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Miles face

Air Amateur

In which Miles earns December Board in 30 seconds…
Have I ever mentioned how much I love Thursdays? LOVE. Thursday is lesson day and I pretty much look forward to 7 pm from the time I wake up. So in usual fashion I bounded out to the barn, my upbeat attitude undeterred by traffic, rain and no sunlight.

The theme of the lesson was riding not only to the fence and over the fence, but also immediately after the fence. And that this should be done more from the rider’s leg, than hand. Our first exercise was to canter a single 2′ vertical and really focus on riding the canter after the fence; the group was split in half so the two rider who watched critiqued our rounds, which was really helpful.

After that, we immediately moved into course work. The ring was set-up for more jumper-style courses (I was the only hunter in attendance), but Miles can do bending lines too, so it worked out just fine. Our first time through the bending line was a bit sketchy, but we worked it out.

Then the fences were raised to probably 2’3″ and my first time around I simply didn’t have enough impulsion. Miles is great at standing around, but not keen on going back to work henceforth. So I’m still learning what works best for us. Note to self: when it’s my turn to jump around, I need extra time to walk, trot a circle slowly asking for give and bend, and then ask for the canter with enough track left to get the impulsion I need. Otherwise my round goes all to hell.

After watching the jumpers go around a bit, trainer starts raising the fences and asks if anyone wants to go again. I speak up and say I’d like to do one more… but she continues to raise the fences to probably 2’6″. We make a little hunter course, and off I go! Our very first 2’6″ course. I have to admit, going up to the first fence I was a little scared and nervous: it looked so big! But I pushed on and our first three fences were pretty good: I could feel that I wasn’t as balanced through my legs and core, but I didn’t get jumped out of the tack, I released well and followed the bigger motion through my body adequately.

And then we came up to the last fence. It was set on a slight diagonal, and if you jumped it exactly how it was set, you would actually run right into another jump, so you had to plan what angle to jump the fence at depending on where you wanted to go after the jump:

Most of the jumpers took the inside turn, but me being a hunter, I decided to take the outside track. So Miles and I cantered up to it, and I see a short spot. Except I don’t really commit to it and I don’t think I really told Miles the plan, so he went long. I was so totally unprepared that I didn’t two-point AT ALL, nor did I release AT ALL. So we come up on the other side (or rather, Miles does) and I’m so unbalanced that I am literally LAYING on his neck. And then out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of blue.

And I’m all “Oh fuck, we are going to run into that jump and I’m going to fall off and Miles is going to get hurt.” Because I’m stall LAYING ON HIS NECK.

But Miles just canters around the fence, and starts to turn the corner while I pick myself back up, and then he trotted all soft and slow when I finally had enough wherewithal to you know, steer again. What a saint.

After I caught my breath we came around to the final jump again and I had my shit more together, thank God, and it was very nice. Yay for our first 2’6″ course and yay for ponies who put up with amateur hour! Miles promptly got half a bag of peppermints and extra hay. Love him.

tangled

Sit Up

I bounded out of work promptly at 4:30 yesterday, ready to get going for my lesson. My barn is hosting a schooling show this weekend and our plan for the lesson was to school the course. We’ve had two of these little shows so far this year and I’ve really enjoyed them. It’s so much fun to do low-pressure courses and see all the friends I don’t usually get to see ride. Basically, I’m pumped for my first one with Miles!
I got out to the barn a bit early, so I had some extra time to chat, groom and warm-up. I’ve noticed that over the last six months, lessons usually go one of three ways for me:
  1. I ride like shit and my horse saves my ass
  2. My horse is an ass so we struggle the whole time
  3. I ride well and my horse is in a good mood so we have a great lesson
Last night was a #1 kind of night. I came out and warmed up, but I just didn’t feel 100 percent. My legs weren’t solid, my heels weren’t flexible and my hands kept creeping higher and higher. We started out with a hunter course and it was okay, just not great. I chipped in, went long and it was just meh.
So my trainer had me go again right away and told me to focus on generating more pace before the first fence and sitting up more quickly. What a difference! Just having more “go” and really attacking the first jump made the rest of the fences so much more fluid. And when I did manage to stretch up through my core and push my shoulders back, Miles balanced right back.
We also got to watch another boarder do the same course; C is not usually in my lesson, but I have ridden with her before and she’s a fabulous rider. She was on her horse, whom I hadn’t ever seen go around and they had similar issues with pace. It was interesting to see the difference in her courses, since we were both working on the same thing. +1 for group lessons!
We finished up with the equitation course. The difficult element of this course was a bending line to a skinny single set on the wall. The first time we did the bending line Miles totally saved my ass. I didn’t stretch up after the first jump and never told him where to go. He literally had no idea we were going over the second fence until a stride and half away from it. Like the saint he is, he went (awkwardly) over it and continued on like NBD. Love him.
The second time we jumped the bending line, I rode a more direct route, stretched up and looked where I wanted to go. And voila, a perfect five stride bending line! We still botched the distance to the skinny, but we all struggled with that fence for some reason.
Moral of tonight’s lesson: STRETCH UP WOMAN!

In other news, Hawk at Forging Fiction is hosting a Giving Thanks contest for a Gift Card! All you have to do post one thing you’re thankful for on your blog, mention the contest and let her know in a comment that you’ve completed the tasks! So what am I thankful for? So many things. But today I am extremely grateful for my amazing barn family — we support each other through good times and bad, celebrate and commiserate together and I would not enjoy riding (and showing!) nearly as much without them. Love those girls!
Miles hack 2013

Honeymoon Phase

I had an amazing lesson last night; it was one of those rides where things just went right and after every course I was grinning from ear to ear. I know those rides are few and far between, so I try to hold on to that feeling of euphoria for as long as I possibly can! Obviously things are going swimmingly for Miles and I — it’s honestly hard for me to believe that I haven’t even technically owned him for one full month yet. We’ve already come so far in our partnership and I am relishing every minute!!

In my lesson I warmed up on the flat by myself, mostly working at the trot. Mr. Miles is really starting to understand giving to the bit and relaxing into the contact. It’s certainly not consistent yet, but he’s already softer and lighter than when he first arrived.

After our short warm-up, we quickly moved on to some coursework. This was my last lesson before our first show (which is just under two weeks away!), so I wanted to focus on feeling the rhythm of Miles’ stride and finding good distances; no big projects or challenges, just solidifying our partnership before our big debut. Trainer wanted to recreate the “horse show pressure” feeling, so right off the bat we trotted into a diagonal line, and cantered out in six strides. We did this exercise three times, each time stopping to analyze my ride. I’m proud to say that my awareness is so much improved in the last year: I was able to explain exactly what happened and what I did (or didn’t do)!
Then we did a small course, during which the jumps went up from 18″ to 2′. Small for many, I know, but I was a little nervous. But, the entire course went great — we did it a few times, each time getting better. I even got a few flying changes, which for riding inside and going at a snail’s pace was pretty remarkable in my book!

 

Trainer and I discussed making sure that I go straight after each fence and not let Miles fall onto his inside shoulder in the turn. Making sure that I stretch up, balance, and ask for the simple lead change exactly where I would want the flying lead change to happen will help preserve his change and not ruin it. Plus, engaging my core will help keep me balanced and in turn help make the lead change easier for Miles.
I went home on cloud nine. Trainer said she doesn’t think we need another jumping lesson before the show, and I agree. Of course, we have lots to work on over fences, but no major, glaring errors that need to be fixed to be able to go around some 2′ courses. I am thrilled beyond belief to have the opportunity to go to a show and focus on being comfortable with the horse Miles is at shows (which will undoubtedly be more horse than I ever have at home) and learn what works for him as far as schooling and warm-up.

Miles Hack Sept 2013

On the Right Track

I moved my lessons around a bit the next two weeks to accommodate some other appointments. Blasphemy, you say? A life out side of horses?! I know, it’s crazy talk. But it worked out well, and I’m actually taking my first two private lessons on Mr. Miles, the first of which was last night.

I had a lot I wanted to discuss and work on, so we started out on the flat. We did some trot work, focusing on bending and giving in to contact. I’ve been working a lot on these two subjects with Miles since I bought him, but I wanted to make sure we were on the right track. We also worked on adjusting the canter by lengthening and then galloping down the long side, and collecting back for a large circle at either end of the arena.

  • So far, the bending is coming along fabulously; we just need to keep at it.
  • The concept of giving is also going well; but we need to be more consistent at the trot before introducing the topic at the canter.
  • Circles are my friend, especially at the walk and trot!
  • I need to practice adjusting within my gaits, especially at the canter. Miles and I need to figure out how much rein vs how much leg is needed.
After that we moved on to jumping a small line: trotting into a crossrail and cantering out over a small vertical in five strides. We did this exercise both directions, focusing on feeling the length and/or power of Miles’ stride and making a decision early enough to create change. Okay, so that sentence sounds really easy, but this is a more accurate description of how it really goes:
Trot around the corner. Me: Miles, keep going!
Approach the crossrail. Miles: But it’s sooo hard. I’d rather trot the crossrail and keep trotting. Cantering is too hard.
[Call mulligan and start over.]
Trot around the corner. Me: Gooooooooooooooo!
Approach the crossrail. Miles: I’m going! Wahooo!! Lookit me, I was all Grand Prix Jumper over that crossrail!
Canter through the line. Me: Where are we? Do I have enough? I think I have enough to get five.
Two strides to the vertical. Me: OH SHIT. TOO MUCH. Half halt Miles!
At the vertical. Me: Just kidding! Leave now — no way we are going to get five!!
Miles: *Le sigh*
Miles sticking his tongue out
What Miles thinks of my haphazard riding

If I approach a jump and don’t start looking for a distance until I’m at five strides out, I won’t see one until I’m three strides out. But if I start looking for a distance while I’m still in the corner, I will begin to see it five or six strides because I’m looking actively looking for a distance sooner.After a few times through the line, which did get better for the most part, we moved on to a single vertical. Here, I worked on seeing a distance farther out. Usually, I see a distance two to three strides out; trainer would like me to see a distance at four or five strides out. To begin to work on this, she said I need to start looking for a distance farther back:

That’s how she described it. And it makes sense; I mean, I can’t find what I’m not looking for, right? To the right it was tough, and I didn’t see much improvement. But to the left, I nailed the vertical twice in a row on a perfect distance! The second time we went right around to the line and cantered down in a perfect four. And it felt amazing. It just all flowed together, and felt so natural. I love this horse!
Miles Hack Sept 2013

Lesson Under Lights

Thursday evening is the best time of the week for me, because it’s lesson time! Sam and I got out to the barn early, and loved on Miles a bit. We started off in the indoor with four of us, but it was so dusty we ended up moving outside and rode under the lights.

Miles was actually (for the first time ever) a bit strong to start, but he softened back to his usual self in no time. We started with a single crossrail, and quickly moved on to some small courses. I did the first course a few times, and the first trip was probably our best. We trotted into a natural crossrail, cantered out in six strides to a natural box, cantered around to the green gate and finished up over the purple vertical. We had one simple change from the gate to the purple, but it was pretty quick, and I was happy with it.

We went again right away, and I totally messed up the entire course and Miles saved my butt over every. single. fence. I got a little left behind to the crossrail, half halted in the first few strides of the line, then tried to tell Miles to speed up for the five strides (WRONG!) and he chipped in hard to the natural box. Then we went around to the gate and I didn’t see a distance, so he chipped in to that one too. Came around to the purple and it was the same story, except I didn’t release and laid on his neck so he knocked the top rail. Ugh!

We finished up with a slightly different course: fence one and two were the same (crossrail to natural box), but then we did the purple vertical and finished up over the green gate. Our first attempt at this course was better, but I was unbalanced after the line and had to circle before going to the purple vertical. Our second attempt was smooth and pretty good.

Overall, the lesson was great. Here’s a quick strengths/weaknesses assessment I thought would be helpful moving forward and give me some good things to focus on.

Strengths

  • No Spook: Even though this was our first time riding under lights, Miles didn’t bat an eyelash at anything. Every time we go out and jump in a new environment or over new jumps without issue it gives me more confidence.
  • Miles’ Listening: Miles was a bit “up” but it definitely wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle and he still listened to my half halts every time. Good pony!
  • Thinking on Course: I’m getting much better about thinking while on course. I know it sounds like something I should just do naturally, but honestly I don’t. So deciding to change my plan and circle in the middle of a course is a big deal for me.
  • Analyzing: I’m getting very good at analyzing my ride, both in terms of thinking the same thing my trainer is, and making those changes the next time. When I had my bad round, I knew WHY the line sucked and what I should do differently. I also knew that I chipped in to the gate, so I had to change my path the next time around.
Miles Trot Sept 2013

Weaknesses

  • Core Strength: I really need to work on my core strength. It’s hard for me to pick myself back up after a fence, and it’s dragging Miles down.
  • Leg Strength: This has two parts, the first being that I haven’t practiced any leg strengthening exercises on Miles yet. We did two-point a bit during warm-up, and Miles got strung out. I need to remember to practice different seats during my flat rides. Also, I need more strength in my legs, and I need to imagine it flowing all the way down and out through my heels. I can’t squeeze for more forward and have my heels come up three inches.
  • Partnership: My partnership with Miles is getting better all the time, but knowing his stride and his movement more intimately will help me pick a distance farther back and know how much “go” and how much “whoa” I’m going to get with various strengths of those cues.