Today I took Otis cross country schooling for the first time this year.
I like to have at least one schooling session before my first competition because Otis can start off a bit sticky, and take a few jumps to find his stride. This way I can start off small and build him up steadily so that I know he’s ready for the first event.
Recently I’ve changed his bit, well put the rein onto the large ring of my Dutch gag, which has helped my showjumping because I can keep a firmer contact, and Otis won’t drop behind it on the approach to fences. So I kept the bit as it was for today, to see how he was. He wasn’t at all strong so my plan is to revert to a snaffle for all jumping now.
The other thing I need to work on, and it’s similar to my showjumping, is having him taking me towards fences more. Otis often backs off slightly and I can be slow to respond with my leg, so we get deep to the fence, and whilst he always jumps it’s time consuming and uncomfortable for me! In order for us to make the cross country times at BE100 I need to keep a bigger canter to the fences for longer and jump off a bigger stride. For me, I need to encourage this and be quicker to correct Otis if he backs off. Each time today he jumped a bit awkwardly, i.e. getting deep, then I repeated it so that he was more confident and I cemented that feeling of jumping out of a bigger stride. Riding away from a fence is another way of saving time, but it’s really hard to make yourself do that when you aren’t jumping a full course. It is something to work on next time though.
The ground where we went was perfect. The last week has been dry so the ground was spongey, and ideal for our work as neither deep or hard. The jumps have been frequently moved all winter so the take off and landing points weren’t poached. Good ground made Otis’s job easy, and a nicer first time out.
As Otis isn’t that jumping fit, I focused on asking him questions, such as skinnies, drops, steps, corners, ditches, instead of height. When schooling I prefer to ride short courses, of varying heights, so that it isn’t intense and I can repeat any areas that need improvement. We did short courses with little rests so Otis wasn’t fatigued – that’s what my interval training is for – but I found that Otis was barely sweating (there was a cold wind) and he didn’t take too long to recover afterwards. To me, he seems to be of a good level of fitness. He could have been pushed more today, but he’d had a dressage competition yesterday and I don’t think training is the time for using all the energy reserves!
Whilst I was warming up I popped over some of the smaller jumps and I laughed at how these jumps felt big for us both when we first came, and how each time I go we do some different jumps; bigger or more complex. It’s good to feel that we have a solid foundation and can build on it each time. For example, last year I remember riding the skinny mushrooms and feeling that they were a test, but today Otis merely hopped over them.
After today I feel more ready for the season, and have fallen back in love with jumping – perhaps I won’t be focusing purely on dressage from now on!
Onwards and upwards!