Jumping has always scared me. Maybe it’s due to early riding lessons with Mrs. Booth, who had little patience with young, unseasoned riders. She made me pop over jumps on her equally cranky pony. I hated flying upward, then landing with a jolt, my riding helmet toppling over my eyes. My reward was Mrs. Booth haranguing me for lack of form and focus.
Now, watching jumping is another story. That’s just plain exhilarating.
James Cooler and his high-spirited Arab-quarter horse Indigo are awesome jumping partners. I think even Mrs. Booth would be impressed.
They’ve been jumping together for a couple of years, ever since James noticed Indigo’s joy at sailing over jumps during freedom groundplay. “I put a jump in his path, and he kept going higher and higher. He took a four-foot jump without a blink; that’s when I decided I’d like to try this jumping thing.”
For James, “this jumping thing” was brand-new territory. As a Montana cowboy, he’d mostly done cow work and trail riding.
Whereas western riding is loose and lanky, jumping requires riders to collect and consolidate their power. Sitting in a little English jumping saddle, his long legs folded into short stirrups, James had to learn a new way of riding.
At first he took lessons with local riding teacher Beth Peters; he also read and reread Show Jumping for Fun or Glory and studied jumping videos on YouTube. These days Kate serves as James’ jumping coach. “She can see when I’m getting too focused on fences and jumps,” says James. “She’s got a good eye and natural talent.”
With typical patience, James moved slowly and deliberately into jumping. “I didn’t rush Indigo—I made sure he was well-balanced,” he recalls. “The worst thing I could do is set the fence too high, too fast, because Indigo would lose confidence.”
Currently they’re jumping up to 3’7”, with a goal of 4’ by the end of 2012. Indigo, at 15.2 hands, is small as jumping horses go—and James, who tops six feet, is not exactly a light load. “The fact that Indigo is packing me around while clearing these fences is testament to his athleticism,” says James. “Indigo is so talented: my challenge is to be up to snuff. He’s never missed a jump.”
James follows a training schedule of four days a week. Two are dedicated to smaller jumps, with a focus on timing, rhythm, and balance. The other two are spent jumping higher fences, working on height and power. The rest of the week goes to playing at freedom, riding bareback and bridleless, and generally reminding Indigo that he has other fun stuff to do.
There may be jumping competitions in the future for Indigo and James, but for now he’s concentrating on that 4’ goal. “I’d be tickled to show that off for a demo,” James says. “If you want to turn heads, you’ve got to have a showpiece.”
For those of us who are afraid to jump, and for those who appreciate a beautiful jumping partnership, James and Indigo already are a showpiece.
To watch a video of James and Indigo jumping, go to the Cooler Horsemanship Facebook page and scroll down to the timeline box May 4, 2012.