxer into a 1 stride to x-rail. So now I had 3 x-rails, all 1-canter stride apart. They weren't super high, but I thought it would be a nice easy way to finish the ride. Yes, 2'3" is an awesome height, but I never want Moon to feel overwhelmed. That's how I was screwing things up in January, jumping him too high, no gymnastics, no ground rail, no trot pole. And he got scared and backed off. I don't want that. He's a solid horse and I want to build him up. Teach him to love this, not just tolerate it. So the three x-rail combo was perfect.

We jumped that x-rail combo twice and then H came over for a little ride with me! It was AWESOME to have her back in the ring with me. I know it can be tough when you've got two little ones at home, a farm to care for, and a busy life, but pardon my selfishness when I say it's great to have her back in the ring with me!

I swear she brings out the crazy in me...

We talked about jumping without stirrups while she was tacking up. I was gonna ditch my stirrups and do the line without them. She just looked at me and said "Do it without the saddle."

It was said like she could have been suggesting I turn out a light. Or change the station on the radio. Not something as intimidating and terrifying as jumping without the saving grace of my saddle and stirrups. I mean, I could make the mental leap to ditch the stirrups. But the saddle? On my bouncy horse? Did I mention he's got a nice solid, defined wither?? And that we don't jump?

...I'm probably gonna have to stop claiming he doesn't jump soon...

I looked at her, asked her if she was prepared to either run home to call 911 or perform CPR on my helpless body, and then loosened my girth. Since she was more then willing to scrape my debris and limbs from the sand arena, I figured "What the hell?! It's not like you can die twice!".

It is obvious to you, by this point, that I didn't die in the adventure. Largely because I AM typing this, so either I'm a ghost with nothing better to do then haunt the world through obscenely long and pointless blog posts, or I'm still alive. Granted, modern technology means I could be typing this with a plastic stick clenched between my teeth from a lumpy hospital bed flanked by a multitude of machines, but we can assume that this post would "likely" (though it's not guaranteed) be a little more sombre and depressing if that was the case.

No, I can tell you that we bounced up to that 3 x-rail gymnastic grid, and bounced right on over. I can't recall which of my many runs over it were successful and which weren't, but I can certainly tell you that IMPULSION is a critical part of jumping. I guess THIS is why the eventers of the world don't jog slowly up to those big solids and then say "Okay Pony, jump". Really dumb move. Of course, I was soooo concerned about staining the sand in H's arena with my bodily fluids (which really could have been any number of colors depending on how this bareback jumping played out...), I couldn't even think about using impulsion. Though by the fifth or so time through, and getting tired of hoping off to fix the knocked poles and then scrambling back onto him like an idiot, I started giving him a bit more encouragement coming into it. And it REALLY helped.

We made it all the way through the grid a couple of times, with no poles knocked. And not once did we become separated. To be honest, I didn't even feel like I was NEARLY as bad at jumping ahead of my horse as I did under saddle. Huh.

I.was.thrilled. In about an hour, we had jumped 2'3", we had jumped an oxer and we had jumped bareback. The entire time, I didn't fall of once, and Moon only ran out ONCE on me, when I set up that last vertical in the 3-jump grid and was staring at it wondering if we had enough space to turn after the landing. Apparently my thoughts translated clearly into his head, because he very neatly trotted around the standard the first time. I mean, I couldn't blame him. After I had a second look at it, I was sure we'd be fine and he jumped cleanly through. Go figure.

Without reins, with reins. With saddle, without saddle. Mr. Moon was SOLID. He never once put the brakes on, shied to the side or did anything rude or dangerous. THIS is what learning to jump should be like. What's crazy, is that Mr. Moon is not experienced. He should, by every right, be prone to ducking out, slamming on the brakes and shying. But he doesn't. Sometimes he'll hit a jump, pull down the rails or be a little lazy and sorta smash into it, but he never really avoids it. Like a solid old lesson horse that no one jumps very high, but they jump safely. I seriously, seriously, seriously, love this horse.

I also had a moment of insanity (encouraged by H) where I wanted to try jumping onto his back. He was bareback, I was tired of leading him to the mounting block, and it looked SOOO cool in videos! In my stupidity (I mean seriously folks, THIS is why he's the right horse for me. I'm ridiculously stupid at times and would likely be dead with any other horse...actually, I'd be too scared to even try and not have any fun with any other horse, but that's not the point), I ran towards him standing there and tried to jump and throw a leg over his back.

What I managed, instead of looking like a sexy cowgirl, was to throw my knee up into his hip bone, smashing it solidly while running smack into his check with mine.

Moon moved two steps away from me and looked at me like I was in fact, an idiot.

Yup, that's me.

H, in her wisdom (you know, for someone who actually encourages others to leap on their horse), explained to me that you stand at their shoulder, grab some hair and leap from there, throwing your heel over their hind end. She's got experience and isn't dead, so I thought I'd try it her way. My way sure didn't work.

...Sexy cowgirl? Nope. Mounted clutz? Yes.

I got that leg over his hind end, and with a lot of scrambling managed to pull the rest of my body over. Of course, Mr. Moon thought it appropriate to put his head down to help the procedure, and I had to spend most of the time looking down at the solid ground. I tried it a couple times over the course of the evening, and never got any better. In the end, Moon actually wandered away towards the jumps and I finally bailed before he decided it was a good idea to jump the gymnastic line with me clinging to the side of him.

...granted, that's not much different from my usual jumping form.

I sure hope I can get out riding again real soon. I've never in my life had sooo much fun with a horse, doing absolutely everything and absolutely nothing. I wonder if we'd make it to the Olympics if I could ride 6 days a week...I wonder if I'd SURVIVE riding 6 days a week...

I don't have any bareback pics, but I think in this one, it's clear Mr. Moon isn't completely against jumping...that's a reasonably willing face, no??


  1. Sounds like lots of improvements. I sometimes get the chicken arms as well. Normally I have to work really hard on keeping them in. As for dropping the reins in put mine in a knot at the end so that I can hold on to them till a stride away from the first jump and they are to short to fall and get tangled in the legs and such. It helps me when I was jumping before I broke my leg.

  2. I strongly recommend lots of no stirrup, no rein, no saddle and blindfolded jumping to help improve your seat :) i can show you the trick for no reins next time we're out. No saddle will definitely slow the progress of your jumping ahead tendencies as will the blindfolded can't anticipate what you can't see ;o)