Thursday 12 April 2012

Fun with Free Jumping

Anyone with a horse under the age of three (or six if you are a kinder, gentler, crazier young horse owner) has been asked by their non-horsey friends at least a few times... what the hell do you do with a horse that you can't ride.

Well, there are lots of things.  If you want to sound hip, I suggest you stare deeply into your friend's eyes, tilt your head to the side just a degree or two, try to look a little misty, then say in a dreamy voice "we are working together on our human-animal bond". 

Then head on off to the barn to scrape off your horse's daily crust of mud and burrs, lead him around for a while, and feed him copious amounts of treats. Sounding like a horse whisperer is all about the marketing, my friends.

Within a month or two, Ms. V and I had already tried out all of the grooming related things you can do with a young horse without a single glitch - clippers, leg wraps and boots, blankets on/off, we both decided we hate mane pulling and dressage doesn't really insist upon it so that was removed from the "to do" list ...

We also did a few fun days of free jumping with the other young horse owner at the barn, along with our spouses.

Oh, Dressage Curmudgeon!  I am so glad to hear you make jumping part of your cross training program! 

WTF - No. No I don't. 

I have jumped Ms. V jusssst enough so that I can tell assholes who insist that dressage horses must have jumping as part of their cross training programs and sneer at my totally dressage-centric approach that yes, in fact, I HAVE jumped my horse.  Been there, done bugger off. 

Let me explain it to you like I do to Mr. Motard.  If I wanted to "cross-train" - I would have bought a horse well suited for cross-training.  Just as he doesn't take his GSX-R 1000 on trails, he takes his dual purpose bike instead.... I didn't buy a dressage horse to jump a 3 foot course or go crashing through hill and dale.  If this were my passion, I would have bought a nice TB suited for eventing - because that is what dressage + trails + jumping is called.  Or, maybe a QH - something sturdy and patient and relatively unbreakable, like I had when I was growing up.  Or maybe I would have even found a different Arab that wasn't a balky asshole.  I wouldn't force poor Ms. V to do things she just is not well suited to do.

Because your horse doesn't care if they "cross train".  It is not essential to their wellbeing, or whatever it is you may have been told by the cross training contingent. 

Regardless of what you may have been lead to believe, your horse doesn't sit around in his stall at night thinking to himself "oh MAAANN!  This dressage thing sucks.  Look at Lightning.  His owner is always jumping him, that lucky jerk.  Why can't I jump sometimes.  I hate my owner - I think I will act like a wank today to punish her" 

If your horse hates dressage, and hates you - well, the problem runs deeper than the fact that you haven't cross trained.

Animals don't have the ability to imagine how cool other lives might have been, or to form opinions on what we should or should be doing in the ring just out of thin air - no, seriously, they don't.  Not even if the horse communicator tells you otherwise.  The Platypus resisted our efforts to turn him into a dressage star not because he had issues with my interpretation of the pyramid or because we had differences of opinion on whether we should follow the German or French school of training, or some other cerebral reason.  It was because he had lived the good life of being a naughty pony - of having to NOT do anything he was told to do. 

He had a frame of reference, and knew there was an easier life out there. 

Once horses have this frame of reference - sometimes called the "hey.. what would happen if I said NO" phenomenon.. trouble is on the way. 

Do not allow your horse to develop this frame of reference. 

I know, I know, easier said than done with some horses, work ethic is certianly genetic.  But do your best.

As a horse trainer, we must always be working to keep the Wizard of Oz thing going on - make sure your horse thinks that whatever it is you are doing now - that's all folks - there are no other simpler, more entertaining options available. If you are starting with a blank slate and competent trainers - you should be able to create this illusion  and your horse will never know there is anything different or better, or easier going on out there, anywhere. 

I told you guys hacking was way easier than dressage.  Now just scare the shit out of her each day, and you can be on the yellow brick road to becoming a trail horse.

Sure, this is more difficult some days than others - perservere, eeek out a good transition or something else remotely obedient in nature, then get off and call it a day.  You can't just go on a hack or do some jumping instead every time your horse gets a bit annoyed with the fact that dressage is not a cakewalk.  If your horse is "not in the mood for dressage" today - I have news for your - soon, he will not be in the mood for dressage ANY day if acting like a jerk earns him a nice stroll through the hayfields.  Understanding this concept doesn't seem like rocket science to me, but in the horse world, apparently it is. 

Really, horses are lucky in this regard.  I KNOW working in an office to make a living sucks, since I have watched Housewives of Beverley Hills.  If I were a horse, I wouldn't have satellite TV, and would just think it was another fun day of life. 

Anyway, back to the free jumping.  Lucky for me, not only did the other young horse owning lady have an almost 3 year old mare as well, but her significant other happened to be a tuner car fanatic, and so he and Mr. Motard had lots to discuss as we all worked as a possee to chase our horses down the chute and over the fences.  This activity is also by nature pretty entertaining - you do get to run around and play with whips (No, in case you are wondering, Mr. Motard does not get to do this in the bedroom) - and so the boys participated fairly willingly, which was nice when the time came to clean up all of the poles and standards.

Unfortunately, I did discover during this activity that Ms. V had entirely no aptitude for jumping.  Have you seen deer jump?  That 4 footed leap?  Yah, that pretty much sums it up. Her approach was good - forward, keen, not overly spooky - but then... *boing*.  This was a bit troubling, since in the back of my head I was still formulating a "plan B" - what would I do with this horse if dressage didn't work out? 

I already knew the hunter ring was an unlikely destination, based on her trot alone, but if I had any doubts the bambi boing pretty much solidified this inkling.  To really rub it in, the other young horse - did I mention she was from Charlot Farms? - soared over the jumps with tidy knees and some semblance of a sense of self preservation. 

Yes, lack of self preservation would be another of the problems with Ms. V's jumping style. As you may have noted at any of many local Child / Am Jumper classes, lack of style is not a dealbreaker - horses can throw themselves over 3 foot fences in many different interesting and exciting ways, this is most definitely true.  However - if I were considering a jumper or eventer prospect, I would like to start with a horse that had a natural inclination to jump fences 2 feet at a time. Perferably front first, back next.  I was not sure this had crossed Ms. V's mind. 

Even now, years later - Ms. V still could not jump her way out of a crossrail division at a schooling show.  She still does the bambi boing, which is hilarious to ride - she approaches the fence in a beautiful dressage carriage, boings, then canters off once again in a beautiful dressage carriage.  It is kind of like a supermodel farting on the catwalk.

Yah, yah, whatever.   Do I have a hell of a piaffe, or what?


  1. Amen to all your statements on the way a horse's brain works! The horse I'm leasing has decided this going back to work business is a little tedious, so has been throwing in some bucking and bolting (exacerbated by getting enough food now, no doubt), but it hasn't "worked" -- we haven't parted company and he's still working regularly. (And yes, we've eliminated physical problems as possible causes of misbehavior; my husband is an equine vet.)

  2. Bahaha!! Imagining your pretty dressage horse boinging over jumps...priceless. I totally agree with you on the crosstraining idea. People use it as a copout for not dealing with their horse when they are being difficult.

  3. LOL... my Arab *spoings* over jumps as well. That post brought back good memories...

  4. I made a post about this If your horse is refusing to go forward? He must be made for jumpers... Don't bring your dressage hating prejudice horse here! Dressage and forward are synonymous don't you know! And no other discipline needs proper training like we do.

    No matter that he wasn't even doing training level.. He MUST need a job change because he must have sniffed out it was that ole nutty dressage riding he'd heard about and he wants NONE of it and 'knows" that when you take the slightest bit of rein up... That that leads to collection.. He says no thank you because he needs to jump or be a trail horse. Yes send your well bred purpose horse to do trails because it wouldnt be that he needs a new trainer/rider/owner/alfalfa flake...

    That was it in part! lol

  5. I laugh when someone tells me their HORSE doesn't like to do dressage. "Your horse doesn't like doing dressage with YOU!!!", I mutter to myself. But, true, he may also be a lazy sack of poo and doesn't want to work at all. In either case, not the fault o'dressage.

  6. "It is kind of like a supermodel farting on the catwalk" Love it! I thought of trying some jumping with my mare. She surprisingly didn't *BOING* over the jump (as arabians tend to like to do). Instead she just kinda went through. Shortest route to the end. Definitely no jumper here.

  7. All my guys jump, but, they are not ace, upper level dressage horses either. One is trained to Intermediare I, but he was not built for it--too level a natural carriage--but he can jump up a storm. Trouble is, his brain is built for dressage and not for jumping as he is a coward about approaching anything new--except for dressage markers and the judge's box. The other two? Just nice horses that do "do dressage," and jump as well...even though I don't anymore.

  8. Actually, that Bambi picture looks a bit like a tennessee walker...

  9. I am not surprised in the least that Ms. V has the Bambi Boing thing going on: I have seen this in action in the Saddlebred "Hunter" ring. Yes, people here actually exhibit SB "hunters" and while yes, some of them actually DO have a semblance of hunterness, most cause me heart failure when they are forced to trot or canter the single small crossrail required in the class. It is not a pretty sight. And we're talking about the National Championship class! I know Ms. V has other heritage at work but I'd be willing to bet she inherited her jumping ability, or lack thereof, from the SB side, for sure!

    1. *sigh* I hate generalizations. Behold, a pure Saddlebred mare NOT "boinging" over a fence - not by a long shot.

      Many Saddlebreds are outstanding jumpers, thankyouverymuch. Certain individuals are not, and perhaps Miss V's 1/4 ancestor was one of those. *roll eyes*

  10. Very good advice on how a horse's brain works. Now I just need to remember it :)

    However... mine is an ex-eventer; for various reasons we don't jump anymore, but I am contemplating a few tiny crossrails just because it would make her year to do it again. We're at a jumpers barn so we have to school around the jumps, and there have been a number of times she's tried to change course so we could throw in a jump or two.

  11. I love your blog, really I do, except for one thing! Your header image is HUGE! I have a quite large widescreen set at very high resolution and I have to scroll quite a ways to get to the start of a blog entry, and I've got 4 inches of scroll bar where the image goes off the side of the page. I'd hate to be viewing on a more standard sized monitor and resolution.

    Would you please consider resizing it, or if you don't have the software to do that I'd happily do it for you.


  12. Wonderful words on how the horse thinks. :) Hopefully I can use this to my advantage with my new horse. I, of course, will still go out and trail ride and jump like I love to do, but if we are doing dressage that day, we WILL do dressage. ;)