Saturday, 22 August 2009

Clear Round!

We went clear! Had two gos at it and second time we went clear. She was so bold and forward going - couldn't have asked for more. Just trying to remember when I last jumped a whole course of jumps and I think I was 15. That's 12 years ago. Plenty more to come - how exciting.

Friday, 21 August 2009

A few things...

Tomorrow we jump. Only a little clear round course of about 18 inches-2ft, but it's a start. It is therefore very likely that my next post will be dominated by that and I won't get a chance or have the inclination to write about how well Echo is going on the flat at the moment - actually, just in general really.

After my lesson on Tuesday, I schooled her for all of ten minutes the next day. It was absolutely scorching weather, but she felt soft, willing and light in my hands. We walked, trotted and cantered on both reins, then I decided to go for a hack. We haven't hacked out for months, but I think she was so unbelievably grateful to not be working hard in the school, that she didn't even think of messing around. We went out onto the heath and got into the shade of the forest, where we were able to have a lovely long canter. I'm usually a real wuss about cantering her out on my own, but she was a star and seemed to really enjoy it.

Yesterday was a schooling day, so we worked hard at getting her to carry more weight behind and lift her forehand. I have noticed a real improvement in this - possibly because she has grown a little and is no longer quite so croup high. As John was so complimentary of our improved canter, I thought I would start challenging her a little in this pace, so yesterday I introduced a little counter canter. She did it fairly well, although every stride it felt as if she was asking me, 'Are you sure? You really want me to canter on the wrong leg?' It was quite hard to keep her going, but the balance began to improve. What I did find, however, was that her trot after the counter canter felt quite long and stretched out. I remember from the pony that I used to compete, that counter canter always improved his trot, making it much more through and springy. Maybe Echo just isn't balanced enough at the end of the canter, through the transition.

Today, I couldn't quite decide what to do. I am trying to vary her work as much as possible, but as I had jumped Tuesday, hacked Wednesday, schooled Thursday, and am jumping tomorrow, I was at a bit of a loss. The decision was somewhat made for me, as it was very windy, therefore no hacking, there were lessons in the woodchip, therefore no jumping, so schooling it was. I'm glad I did actually, as she felt really good. I worked on some leg-yielding in trot for a while, then worked for a while on some walk to canter transitions, then lengthening and shortening the canter strides. I asked for walk to canter at one end of the school, cantered a collected(ish) circle, then asked for more lengthened strides down the long side, before asking for her to collect again at the other end. I find it quite hard to get her back from a more medium canter to a collected, as she naturally wants to fall into trot. It felt like quite a useful exercise, though, so I may practise that a few times.

As the jumping tomorrow is in the showjumping field with the posh showjumps, I thought I had better walk Echo round it a few times, just to make sure there were no monsters lurking behind the jumps. She was very quiet actually, and as there was a very small jump in there, I popped over it a couple of times. She cleared it both times, but I didn't manage to get a great stride into it on either approach. Determined to end things on a good note, I took her into the woodchip, which is the warm up area tomorrow, and there was a nice little straight bar of about 2ft 3 set up. We cantered up to it and about 3 strides away I knew that we were spot on - see - I'm learning! It felt great, so I stopped there. I'm now very excited.

To cool Echo off, I walked her through the cross country course, although I couldn't resist galloping up our usual steep hill - it was just too inviting! I must walk up it a couple of times soon though, as she is starting to anticipate the gallop.

I'm having such fun with my awesome horse at the moment - I don't want the summer holidays to end now! Only one more week of freedom... :(

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Had a lesson with John today - at last! It's been rather a long time. I was really pleased with how Echo went and as usual, it left me with plenty to think about. I wanted to jump, so we just got warmed up on the flat to begin with. He thinks her canter has improved, so that's good news and he also said it looks like she's starting to think about lifting her front end and I must really encourage that. He said I mustn't become 'outline-obsessed' and see it as more important that she lifts herself up off the forehand at the moment - if I concentrate too much on her being round, she'll go too low. I was pretty happy with some of her flat work today.

I like the trot in this picture - the carriage is really starting to improve:

I also like how bouncy the canter looks here:

We started the jumping with just a little cross pole in trot:

although he quickly said that trot is not the best pace for her to jump from - she's actually much more balanced in the canter. He soon established what my main problem is. I find it impossible to tell what a good stride into the jump is. I literally have no idea whether we will get over the jump properly until I am one stride away - sometimes not even then. He said that I can't expect to be able to do this, as I've never done it before. However, I have to do something about the stride on the way in, that way I will learn. Apparently!

He also said that I don't actually look AT the jump - I only look in the DIRECTION of it - very different things. On the way into the jump, I look at the line that I think I should ride - looking into my corner first, then making sure I'm heading straight to the fence. He said I must absolutely not do this - if I focus closely on the jump, I will ride the best line to it naturally. If I fix my eyes on the jump, looking at it, I can then adjust the stride to what I see. I absolutely whole-heartedly believe him, but years of riding school lessons teaching me to ride into the corner and go straight to the jump are quite hard to un-learn. I found myself naturally looking at my line rather than at the jump, then just riding forwards in the hope that Echo would sort herself out over it. Didn't work. Here is John despairing of one attempt:

We had a little chat and he reminded AGAIN what I needed to do:

However, when I did get it right, it felt great. I felt like I was able to change her stride and get her to lengthen into the jump so that we hit it correctly. It was about 50% of the time that I managed this. It is something that I really need to work on.

I did, however, ask John whether he thought it was a totally ridiculous idea for me to attempt the clear round at the tiny showjumping competition on Saturday. He said it was a good idea and that I should do it. Eek! Part of me was hoping he'd say, 'No - you're nowhere near ready for that!' Well - I'll have a go; it'll just be to get her some experience and it might even be fun!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

We Won!!

Right - so Echo is back in work at last, after having the best part of 6 weeks off, and today we won the last of the dressage tests in the in-house series! I am very proud of her, as we were very rusty when we started again. I had about a week to ride her, then I went on holiday again and we've just had the last couple of days to prepare.

Backtracking a little, I have been a little busy over the last few months! As most of you know, I am a teacher and this year I marked GCSE exams on top of my normal workload. When everyone else was winding down for the summer, I was slogging away, trying to get my quota done each day. It wasn't particularly fun, but it paid pretty well and meant that I could then go and do what I had been planning for months - a cycling trip across Spain. My boyfriend and I flew with our bikes to Bilbao, then cycled across the north of the country, arriving in Santiago de Compostela. It was a tough journey and definitely more of an adventure than a holiday, but it was absolutely amazing.

When I got back from Spain, I took part in the London Triathlon - again - an amazing experience. I used to run a lot, but since getting an injury a year ago, I haven't been able to run nearly as much as I wanted to, and as my boyfrined is a cyclist, I got into doing a bit of both. The swim was rather unpleasant - 750m in the Thames, but I loved the whole thing and am definitely going to do another one. So - since then, I have been able to ride Echo (except for the week on holiday - almost entirely relaxing, I promise!) and try to remind her what this dressage thing is all about. It took a couple of days, but she got the hang of it quite quickly. While I was away, a girl from the yard rode her. She's a very good rider and will have made her go nicely, although I had to remind her of a few manners when I got on again!

I feel as if we have gone back a step to some extent, as I was really working at getting her to lift her forehand before I went away and now it's more about getting a decent bend and getting her soft through her body. There is certainly some improvement here, but she was going extremely well before and it's a little frustrating to be back a step or two. However, she was great today and tried very hard. She was quite stiff to begin with in the warm up, and was being quite resistant on the left rein - I had to do lots of lateral work and loads of transitions to get her beding round my leg and using her back end. It was extremely hot and she felt a bit sluggish - she moved off my leg, but she just felt heavy. I don't blame her - it was boiling!

We had to wait a little while before going in as it was 'open order' and lots of people were ready all at once. The other thing is that it was in the indoor school and you have to trot straight in onto the centre line and start the test - going from the light to the dark makes Echo really back off my leg and she tensed up immediately when we went in. The test was fine - it was BE 102 and has a few odd moments, such as giving and taking the inside rein for 3-5 steps in the canter. It also gets you to make a transition to walk for 3-5 steps across a diagonal. I got a bit confused and walked for 3 strides, which is apparently different to 3 steps. Oops... She broke into trot on the first canter when I half-halted - I hadn't realised quite how responsive she'd be heading towards the door! Other than that, I was pretty happy. She was quite tense and it certainly wasn't our best example of what we can do, but all things considered, I was very pleased with her.

The dressage competition was marked on the best three tests over the series, so some people have done them all, whereas I have only done three. We won all three, meaning that I won overall and we also won 'best turned-out' which was very nice! We got a pretty red rosette and a free lesson with John - so that's awesome! I actually have a lesson with John on Tuesday and thought we might jump in that. I have a slightly crazy idea that I may do a clear round class at a competition being held at the yard on Saturday...but I'll see how the lesson goes first! I really wanted to do one this summer and the clear round is absolutely tiny - we could easily trot them if necessary. I'll see... I'm also planning to have a cross country lesson at some point. I'm not going to neglect the dressage, but I want to make use of the good weather and the light evenings while we have them! Plenty of time for dressage when we are confined to the school over the winter.

Anyway - here are some pictures from the last couple of days and some of the show today. If I can upload it, there is also a bit of video of the end of our test. You'll see what I mean - it's not BAD, just could be better!!

Daily adventures while training my young horse.