The Bounce – part deux

Yesterday, I set up a gymnastic based on the following diagram:

Slide1The gymnastic was adjusted to reflect the actual size of our sand ring, and I eliminated the final vertical. I also shortened the distances slightly – 18′ to the first cross rail after the bounce pole, 42′ to the three stride cross rail.

To start, I set up a low cross rail (about 18″) followed by a pole on the ground (9′ or three steps distance), followed by another 18″ cross rail 18′ (six strides) past the bounce pole. The final fence in the lines was another cross rail, about 2′ high, set up to develop into an oxer.

Dayo and I trotted into the gymnastic, cantering out. To begin, we started in one direction (left rein) and got used to the gymnastic. Dayo’s first attempt was stellar. I think she was not sure what had hit her and had to solve problems through. The second she approached with a great deal more trepidation, and required significantly more support through the leg. The third attempt, she refused to pick up a canter after the first cross rail, but corrected herself with encouragement, and finished well.

The fourth time through Dayo was confident, and I gave her a fifth time just for additional confidence. After each attempt, I asked her to hold her canter and cantered her in a circle, alternating left and right.

We then switched approach direction to the right rein. There is a new mare in the pasture, and Dayo had a hard time focusing (to the right, she can look directly into her paddock and watch the new intruder eating her hay!). It was a bit of a cluster, but we finished with a flourish and circled at the canter, working on a successful and smooth downward transition.

My goal had originally been to increase the difficulty of the gymnastic, but I decided yesterday to leave the learning at a success. Through the last two times, Dayo got increasingly fast as she got super confident. Once she got it, she loved solving the puzzle of it. To make her think, I asked her to shorten her stride toward the final element, putting in four strides rather than three. She did it like a champ.

I did notice that I had a tendency to look down over the first two elements of the gymnastic, which did not give Dayo the support she needed. She also has an ongoing tendency to drift to the left and this came into play for us between the second and the final cross rail.

Although I don’t like to repeat exercises two days in a row, we are going to incorporate a part of the gymnastic into our school today, with a one stride in and out to a three stride oxer. We may start with a refresher over the gymnastic before I adjust it. Our focus will be improved straightness (Dayo) and looking up (me). The two are likely related 🙂


Doing the bounce

I have been longing to do gridwork with Dayo, and have been putting it off in case she’s “just not ready”. Realizing that this may be more rider consternation than Dayo consternation, I’ve decided that today is the day.

In reality, we’ve been working over basic gymnastics for some time with Margie, and on our own. Today’s exercise will follow up on an exercise Dayo and I worked on last week – trot poles to a cross rail to a “bounce” pole.

Today, we’re going to attempt the real thing. Our ultimate goal is this gymnastic:

Simple grid work diagram Slide1

Because this is new for us, I will be building the grid as follows: trot pole to cross rail to bounce pole. One stride to oxer poles, three strides to cross rail poles, one stride to vertical pole. All jumps will be low to start so we can find our balance.

As we master the grid, I will build each fence up. First up will be the bounce, and we will work toward the end of the line. Our goal will be a happy, balanced and calm session, with no lip flapping and no “grand national” attempts. My awesome videographer Emma is not able to attend today, so updates will be on my honour only. Video to come at a later date!

The suppling of Dayo

For the past few months, Dayo and I have struggled with straightness, particularly to the left. Dayo likes to bulge her shoulder out and resist the bit. When I teach, I teach my students that a horse that the way to correct the bulge is to open across the shoulders, lift the inside shoulder, sponge with the inside hand while keeping the outside rein steady and supporting, and apply the inside leg at the girth. The key to this is the lifted shoulder, which prevents the rider from dropping weight onto the inside leg while applying the inside leg aid. It’s sophisticated, and for riders who do not have an independent seat, difficult to achieve. Dayo falls apart completely to the left, falling to the inside, and because she is not respecting the left leg, I have committed the cardinal sin of applying pressure with the right rein for balance, something she now relies on.

Realizing this is delaying our progress, I enlisted the help of a dressage coach to sort us out. Yesterday was our first session, and it involved walking, trotting, then cantering in a circle. Dayo is exceptional to the right, and an absolute frustration to the left.

We started the lesson by asking Dayo to respond to leg aids by first asking her to turn off the outside leg. This was a new experience for me, and one that required a surprising amount of concentration, particularly to the left (see tendency to balance off the right hand above). To achieve it, I had to take my feet out of the stirrups and really apply my leg until Dayo listened. What was remarkable was how it felt when it started to work. It felt like I could turn her with my knee.

Once we had established a basic respect for leg, we incorporated rein use to encourage her to stop resisting with her neck and give to the bit. First to the outside, then to the inside. Each time, the opposite rein was used as a supporting rein, and I stabilized that hand by holding on to the edge of my saddle pad. When Dayo gave to the rein, pressure was released. A full give meant a full release, a slight give meant a slight release.

As I worked on this, I discovered a lot about my own riding. I realized that I tend to ride almost completely off the right, regardless of direction, and a great deal of Dayo’s weakness to the left is also mine. I tend to balance off my right hand as well, and had a habit of letting the right rein, when it was the supporting rein, slide through my fingers. This was because I had a hard time holding the support to the right – it was so much more work on the left than I was used to.

We worked on circles, small to large, then large to small, largely using the leg to reduce or expand the circle’s circumference. Dayo has mastered several evasive tactics – one of them is a tendency to lean on the reins so they slide through my hands. This is a huge issue for us in the jumper ring, because that slide means I have less control and my hands have difficulty maintaining contact through the release over fences. Attempts to correct it are met with a dramatic and immediate increase in speed, followed by an argument as I try to slow her down. To counter this, I was told to squeeze my hands until they felt “white-knuckled” but to avoid bracing against the bit by making sure my elbows remained elastic. Once Dayo understood that the reins remained elastic and the contact steady, she began to stop leaning on the bit, relaxing into it instead. We ended with a beautiful canter, and the best downward transition we have ever had.

In the Hunter Ring

On May 22, Dayo made her first foray into the hunter ring at Blue Star Farm. Over the season, we progressed from the cross-rail division to the 2’3 before making the switch to the .75m jumpers at the end of August. Sharing some beauty shots from our first few forays into the ring.

Dayo sticking her tongue out

Getting ready for the show!

Getting ready in the warm up ring

Getting ready in the warm up ring

Dayo my girl

Feeling pretty good!

Dayo slow down

On our way to the ring

On our way to the ring

In which Dayo and I learn to jump

Dayo is getting ready for her first real show on Sunday, and so on Wednesday, we had a schooling session with our coach. I would describe this as “the ride in which I completely sucked”, and consider this to have been one of the most demoralizing experiences of my life.

Luckily, despite the fact that my hands managed to do something wrong, in a different way, every time I jumped, Emma took video so I could obsess over every one of my flaws. Of which, there seem to be many.

Consider these videos a cautionary tale…

There will be more to come… right after I weep into my wine !



High head, high hands – Dayo is working to accept contact


“I start with hands because they’re so difficult to teach. Are your hands over the horse’s wither? Are your thumbs the highest point of your hands? If a horse resists the bit in any way, I don’t drop my hands. If necessary I shorten the rein. The horse has to accept the hands. That’s why we talk about the straight line from elbow to mouth. With a high head, you have a higher hand. When that horse starts that business, don’t drop your hand.”

The horse has to accept the aids. Recently, Dayo has taken to either lowering her head so that she is impossibly on the forehand (dragging my seat out of the saddle to avoid the leg and seat) or has been flipping it up high. After a series of frustrating rides, today I defaulted to the master. I held my hands up, shortened the reins, and worked off my legs and seat. The higher Dayo’s head went, the higher my hands went, not with undue pressure on the reins, with a resistance that was in direct proportion to the amount Dayo was resisting my hands.

The exercise offered several benefits. Because my hands were not lowered, I was able to stay upright, balanced with a light seat, a long leg, and a stable body while Dayo worked through her avoidance of contact. I was able to use my legs more than I ever have, and particularly my inside leg, without Dayo running through the bit, or pulling me downward. And I was able to be appropriate with my contact.  George Morris can produce results in minutes, but it took about half an hour of steady work and patience for Dayo and I. It was worth it. By the end of the ride, I had a happy mare who worked into light contact, was on the leg, balanced, steady and relaxed at both the trot and the canter. Best of all, Dayo, who has recently taken to grinding down on the bit as one of her expressions of rebellion, snorted happily with her ears forward while we circled, serpentined, and rode squares. When we went back to the barn, she had the peaceful look of a horse who has done a good job and knows it.

I suspect this will be a lesson we repeat many times over the course of the next few weeks, hopefully with each session being shorter than the last. I’m lucky to have Dayo – she is certainly training the trainer who is trying to train her, and with every success like today’s, our bond gets stronger and our partnership grows.