Who Really Makes the Rules?
Abigail hates trot poles.
Yesterday we had trot poles into a vertical. This was an attempt to help interrupt the rushing habit she so firmly believes must be used to approach every fence. My attempt did not work. In fact, it made things worse. After a pretty good warmup, we headed through the trot poles toward a small fence. I trotted through the poles. Abs did not. She hopped, walked, then launched herself at the teeny-weeny vertical. I did my best to follow it with an “oh!” and a slip of the reins. It was pretty damn awkward. I laughed and scrambled to make it around the corner.
It might be worth the time to note that our jumping arena is only eighteen meters wide. That’s not even as wide as a dressage square. That’s pretty tight by any standards. It’s even tighter when you set your jumps on the quarter line and have no real ability to half-halt because your horse has suddenly put her head between her knees and become a dolphin.
Which is where I was after the jump. Careening around the turn on a mare who was making her opinion of the exercise very clear. My brilliant, expert horse-trainer response? Make the jump bigger! Obviously if the exercise isn’t working at two feet you should make it three. Everyone knows that. And whatever you do, don’t change the distance from the poles. That would make it too easy.
Instead of questioning my judgement and going back to flatwork, or even just back to plain trot poles, we headed to the bigger fence. It’ll definitely set her back. And somewhat to my surprise, it worked! Granted, I was riding half-halts like my life depended on it which sort of forced her to trot. It was a pretty nice effort, too. Solid round jump, straight away and a balanced, deep corner. Win!
What’s next? Definitely not a pat and a cool down. Don’t even think that the mare just had a week off. I hacked her Sunday, she’s been in work. Whatever. Make it bigger! Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it) I had a clueless new student setting fences for me, so when I told her to raise it she assumed I knew what I was doing.
Okay, three-six. She definitely won’t mess this up. Just half-halt, it worked before. Circle for the approach, trot though the poles…wait, what was that? Oh, FENCE! Shit, here’s the turn and where’s Abby’s head? Between her knees. Fantastic.
I walked and thought that through a bit. Asked my ground person. What did she actually do before the fence? Oh, she cantered the trot poles. Of course. Who trots trot poles? Not my mare, she makes her own rules. What do I, the ever-responsible trainer, do? Let’s just make them canter poles. It’s easier. But hell if she’s winning, keep them short.
The exercise has become canter poles to a three-six vertical. That means we have to pick up canter,nicely, before turning toward it. The easy option is to run her into it, but I’ve just set deadly short poles. I have to get a good transition. After a couple attempts, we get it. Turn to the exercise (nearly blow the turn through the outside, remember the left leg/rein at the last second), canter through the poles, jump beautifully, canter away nicely. Great, do it again. Better turn and it went well again! Now she’s earned a pat.
Never mind that we blew the whole exercise, that felt great!
Question: who won?