How do you find balance between preparation and relaxation in your training program? Eli willingly works almost every ride. I can easily fall into a trap of drilling an exercise because he’ll probably just keep doing it. But then I jeopardize his positive attitude toward work–I don’t want him bored, and I don’t want him sore or tired or weak. This means in the summer, I ride 4 to 5 days a week, and 1 or 2 of those days, we will jump. But last week was a little different, because I jumped Eli 3 days in a row.
For a showing horse, this is actually not uncommon. At a rated show, the horse might jump 1 or 2 courses a day for 3 or 4 days in a row, possibly more (although I probably would not do more than that myself or with one of my horses). However, Eli is an ex-racehorse and 13. Still in his prime, yes, but I am sensitive to his maintenance needs. Coupled with his skill level at this point, jumping more than once or twice a week isn’t necessary. But last week I wanted to work on an exercise that looks deceptively simple, but for a horse like Eli, with an easy long stride it would be asking a tough question for him in a small amount of space. Instead of trying to build Rome in a day, I wanted to work on the exercise piecemeal and get to a point for our lesson on Saturday that we could do the exercise with my trainer’s guidance and really get something out of it. Also, I think I’d like to have one more date with this exercise this week, to see what Eli has retained.
The exercise is a line, vertical to oxer, set at 3 strides (approximately 48′), but trot the first fence and canter out in 4 collected strides. In lines of 5 or 6 strides, trotting in and cantering out and adding a stride is pretty easy. In a smaller amount of space, there is less room to adjust. Eli would have to stay collected, but still coming from behind with enough power to get across an oxer.
On Thursday, I went over about 6-8 trot jumps, and took the exercise twice. Friday, I did the same thing. So, 20-24 jumping efforts across 2 days I really don’t think is asking too much before a more intensive lesson through the exercise. If we had difficulty with it prior to our lesson, I would have reconsidered what we were to work on for the lesson. We might have done poles instead of jumps, or something like that. Fortunately, Eli handled the exercise well, although not without some mistakes on my part and some minor resistance from Eli about wanting to canter a little bigger–I think he knew trotting in that the line was a 3 and that he could probably move up big and get out in 3 even trotting in. But that would defeat the purpose of the exercise.
So for our lesson on Saturday, we started immediately with the exercise, with both jumps pretty low. At a lower height, there is more room for error, but Eli listened and we got through just fine, so I didn’t have to worry about correcting anything right away. Homework pays off.
The 3 things we consistently struggled with were a right drift, Eli not quite listening to my half halts and then ignoring me closing my fingers, and me not taking enough of a feel at the first fence, and getting him together and moving from behind before we got there. My trainer emphasized that setting him up for success would happen with the trot fence. We continued to work on that and eventually got very nice results.
Eli could get very deep to the oxer and rock back and jump up and over it, as opposed to his favorite thing, just cantering across from a less cozy distance. The preparation leading up to our lesson set us up for some really good learning experiences, and both of our brains were functioning at 100%, focused on what we were trying to accomplish. His jumping felt great, and he got Sunday off.
Well, not completely …
I thought a walk around the property might be good for his joints so I got on him bareback. I wish I had put the Ogilvy on him first. I had every muscle of my thighs flexed the entire time to stay off his spine. He enjoyed the walk and we skipped walking all the way to the road, because I didn’t think I would appreciate a spook, even if just a small one. After this he got a bath and he got his usual apples and cookies and I rubbed a little extra liniment on his legs again.
Like I said, I want 1 more crack at this particular exercise and will probably do it again on Thursday –I think we can improve the half-halting especially, so that Eli stays collected but still able to power off his hind end and maybe get to an even better distance–not quite so deep but a little more room to get his knees up. After that, I’m not sure we would have to revisit this particular exercise again, but we’ll see.
So how do you balance training and working and all that with letting your horse have time off? How do you know when you’ve done enough and avoid doing too much or not enough?