DAY 57. Only seven miles from Nayborly Farms you’ll discover Northwest Equestrian Center (NWEC), a fabulous three-day eventing facility. NWEC offers excellent schooling options for an inexperienced cross-country horse like Solar. The main agenda for this ride was to introduce Solar to a water jump for the first time. And of course to have a good time doing it! You can see our ride in pictures, here and three videos from the session featured below.
We started with a few minutes of trot and canter (me in two-point position) both directions. Solar was obedient and calm. He was unfazed by the nearby bicyclists or the fact that he was the only horse around. He really feels like a seasoned horse in new environments–this is a testament to his racetrack training, the work his owners did with him, and to the relationship he and I have developed.
A Little Jumping
After warming up we moved on to jump a small crossrail and then lines of beginner novice-sized logs (2’6″; this is the lowest size offered in recognized eventing competition). The video above shows you his first jump and all thereafter.
Solar’s getting more organized when jumping. He looks up at the jumps, stays straight, and moves forward to the base. When he gets to a jump on the wrong stride, he’s clever about lifting up his feet to clear it. He also navigates past the other obstacles on course with confidence–a notable difference from his first rides. As the video shows, we even dominated a sequence of novice-sized fences.
After the jumps shown above, we completed one more circuit over several jumps in another field. Solar continued to move forward nicely to the jumps, but his style got somewhat flatter as we progressed. He was getting too close to the jumps before takeoff, making it difficult for him to produce a bascule over the fences. This slight negative change in style was likely due to the challenge of staying focused and “sharp” between series of jumps in an expansive environment–he seemed to get almost too comfortable with the jumps, and therefore a little casual. I will address this back at home by focusing on grid exercises for jumping practice from now on. Jumping grids will help Solar stay sharp, improve his form, and increase his strength (same for me, the rider!). For today, we decided to move on to the water jump, which was the main goal for the training session.
The Water Jump
Many years ago my “horsemom” Cheryl (owner of Nayborly Farms) first taught me to ride through water jumps by WALKING my sometimes-naughty pony before entering the water. As much as my childhood self wanted to gallop and splash right through, Cheryl knew that I needed to approach the water jump with a plan and with some level of control, otherwise my pony might take matters into his own hands. She had me walk or slowly trot into water jumps during practice and also during my first shows. “You will slow down here,” she’d say, pointing to a spot a number of strides before the water jump. And when we saw people fall off in the water jump, she’d tell me it could have been avoided if they had had control in the first place. This taught me to stay calm and controlled through water jumps, and also dry! Most importantly, what Cheryl was teaching me was to ride. every. step.
With Cheryl’s wisdom in mind, I always walk inexperienced horses into the water jump the first several times, even during competitions. This gives the horse time to assess the situation and for me to avoid any backwards steps that would result in penalties. During eventing competition the horse can pause or move sideways before entering the water, but they cannot go backwards or spin all the way around. My game plan is to ride. every. step.
Also, the water jump is a nice spot on course to check your communication with a young horse (Can we have a nice downward transition? Can we stay straight?). I’ve seen horses and riders get into a pattern of communication breakdown at the water jump. Horses then develop phobias of the water because they perceive it as a high stress/confusing situation. Remember, going through the water jump is no different than your horse walking through a natural water crossing or puddle. Show them how to be calm and controlled in the water.
Even in walk, Solar startled at first approach to the water and darted to the right (you’ll see in the opening clip of the video). I quickly pulled his nose back to face the water and kicked him on. Once he looked at the water with both eyes, he walked right in, just like he does in the creek or river at Nayborly Farms… “Oh yeah, I’ve done this before.”
We then practiced walking, trotting, and cantering through the water in both directions. From there, we tried the step up and step down banks, starting through the walk. These banks are no different from jumping in or out of a horse trailer, there just happens to be a puddle on one side. My philosophy for starting horses on banks is to let the horse look, let them take their time, let it be a positive experience. Taking it slowly at first–allowing your horse to understand the task at hand–truly does allow you to progress more quickly thereafter. It’s easier to take your time to train a new skill right the first time than to retrain something that has become a problem.
Solar felt great in the water. I’m confident that he and his next owner will be able to navigate water crossings and water jumps with ease.
NWEC has excellent ditch jumps for an inexperienced horse. These fences have no height, so the horse doesn’t have to have a lot of scope and strength to clear them. These were good questions to end our ride with. Solar and I practiced ditches once previously at Rainbow Meadow Farm, and I also was curious to see if those lessons stuck. They did!
Solar did not try to stop or avoid the ditches. He even successfully cleared the Novice-sized ditch. You’ll notice that I kept a steady rein contact approaching the ditches so that Solar couldn’t drop his head too low and hesitate. I also brought him back to a walk for our first attempt before building up to a trot, just like we did at the water jump. I especially liked how Solar cantered calmly away after the jumps. If there had been jumps placed after the ditches he would have been prepared to clear them in stride.
I advocate for introducing young horse to ditches and water crossings early in their career so that navigating these natural obstacles becomes a part of their normal repertoire. Even yearlings or two-year-olds you can lead through water or over small ditches safely. If you have the means to turn your horse out in a field that presents these natural obstacles, even better! Let your horse learn to navigate diverse terrain like his ancestors did–it’s good for them mentally and physically, no matter what future career you have in mind for them.
Questions or thoughts? Please feel free to leave comments below.