Rising to the Challenge 

This morning I had a text from a client. I hack out one of her horses on a weekly basis. She events and recently bought herself a 1* horse.

Anyway, I just ride the other horse and go green with envy as she jumps effortlessly around the arena in her lessons with her International trainer. So I was surprised when in her text this morning she asked if I would have time to give her a lesson this morning as she’d been let down by her trainer.

I did actually have a spare hour in my day, and after quaking in my boots for a minute or two I said yes, and then asked if she wanted to flat or jump. After all, I need all the preparation I can get!

She said a jump lesson on the eventer, not the cute little one I ride. Just to up the anti.

At this point I realised that I’ve actually grown up quite a bit. Not that long ago I would have shied away from an opportunity like this. But today I was busy thinking about how to make the most out of the opportunity – my mentors would be proud!

I decided that I would do a gridwork lesson; I didn’t really know the combination but I knew they didn’t do much gridwork. About the same time I also realised that this was the perfect opportunity to get some practice for my Intermediate Instructor Exam. 

Not that I’ve booked it yet. But this client is a prime example of the level I would be expected to teach in the exam. 

“Don’t be shy”, was a phrase bandied round at the training day I went to. People who fail the exam tend to build the distances incorrectly, not make the fences big or wide enough, and not move through the lesson quickly enough. It’s not really surprising really; most AI’s have grassroots clients with ponies, or cobs with short strides, so your eye for distances contracts, and you get used to putting fences up at 2’3″.

Anyway, I paced my grid out using competition distances. A placing pole, an upright. One stride to another upright, then another to an oxer. 

During the warm up I studied the horse, who seemed fussy in the mouth and not accepting of the contact. When I found out he was wearing a Waterford snaffle I suggested that he might prefer a bit with fewer links that is more stable in his mouth, thus allowing his to be a bit stiller and accepting of the bridle. It’s hard when you step into someone else’s rather large shoes, but I felt I had valid reasoning and my client could mull it over. We settled him in the flatwork but I’d have liked to spend longer on smaller circles, using leg yield, and getting him to step under with his hind legs, lift the back, and take the contact forwards. I think the reason he’s so inconsistent and fussy is because he isn’t connected. But we were here to jump so jump we would.

Initially the just cantered over the poles, and then I removed the poles from the second and third jump, making the first a large cross. They jumped it fine, and the placing pole looked to be in the correct place. After twice through I made it to a 80cm upright. “Don’t be shy” I thought.

Again, not a problem so I built the second element to a similar height and after placing a pole to the left of the jump on the landing side, they jumped through easily and straight.

I knocked the uprights up to 90cm and added a final upright at that height. Every so often the two missed the placing pole slightly. I had rolled it out with the bigger fence and it was in the right position. My client told me that her horse can be erratic on take-off points, so I think their problems came from the horse trying to understand the placing pole as opposed to it’s location. 

I made the oxer square and wide. They jumped it easily and my client commented on how easy it was to ride the jumps when she knew he would take off in the correct place.

Because she didn’t have much experience of grids, I kept putting in little explanations of how useful they are for improving jumping technique, agility, straightness, and fitness.

To finish I changed the grid slightly, to an upright, oxer, upright. This is to teach the horse not to get longer and flatter through a grid, because he needs to be neat in his bascule for the final element. It also tests his agility because he has to change from a longer, shallower bascule to a steeper, shorter shape over the jumps. 

After another problem with the placing pole – the horse backed off the new grid so chipped in before the pole – they flew the grid beautifully, even when they slightly missed the placing pole the final time due to the canter being a bit flat. The fences were all by now between 100 and 105cm tall. High enough for training, and a good practice for her BE100 on the weekend.

I felt really positive after the lesson; she and the horse had worked well and I felt there was some improvement to his technique and her eye for strides. I hadn’t been afraid of hoicking the jumps up and I think I challenged them. It’s made me realise that I really do need to get my act together to do my Intermediate Instructor exam. Perhaps 2017 is the year!

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