Introduction to Cross Country

My horse Z has been jumping for years. He’s got a wonderful flatwork foundation that makes him very rideable and confident. But Z is a true skeptic about everything.  He’s open to reason, but he begins with being skeptical of the latest human plans for him.  Probably a good way for a horse to survive in this world.

I chose Loch Moy Farm for our first cross country outing for several reasons.  I know of no other venue better for introducing new horses to cross country jumps.  Loch Moy Farm is a first class facility. They have each question (jump type) beginning with almost miniature size and offer the same jump all the way up through advanced.  Once a greenie is introduced to the shape and structure of the jump, he can figure out where to look at it to make the jump. After that the height doesn’t matter as much until you reach that particular horse’s limit.  Loch Moy also has so many jumps to choose from which allows you to introduce your baby to the logs, while exposing them to almost every shape and size of jump imaginable.  It’s an easy transition to all that cross country jumping has to offer.

The walk up the hill takes nearly two minutes.

My goal is that each experience I plan for a horse end with success. To end with success, we have to do our best to begin successfully. This means considering how the horse will be the moment I get on.  If I think he will be nervous or excited, what can I do to help him work through that energy in a positive way?  In Z’s case, I knew he would be “up” since this was a completely new experience. The other horse with us had been xc schooling before but he was “up,” too.   Loch Moy has a unique design that is ideal for addressing unwanted energy.  The schooling course is high on a hill.  You can park on the schooling course or at the bottom of the hill. We parked at the bottom because the long walk up the hill is invaluable for burning off some of a horse’s nervous energy.  In the video, you can hear Z’s breathing. He’s fit, but he’s working to get up that hill.  This is an example of what I mean about considering how the horse will be when I get on. I could have saved time by parking on the schooling course, but that would not have set him up for success. The walk up the hill allowed him to begin to settle into our training session before I asked him to do anything challenging.       

Once on the schooling course, we continued to emphasize relaxation. We took a lot of time walking the course to show the horses where they would work on this day. We then did a pass around the perimeter at the trot and finally at a slow, relaxing gallop.  This gave them time to relax and find comfort. Achieving relaxation must be the goal before beginning jump schooling. To begin jumping when the horse has anxiety or is excited means coupling that emotion with the activity. That is never a positive experience for the horse. Waiting until the horse can relax, no matter how long this takes, ensures the horse learns to jump while relaxed. If I can’t get the horse to relax, I don’t jump. If all he does is stand around or walk around on the course that day, I’m okay with it because I’m training for the future. My training decisions are guided by what’s best for the horse, not what I want to do. A positive experience is paramount and something I can build on. This can be time consuming and even frustrating initially, but it’s worth the investment. The next time we come the horse will be more settled because nothing bad or exciting happened the last time. Eventually, in each horse’s own time, we will arrive at a place in his training where he can perform while relaxing and enjoying his work.

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