To fill the other day of our unexpectedly-empty-thanks-to-show-cancellation weekend, we had a jump lesson! Trainer is coming more regularly to a farm about an hour from us, which is logistically a lot easier than our normal 2 hours each way drive to get to her place. Anytime she comes that close, I will definitely make sure that I’m there. Jump lessons haven’t been a thing that happens very regularly for us in the past several years, but they really need to. Because, uh… Exhibit A:
Boy did Henry have a bit of a wild hair up his butt on Sunday. To be fair, he hadn’t jumped since our XC school a week and a half before, so he was still kind of in his ballsy swagger XC mode. Which, as evidenced above, does not work well when I ask him to get quietly to the base. It was also really cold, and he had a very easy day the day before. He was quite rude for his first few jumps, for Henry anyway. I tried last time to put my curb chain on the hackamore to give me a little more brakes than the plain leather strap I currently have, but the PS of Sweden hackamore shanks are so wide that I couldn’t find a chain that adjusted small enough to come anywhere near being workable. I ended up ordering a miniature horse size curb chain, which should be here this week. I think that one will fit. Hopefully.
Anyway, after annihilating a couple fences, one his fault, one very much my fault (heeeeey, pro tip, do not change your mind about the distance 45 times in the last 3 strides before a swedish oxer), we started to get our shit together a bit.
At this height, Henry has a bit of a hard time jumping clear. He doesn’t really give a shit if he hits a rail, and we’re nearing the top of his scope. Any little thing I do with my seat, hands, or especially my body has a big impact on whether or not he jumps cleanly. Seriously, even if I just soften my shoulders an INCH at the takeoff, it can mean a rail. On one hand, this is great. I rarely get away with mistakes, so I’m really accountable for them, and that’s how we learn. If you want to be a student of the horse, he’s a great teacher. On the other hand, do you have any idea how hard it is to try to be THAT GOOD all the time? It’s literally impossible. At least for this very amateur rider. And sometimes that’s frustrating.
When I start feeling like that, I try to remember that in a couple years I’ll be sitting a horse where just getting from one side of the fence to the other in a semi-straight line will be the banner accomplishment for the day. Henry is giving me a great gift right now by teaching me the importance of detail and finesse, and I have to appreciate it for what it is. I know without a doubt that’s he’s making me better. I’m accountable for everything I do, every little move I make, and I’m instantly aware when I make a mistake. Some days that just kind of ends up feeling like I make a hell of a lot of mistakes and I’m a walking disaster. Other days it feels like I can actually use those mistakes to make improvements and move forward.
I always struggle a bit with keeping my upper body back enough at the base to help Henry come off the ground, especially when we get a close distance. He’s a downhill horse, not particularly powerful, and he really does need me to do everything right in order for him to jump well out of a deep distance. That little teeny minuscule softening of the shoulder, dropping them just a hair, makes a big impact on his balance as he leaves the ground. Trainer made a new suggestion – instead of thinking “shoulders back” to the base, instead think of keeping my chin up all the way to and over and jump. Just that little movement raises my shoulders the 1″ that Henry needed in order to be able to get his front end out of the way, without changing what I’m doing with my seat.
It’s such a miniscule thing, such a teeny tiny ridiculous detail. Chin up at the base? Really? Yet it worked. When I actively thought about raising my chin, he was able to get his front end out of the way a lot more quickly and efficiently. Add that to the list of 1000 other things I’m trying to remember on course.
Riding is hard y’all, and it just keeps getting harder. I kinda live in a world where “the more you know, the more you don’t know” is my constant reality. It’s funny, because it’s so easy to look at riders showing at levels higher than you and think that they must have it all figured out. I remember when I was running BN and thinking those Training riders sure must be a hell of a lot better at all this than I was. And when I was running Training I was thinking that those Prelim riders for sure were several steps ahead of me, they must not make very many mistakes, right? Truth is, we’re all making mistakes constantly. Things get better with work and time, as they do of course, but at the end of the day we’re all in the same boat, just trying to learn and do the best we can.
Gosh the process is fun, though. Humbling, and frustrating sometimes, but fun none-the-less.