Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Learning to jump properly - helpful every ride!

Don't let the post title and this photo fool you. I do want to explain about jumping, but I haven't been jumping this stump! There happens to be an interesting apple tree near this stump on the neighbor's property that grows enormous apples that taste like golden, juicy pears. I call them "Papples" and they are as big as Osage oranges even though the tree is not sprayed or pruned by anyone. The tree's boughs hang super low and I have to slide off the side when the boys take a dive under the umbrella of limbs to get some papples. This stump has become my new favorite mounting block after the gobble fest under the tree. All three boys are good about me getting on here. Sovey stands perfectly anywhere, but Pie and Foggy stand way better for the stump than any of my man-made contraptions. Makes you wonder! 

Today I rode all three bareback and during each ride I was reflecting on how fortunate I am to have learned to jump. I am currently writing and editing a passage about the importance of taking riding lessons in general. Let me just preface this idea with the fact that I do not believe anyone has to ride to experience pure horse joy. Some of the greatest horse people have never been on a horse. But, if you ever plan to ride, then taking riding lessons from a conscientious instructor, above all else, is the most essential, respectful thing you can do for your horse. Learning to ride has nothing to do with cleaning a stall, or emptying a water bucket or being a kind, loving horse owner. But trying to ride a horse in a considerate, joyful way without truly learning how to ride is like putting the cart before the horse. In fact, that is my chapter title, Putting the Cart Before the Horse. I haven't written one word about the importance of learning to jump a horse, because I never really thought of that knowledge as necessary before today. 

Learning to jump a horse surely isn't imperative, but there are definite shifts in weight and body positions I inadvertently use each day that come from my jumping knowledge. (Important to note - I never learned to barrel race or a zillion other equestrian disciplines and I am certain those pursuits also pack secret advantages for daily rides too.) But, heading a horse into a jump with impulsion while correctly keeping contact and keeping them centered and balancing over them at just the right time is something that I can feel and understand and today I suddenly realized that I use my body similarly in daily rides on the flat.

The motion of leaning forward and directing them with my seat and legs while keeping my upper body parallel to their neck in order to avoid branches is very similar to the way I ride into a fence. When I am bareback I have so much better contact and my horses are super attentive to my body position. But even in a saddle, I know that I get into this type of half-seat when I am in trouble - either I have to avoid a low branch, a close tree or fence post or when a horse is nervous and jumpy. I actually documented this position before on my blog back in January of 2011 when Pie was quite a handful to get home. 

I often write about "giving my horse the reins" when they are rushing or getting fussed up. I previously didn't really know how to describe what I was doing when I was in trouble and needed to diffuse the adrenaline, but it is the exact sequence I use when I jump that I believe I am describing. Shies and bolts are explosive and the anticipation of one coming up makes me attentive. I use my body and my brain as if I am going into a fence or line. I stay seated and alert ready to balance parallel to their neck and give them their head while talking and soothing. I am sizing up the problem as if I am riding the strides into a fence but I am also breathing and relaxing my own body. My mind is thinking of keeping the horse going exactly in the direction I am asking. As I ask with my body and my mind for my horse to move this way or that, they do! It is a focused few seconds, but the balance of being in the saddle pushing forward, ready to not be in the saddle and hover above is so similar to lining up and going into and over a fence. 

I am so glad that I did learn how to jump properly, although I don't have any real desire to do the type of showing I once did. 

That brings me to two funny stories. (Mrs. Honeychurch says, "Just in time. How dare you be so serious!") One story is about showing and the other about jumping. Today I met a lady when I was riding Pie over at the church. She was walking two dogs and when we got near her, she asked me how old Pie was and if I show him. I told her that he was seven and I think my showing days are over. I explained that I am working on just riding this retired racehorse safely each day. She paused and then said, "He is the fattest Thoroughbred I've ever seen!" That made me laugh right out loud. 

The other story is about jumping. You don't really know my adorable husband, Brian, so maybe you won't think this is funny, but my mom and I think this story is hysterical. Brian is one of those amazingly intelligent people who has a tendency to get totally absorbed in thought and not notice anything that is going on right in front of his face. In 2002, I decided that he should take riding lessons in case I ever wanted to get back into horses. I took lessons with him and we rode together in a big outdoor ring. Brian has a great seat, but to say he has soft hands is an understatement. In reality, he has zero contact with a horse's mouth (head in the bitless). He learned to walk, trot, and canter but no amount of encouragement from our instructor convinced him to move the reins up through his fingers. He rode on the buckle. The gate was often left open and I was certain his horse was just going to leave the ring as Brian cantered around blissfully unaware of anything. 

I knew the instructor fairly well from riding a green large pony for her years before. So, while she worked one-on-one with Brian she just had me warm up, wtc, and then ride a course she had set up in the ring. I was having an okay time, but I am just not really turned on by ring work. I never was. All I could think about was getting outside the ring and walking around the property after our lesson. Driving home from one of our last lessons, I said to Brian, that I wasn't sure it was necessary for me to be jumping. I had Maizie now and I had no desire to show and to ride this mare each week around on this course seemed silly to me. Brian said, "Well, honey, if you don't want to jump, just tell her that you are not interested if she ever asks you to do that." I just looked at him in disbelief. "Brian, I've been jumping the whole time!"
"You have?" He couldn't believe it. He was so focused on his own riding that he had zero idea that I was also in the ring riding around and jumping right in front of him. I think he knew I was in there with him, but other than that, nothing. Once, he had crossed over in front of me as I was heading into a fence and I just assumed his typical long reins prevented him from turning his horse. In reality, he never even knew I was jumping that or any other fence! 

Never a dull moment in our life! Here is Sovey in his bridle, but if you click the photo there is a 48 second video of me riding him in his halter yesterday.


  1. Funny stories. I've always loved to jump and used to show quite a bit. That's over now but you're right, it's still nice to know how to do it, just in case of...

  2. Juliette, what a wonderful post! First, I loved your description of riding, and hovering, and jumping - there's a lot for me to learn from your vivid and helpful descriptions. Thank you!
    And your stories are so funny!! Poor Brian, riding on the buckle (and doing just fine!! That has me thinking also!), and there you are- jumping around him. So funny. Wonderful, instructive post.


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