Gemma Jumps (and, uh, goes XC)

Hillary and I really wanted to take Gemma and Henry on a fun outing before my schedule went completely off the rails pre-move. The last available weekend for that was this past one, which was maybe sooner than I had planned, but… beggars can’t be choosers. We opted for the little XC place down the road since it’s only a 20 minute haul and they have lots of little tiny jumps on their mini XC course. Gemma had not jumped yet (I’ve only ridden her like 7 times? 8 times?) but I figured this could be a good little introduction. My plan was just to lunge her over some logs and ditches and up and down the bank and into the water, and I figured if she was good for all that then I’d get on afterward and hack her around the field.

Spoiler alert: expectations exceeded.

Henry tried to murder her in the trailer (I love him to the moon and back but I swear to god he is such a freaking butthole sometimes) but other than that it was an uneventful trip. Poor Gemma spent the ride over cowering in the back corner as far away from him as she could get. My horses have chestnut mare vs bay gelding stereotype role reversals.

Gemma definitely had some ants in her pants while I was tacking up – she’s been to that facility once before when Henry was doing jumper classes and I just held her next to the ring. It’s a loud and busy place though, at the top of a hill (therefore windy AF and you can see a long way in any direction) with a highway bordering the XC and lots of traffic noise. She wasn’t being naughty or anything, just wide eyed with her head on a swivel. I put her to work on the lunge line, trotting for a few minutes until her eyeballs settled back into her head, and then asking her for lots of transitions to get her focused on me. Once she was listening we went over to some little logs and I asked her to trot over those on the lunge. Which she did. Quite literally. Just… trotted over. As if they were poles. So we walked a little further and found a few slightly bigger things… same reaction. So then I asked her to to canter a couple, which was harder on the lunge line. She still didn’t care. Ok well, this game now seemed stupid. Screw it, I said, I’m getting on.

I walked her up and down the smallest bank first, then trotted a few little logs and boxes. She was too busy looking around at everything else to even notice the jump until the last second, so she had that kind of approach where she did a hardcore wiggle right at the base. I didn’t have a neckstrap (yes hi, was not planning on really riding) so Hillary had to give me one of her stirrup leathers. Once I had that it was a lot easier to just keep my hands hooked on either side of the neck strap to keep the “tunnel” and put my leg on to keep her straight without worrying so much about keeping my hands out of her way or trying to grab mane. My spare neck strap will be living permanently in my trailer from now on so that Hillary doesn’t have to ride around with one stirrup again.

leading the way through the water, because she don’t need no babysitter

Gemma didn’t quite understand the game yet, since, ya know…. she’d never jumped before, but she was 0% worried about it and never cared about any of the jumps. The only issue she had was that sometimes when we were trotting things her hind feet didn’t quite remember their job, especially if she was too busy looking at something else. I was like well let’s see what happens if I canter stuff. It seemed to me like she might find that it made a little more sense or was easier at the canter (a lot of them do in the beginning since a jump is really just a big canter step, vs when they trot something and have to be more coordinated about all 4 feet). I mean, have I only cantered her like twice before? Yes. But it’s fine. Off we go.

Once she cantered a few jumps it definitely started to click for her more, how she was supposed to use her body. Then the things we trotted were a lot better too. I was also pretty impressed with her ability to also handle the slope and terrain – nothing about that place is flat really, and you’re constantly dodging bushes, so it’s not the easiest scenario for a wiggly greenie. She was very honest though, and even if she got wiggly at the base, as soon as I re-directed and closed my leg she was like “oh ok”. Pretty sure she was convinced I was just an idiot that clearly couldn’t steer around all these things, but she humored me and jumped them, even stringing a few together.

Then we headed back up toward the ditches, banks, and water. I had Henry lead the way over the ditches the first time, which was… ridiculous. Henry paused and took a hard peek down into them before he hopped over, and Gemma didn’t even notice there was a hole in the ground, she walked over like it was groundpoles. Or if she realized it she just didn’t care. Then we trotted over them by ourselves and again, same thing.

the baby ditch did not even register

Then we went over to the water, which is narrow and dark here – most horses tend to be a bit spooky about it. We had Henry lead the way across it the first time because I thought she might need a lead. Lol. Clearly I do nothing but constantly underestimate Gemma, because she barely even hesitated before marching right in. When we turned back around to walk through it the other way Gemma was having none of the whole “following” business and surged to get ahead of Henry and lead the way herself. Ok then mare.

I trotted her across the water each direction by herself, and again she gave a last second wiggle and peek but she went. Then we went back to the baby bank and trotted up and down it a couple times. Zero hesitation, she plopped right down like a little champ. Up was a little more awkward because ya know… hind feet are hard, but she did it.

To cap it off I cantered one more slightly bigger box, then called it done with that. She’d done more than enough and… um…vastly exceeded the expectation for the day. Nothing like your first time jumping and your first XC school ending up being the same outing.

It was very helpful for me though, to see what she needs to work on most and how I think I should approach the jumping stuff with her. She’s different than I expected her to be, but in a good way. Less reactive and way more bold. I liked that even when she wasn’t sure what I wanted, she never said no, and even if she looked at something, she still went forward. She’s also got a pretty good jump on her I think, and her balance is super. All traits that I can definitely work with. You sometimes just never really know how they’re going to feel about XC until you take them and go do it, but she wasn’t intimidated by it at all… she ate it up. I think she liked cantering around the open fields especially.

We might just have ourselves an event horse!

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