Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Preparing for show season!

Waylon Roberts came to Graduate Riding School again today for a show jumping clinic with a focus on courses.

Of course, for this to happen we needed a course.   Much debate and a Facebook discussion later I decided that despite the threatened cold weather, said course would be built outside :)   So the night before I spent a while designing a course that would include the requested challenges (a straight line, a bending line, and a one-stride) that could fit and be reasonably ridden in a 20x60 ring :)   It took a little more creativity than in a wider ring, but in the end it all worked out.  
Thanks to Amy for the diagram!

So all excited, the riders and spectators dressed warmly this am and were good to go!

The first group started bright and early at 8:30 this am.  These are the girls aiming for Entry level this year (2'9") -- a first year of eventing for all :)  
Rowan on Jack,
Chelsea on Lissy
and Emily on Bella.
And I was SO impressed with the riding I saw.   All three horses were hot, none had seen the fences before, and all three riders dealt with it brilliantly!   These girls have done a ton of work over the winter both on the flat and through gymnastics and did their hard work ever pay off.  They were able to control their horses on the flat and to the fences and look good going over :)   Sweet!

Their warm-up had a fairly long canter to help take some of the edge off, with a focus on moving the horses around -- circles, shallow loops and leg-yield on and off the track were all schooled.  Then they moved on to jumping with a focus on pace-control and straight lines.   The line that could ride anything from a 4 to a 7, was to be in 6 (7 for Bella).  And nothing else would work.  So for those on speedy horses or horses with a long stride - it was a bit of a compression challenge.  The broken and bending lines were to be bent or broken in exactly the right place -- no jumping on angles.  Corners are meant to be savoured, not cut out (you wouldn't skip desert would you!).   And in general they were to ride an accurate, controlled, rhythmical test.   The kind that makes unknowing spectators say "riding's easy" :)   And you know what?  All three girls pulled it off.   I was really proud of them.

Then it was my turn.  And alas I was not nearly as brilliant as my girls *g*   Ah well :)  hahaha Waylon caught my number one bad habit in about 20 seconds (reins too long.  Always.)   Athena was quite high but not stupid with it, so that was a good start.  Our flat work was a very different exercise involving spriling and very small circles with little-to-no inside rein in an attempt to get her to figure out how to carry herself (she's gotten a TON better than she used to be, but we definitely have a long way to go yet).

Ok, so far so good.  Time to jump.  Yeah - about that.  Athena was feeling just a *little* bit strong and pretty sure she should be making the decisions.  And her decision is generally "go as fast as you can and throw yourself over", which sadly does NOT lead to the "riding is easy" statement -- it tends to look more like "omg, they're going to die" *sigh*   We had several less-than-pretty discussions, which got even uglier following Waylon's admonition to stop helping her and let her hit the fence.  That whole thing about breaking eggs to make a cake?   Well yeah, it got pretty ugly.   Rails everywhere *but* in the cups.  Horse jumping like an inverted deer ("do NOT slip your reins".  Right. About that.)   We definitely jumped the mounting box and left the ring after one particularly horrific jump.  Sheesh (and yes I called that one the night before -- I'm not new here :)

But you know what?  In the end our broken eggs led to something yummy :)   She started to get her act together and we jumped a reasonable course.  Still not quite where I want it - the balanced canter was lacking -- she was coming back, but often all the way to trot, and she hauled me to one fence, but it was significantly better than any other round I'd done.  So ok.  Waylon asked if I wanted to do it again.  Ah yes, the fatal question.  Do I want to do it again?  When it's borderline that's a tricky one.  If it's brilliant you stop.  If it's horrid, you repeat.  But what about in the middle?  Do it again and do it wrong and you'll be there all day (and remember Athena doesn't get a vote, but if I choose wrong, she'll let me know it!)...  But there's still room for improvement.  And I don't often have eyes on the ground.  So we chatted for a bit to give her a chance to catch her breath and then tried again.   And finally.  After what seemed like a gazillion tries.  She got it all together.  AND I kept my reins short >;-P  hahaha it's the little things in life.  But yes, she was balanced, jumping off her hind end (I know - seems obvious eh?  Yeah, unless I show you the bad photos - and there were an unfortunate number of those!), and actually coming back to me.   Sweet.

Somebody else's turn :)

Our next group was the Pre-Entry group (fences 2'6"ish).  While not all of these riders intend to compete this summer they are all *very* dedicated to improving their riding and tend to ride in competitive lessons.  We had:
 Margaret on Louis, 
Kennedy on Jack (only her 2nd EVER time riding him),  
Mieke on Dixie, 
Brena on Bella, 
and Olivia on Nick.
Nerves were very high with some riders in this group as not one but TWO managed to fall off getting on!  Arguably a new record :)  
She has a good enough sense of humour to profile this, so I figured I could share here :)
Then to add to the drama, Dixie was super high!  Mieke was doing a good job dealing with her, but after the flat portion of the ride (which was very similar to the entry group's) it was deemed she was just too hot to participate, so Mieke and I snagged a corner of the ring to lunge her and let her burn off some steam while the rest of the group started work over poles in a figure 8 exercise.   There were 5 poles spread out around various tangent points of a figure 8 with 20m circles and they were to hit the centre of every one, in rhythm, with correct bend.   Since I was busy with Dixie at the time and didn't really get to watch, I'm just going to assume all the riders were perfect :)

Dixie did eventually settle and relax, so Mieke remounted demonstrating the definition of courage!  I had her ride on the lunge for a bit till we were reasonably certain Dixie brain would, in fact, stay between her ears and then Mieke was able to rejoin the group and take her shot at the figure 8.   Beautiful.

Then all this group got to jump -- working over the same course as the previous group, built up in the same manner.  And they rode brilliantly!   I have a reasonable grasp of the English language, but when I think back to where these riders were last spring and compare it to this clinic, I fail to find the words.   I can't believe the difference in both equitation and effectiveness that I saw evidence of today.  Have to say I was pretty thrilled at that.  Louis is not the easiest ride over anything complex as it is all very new to him and he gets quite excited, but Margaret piloted him around the course as though they'd been jumping together for years. Kennedy, who has ridden Jack all of *once* earlier that week, jumped around like a pro.  And Brena, who I'm not certain has ever jumped a course of this complexity before, rode Bella around as though it were easy :)   Olivia on Nick was first introduced to this type of course at Spring Training, but it's still very new to her and she got him going nice and forward and meeting all the distances.  And Mieke, despite the energetic start, was able to keep Dixie totally under control and put in some beautiful rounds!  I was so very impressed!

After this, everybody got to warm up and enjoy some pizza before the afternoon sessions.   One of Waylon's semi-regular students who lives in the area came over for a lesson on her gorgeous grey mare which was really nice to watch.   Then we were on to our last group of the day.  This was the intro group made up of riders who are either not interested in competition, too green for eventing but considering schooling shows, or riding green-bean horses.  There was Elizabeth who trailered in for the day, 
Amy N on her young horse Flora,
Amy P riding Louis, 
Aileen on Nick,
and Caelan riding Lissy.
All the riders did a great job navigating the same course as the more experienced groups.  Woohoo.  Flora proved to be a superstar, much to Amy's delight but nobody's surprise :)  Aileen did an excellent job energizing Nick to get him around the course!   Caelan unfortunately tested and proved the "jump first, jump alone" theory, but she kept trying and pulled it off in the end!   Often harder to do after things have gone wrong than doing right on the first try.  And Amy with Louis navigated everything well - even getting the tricky left lead on the first try!  For more details on her ride, see the post below :)

Overall a fantastic day!   Takeaways: pace, path, position... hmmmm where have I heard that before?  >;-P Riding's simple -- after all, just keep your rhythm, hold your line, and have decent eq when you get there and you'll be good to go!   Simple, but not easy :)


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