Quit While You’re Ahead

I’m forever telling my clients that “we’ll leave it there for today” or “that’s a good note to finish on today” when they ride an exercise well. Then they leave the lesson on a high, will remember that feeling and feel motivated to continue their hard work. It’s also a reward for the horse when they have performed well.

Unfortunately for me, I forgot my own advice last week.

I ride a mare who is very bold over jumps, but doesn’t have much respect for them and often loses her technique as she rushes. I’ve worked on slowing her down, stopping her rushing away, and used poles to teach her to flex and round her back. But she still wasn’t rounding her back over jumps, carrying her head up with a stag-like technique. So I did some research and found that putting water trays under a fence is commonly used to get the horse to lower their neck and look down. Alternatively, a pole placed diagonally across an oxer has the same effect.

I didn’t have any trays, so I tried the pole technique. We started off low, and I felt the mare really thought about the question as she was much steadier in her approach and made an improved shape over the over. I did it a few times from both canter reins, making sure she didn’t drift right as she likes to. 

Once she felt confident with the set up I made it a bit bigger and fractionally wider. Again, she was focusing nicely on it and working well. I could feel her back flexing more underneath me as we jumped.

I’d done the jump off both reins, but decided to do it once more from the right, her weaker rein. Just to overcome that little wobble she did in the air. She approached with a really balanced canter, hocks underneath her, straight and focused.

Then I don’t know what happened. I think she thought about chipping in, but changed her mind. Which meant she didn’t pick up as well as she had been – probably a bit of complacency there too because they were only coloured poles, and the fact it was near the end of our session. Which led to her catching her front legs on the front rail, ploughing through the fence, going onto her knees, face planting the arena surface, and ejecting me out the front door. Not that I had any option really; there was nothing in front of me!

We scrambled to our feet and checked no one had seen, before I took a closer look at the mare. There was nothing visibly wrong, she just looked surprised. Once I’d tidied up the poles, I made a small cross and remounted. I gave her a trot and canter round to make sure she felt ok. Which she did, so I popped her over the cross pole. She jumped it very neatly, and we ended on a good note.

I’m really annoyed at myself for doing the jump “one last time” because she had done it 90% perfect before and I should have accepted that and moved on. The plus points are that apart from bruised egos, neither of us were hurt, and hopefully the mare will remember that coloured poles need respect as much as cross country fences and will continue to jump neatly with a better bascule so she doesn’t do a repeat performance. 

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