As I mentioned in my post about schooling cross country, I’ve been wanting to do a clinic and get some professional help with cross country. The barn that hosts the schooling shows also has monthly Brian Sabo clinics so I signed up for a private cross country lesson on Sunday. I would have liked to get there early and watch more of the other lessons, but my husband wanted to do a conditioning ride with Eugene, so we didn’t end up getting there until 2:00. We ate our lunches while watching a jumping lesson.
At 3:00 I hopped on and we started in the arena to warm up. Apparently Brian used to ride and train mules in the past so he was familiar with them and seemed to like Nilla. I gave him a little speech about our past and why were there. My main goal was to get some instruction on how to approach cross country jumps so I don’t feel quite so panicked.
With the canter he talked to me about lightening my seat when asking for downward transitions. I apparently sit deep into the saddle and drive her forward while asking her to stop. He asked me to sit up a bit and open my hips. As soon as I did that, she really did slow much more easily. Then we started with a little cross-rail and he quickly got on my case for jumping over her neck and hurling my hands forward. I need to sit back and let her jump it. Which would be a refrain for the entire day (and really this is not the first time I’ve heard this).
We started with a little log to the tube we did last time. The log went great. The tube, not so much. As we were approaching the tube, she starting slowing down. I pushed my leg on and drove her forward and she basically stopped and then popped over it. I really felt like I got left behind, but Brian tried to convince me that that’s the position he actually wants. Sit back, wait for the jump and then go with it. He even described the muscles in my stomach and lower back working to keep me going with her. Which I felt like were emergency muscles trying to keep me from falling, but are apparently just my muscles actually working to keep me centered instead of me flinging myself forward in advance of the jump
I wasn’t sure why Nilla had been so hesitant to the fence. We jumped it last time without an issue and she was loving the log jump so she wasn’t disinterested in jumping. As we approached the second time, I quickly learned why. It was a lizard. Unlike last time when all the lizards fled at our approach, this lizard wasn’t giving up his spot. And Nilla wasn’t going anywhere near the damned thing. And she was serious about that.
I actually sat back so well and had good enough position over this jump that I didn’t have to do it again! Phew.
From there we went over a hanging log. Nilla was not a fan of this jump and really that was all my fault. No lizards to blame this time.
This shot doesn’t look terrible, but I got left behind so the next time I chucked my hands and upper body at her and she actually knocked the jump over. It was actually pretty funny. She knocked it down and Brian called me over to talk. He asked if I knew what I did wrong and hinted it was something I thought was helping. I mimicked throwing my hands up her neck and he was like “exactly!” My husband actually walked over and showed me this picture on the camera viewfinder and I cringed.
As Brian said, if you want a horse to throw its front legs into a jump, this is exactly how you’d ask. Eek. So we discussed keeping my hands down and sitting back. I came back around and this was the result:
After we walked that twice, he told me to trot down the large bank and then out the small one. And I was like, we’ve only walked the tiny down bank and now you want me to trot down the big bank?
I’m from the old school world of you do whatever the trainer tells you to do. Even if you’re terrified.
So we did it. And Nilla took a leap off that bank. And then she tripped and nearly fell on her face. And as we were falling, my thought was, well this just confirms everything I’ve ever though about down banks. Thankfully, I was able to stay upright through the trip by slipping the reins, pull her head up a bit, and point her at the out bank all within one stride.
Sorry about the pictures. Their not actually cropped badly; that’s all I had to work with. My husband wasn’t really prepared for us nearly falling on our faces and didn’t have the camera aimed that low.
Brian commended my riding through that and said he had not anticipated her leaping off the bank like that. So he had us come around to the smaller bank line at the trot. We managed that much better.
After the banks, we moved on to a little green coop. Nilla hopped over this really nicely.
And she got lots of pats for being such a good jumping mule. Plus, her canter is really getting so much better. It’s photographable now.
This was the first time her tongue really came out that day and Brian thought it was really cute. He commented on how she’s not really doing it as a resistance thing, it’s more that she plays with her tongue. I commented on how I’ve lost points in dressage for it as lack of submission and he said I shouldn’t have. She’s not fighting the bit with her tongue. She’s playing. But I suppose it’s hard for a judge to tell that.
From there, we went over to a ditch. Brian gave me a great description of why horses don’t like ditches and how to ride them. Then he had me walk over it the first time and Nilla just hopped over like no big deal. Because we’ve got…
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So he had us come around and trot it. Mule doesn’t care. Lizards are terrifying, but ditches are irrelevant.
To finish out the lesson, he told us to do the ditch and then canter around to the log and tube line from earlier in the day.
Barely worth picking her feet up for.
Canter around like the field like a grown up eventing mule?