Monday, August 11, 2014

Back to Jumping

It's been over 2 months since I've jumped! Eesh.

Mid-May I was pretty focused in on jumping with Q. If you'll recall, she was quite the freight train of evasion and power. It was beyond frustrating to deal with, but fortunately, the blogosphere is a great sound board for ideas, suggestions, and teaching. I took a mixing of many of your tips (thank you all) and meshed them experimentally to see how Q would respond. Things improved a bit. And then, I took her off property for the horse riding demo our riding club put on for >220 elementary schoolers; short of it? She was awesome.

And then, in fine form, I ceased jumping altogether for >2 months. But at least we ended on a good note right?

In reality, what happened was that the lull of training weeks between endurance rides disappeared after that school demo and it was time to buckle down and focus on preparations for the OD. This included starting Q on SmartMare Harmony from SmartPak in addition to a magnesium supplement in an effort to help her calm down.

And then the OD happened. And the resulting spookiness from Q during the OD coupled with her stiffness/soreness after that ride compounded into a period of finding solutions and better preparing her for her next endurance ride.

During a vet examination we discussed potential for saddle fit issues (vet didn't think this was an issue), we x-rayed her hocks (they were fine; no issues), and we treated her incredibly HORRIBLE scratches. In immediate days following this vet appointment, I had a happier and more relaxed mare than I had in months thanks to pain relief from aggressive treatment of scratches.

To recap:
  • when we were jumping in May I had a very forward, chargy horse who exhibited multiple evasions to my requests.
  • additionally, Q was at the peak of her spookiness during this time (spooking at individual blades of grass in a field of like grass, at shadows in an environment of like shadows, at rocks in an area of like rocks, over-reacting to flies/insects when tied at the barn, etc.).
  • experimentation with a variety of things to resolve her jumping issues led to discoveries: she really prefers a ported bit (in this case, a kimberwicke) over a double-jointed snaffle, when the martingale prevented her from putting her head and nose in the air to evade the bit she immediately refocused by pushing through her hind end and working, high variety of maneuvers (circles, serpentines, etc.) coupled with quick transitions between gaits (w-t-c-halt-back) kept her focused and much calmer.
  • saddle fit is likely not a contributing issue to spookiness.
  • hock x-rays were clear and her trot outs after flex tests were significantly better than they had been when we flexed her in March (no x-rays at that time).
  • aggressive treatment of her scratches resulted in a calmer and more relaxed horse in all aspects of life and work.
So, time has passed (obviously), and issues have been resolved or are well on the path to resolution. In fact, during RBTR, Q had zero dirty spooks and only spooked very minor (for her) a couple times.


Last night I went to the barn and immediately drove across the creek to set up the jumps. They hadn't been touched from where they lay since May. The cinquefoil had grown over all of the jump poles, in fact, making it difficult to retrieve them from the cavern of overgrown vegetation!

After perusing the 101 Jump Exercises book for ideas, I set up a simple gymnastic line: 3 cavalettis to a vertical with 1 stride between followed by 2 strides to an oxer. I set the whole line up as ground poles to start so that I could combine a few exercises from the book into one setup that would really minimize me having to dismount and reset everything on my own.

I then drove back across the creek and fetched Q and Griffin, fed them both, and applied coconut oil to their tails and some other places (thanks, Beka!).

I also Q's legs with the chlorahex. shampoo as a preventative measure due to the couple of minor cuts she obtained from RBTR. Currently, this process involves the shampoo in a spray bottle with some water to thin it. I spray on liberally and scrub with a surgical scrub brush (hurrah for being surrounded by medical professionals) to really get it into all the sensitive little areas. I typically let it sit for 10 minutes or so before rinsing, but last night I just wrapped her legs with polos instead. My thought behind this was 1.) the polos would protect her from further micro scratches from the tall grass, forbes, and juvenile shrubs that are emerging in the back field we use for jumping, 2.) the dilute shampoo would have longer to work into the areas I'm focusing on, and 3.) the wet coupled with the polos would help to soften the tiny scabs on these areas (the scabs look healthy and non-scratches infected, but I'm not taking any more chances so everything for forever more will be treated).

I turned Griffin out and tacked Q up with the jumping saddle and bitted her with a double-jointed snaffle instead of the kimberwicke. I also left off the running martingale.

Why? Well, I'm hoping to show her in a couple English classes at the county fair show next month and I wasn't certain that the kimberwicke or martingale would be legal in the show ring - so I needed to see how Q would do! (I quizzed Lauren on legal tack this morning and she helped me to understand that kimberwickes are indeed legal (yay because Q really prefers this bit) and the martingale is permissible for the jumping class only. Thank you, Lauren for helping me learn!)

I guided Q out away from the barn and across the creek on the loosest rein I could afford, though I did have to correct her two attempts to stop and turn around to return to the barn. She's gained so much confidence in the last month and some sass as a result. I much prefer it to the way she was before, though it comes with some little moments like these where she just *has* to try her way over my requests.

Once in the jump field, I dismounted to set my water bottle nearby and to walk Q around and over all of the obstacles. She hadn't seen any of this stuff in months. She was a little over exuberant at first, but quickly settled to stepping calmly over everything as she followed me through.

I then mounted up and warmed her up by walking around every jump, winding between them, and performing variations of exercises in the 101 Jump Exercises book for doing sperpentines and figure 8s over ground poles.

Q was supple during all of the walking exercises. As we moved into the trot though, she was a lot heavier on the fore and really leaned into the bit at first. She never became chargy in the home direction, though she did resist requests when we'd briefly move toward home as we made a circle back around to the jump line. She'd side pass a little in her evasion attempts, but nothing very crazy and I never had to be as heavy with my aids as I had back in May when she was chargy.

The only time she was somewhat chargy last night was when we'd advanced to trotting through the line. Right as we'd turn to approach it at the trot, or right when I cued her to trot from the walk upon approach she'd bounce in place for a split second in a very minor replication of what those professional stadium jumper horses will do in their excitement. I talked to her though, and she'd calm down.

After Q was warm and listening well, I dismounted and set the vertical pole and the oxer poles (both at 18"). I wove Q around all of the jumps again as I did at the beginning, moving into a trot after weaving through once at the walk. This afforded Q some time to look at the now-setup jumps.

And then we trotted through the line rather successfully!

Other than two moments of head shaking after landing the oxer to show her displeasure over my decision to make a sweeping turn to the left or right when Q thought we should go straight, she was behaved.

She didn't charge. She didn't throw her head and nose in the air to evade, and after every moment I had to be heavier in my aids to redirect her she chose to redirect her efforts and try harder for me - instead of being frustrated that I rejected her request to do what she wanted, she chose instead to reach willingly into the contact and use her hind end more. She'd only maintain this for a short breadth of time, but that was something! I praised her every time.

She was a bit forward in places, but nothing excessive at all. Additionally, she exhibited sassiness (primarily the head shaking when she had a differing opinion of direction), but that was the only negative part of the whole ride. Biggest sassy moment came after I'd halted her to praise her upon a successful run through the ground pole line and she decided to try to go home. Because good mares get to be completely DONE apparently. She tried to back up and turn, but with a very aggressive verbal correction she ceased her efforts. Miss Highly Opinionated! (She did get to be DONE later on after a good note. This moment just came about 15 minutes later than she wanted, haha.)

I was so pleased and excited that she didn't revert to the head and nose in air evasion behavior without the martingale. She clearly didn't enjoy the snaffle as much as the kimberwicke (she was more resistant to requests than she is with the kimberwicke and she chewed super excessively on the snaffle, another behavior not present when using the kimberwicke). But overall? So good.

And... AND... no spooks. Zero.

There was a milkweed seed pod that had burst open and had some very mobile fluff that was moving about in the breeze last night that she was alarmed about, but beyond her initial concern, she was fine. She even let me take my water bottle off the top of the jump standard from the saddle AND let me replace it on top of the standard. While I was drinking, she actually took a moment to reach out and TOUCH the standard with her nose, something she's never done before. Things she's concerned about have always resulted in a FLIGHT response in the past. That she has enough confidence now to be curious and reach out to touch an object of concern is VERY exciting.

Big changes in the little girl over the past 2+ months since we jumped. I'm excited and confident (though cautiously so!) that the show in a month will go well. We'll have some training issues at home as we work through things, I'm certain, but we'll learn to deal with them and work through them. The show will be a new experience for her, too, but I am hoping that her calm attitude that seems to persist through away-from-home experiences will get us through the sticky places.

A very cute Q-mare post workout last night.

(The polos were PERFECT, too, keeping her legs free of new scratches and working with the shampoo spray to soften scabs.
When I sponged her post-ride and rubbed down her legs the scabs all wiped away clean! I applied miconazole with no
objection from the mare and turned her out. I think I'm going to have to make a few more polos for her to use on other
training rides as a preventative care solution.)

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