Justin and I took our first lesson with Stephen Bradley this Sunday afternoon. Because it was a balmy 50 degrees, I decided to bathe Justin’s legs and face knowing it may be a last opportunity this winter. Suffice it to say, we were both miserable because of it – but he was beautifully off-white which was an improvement from his previous brown color.
Before we event started jumping, Stephen saw what would be our focus of the entire lesson – I was letting his poll get too low and consequently he was getting on the forehand. I had said before we started that balance was something we often struggled with, and Stephen said, “If you can’t see your crown piece, his poll is too low.”
The second main focus for our lesson today was going forward to each and every jump. As I tend to micromanage with my hands, Stephen encouraged me to ride forward to the fences – the clarification here, which took me a few tries to actually successfully perform, was that more than thinking about riding forward, I needed to keep a consistent rhythm. My nitpicking on the reins before the jump makes Justin change his last stride(s) before take-off. Since we both have the tendency to “go short” this new thinking was definitely out of our comfort zone – in a good way!
Oxer before the plank-to-plank. Leslie Mintz Photo.
First exercises were simple – trot two separate fences both ways landing on the correct lead in canter. Then we connected the two original jumps and added a third oxer. The complete set was to approach the skinny plank, four strides, wooden plank, five/six strides to an oxer. The first between the two planks was a bit sharp, and proved much more difficult when we turned the exercise around and went the other way. This was when Justin and I began to show Stephen we were actually trying to do what he asked as I eventually got Justin forward, bold, and uphill enough to only do three strides between the planks ;).
Next we rode an outside line, first oxer to vertical, which was set on a long four. The other two in my group made an easy go of the four strides, and the first time I came through Justin and I put in a nice five, but the next go around we managed to snag the four. Each time Justin seemed especially proud of himself (or irritated that I was asking him to carry himself on his hind end) he let out a nice fun burst of bucking! Stephens general advice even carried onto this when he said, “Keep his poll up! He can’t buck with his poll up!” Silly pony…
Then we moved onto angles. Here I was SO proud of Justin’s courage! It has been quite a while since we schooled angles, and he didn’t hesitate one bit. We were working around an exercise in the middle of the ring which was bounce – one stride – bounce. We started by “threading the needle” and taking the last element on both sides at an angle, then we came right through the grid. The one stride in the middle was long (can’t remember the exact distance) and Justin went through beautifully both times. Stephen’s critique for me was to sink into my heels more as I popped up on the balls of my feet through that exercise.
Justin through the bounce exercise. Leslie Mintz Photo.
To finish off the day, we returned to the original jumps, the wooden plank to the oxer. Justin and I had successfully ridden this slight bending line on six strides so far, but now Stephen asked us all to slightly angle both fences, as to make a straight line between them, and get five strides.
First time I let us get a bit too forward and lost our spot…
Leslie Mintz Photo.
But the second go was successful and finally, of course at the end of the lesson, we were both feeling comfortable with this new “going forward to the jumps” attitude.
Leslie Mintz Photo.
Overall, Stephen was a pleasure to work with. He definitely was quick to diagnose the hurdles Justin and I need to overcome, and I think really helped us get going in the right direction. I was also very impressed with Justin. Fitness-wise he’s still not where I want him to be, but he definitely tried his hardest (disregarding the few bucks) and was very willing. Every day I get to ride Justin is a lucky day for me, but days like this when we learn so much are particularly special. Stephen is tentatively headed to Florida in February, so here’s to hoping I jump with him a few more times before then!
Justin and I also had a great hack/conditioning ride on Saturday with Kate! After the rain on Friday the footing was a little messy, but still overall good enough to get in some decent trot and canter work. We also practiced for our future foxhunting by following Kate and Winslow over coops and walls! Of course Kate’s dogs Modoc and Vicor came along for the ride acting as our “hounds.” Modoc is absolutely hilarious and can clear the biggest coops straight over!
Justin behind Winslow and Modoc (left).
We also ran into the Piedmont Fox Hounds which was interesting to say the least! We mostly heard them more than saw them, but even that was enough to send both boys into a tizzy spinning all around. Kate and I decided to go on while we were ahead so that we weren’t in the path of the oncoming first field! Channeling Justin’s enthusiasm forward was helpful and after quite a few minutes of trotting (and jigging) they finally were calm enough to walk again. In the future I definitely plan to take Justin foxhunting! I think he would be brilliant at it! But I want to slowly acclimate him to the idea – and we almost had to jump in head first on Saturday instead!
Kody got me a perfect present for Christmas – a Fitbit! I tinker with it all day, and have had fun figured out all the different features. One of my favorites is the GPS tracker. It lets me see exactly where and how far I go when I ride out. Justin put in a nice 7.19 miles on Saturday 🙂
Some are calling for snow this week… and the high on Wednesday is 28, so time to keep warm! xx