It might seem as if training a horse to jump is about teaching them to takeoff in the right place, at the right speed, and to go higher and higher. Those might be the details and the visible results, but training is actually about asking questions of your horse and having a dialog as you listen to the answers. Over time what you do becomes more challenging, but underlying each ride are always these questions:
Do you understand what I’m asking?
Can you physically do it?
Are you into this game?
Are you ready to take it to the next level?
Over the last year, this is the conversation that I’ve been having with Tonka.
I ask: Can you canter over a pole?
Tonka answers: Yes, and not only that, I can jump it.
I ask: Can you canter over one pole, and then another five strides away?
At first Tonka answers: I don’t know where to put my hooves. I might have to trot. But then one day he answers the question with: Of course!
I ask: What about just one stride between them?
Tonka answers: Let me figure that out. And then in a few attempts: Nailed it!
Sometimes I ask a question and Tonka responds in a way that tells me that I need to rethink what I’m asking. Here I’ve asked for a canter transition and Tonka does a hop-buck instead. I go back to the basic questions. Are you comfortable? Can I ask for the canter in a different way? This conversation led to a medical intervention and a change in how I do transitions (more forward!) Tonka is now totally amenable about canter transitions.
As we continue to learn to jump I ask: What about a bounce over poles?
Tonka answers: That takes some coordination!
He tries and I say: You’ve got it. Ready for a challenge?
Tonka answers: Yep!
I say: Try this 3-pole bounce.
Tonka says: Fun!
Sometimes it’s my trainer that asks the questions. Of both of Tonka and me.
Steph says: You’re ready for a jump bounce. Can you come into it at a trot and fold your upper body over the jump, not before?
I say, I’ll try.
Steph sets the line up for success. Pole. Cross-rail. Pole.
The questions are answerable, so Steph poses the next. This is a hard one. Tonka isn’t used to landing and staying condensed in his body. Look at him figure this out.
We do this a few times. Just enough to fine-tune what we’re doing.
Steph asks more. Can you land and go straight, and do a simple canter lead change?
Tonka and I answer: Yes.
Next up is to do a small course which asked these questions:
Can you, Terry, stay balanced after the bounce, remember where you’re going and look up and over the next jump (even though you tend to fall apart after accomplishing one thing?)
Can you, Tonka, feel good about jumping after you’ve used your back in such a gymnastic way after those bounces?
Tonka’s answer: Sure!
I managed to keep up with my horse.
Tonka knows when we’re done with the training session. Last question is from Tonka. It’s for Steve (who is doing the filming): Do you have the peppermint? The answer, of course, is Yes.