As training went, March was pretty good.
I got some stuff cleaned up around the arena that has been bugging me for a while. There is still a massive amount more to do, but almost all of the broken jump stands are now either repaired or removed, all of the broken poles have had the jagged parts cut off so they can be used as ground lines, or likewise trashed.
The top bars on the jumps have been raised another hole, so that we are now jumping over obstacles about mid-thigh (75cm ~ 30in) as a matter of course. A challenge, i.e. the limit of my comfort zone, is now 90cm (3 ft). Lunging from the ground I have him going even higher, of course, so Oakley knows he can jump even higher than that. As I wrote before, I prefer to improve a little bit at a time, even if it is at a glacial pace. When I compare us to 2 summers back, when an x-rail barely above the ground was cause for refusal, or way, way back when he would not even go over a trot pole without a fight it is hard to see him as the same horse. I wish I had video from those days, just so I could compare.
Which brings me to the exciting, well, exciting if you are a techno-geek like me, that is, bit of change. The Soloshot 3 camera I bought... 2 years ago?!... finally arrived last October, after about a year and a half of delays, right at the end of last season, just as the bad weather arrived, and I barely had a couple of days to try and use it because the camera -- which is still being developed and extended as I write this -- only works outside. At first it was very sensitive to buildings and electromagnetic fields and there were about 2 places that I could put it that worked. Since the latest upgrades, it is far better at setting up. The next issue is that it is designed to work with a 'smartphone' (and presumably a package with unlimited data!) to record or upload live video to a remote site. I, however, have a laptop, so I must record my video onto a micro-SD memory card. There is no way to connect the camera to a laptop to move data directly. Presumably this is to come. Meanwhile, the memory card must be manually removed before I can transfer the video to my laptop. At first, I thought I had to use another camera that would connect to my laptop to transfer the video. Finally, last week I discovered another website that let me know that there is a not-obvious SD-slot in my laptop, which I found when I turned it upside down. The micro-SD card comes with an SD adapter sleeve, so, hah! I can now easily transfer video. No tweezers required. Then, I managed to get the latest updates for the camera installed and the weather was good, so I got to test it; they are a vast improvement in performance. The zoom feature is very satisfactory, since it kept me in a close frame from all the way across the field. Eventually, I'll take it to where I can really test its range. There are a few settings I want to work on. Of course the first thing I did when reviewing is note all the parts of my riding that need improvement. Like the reins. I need to shorten my reins. The second thing I noted was how beautifully Oakley moves and how quiet my legs have become, even at the trot.
That is because the training I've been doing has now settled -- if anything ever settles -- into, if not exactly a routine, at least a division of an hour into four regular parts. I now spend the first 20 minutes, at least, riding without stirrups. Thanks to that, my legs have become very strong and my seat very stable. During this first part, we focus on warming up, bending and stretching, transitions, and pacing within a gait. So Oakley now, with the lightest pressure on the legs or the subtlest signal from my hands, will increase or decrease his pace, for a longer or shorter walk, trot, or canter. He changes gait quickly and easily. He moves from walk to trot, trot to canter, and even walk to canter quite promptly and smoothly. His downward transitions are equally smooth and prompt, except from trot to walk: he does tend to die of lack of energy, rather than slow down, but we'll keep working at that. We practice getting perfectly round circles, especially important if there is something he wants to avoid, or if there is somewhere he'd rather be going towards. Then we do a bit of leg-yielding, a bit of shoulder-in before taking a short break. Neither of us is sweating yet.
At this point, I dismount and we do some desensitizing exercises. I flap a plastic tarp around, or make loud cracking noises, or use my plastic bag on a string, wave my jacket around, or a scarf... there is lots of stuff to work with. One of my favorites (when there is no one watching me) is the 'run up and rub' exercise, where I run towards him waving my arms around and trying to sound like an excited pre-teen girl. He stands still, gets a pet and a hug and a treat. I've been reviewing that one for years for a very good reason. Guess what my young niece did the first time she came to the barn? Yep. That's why I do that one a lot. Most people have never spent any time around horses and I never want to find out what the limits of my insurance coverage is.
The next 20 minutes or so, I take up the stirrups, and we work on a specific lesson, usually lateral work, sometimes exercises involving some preparatory groundwork, a lot more obedience and softening exercises. When he's nice and quiet and relaxed, we'll finish with a jump or two, then rest, while I get off and do some more desensitizing. Now we are both breathing hard.
Finally, we go around the jump course a few times. The one I usually use I got from J.H. up the road; she calls it here 'infinity' course. Between B and E, set two jumps side by side at right angles to each other, like one corner of a square with X in the centre. Ride over one jump going from M to K then from F over the other to H, and around again in an infinity symbol. Reverse the pattern. It is easy to think of different sequences to go over these jumps.
Now, there are two options.
First, one can close off the other two sides of the square and have two double-jumps to ride over back and forth in a simple infinity pattern.
Second, one can add two more jumps along the line from B to E, so that they form lateral wings across the arena. These can be used to jump an oval pattern up and down the arena. They also combine with the two in the middle to form a vast set of possible serpentine sequences that require lead changes and turns. About five minutes jumping back and forth over the four of these and we're both sweating and breathing hard.
We finish up with a walk to cool down and then a leisurely stroll through the field back to the barn.