Pink John Deere Hat = Authority

It's true, trust me!

Driving in the dogmobile... this hat means BUSINESS.

My friend Jillian, accomplished writer of romance novels and YA fantasy (check out her work here!), former roommate, and barn manager extraordinaire recently called in a favor.

Jillian is starting her draft cross (Belgian/Halflinger to be exact) mare, Poppy, over fences and asked if I would give her, as well as her friend Frieda and her horse Merlin, a jumping lesson to make sure everyone's on the right track.

Of course I said yes, because a.) Jillian is a FABULOUS individual, and b.) I LOVE teaching. Teaching lessons is also an excuse to wear my Pink John Deere Hat of Authority.  It makes me feel like I'm in charge. And it's cute.

In any case, Poppy is large, in charge, and doesn't have a great idea of where all of her body parts are supposed to go. She's also got a massive front end, relatively small hindquarters, and short legs, making it tough for her to balance back and reach under herself with her hind end. But luckily for us she has an incredible mind and is one of the most sensible horses I've ever had the pleasure of working with.

Warming up on the flat I asked Jillian to focus more on letting Poppy stretch her neck out and down, and balance back as much as she can on her hind legs to allow her back to come up, not worrying about where her head is. I introduced a little bit of shoulder-fore just to get Poppy thinking about moving her ribcage sideways and stepping under with her inside hind. With this horse, I want to strengthen her hind end as much as possible since that is her conformational weak point, and the stronger she is in her hindquarters the easier everything will be for her.

Once everyone was warmed up I had everybody go through some trot poles, and then ride the trot poles to a small crossrail. The poles served two purposes: for Poppy, to allow Jillian to just stay out of the way and let her mare figure out where to put her feet, and for Merlin, to rate him and give him a steady pace since he tends to rush fences. Both horses aced the exercise, so we upped the ante a bit and built a crossrail bounce at the end of the trot poles. Poppy, despite somehow fitting a whole extra stride in the bounce, ROCKED it and kept a forward, steady, consistent rhythm while Jillian stayed beautifully quiet and let her figure everything out. Merlin was also spot-on every time, not a quick step to be seen! I then rolled the poles out to canter-length and had both horses come through again. This was a little trickier for Poppy, but after a few tries she did the exercise flawlessly. We ended with both horses cantering a small single fence, and since the pole work had showed them both how to maintain an even pace and pick a good distance, everyone jumped perfectly. I was really pleased with how everyone did!

Jillian's ultimate goal with Poppy is to compete her in a starter-level horse trial, something I think is totally doable for this pair. But that means Jillian gets HOMEWORK:

-Be more demanding during each ride. "Go" means "Go"!
-Start introducing some baby lateral work at the walk to increase strength and fitness
-Keep jumping sessions positive by encouraging Poppy to go forward in a steady rhythm, and just stay out of her way
-Ride hills when possible to help build up Poppy's hind end

Overall I thought that Jillian has been doing a fantastic job with her mare, and will have no problem getting her to the point where they can successfully event together!


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