In our Wednesday lesson, my coach finally suggested we put Spiker over some jumps to see how he felt about it. While we warmed up, he set a small crossrail fence in the center of the arena and placing poles a half-stride out on either side. He has been having a tendency to swing his head to the left, in the OPPOSITE direction of his bad eye. This gives him a distinct disadvantage while in work! However I am working on keeping him relaxed and hopefully over time he will able to carry his head a little more centered.
So finally it was time to start working over the X. We trotted into it, and while he took off a little long he was certainly forward! Trotting at it again (being sure to approach from the left, his “good” eye), he was even bolder and cantered over it. We did it a few more times (in each direction) and he did not suck back, “look” at the jump or anything else silly. He was just very bold and forward (exactly like he was prior to the surgery). After the fence I had to pull him up, and it took a good 10-15 strides!
Revising the exercise, my coach added several more trot poles before the fence, as well as 2 canter poles after. Spiker was anticipating so much (and he has such a huge stride) he sort of just cantered over all the poles and lept over the tiny fence. To help back him off a bit, a verticle was added afterwards to make it a one-stride.
We ended up walking to the first pole (or attempted to) before trotting over the rest and entering the small grid. Once we were about five strides out from the jump, he sort of just locked in on the jump and went for it. Most the lesson was spent working on walking up to the first pole, allowing him to trot through the rest and then over the X and the vertical. Despite touching the vertical at 2’6″, my coach put it up to 2’9″. Spiker was really pissed when he rubbed the vertical, not quite realizing how big it was until he knocked it. He pinned his ears and was really stinky when he landed. My coach laughed and said this would be to my advantage, knowing he hates to knock the jump! The next time we approached the jump, he made a huge effort over the vertical, and every time after that. (He has always been a bit sloppy over fences under 3′ because of his size, so we attributed his first lazy attempt to him not paying attention versus worrying about depth perception.)
Overall, he was excellent! My coach was not concerned about his modified eyesight, and even noted seeing a local jumper with one eye zing around a big course on the weekend. Spiker has not seem to forgotten any of his prior jump training, and it truly felt like we were simply picking up where we left off (as if it was a week ago!).
The only thing I was cautioned about that Spiker has plenty of excess energy, most likely to my work on the track. While he is returning to jumping, for the time being he does not need any extra “GO” because he was certainly full of it today! We are going to work on improving his canter (which to the right, his bad side, is his weak side), continue to do hillwork to strengthen his hind end, and practice trotting simple X’s to work on his obedience.
This was a really encouraging lesson, and I am so pleased that his eye should not be a big hurdle as we work towards getting him back to his show career.