Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Growth and Comfort do not coexist

I recently had a cross country lesson with Dom this past weekend. Overall, I walked away extremely excited but can't deny there were some hard moments that opened my eyes to how hard this sport can be. Dom reassured me that there cant be growth without pushing the limits and that I shouldn't stress about where we struggled and that the good news is, her reaction is very typical of a green horse at the level...I just need to put on my own big girl riding pants and learn how to help her better.

Like this happened...maybe the dap on horseback can be a new in thing?
Upper level riders certainly make riding through those tricky combinations so easy, but what we don't usually see, is all the training it took to get a horse to that point that they can skip through the questions so smoothly. So it was nice to have the reassurance of Dom telling me this is all par for the course and I will start getting better at reacting quicker the more we do them.

I realize I have been incredibly spoiled to not have ever had a stop or run out on this horse. So this lesson where we had not just one, but a few was mostly due to my lack of knowing how to ride it and just not reacting quickly enough. I thought for sure after the first one, it would throw me off a bit more...but I was so excited about the recent bit change that it didn't deter me one bit.

OMG an actual uphill canter
So onto the bit update: I was practicing galloping Tillie last week which resulted in some not so fun moments including Tillie bolting, getting her head low and bucking when I would try to half halt. It isn't the most warm and fuzzy feeling in the world, and this issue with her has been a recurring one.

It also has been nagging at me. With our move up to Training, going faster needs to be able to happen out on XC, without all the fighting. Its been something I have been talking to Dom about and other trainers, which resulted in the conversation about having her vetted in case it was a pain related issue.

Locking on!
After her vet evaluation, we know we would like to try injections, but it is so mild that it this isn't 100% physical and its the dreaded training issue. At least that's good-ish news right?!

So Dom schooled Tillie for me a few weeks back and had some discussions with Tillie about the half halt. It means NOW, not in five strides and not lean more on my hands...when I say balance or rate yourself it means do it now.

So we can avoid jumps like this
After our galloping incident, I had a horsey friend suggest trying a different bit. Not necessarily a harsher one, but one that applies pressure differently than the Pelham since the Pelham tends to promote lower the head when that's the last thing we need.

Most horses raise their heads when they get hot...mine likes to get down. So after some research and asking around, the gag bit was what came up. I did even more research and looked up some videos of Clayton Fredericks using one with his 4* mare Be My Guest. Low and behold the mare tends to gallop a bit like Tillie tries to and this bit allows him to let her gallop like her natural way of going and set her up before fences without needing to fight with her the whole time.

I read a bit more about it here: http://www.horsenation.com/2012/06/07/a-bit-of-advice-gag-bits/

Yea, no more of this....taken this time last year
Dom was kind enough to let me borrow his (which my inner fan girl almost died when he said it was the one he used on Boly - the horse he just got 6th on in the FHI 2*) and left it with me to play with for a few days leading up to our XC lesson.

Right away, as soon as I took a spin around the track and windurra, I knew it was exactly what we needed. Tillie didn't lean on it at all...and when she would try to test it, all she could do was slightly root, but would quickly come back up when she caught herself in the mouth.

I was able to let her gallop and bring her back...for the first time I felt comfortable keeping my leg on.

All smiles even when going really fast

Dom was quite excited about the change too and was pretty impressed with how quickly I could get her back again.

So now onto the actual XC lesson!!!

Dom had us warm up first in the field inside the track. It was a blistery cold, wet and windy day so we knew it would be a good test for the new bit...also since Tillie had a light two days prior (one day off, one day of 20 ish minutes stretching).

He reminded me to use my turns to get good lines to the jumps, look sooner at my jumps and to not mess with our canter....find a rhythm and stay there. So he had us do a figure 8 exercise to sort of establish where we needed to be.

Once we warmed up, we put a few of the jumps together...Tillie just got a bit funny to the one table resulting in my losing one rein, but we got it together to keep going:

And youll see we had our first run out at the skinny...and let me tell you, it surprised me how large it was as I approached it, so wasn't all that surprised Tillie wasn't sure. Especially since we haven't xc schooled in quite a while.

So we circled back to school the Skinny:

Not the prettiest, but we made it happen.

So next we moved on to a ditch and skinny log...which apparently Tillie doesn't care about ditches anymore and just runs through them:

This run out was totally my error...I was too busy chuckling about the ditch to properly present this skinny, also with brush and quite large. Dom gave me a bit of a talkin to on this one saying I needed to sit down in my tack, widen my hands and not allow her a way out.

So we do it again with some flair:

Clearly it still makes her a bit anxious so her response is to speed up. Dom explained that this is a normal thing and her being green to them and having this reaction is pretty standard so we need to keep skinnies in the forefront of our training. Build some small ones at home in the ring - especially with brush and just do them every so often to keep them fresh.

Next we schooled the corner which I did better and keeping her in front of me even with her anxiety with it:

The next portion of the lesson was definitely the hardest xc combo we both have ever seen...and it certainly gave us some trouble, but it was quite the learning experience for us.

First attempt could have gone better if I was more prepared and didn't lean at my jump:

Second attempt I had to really ride and be scrappy to get her through it...which she basically crawled over the second jump - but we got it done and Dom said that it was the kind of ride that needed to happen:

So he had us come through in reverse and I apparently forgot how to ride all together:

But after a good butt kicking from Dom we went through the whole thing one final time, nicely and in a good place:

WHEW! Shockingly I wasn't super nervous about doing these...even after the trouble we had. But looking back at the videos I cant help but think mayyybe I just turned my brain off because I HATE down hill anything and these are awfully steep downhill!

We moved on next to another line of jumps to a skinny combo around to a half coffin to which Dom basically warned me about the run out and told me to not allow it to happen:

We didn't have a run out!!! woo!! But we didn't quite get the right half halt to the second jump so Dom had us do it again:

Basically, I had the right idea, but I rated my canter a bit too much and needed to keep my leg on and find a more even distance there.

Finally we moved on to the water complex:

Apparently Tillie ignores down banks too! Luckily it didn't phase her from remaining being locked onto the jump in the water but Dom sent us out to try again:

Which resulted in her taking a funny leap into the water again...lol so one more time:

We ended after this with Dom saying he is quite pleased with the progression...I expressed some of my own ability frustrations as well as my excitement for the rideability I now have in the gag.

Dom lectured a bit, saying its all learning and there wont always be pretty moments...but as long as we both learn from them is what counts. So here's to progress! Even when it isn't linear!


  1. You guys are looking great! Glad you found a bit that works better :) I agree...progress is uncomfortable but necessary, I am 30 years old and I feel like I just really learned that like a month ago.

  2. Thank you so much! Its nice to hear, especially with how much I felt like I didn't ride super well...but yea its all about pushing those limits without losing confidence. THAT seems to be the hardest part!

  3. That rollercoaster complex looks terrifying to me, but then I hate anything downhill. You guys look pretty great out there. I've always loved gag bits for certain types of horses.