Well it may be obvious from the title of this week's lesson, but Louie and I had a blast in our first jumping lesson tonight!
We rode in the outdoor again and he started out a little tense and "looky" in one corner, but Julie had me shorten my reins, plant them on his neck (so I wasn't pulling on his mouth) and push him up into it. We knew when he was ready to relax and stretch some when he started to get a little heavier in the bridle, and was actually letting me push him up into it. After some warm-up of trotting some 3-loop serpentines, we worked on a few quick drills to get him nicely between the aids.
We did a little bit of leg yielding at the trot, some nose-to-the-wall leg yielding and shoulder in, then did a little bit of 10-meter circle work. We worked on our sitting trot on the 10-meter circle (which was much better because I worked on our sitting trot a lot over the past week), then worked on a few canter transitions, and cantering on the small circle. Much to my surprise, Louie did awesome with this, and had several very nice, balanced canter departs, which usually deteriorated into a faster, less coordinated canter, but he still kept in the canter, and on the small circle (which was a huge improvement from 2 weeks ago when he was in the habit of quitting after 2 or 3 strides). We had a little trouble getting our canter-trot transitions to be any good, but Julie thinks that's because he was doing such a difficult canter that it was too unbalanced to get a decent transition. I still need to work on my "wiggly back" in the canter, riding it aggressively enough to keep him going, but not pushing him too much with my seat. We did several sitting trot-canter-trot-walk transitions on the 10-meter circle going each direction, then started in on the cavaletti.
We first trotted a long line of about 8 cavaletti in their lowest position- something we have done lots before, so this was no big challenge. While doing this, we made a few position changes that are different than our dressage equitation. For this, I got to lean forward (haha, I think I should probably just be a hunter rider with how much I like to lean forward), put my heels down, and we shortened my stirrups just one notch (I rode in my all purpose again). Julie wanted me to keep my feet a little bit more forward, and post basically with my hips rising and falling only, but my head and chest staying level. Julie explained that she typically teaches more of an eventing-type equitation because it's safer and more practical than equitation sought in the hunter ring. Sounds like a plan- I'm all for safe!
After a few trips through the cavaletti, Julie rolled the last cavaletti in the line out and up to it's highest position (so there was about 6 feet between the last low cavaletti and the high one). She wanted me to post the cavaletti, then think "sit, sit" when I got to the end of the line, then just follow him over the last one. The first time through, Louie didn't really leap the last one, just kind of trot-cantered over it. Julie wanted it to be more like a canter stride over the cavaletti, but didn't want me to cue him to canter, just help him to "think canter" when we got to the jump. So to help him get into the feeling of "canter" over the jump, she rolled out another one out at it's highest position so that we went through the line of cavaletti, then had the 6 feet of nothing, then a high one, 6 more feet, and another high cavaletti, which created a bounce stride on those last two high cavaletti.
When I saw this bounce gymnastic configuration she had set up, I thought, "oh my, Louie can't handle that! That's way too advanced for the likes of him!" but much to my surprise, we went through, trot, trot, trot, jump, jump! Woohoo! And I think Julie liked the canter steps/jumping that she got with that configuration so she added one more bounce to the drill, so we had 3 high cavaletti to go over, one right after the next with no stride between. Louie did great with this, he didn't get flustered, he didn't refuse or try to run out too much, he just sailed right on through it. I think I remember at one point, Julie saying that she wanted them to kind of muddle through it and struggle, as I'm sure that builds their skill and depth perception, stride judgement, and take-off, etc. She also had to keep reminding me to pull my feet forward a little bit, as they have been wanting to sneak back to where I balance them for my flat work.
We did the 3-cavaletti bounce a few more times and Louie got better and better each time through. Julie thought we did a nice job, and didn't notice Louie being an ugly jumper (though admitted she was watching me much more than him- which I can't fault her for), but I'll take that as a good thing if my horse can do at least a good enough job to not overtly embarrass himself! Here I have been worried that Louie will not have any skill at jumping, but he could prove me wrong yet. I could feel him kind of reaching for the last jump on the 3 cavaletti bounces, so I think if we had had 4 in a row, things might have gotten ugly, but as it was, he did great, and this is a fantastic start to building up our jumping ability, not to mention muscle in the hind end and back, flexibility and good brain food. What fun!