Lesson Time: Hitting the Gym

Trainers M and L were home for a couple of days this week, so I grabbed a lesson at the ungodly hour of 9:00 this morning. Unfortunately, that meant Schmoodle and his fellow outdoor horses hadn’t been grained for breakfast when I went to get him. He was NOT PLEASED. (Actually, neither was I. I definitely think the girls should have grained them before 8:30, especially as two of them were on the board for a 9:00 lesson. But I digress.)

Additionally, M is our farrier in addition to being our trainer – he does really amazing work, but sadly, as he’s away at the horse shows for so much of the summer, the horses that stay at home fall to the bottom of his to-do list. Schmoodle is about a week overdue for shoes, and has begun tripping quite a bit. Combine that with today’s sloppy footing and humid weather, and I didn’t have a happy horse.

The course build was ongoing while I warmed up, so I found myself having to stop and start a lot to keep out of the way. Long story short, I never really got Schmoodle on my aids as well as I’ve been doing lately. Sometimes I find in lessons I’m more tentative with what I do in my warmup, when really I should do the opposite – try a bunch of different things and invite critique! By contrast, last lesson Schmoodle came out a bit high, and I knew we would be jumping a course with lots of scary filler, so I concentrated solely on getting him as concentrated and sharp off my leg as possible. Today he lulled me into leaving him feeling a bit lazy, and I paid for it when we started jumping.

We worked on a gymnastic line today, which technically is supposed to be pretty straightforward, as the horse should be doing all the work. I don’t love doing gym lines on Schmoodle because he has a tendency to back off, hang in the air and land quite shallow, making the exercises difficult even though he has a big natural stride. Fully built, the exercise was: canter in over the cavalletti; three strides to the first set of bounces; two strides to the next set of bounces; three strides to the cavalletti out.

That blue splotch is a puddle. The rest are verticals.

That blue splotch is a puddle. The rest are verticals. Three of the orange/brown were initially removed, so we started with cavalletti – 3 strides to vertical – 7 strides to cavalletti.

I had a total Charlie Foxtrot moment my first time coming through: we came off the right rein up towards the ingate, and Schmoodle’s engine totally died as he skirted the big puddle in the corner of the ring and waffled through the corner. We caught the first cavalletti totally underpowered; had to gallop up the three (which was set at 40′, hello, embarrassing) and then keep coming up the seven.

Well, I knew it was a seven, with a gap on the way out. Schmoodle thought it might be an eight, but that either way, he didn’t trust it at all and stopped dead. Ouch! Nothing like a stop at an 18″ plain white vertical to polish up the old ego. I came around again and, of course, overrode the shit out of the three AND the seven and ended up with a VERY strong horse by the end. Not good, Bob.

Luckily, M knows that I have two modes: panic mode and decent-rider mode. He basically just told me to calm down, lighten up and ride like a normal human, trusting my horse to take care of himself. We proceeded to do the exercise successfully a few more times, then added the bounces in really well, too. I managed to sit really quietly and keep my hands forward throughout the gymnastic each time. I don’t know about you guys, but I struggle majorly to not take a feel of my horse’s mouth upon landing. I can force myself not to do, but I have to spend 100% of my mental energy on that one task. #AmateurBrain.

The last few times through, we added in the bending five strides to five strides over the three verticals on the other side of the ring. I gotta say, we nailed it every time, even the time Schmoodle slipped and almost wiped out totally on the way out of the gymnastic and I had to regroup uber-quickly. Our last time through, I found a nice spot at the base coming in, sliced the first five a bit direct to compensate, then shaped the second five so that I had a beautiful identical rhythm all the way through. You know, like you’re supposed to do: no panicking, no hauling on the mouth. Then we quit and headed back up to the barn, with Schmoodle glaring at me balefully, because, in case I had forgotten, HE HADN’T EATEN BREAKFAST!!!!!

Even though the lesson started off a bit rough, we recovered really well, and my horse ended more confidently than he began.

Things to change for next time:

  1. Try to ensure Schmoodle gets shod on time. This is the problem when you don’t actually own the horse: hard to control these things. Less tripping, less sliding will mean more willingness to go to the jump on a big step.
  2. Do a proper warm-up, with a focus on forward! Insist that Schmoodle feel like he is really taking me somewhere. Sometimes I err on the side of ‘not pissing him off/winding him up’ rather than ‘cowboying up and getting shit done.’ Bad choice.
  3. If things go wrong, keep working on not panicking and then overriding. It’s a work in progress, but we’re definitely getting somewhere on this one. Today, once I remembered how to be soft and not feed into Schmoodle’s tension, our result improved tenfold.


    Schmoodle: “No, idiot. What to change: MAKE SURE I GET MY BREAKFAST. That was NOT cool.”


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