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Rocking back, deciding takeoff, breakthroughs - please discuss with me!

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  • Rocking back, deciding takeoff, breakthroughs - please discuss with me!

    Hoping some of you experienced people can give me some input/discussion points/ideas on my training session yesterday. I felt like it was a breakthrough...somehow. Every time I try to describe what exactly happened though, coach just kind of goes and then smiles. I want to figure out why what I did was useful, and bounce my ideas for path forward off someone...but I write better than I speak, and my coach is not always a huge fan of my email essays *blushes*

    Since I got some of the ideas for this schooling session from reading COTH this week ANYWAY, I was hoping some of you might be willing to do some idea-bouncing and suggesting why this worked and what words to use. COTH ideas were to use very tall X-rails to funnel the horse to the center of the jump and giving the lazier horse the idea that he needs to respect the fences, balancing in the corners without losing forward velocity or collapsing the upper body, and poster CHT taught me the leg-yield onto a smaller circle.

    (reminder...I am one month from going back into a full-time program with the above-mentioned coach...my current long-distance arrangement means she doesn't see me ride much and I don't see her work my horse much...advice given here is much appreciated and WILL be put into use, with a Pro involved more heavily in a few weeks...I'm so excited about my upcoming move that everyone I know in real life is DEAD SICK of hearing about my horse, so I hope the fine people of COTH H/J can give me some thoughts to protect my real life friends and family from more giddy discussion about showjumping. )

    The horse: 16.3hh 7 year old Trakehner gelding. Green. Started in training with a Pro in October 2011. Went to our first rated two weeks ago, had mixed results. Will not be showing again until at least May. The current goal is to get this horse ready to compete in the 1.0m Jumper ring. He has done this successfully at schooling shows...not the big ring yet.

    Free jump (unbroke, unschooled):

    The rider: me, started riding six years ago and have been in various H/J programs off and on. Big strong girl with a history in sport...fitness/strength not generally a problem...knowing what to do with it is. My default is to let go...not because I can't hold my position, but usually because I think that "balancing with the horse" means following wherever he tugs me.

    Poor quality schooling video (November 2011, after one month back in training o/f): http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php...50484453485412

    The current gap: We need to get him packaged up at the base and off his forehand. I need to ride tighter and not "follow" him so much. We need to see him use his hind end better, at the canter and over the fence.

    The school I set: three fences along the center line, one stride out of the wall at the bottom, one standard 12' stride between each. The first two were cross rails with the ends very high (about 3') but the "X" was still under 2'. The third fence was a plain rail, no ground lines, no fill, and about 2'6". I hate these, which is why I did it that way. I like to stare at that empty void under the rail, then start second-guessing my distance, then I like to throw myself at my horse's ears to encourage him to make a real big effort. When I'm REALLY "on" I also like to totally forget that I have legs at that point. Yes, I do see the problem with this.

    I also set ground poles up parallel to the second fence, pointing out from the standards. I used these in the flat portion of my school. On the flat I came down the quarter line from the far side and circled outside my jumps at the edge of the ground poles (----) then leg yielded one stride to circle inside the 1st and 3rd jumps crossing the center of the poles.

    ____far side wall____




    ___near side wall____

    How it went: the flat portion had me a little scared...until I realized that my horse wasn't going to buck, he was actually using his back properly. Apparently he has some animation in there after all! Whee! He REALLY floated his front end over the ground poles the first few times. This is a HUGE change for him, usually with ground poles he just drags them with his toes and trips. I did that until it felt clean and rhythmic, two or three times each way. Horse was bored with it by the third time, had to use a lot of leg and the odd spur to stop him dropping onto his forehand "auto pilot" mode.

    Much better on the left lead, on the right lead he wants to put his head much further to the inside...maybe he's bulging his shoulder? Not sure. Thinking of "tightening up" my upper leg helped a lot with this...I think that means he needs support on his outside shoulder going that direction.

    For the o/f part, I tried to help my horse build up that good canter in the far corner, let him open up his stride length down the long side (in rhythm), took the tight corner at the end then sent him through the gymnastic. First time through he brought down the third fence, it felt like with his fronts. He sort of lunged over the second fence, too strung out for the third. We reset it and tried again, and he was GREAT! I think he just canters the first one, but he rocked back for the second, just a little bit, then he kind of surged up into my hand over the vertical. It was COOL! I cantered straight to the far wall and halted straight. The next times through, I would turn whichever lead we landed on, use the far corner to re-assemble the canter, then either run it again or let the horse have a break. I did it about 8 times through, 3 off one lead, 5 off the other. The corner on the right lead was slippery, so I had to stop doing that one.

    I also tried this trotting into the gymnastic, but it sucked. He kind of bunny hopped the first cross rail then grunted into a tight canter stride to the second, THEN it seemed like we were together/synched for the vertical...but it didn't really feel like progress. It's like when we jump from the trot, we lose the "forward" vector on our jump, it's straight up and down, and then when we land, it's like starting from a stop.

    Path forward: I really liked this drill, and starting with that spiral-in circle helped show my body what the quality canter had to FEEL like. I need to look at some more canter exercises that incorporate leg yielding like this, and I think keeping it somewhat fresh with patterns and poles helps my horse. I also think that raising the poles to cavaletti might be a good next step here.

    I thought about setting more fences along the center and making sure that I could build and ask for that nice, surging takeoff at each one. I thought this might help build fitness and get my horse and I more synched up. I also thought about doing the same exercise but varying the distances, to work on adjustability. Make one long, one short, mix them up each time through.

    I think the overarching idea that I need to go forward with is that regardless of direction, turning, up and down, etc...that forward vector can't get smaller. As the rider I need to think about being part of the drive behind that "arrow"...not let myself get ahead of it and mess it up.

    So, anything in all that to discuss? Don't worry if you think I'm a hopeless mess who has no business jumping, riding, etc. My last coach thought so too. This one seems to think we're at least worth TRYING to help, so she's giving it a shot. I am aware that I am not done learning
    Lifestyle coordinator for Zora, Spooky, Wolfgang and Warrior

  • #2
    I'm glad that you got some good progress with your exercise! It is always hard trying to learn without someone on the ground to watch and help.

    I have one minor thing to add. I'll preface it by saying that I'm not an expert and you'll hopefully hear from some people who are, but if you are putting 12' between each jump they are essentially long bounces, not one strides. Sorry if you know this already or if I misinterpreted, but for a one stride you normally use 18' to 24' feet depending on the height of the jumps, horse's stride, speed of entry, etc.

    If you have your jumps set 12' apart I would imagine that they are encouraging the horse to flatten out a little instead of doing a bouncy canter which you might get more with a 10' distance. That might be why it isn't working well coming from the trot?

    Good luck with everything and hopefully an expert will chime in with thoughts for you soon!


    • Original Poster

      Sorry, I mean that I set the distance between as a one stride for a "normal" 12' canter stride as opposed to a longer stride length.

      I don't mean that there were only 12' between the jumps! Sorry again!
      Lifestyle coordinator for Zora, Spooky, Wolfgang and Warrior


      • #4
        Ah ok! Well I have no input then!


        • #5
          Are you trying to obtain a more collected together canter to bring you to the base? Perhaps set the one strides a little tight, on a 11', then 10' stride. To trot in, you'd have to make sure your trot has plenty of impulsion and is off the forehand. To canter in, make sure the canter is bouncy and together. It may take a couple tries before he understands. I like gymnastics because they allow me to just guide and not worry about trying to overfix. Bring the horse into the gymnastic correctly, keep steady leg, release properly, and keep a steady feel of the reins.

          For my TB that liked to travel on the forehand and take off long, we would jump lines set for a four stride in a five.

          I may be misinterpreting your problem though.
          Last edited by Crown Royal; Mar. 3, 2012, 09:09 PM.


          • Original Poster

            I like gymnastics because they allow me to just guide and not worry about trying to overfix. Bring the horse into the gymnastic correctly, keep steady leg, release properly, and keep a steady feel of the reins.
            This is great feedback, because that's kind of what I was doing...but I never know if I've got the right idea.

            When my horse really started to surge up into my hand on the second and third fences, I was thinking "well, it seems like we're getting it" but it also seemed like I was letting my little grid do all the work! Nice to hear that your philosophy is kind of similar.

            I think I will work on a steadier feel of the rein when I do this next time. My horse will not need a very big release through this, and even less active release if I shorten the stride...I believe he will be looking for some support in the bridle if I use an 11' or 10' stride...I really need to stop throwing my hands up his neck, concentrate on maintaining the same contact through a following release instead.

            Thank you!

            Are you trying to obtain a more collected together canter to bring you to the base?
            Yes, but I didn't want to say "collect" and have people think that I was trying to "frame" my horse without the hind end. Lots of my fellow beginner-ladies-on-big-warmbloods seem to be after a really short, slow canter with the nose right on the vertical and no real driving power. My horse has perfected that, incidentally. "Look, I'm collected!! No, you're mistaken, I'm not on my forehand, my neck is CURLED! Don't I look PRETTY?! If you spur me, I'm going to pretend you want me to go FASTER." Meanwhile, the 14.2hh Western Pleasure horse is lapping us.

            Perhaps set the one strides a little tight, on a 11', then 10' stride.
            Also good reinforcement, this is what I was thinking. For my horse, the 12' IS asking him to tighten up a little already (when he's not being a lazy butt-head, he does have a long natural stride, and he is fairly green)...and when he started to get that, I started thinking I could progress even shorter next time. Once he assembles his canter in a shorter stride, I am hoping that I can lengthen it back out (for outdoors, most of our courses are based on a BIG canter stride 13' or more) without dropping onto the forehand again. Is that a logical process to you too?

            To trot in, you'd have to make sure your trot has plenty of impulsion and is off the forehand.
            This is what I was thinking. Then I got tangled up in it, and just decided to reinforce the positive results at the canter and forget trotting. I think I learned somewhere that a nice trot with good engagement over the back has the horse's weight distributed about 50% front, 50% back...whereas a quality canter and takeoff will have more weight over the hind end. I think for this exercise, to get what I want, it is maybe counter-productive to try and trot the fence at all...since a "nice" trot has more weight up front. What do you think? What benefits would there be to trotting in?

            I feel my horse's trot on the flat is nice, and I know that he should be able to trot-in/canter-out...but I am not sure how a trot-in exercise would help me build the canter in our situation. The only trot-in exercise that I really understand is to take a horse who powers through the bit into the fence with less speed, keep them thinking, then use that trot to keep their mind on the aids. Thoughts?
            Lifestyle coordinator for Zora, Spooky, Wolfgang and Warrior


            • #7
              Originally posted by rugbygirl View Post
              Also good reinforcement, this is what I was thinking. For my horse, the 12' IS asking him to tighten up a little already (when he's not being a lazy butt-head, he does have a long natural stride, and he is fairly green)...and when he started to get that, I started thinking I could progress even shorter next time. Once he assembles his canter in a shorter stride, I am hoping that I can lengthen it back out (for outdoors, most of our courses are based on a BIG canter stride 13' or more) without dropping onto the forehand again. Is that a logical process to you too?
              Yes- it's part of getting an adjustable canter. The ability to package it enough to add a stride or two in a line of jumps if you wanted (say, do five or six in a four stride), and the ability to have a balanced bigger stride (not a stride that is big, but strung out).

              The gymnastic one-stride set tight will force him to shorten his own stride- you just have to bring him into the exercise and he will have to do his own work. He'll have to learn to do it himself. Whereas if it was a line that is several strides, let's say set for a comfortable four strides, and you wanted to make him package himself with short enough strides to make it a five, you would have to do more work and the results may be varied; end up chipping, end up going long, end up not getting any result, etc. You will be able to do that later, but as a teaching aid, the one stride set short will help him figure it out on his own.

              Once he knows how to do it through the gymnastic, you can start to ask for that packaged shorter canter stride through a longer line, like I mentioned above (ask for four strides in a three).

              Once you have the collected packaged canter in your "toolbox", you can bring it into play on the flat with your normal-strided canter if he starts to get heavy on the forehand, or incorporate it into your courses in the corners. If you're going along at a steady forward pace and he gets that freight-train kind of feeling, you can bring him back by asking for the collected and packaged canter, then once he feels light in that, allow him to go into his working canter again. Let him go forward, let him make the mistake of getting heavy, lighten him up through bringing him into a collected canter (using the hind end with impulsion), then allow him to go forward again. You can certainly do this throughout your courses in the corners if he gets heavy.

              Of course, you should be able to get this collected canter on the flat as well as when you're jumping so he's more adjustable. When he is truly collected, he should have the same power, but have shorter strides. Hind end should definitely be activated.

              Is that helpful? I feel like a lot of my thoughts were jumbled once I typed them!


              • #8
                I always love these kinds of exercises, they teach the horse to figure it out on their own. George Morris always says "let the exercises do the teaching", and as a special education teacher using a Montessori method in my classroom, I also let the exercises do the teaching. You can tell your horse "go this way" until you are blue in the face, but if you set up the exercises correctly, they will figure it out on their own. You obviously did this and it worked, kudos!


                • #9
                  A great way to do some of these striding exercises would be to use poles or cavaletti instead of always making jumps.

                  It's great to hear that you're taking your greenie through gymnastics, IMHO I think they're one of the best tools to use for teaching a baby how to jump properly and to think about the fences, etc.

                  Good luck!
                  All that is gold does not glitter;
                  Not all those who wander are lost.
                  ~J.R.R. Tolkien


                  • Original Poster

                    Is that helpful?

                    Thanks! I really like my current coach, but as I mentioned, the distance thing means I don't get as much time to chat with her as I sometimes like. It's really nice to be able to describe something here and just read what thoughts other people have as a result, it puts words around some of the experiences in training, and for me words are the critical part to committing something to memory.

                    but if you set up the exercises correctly, they will figure it out on their own.
                    Awesome, this was what I hoped I was doing! My horse is smart, which I think is important in a Jumping/Endurance horse...but like a smart kid in the classroom, sometimes the teacher needs to be creative about setting up exercises that help that kid reach their potential. I WANT to take an active role in this, and my coach is a big proponent of teaching riders to think for themselves, on course and in schooling. She has more teenagers than adults though, so sometimes "the program" is a little less self-directed...some of the teenagers are sometimes a little less willing to engage in the forward planning, more happy to do what they are told, or what their friends are doing.

                    A great way to do some of these striding exercises would be to use poles or cavaletti instead of always making jumps
                    Seeing the progress with the poles in the first part of my exercise was really good, I definitely see the benefit. I've not used cavaletti with this horse, so I did want to maybe give that a try next...but I think I will start with just one end up. In the past, we have struggled a little with very low obstacles. On the trail, I WANT him to be a little conservative about logs that are cavaletti-height. I absolutely don't want him to jump them, since we usually can't see the landing...we need to take them basically in stride at our working trot, ears perked up and ready to find a slippery spot or something on the other side. I boot him for Endurance, and so he's gotten a little lazy...he whacks some of these low obstacles or drags a hind foot slightly. I sense that I will be resetting cavaletti frequently for the first while.
                    Lifestyle coordinator for Zora, Spooky, Wolfgang and Warrior


                    • #11
                      There is a great exercise to introduce the raised pole idea, set up 4 trotting poles along centerline and have, say, the left side raised of poles 1 and 3, then the right side raised of poles 2 and 4. The book 101 Jumping Exercises has a TON of just pole exercises to help save your horse's legs.

                      It may be an idea to take the boots off for the first little bit going through the cavaletti if he's getting to rely on them instead of lifting his feet! If you want him to be careful, but not "ZOMG there's a LOG, must JUMP!!" on the trail, take the boots off when you're working with poles that will move when he knocks them. This will give him the idea of 'Oh! I'm not supposed to hit the poles... gotcha!' and will hopefully translate to the trail (with boots).

                      Another cool exercise to help his exuberance with smaller fences would be to set up a gymnastic with changing heights, not always gradually going up, but have a higher fence, then a lower fence, then higher. May give him the idea to conserve his energy for the larger obstacles.
                      All that is gold does not glitter;
                      Not all those who wander are lost.
                      ~J.R.R. Tolkien