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JR Session 20, Wizard Session 64: The Life of a Barn Rat

March 26, 2009


Wednesday, 3/25/09

Steuart Pittman wrote a concise and helpful essay about teaching horses to jump. I love his conclusion to the essay:

“I truly believe that horses love to jump for the same reason people love to jump. Take a look some time at the expressions that you see, either in photos or in real life, on the faces of horses when they’re airborne. Most of them have a soft eye and ears in a neutral position. I see a lot of horses who look sour before the jump and sour after it, but have an expression of bliss when they’re in the air. Riders are the same way. I like to think of it as a moment when we drift back in time to when life was simpler. We escape the burdensome realities of life on earth and we approach the heavens. We do it on the back of a creature believed by wiser cultures than our own to be the animal that carries us to heaven. Maybe teaching horses to jump is good practice for the after-life.”

Tonight, Mary the Morgan Mare, JR, and Wizard all had free jumping sessions. We videotaped the sessions so I should have a few little clips online in the next day or two.

Ladies first. This was Mary’s second time free jumping and I saw a marked improvement in her balance and rhythm. First, I set up three poles one stride apart from each other and we asked Mary to trot and canter through them. Easy as pie. Then, I bumped the last fence up to a cross rail. No sweat. By this time, Mary had already caught on to the pattern and was practically doing the chute on her own. She also flung her head after each pass like she was very pleased with the process. She skipped over a little vertical, and then I raised it so that the jump was about 2’6″. Mary hit the pole but kept going forward and came through with 100% confidence her last time through over a smaller fence. In the beginning, Mary sort of stepped over the obstacles, rather than gathering and leaping. Interestingly, at the very end I dropped the chute to just poles again and Mary came through with a lovely, round, forward canter and snapped her knees over each pole. I think that she will improve even more next time.

Up next was JR. Where Mary was refined and dignified as she hopped the obstacles, roly poly JR was a rowdy little kid. After each grid, he leapt and bucked with gusto. Since he has only free jumped once before, I did not raise the bar over 2’3″. JR’s style is forward, but not as graceful as Wizard or as nimble as Mary. As he becomes stronger through his topline, jumping will become easier for him. He should have very nice style once his rhythm and coordination improves. I applied Sore No More to JR’s legs and put him to bed.

Third session was Wizard. I gave him a dose of Ulcergard before the session. Of the three horses, Wizard has the most natural jumping ability. He trotted the poles like an old pro, and leapt over the crossrail like a little rocketship, prancing and arching his neck and coming over to me for a carrot after each effort. He took the 2’3″ vertical very comfortably so I raised it to about 2’6″. Unfortunately, he did not have enough impulsion and he stopped before the fence. I was very disappointed in myself for the failed effort, but Wizard seemed far less concerned. He hit the rail the next time so I lowered the bar back to the “safe” height and he jumped it beautifully. I think that since Wizard’s canter is still a little awkward, a jump that required a little more bascule meant that he hit the pole with his hind feet. As his hind end strengthens, jumping will become easier and more graceful. When he is relaxed in his front end, he will be looser with his neck and topline and he will be able to handle the jumps more fluidly. I have a lot of faith that Wizard will be a nice little jumper once our flatwork improves. I applied Sore No More to Wizard’s legs and put him to bed.

For Wizard and JR, I enforced good jumping efforts with the clicker. I was really proud of how well all three horses took the chute. From their forward movement and their attempts to take the chute even when we were done with the sessions, I could tell that it was a very positive experience for them. The last time I did the obstacles with each horse, I brought the jump down so they were just taking the poles. It was a fascinating study to see their necks arch and backs round up as they negotiated the question set before them. I hope to continue to free jump the horses about once a month throughout their training.

In nine hours, I have a riding lesson. Off to bed for me! Ahhhh, the life of a barn rat.

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