By Jennifer Klitzke
Jumping and cross country: recently we made headway after an unexpected break. You see, my Dad has been terminally ill. Ever since his fatal diagnosis in since October 2014, my zest for competition has lost its zeal, because time with my family has been priceless.
At the same time, my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy), hasn’t been himself. He loved the exciting variety we had experienced together: traveling to dressage shows, cross country venues, hunter jumper shows, trail obstacle challenges, cow sorting events, trail rides, endurance races, and more each weekend. I think Indy has been getting bored at home doing the “same old same old.” So I took him on a trail ride at Sand Dunes State Forest, then a Novice Endurance Ride at Crow Hassan Park Reserve, then an endurance-style trail ride at Rum River County Park the last few weekends between visits with my Mom and Dad. It seems to have added more HAPPY to his demeanor.
Then I saw an advertisement for an affordable starter through advanced eventing clinic not too far from home. “Affordable” caught my husband’s eye and “starter-level” caught mine, so I entered Indy in our first eventing clinic. It was our first time jumping in over a year and our first time doing cross country in nearly two years.
Excited and apprehensive, we traveled to Woodloch Stables in Hugo, MN to ride with Lisa Fergusson, a talented and successful event rider, trainer, and clinician.
Arriving I was surrounded by 17 hand Rolls Royce horses as I unloaded my pony-sized Spanish Mustang from the trailer. Fellow riders were friendly and complimentary—especially Lisa, our coach.
On Saturday, we began with stadium jumping. It was an easy start: one cross rail followed by another. Then the line was finished with a vertical. “No problem!” says Indy. Then we added a liverpool followed by a vertical plank. Again, Indy said, “Bring it on!”
We finished our session by riding a full course of cross rails, verticals, double oxers, planks, and the liverpool. The most challenging part was if my grandma brain could remember the 11 fence course.
Lisa was a great encouragement and said that Indy’s eyes lit up with HAPPY as he jumped the fences. He as gentle, enthusiastic, intelligent, and seems to love this stuff!
Lisa offered great tips such as keeping my shoulders back before the jump and landing with my weight in my heels.
The next day we had a private dressage lesson followed by a group cross country session.
Lisa gave us many helpful tips and exercises to improve balance and strength. I asked her if Indy traveled on the forehand. She thinks it is an optical illusion because at a trot his wither is level with his croup and he tracks up in his foot steps. She said he is even more balanced at a canter where his wither rises up higher than his croup. He cleanly moves through upward and downward transitions without falling apart. Lisa encouraged me to ask for more jump in the canter to engage and strengthen him more from behind.
She said riding him straight up and down gently sloping hills at a walk and trot or lunge him on a hillside to help him develop this hind quarters and find his balance naturally. We have the perfect hills in our back pasture to try this out.
While riding in the arena, Lisa suggested to add three ground poles placed four feet apart to trot over and two or three poles placed eight feet apart to canter over. This will help Indy build strength and balance as well. It will also break up the monotony of arena work.
The most important insight for me is to teach Indy half halts from my body and not from the bit. When we tried this in my lesson, Indy responded immediately to my body aids and he didn’t gap open his mouth. Lisa believes that Indy has a sensitive mouth and may be resenting the bit contact. This is very insightful. She also suggested trying a double jointed bit or even a non-metallic Happy Mouth bit.
There were three of us in our cross country session and it began at the water complex. Oh, how Indy loves the water! We had lots of practice riding in and out of sun and shade jumping over logs and through the water complex. It was great fun and Lisa said that Indy had HAPPY written all over his face.
Then we moved to the back course where we worked over a bank, ditch and more logs. I had the opportunity to work through one of our scary issues. At times, Indy will grab the bit, lower his head and neck and take off where I feel out of control. If I pull, he dives down even lower. Lisa made a terrific suggestion. She said, “Don’t pull. If you stop pulling, he has nothing to pull back on and if you pull, he will pull harder and he will win.” Instead, she encouraged me to give him a moment and then half halt and release. We jumped the same sequence again and the release half-halt release worked like a charm.
Indy and I ended on a great note when he jumped the ditch and cantered down his first bank!
Lisa is a terrific coach: she is personable and encouraging, made great corrective feedback, and didn’t over face me or Indy. In fact, I was the one holding Indy back from jumping bigger fences and obstacles.
Special thanks to the organizers and to Woodloch Stables for hosting the clinic with Lisa Fergusson.
P.S. Amazing, not one person said the “F” word (Fjord) at this clinic. (Again, I have nothing against Fjords. I think they are adorable. It’s just that I ride a Spanish Mustang.)