This semester I have ridden both Bacardi and Coovers. For the purpose of this paper I will assess my team work with Coovers since I have not had the opportunity to jump Bacardi, due to weather and health factors. Even though I have worked with Coovers in past semesters, we still have issues that need to be continually worked on. In class this semester we have been focusing on using an effective and correct position, coordinating our aids, maintaining consistent rhythm, tempo, and relaxation. In addition, we have been working on bending as well as straightness.
Finally, we have been using all of the skills mentioned above to work on creating a horse who uses his body better, has a result has a rounder outline or “frame”, and is on the aids. In our over fences portion of class we have been applying the principles we have been applying the same principles that we have been using on the flat. Very few horses have a jumping problem, in reality they have a canter/ flat problem like rushing, poor rhythm, inconsistent tempo, lack of straightness or suppleness, and others.
This problem then directly relates to how the horse jumps the fence since the jumping effort is built out of the canter stride. Some of our strengths as a team include rhythm, consistent tempo, and bending. As an individual I have become much better with my position, rein contact, and use of my aids. While some of these areas of my training still have holes/ could be improved they have become better during my time here at unh. However, some areas that need improvement include relaxation, connection, impulsion, consistency through a series of jumps, and adjustability (on the flat and over fences).
Relaxation is the second rung of the training pyramid and is defined as freedom from mental and physical tension which will allow the energy from the horses’ hindquarters to be guided forward over the horses back and towards the bit. In my partnership with Coovers we get stuck in a particular fixed outline where Coovers holds tension in his back and takes short choppy strides instead of truly pushing from the hindquarters and stretching through his topline and into the bridle. This issue makes other rungs of the pyramid difficult to achieve. Both Coovers and I contribute to this problem in a few ways.
Coovers can often be tight or “cold backed” so when the weight of the rider is added he tenses his back muscles which does not allow his hind end to fully come underneath him and propel him forward. The second habit which contributes to this problem is largely a training problem. As a school horse Coovers is not always asked to work over his topline and be “on the aids” over his years here and probably in his previous home, he has learned that it is easier to keep his back tight and just hold his head in a position that can often trick people into thinking it is correct.
I do contribute to the problem as well. For example, I am often tight in my seat and thigh, which encourages Coovers to remain tight in his back instead of relaxing and I need to work on using my driving aids to get Coovers to move forward and using my seat to tell him how to go. Overall, to fix this problem Coovers needs to relax in his back and I need to relax in my seat in order to help Coovers relax in his back. In addition, letting Coovers warm up on a long rein, using a light seat or posting can help keep weight off his back, and also letting him canter earlier in his workout can help him relax.
Finally, using my aids more effectively to ask him to move forward in a firm manner instead of continually asking him a passive manner which often does not get any response. Connection is yet another rung of the training pyramid. The issues Coovers and I have with connection are a direct result of our relaxation and impulsion issues. Without a flowing and relaxed, pushing power from the hind quarters it is difficult to create a good connection.
As mentioned above Coovers will often just hold his head and neck in a position which fools many riders into thinking he is correctly working over his back. Or he will curl his nose in towards his chest to avoid the riders contact. Yet again this is a training issue as well as a stiffness issue. Addressing my issues that mentioned for relaxation will also help with connection. Having him move forward off the rider’s leg will help prevent him from tucking his nose into his chest and as he relaxes and begins to move more freely this will allow him to push forward into the bridle.
It is still important to remember to half halt a horse like Coovers, riders often forget to do this since the horse is often falsely light in the bridle. However, being more following and elastic in my elbows will also help with this issue as well as not allowing to my reins to slip through my fingers as he does start to stretch into the contact. A steadier rein contact will give him a boundary and say “this is where I want you to be” while the driving aids help push the horse into that position.
Overall, I need to be more firm with my aids in “telling” Coovers where he needs to be, yet Coovers could be more willing to cooperate instead of just tucking his nose, ignoring the rider’s aids. Finally, relaxation exercises will also help. A higher, but still an important rung on the training pyramid is Impulsion. Since there are holes/ problems in the lower rungs on the training pyramid it can be expected that there will be problems here as well. Impulsion is often defined as developing the lifting and thrusting power of the haunches.
Since Coovers does not sit and push with his hindquarters, he has problems with his jumping style (jumps flat or takes off close to the base and does not have an arc shaped jumping effort) and it contributes to his connection problems. It also makes lateral movement more difficult and collections and lengthenings imposable. Coovers contributes to this problem by being naturally stiff in the back, not extremely reactive to the riders driving aids, and not having extremely well developed hindquarters.
I contribute to this problem by being stiff and restrictive in my seat, balance and coordination of my aids, and effectiveness of my aids. There are exercises to help this issue including, gymnastics, shoulders in and haunches in, spiral in and spiral out, and leg yielding. All of these exercises require the rider to use their aids correctly to perform the movement and the movement itself encourages the horse to load weight on to one or both of his hind legs and then push off of it.
This will help develop the muscle and also help establish what is expected of the horse when the rider uses their aids in a particular way. On the one jump day we had so far this semester Coovers and I had a lot of issues with consistency approaching the gymnastic and over the gymnastic. This inconsistency in the gait caused takeoffs to occur either too far away from the first fence or too close to the first fence which effected the takeoff distance for the next fence since they were so close together. In addition, these bad distances caused some bucking and leaping at the end of the grid.
This is a perfect example of how flat work effects work over fences. Coovers’s relaxation, connection, and impulsion issues all came into play for the cause of this problem. The lack of relaxation would cause Coovers to answer my driving aids by moving to canter instead of taking a longer stride, this created an irregular gate as we approached the fence. In addition, Coovers would toss his head up to avoid the bit, then proceed to trot in faster shorter trot steps and potentially move to quick canter steps.
While Coovers probably knew what he was supposed to do, I could have helped prevent the problem by working on these issues on the flat during warm up and adding in more circles, leg yields, and figure eights to help rebalance and establish consistency before approaching the series of fences. Also, since Coovers did answer my aids by moving forward to canter I need to improve on telling him how to move forward with my seat in order to keep him trotting yet encouraging him to take longer steps (longer higher post and still half halting with my abdominals). Finally, adjustability especially in-between fences is a common problem.
When jumping a line Coovers is often very consistent in stride length, but it is not necessarily the stride length the rider needs or wants. Coovers often takes shorter strides and is unwilling to take a longer stride and will sometimes give a little protest (bucking or kicking out) when the rider backs up her leg with the whip. This often encourages riders to back off and just let Coovers do what he wants. However, Coovers contributes to this problem by not only being a little lazy and stubborn, but also being stiff in the back lacking muscling in the hind quarters and abdominals.
I contribute to this problem by not using my aids in the most effective manner, allowing him to run on the forehand (he is then moving forward, but not in the way he needs to be), and being tight in my seat and thigh is also a huge contributing factor to the problem. To solve this problem, I need to make sure Coovers has a good warm up on the flat, making sure he is supple, relaxed, connected, and moving forward off my leg while I use my body to half halt and re balance.
In addition to all of the things listed in the paragraphs above a chiropractor or massage therapist appointment for Coovers may help with relaxation of the back. Also, warming up in a cooler with plenty of walk and longer outline when starting trot work will also help with the back stiffness. Adding in some canter work earlier in the warm up can also help with all the above problem areas because it has Coovers move more forward off of the rider’s aids and into the contact and often helps with relaxation of the back.
In addition, to help improve the relaxation of my seat I can do stretches and exercises like, out up in down, scissor kicks, and quad stretches to help my body be more relaxed and to help me mentally relax as well. Finally, posting and the two-point position will help get the rider’s weight up off of the horses back, allowing him to stretch out and move more freely which will also help solve the problems listed in the above paragraphs.