Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What to expect: Green Bean Jumping Edition

Since I primarily deal with young horses who have zero jumping experience, I thought I'd put together a little entry about what to expect when you start a green horse over fences.

You will need:

*one OTTB
*a hitchcock pen or free school (nice, but not necessary)
*a ground person to build/reset fences
*a neck strap
*a really good sense of humor
*the ability to stay soft and out of the horse's way

Typically, the way we start most of our OTTBs is to let them figure out their footwork in a free jump ring. We're pretty lucky to have a hitchcock pen (a large circular ring with two parallel fences) where the horses can get going at a nice pace in either direction with room for a few jumps or a gymnastic.

In which a small X gets RESPECT (Nolan)
Starting with just a pile of poles on ground we let the horse trot around and and get a feel for having to do something over the pile. Some stop, or sky rocket over but most usually half-step or increase their stride and canter away. As they gain a little confidence, we build it up to a small X. During the first session, it's usually pretty awkward, and for most, it takes several sessions to build up confidence and form over the jump. What I love about free jumping these guys is that it gives you a lot of insight into how they may be under saddle. Are they going to be the type of horse that learns from it's mistakes? The free school is great to see what happens when the horse doesn't it get it quite right, and come back around. Is it scared of the fence, does it make an adjustment, or does it wayyyy over jump? We want to see a horse that learns as it goes and builds confidence and bravery as well. For these guys who have never seen a jump before, we think it's important to allow them to sort out their body and footwork without a rider so that when we do point them at a jump under saddle, it's no big deal (hopefully) and they are less inclined to way over jump or balk.

Me: JUMP, Brando! Brando: Where do my legs go?
I'm not usually the person who starts them over fences because I am not that skilled or brave. But with Scout, I knew he had hopped over a few things without much issue before I officially made him mine, so I wanted to really build our relationship from the ground up. We worked together for quite a while on the flat to get to know one another a bit before we ever added in jumping. 

I think when you're building a new partnership with a horse it's really important to manage your expectations. What I expected in Scout was for him to show up to work, listen to my aids, and get to the other side of the "jump". This is the most rudimentary part of jumping education really,  and anything additional just feels like a bonus. 

So we started small, first trotting back and forth over poles on the ground and next cantering poles spread about 5 strides apart. At this point, all I am hoping for is that he recognizes a change in the terrain and adjusts his feet in response.

Finding our "jump" canter 
Scout is a big, gangly baby and is still trying to figure out that really great jump canter that's so elusive. And, while he's still very wiggly, and there's no real contact with him in the bridle, I still expect for him to listen to me gently guiding him straight with my legs and sometimes an emergency rein (!) and to respond to my cues to go forward over the jump and canter away. I missed this very crucial part of Riley's early training and he learned to get very, very lazy with me,often almost puttering out and heaving himself over the jump and landing in a messy heap on the other side. So I'm trying to teach myself and my new partner to go forward to the jump and continue that forward after. 

Sounds easy, right?

Wiggle, Wiggle, Jump, Jump

But, if this is from his first real jump lesson under tack, I can't be upset. He met my expectations of forward + straight, up + over, and land + canter. Yes, he's wiggly and a bit uncoordinated, but he's 4 and big, so we'll let him grow up a bit before I demand too much in the finesse department. Better, yet... he gives me a nice feeling over the jump. I'll admit, I was a bit intimidated of his size at first and fearful that he'd jump so big it would unsettle me, but in all reality he balances me in way that I can't really put into words. Like a tall ship, steadying itself against a raging sea.

Legs in every direction, but man... I love him
The truth is that even if I'm not the most skilled rider, I really love teaching the greenies to jump. Everything feels monumental, from the horse that refuses to walk over a pole on the ground (spoiler alert: the tend to be the best jumpers) to trotting them over their first log or through a little gymnastic. Getting to the other side always feels like a big celebration, and I love being a part of that supportive role and congratulating them the whole way.

What do you guys like about jumping green horses, or do you hate it? Do you have any special exercises that you like to throw at horses new to jumping?