Last Wednesday evening, myself and Betsey headed down to Boswell Equestrian for a showjumping lesson with our coach Jade, and a few friends who were also schooling with us. The session was all about building confidence for both of us, and being able to confidently jump around a course of fences with ease.
After loosening up in walk and trot, I moved straight up into canter and began switching through the gears to get her listening to me – Boswell’s main arena is a big space with lots to look at, and I needed her attention on me. I switched up from a working canter to lengthened strides, then used that energy to collect the canter and sit her back on her hocks more. The we moved onto canter poles, which I find invaluable for helping me to see a stride, and for Betsey to become more conscious of where her feet are. Jade set up the poles so that there were no strides in between the poles, and Betsey had to lift her back and canter over a series of poles one after the other – this was a great way to quickly spot how switched on she was (*cough* she wasn’t!), and we did these a few times on each rein.
From here we began putting combinations together to build a small course, starting small for our confidence – Jade made sure to give us challenging questions such as a fence off a tight turn, related distances with competition distances, changes of rein (and thus the dreaded change of canter lead!) and dog legs. Some of the positives I noticed were:
- Much more power and ‘sit’ in the canter – this has been due to a combination of all the hard work we’ve been doing as well as the focus I’ve placed on improving our flatwork lately.
- Better use of hind end over fences – much more careful use and extension of the hind legs over the fence. Previously she did a weird bunny-hop like movement over the fence any time we got to a deep spot. Which leads me onto my next point…
- Willing to get deeper to the fence rather than trying to take off from a long one, and hence knocking. I didn’t actually know that we were jumping constantly from a long stride until Jade spotted it – proves the value in having an expert eye on the ground!
- Improvement in my riding – I was sitting up more, actually riding her to the fence, and making better decisions about where to take off. My eye for a stride had improved massively from all the canter pole work we had been doing.
- More ‘adjustability’ – I was able to land and ‘go’ or land and wait, something I hadn’t been able to do before. This was the most exciting development!
Some areas for improvement I noted were:
- Landing on the correct lead – this is a strength issue. Betsey favours the left lead, so getting her to switch right is a challenge. She is naturally weaker on the right rein so I need to work on strengthening her on the flat, as well as lots of polework. Jade gave me a great tip: if she’s coming in disunited and I don’t have time to change, just ask her to switch back to the left ‘incorrect’ lead and at least she’ll come in more balanced. Loved this!
- Control of the shoulder – Betsey gets a bit ‘motorbike-y’ around corners when we’re jumping, it’s a sign of how keen she is which is great, but really affects our approach to fences. Need to focus on better control of the shoulder, again polework will help here.
- Bigger strides – I kept having to hold for an extra stride in the five-stride related distance, I need to work on opening up Betsey’s stride so she can make the competition distances, and be able to activate that stride on landing.
As we pieced the course together, Jade sneakily popped each fence up a few holes every time, so that by the end we happily popped around a 90/95cm course CLEAR, totally unawares of the height we were jumping! I was thrilled with how the session went, and could tell that Betsey really enjoyed herself – I think after months of flatwork she grabbed the opportunity to jump in case she didn’t get the chance for a long time again!
Our next jumping adventure will be with Peter O’Toole – the AIRC South Leinster Region have arranged a showjumping clinic with him for Good Friday, which I am really looking forward to. Stay tuned for our lesson report!