I wasn’t sure if I was doing the jump group this week. My cold was really bad through the middle of the week. On Friday I was regularly incapacitated by coughing fits and hadn’t really slept for a week, so even on Saturday morning I still wasn’t sure if I could do it. D needed exercise, so I’d have to ride one way or the other, and I was concerned that the fear would build up if I didn’t do the jump group, but could I do it?
I decided to go to the yard early(ish), as if to ride outside of the jump group (early meaning there would be a school available) and was hoping to find someone to talk it over with. I found the instructor on the yard and asked her how many had booked in for this week’s lesson. It turned out that there were only 2 people booked in, which gave me the confidence to decide I probably could manage it, so I asked to be booked in too. I dug out the martingale stops and fitted the (running) martingale which I used when I first had him and he kept head tossing because he hated the bit. With the excitement he felt at jumping last week, having something to help if he was doing giraffe impressions was a must.
I then realised I was 3 hours early for my lesson, so I groomed in a leisurely fashion before heading off back home to do some chores and to the tack shop to replace the broken flash, getting back in good time to tack up for the lesson.
I had mentioned needing to get a body protector to one of the other liveries after the lesson last week, and he said that his wife had one she’d only used a few times that she didn’t get on with and was looking to sell. He’d brought it in for me and I’d tried it on on the ground and it seemed OK, surprisingly comfortable in fact, so he suggested I hang onto it, wear it to the next jump lesson and see what I think then.
So I tacked up, put the body protector on, stuffed my pockets with tissues and off we went to the school.
With only 3 horses in the school things were rather more sedate than the last week. Also, handily, all 3 horses were of a similar size, so there was no need for jump sizes to be altered each time and poles could be set at suitable distances for all concerned.
After a calm and encouraging warm up, the instructor set 5 canter poles and gave advice, which for us consisted of finding the slowest canter I can get and using that! We kicked a few of the poles, but I managed to get him down to a pace where he could do them properly, and so we had a rhythmic, sensible journey across the poles rather than the inventive use of legs he’d shown last time we’d had a go. We all had a few goes at that on our easy rein and then a few goes the other way. The instructor told me to take as long as I liked to get him on the correct leg, and on the second attempt we got it. However steering is very challenging for us when he is correct on that rein – he falls in, massively, because he’s so unbalanced, so on our first approach we missed the poles entirely! On the second attempt we got over them, although not with the style we’d managed the other way. I can’t slow him down as much on that rein as I can on his stronger rein because he needs the momentum to help him stay in canter. So that’s a work in progress.
We went back to the left rein and remained there for the rest of the lesson. I imagine that was the instructor deciding to make things more manageable for me, and I am grateful for it.
This time we had a little cross-pole jump at the end of the 5 canter poles. With the steady approach from the canter poles this was easier than I’d expected. We all had a few goes at that, and then the canter poles were removed, leaving one “take off” pole in place. This we then did both from a canter and a trot. On one of the trot goes I was being vague and his trot slowed so that we virtually jumped from a standstill, but that was fine too.
Then we moved on to linking two similar jumps like that, each with a take-off pole. Each also had a cone a few meters on from the landing that we were supposed to go around and I usually ignored. A few times I remembered and tried to go round it, but generally if I did remember it was already too late. I was not alone in missing the cone, so the instructor added another pole on the ground, so we were supposed to jump A, go round cone A, jump B, go round cone B, and then across the pole over there. I then forgot the pole as well 😉 But I didn’t really care because I was pretty pleased with the jumps part of things.
Until this point I’d been enjoying myself, and didn’t go into overload until jump B had another jump added and became a double, still with a take-off pole before the first part. At this point I declared that I couldn’t do it because there was too much stuff in the school. It appears if you put enough objects in the school I overload and panic. A friend’s cat used to count to 3 like this: 1, 2, MANY. When she saw MANY people, she’d bite one and run off to hide because it was suddenly too much. I suspect my MANY is a bit higher than that, but at this point we hit my MANY and everything seemed unmanageable and I got a bit vocal about how I wouldn’t be able to do it and it was totally unreasonable. But I didn’t bite anyone or run off, so I count it as a success. Also, I then jumped everything, and even went round the first cone. Drifter negotiated the double nicely and I let him get on with it, though the shock that we’d done it meant I missed cone B, remembered the pole rather late and almost went into one of its wings. On the second attempt we demolished the second jump of the double, but that was interesting to me to see you can knock everything down and that’s fine too.
We had another go or two and then the instructor asked what we’d like to do to finish up. One person said she’d like to do a vertical, so I said I’d like to have a go at that too, as I’d refused the only vertical put in front of me the previous week, so we did that, and the lesson was done.
I’ve learnt that D knows what he’s doing, and as long as I suggest he does it a bit slower (assisted by the canter poles and the take off poles), for the time being I can let him just get on with it. As long as I point in the general direction of the jump it seems we’ll be over it without issue. He might be challenging to ride on the flat, or on his weak rein, but when it comes to jumping, it seems he’s virtually a schoolmaster. I knew he had been showjumped before I got him, but I kind of imagined it was just in a “put a good rider on to drag him round a course to say he’s done it and make him saleable,” kind of a way, rather than assuming he was any good at it. Those who observed and are more knowledgeable about such things tell me that he obviously knows what he’s doing, and it certainly feels that way. I can just relax, trust him and build my confidence for the moment. Once it starts feeling more natural for me to be leaving the ground with him, then I can start thinking about steering afterwards and then, one day, about the technicality of seeing a stride, finding good lines, etc. For now I can just trust him, which is just what I need. I can also rely on him to be positive about it. I can vaguely point him towards something thinking “I’m not sure…” and instead of getting worried, stopping or running out, he thinks “Yay let’s jump it, it looks fun! I know what to do!” and so we jump, and so it is fun. And we approach again without me worrying and it is indeed fun. Of course there were some comedy moments when I failed to get my position right or made something harder for him, but at no point did I feel unbalanced or anything like the fear of the chaos of the first week, where we started out with MANY horses and riders and I was overloaded before anything started.
Someone commented later how amusing it was that seconds after telling everyone there was no way I could do the double, I was off and over it. This does not bother me, nor seem that odd. I needed to express how challenged I felt by it, but what people don’t always realise is that although I am very fearful I am also very brave. I feel fear like most people wouldn’t believe over the most mundane of things, but I do them anyway. I feel in these jump lessons that if I don’t express how far outside my comfort zone I am, more and more will be thrown at me. If I let the instructor know that it feels impossible to me, I think that’s a useful thing to communicate. On the other hand she’s going to get used to the fact that I regularly do things my mind is screaming are impossible. If I didn’t do things my mind told me I couldn’t, then I wouldn’t have a job, a husband, a car, a horse, etc.
It reminds me of my first driving lesson where I freaked out because I was sitting in the driver’s seat, which was wrong, bad and totally panic inducing. My brain was screaming that I couldn’t stay in that seat, but … I learnt to drive, and now spend 8 hours a week in the driver’s seat.
The difference is that usually I can deal with my fear in my own way, in my own pace. When a new jump is thrown up and I have a short minute to deal with the fear, I need to communicate that I’m experiencing it to a) speed up the process and b) prepare me an “out” if I can’t deal with it.
Anyway, fear and I are well acquainted, but I’m not afraid of fear these days. That might look odd to the outside observer 😉
The lesson ended. One of the others dismounted and realised as she descended that she’d not unclipped her air-bag-jacket, trying to unclip as she went but failing, but luckily she managed to keep close enough to the saddle that it didn’t go off. Oops. Then I got off, catching the bottom of the body protector on the saddle so it whacked me on the chin as I came down. Doh! Fails during the jump class: Nil. Fails during dismount: 2 out of a possible 3. Moral: it’s not the jumping that’s dangerous, it’s coming off your horse.
Up until this point the only point where I’d noticed I was wearing a body protector had been during the warmup, where I’d overheated, had to take it off, remove the jacket underneath and replace it. Then I’d completely forgotten it until it smacked me in the chin. From this I learn that it’s a pretty good fit, but I need to be careful getting off. I’ve also asked several instructors if they think it fits, and pretty much anyone on the yard who had an opinion. Everyone seems to think it’s fine. So I’ll be buying that. They’re asking about 1/3 of what it would cost me to buy new, which seems like a fair price to me.
So despite still being pretty heavily under the weather (while others were having their turn jumping I blew my nose and got my breath back), we had a really good lesson and I actually enjoyed jumping. Perhaps I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as D, but it’s nice that he’s having fun and getting to show me something he’s good at. I’m pretty sure that on another horse I wouldn’t be having such a positive experience. Of course I must remember that all of this jumping was on his strong side, and would have been harder if we’d needed to either go on the wrong leg or the right on the right rein, but actually I’m pretty excited and wondering if next week I’d be able to manage jumping , steering round the cones and dealing better with MANY.
I’m also wondering how high I’ll jump with him in the future. At the end of the Christmas show we watched the Chase me Charlie. (That’s a jump competition with a single jump that starts at a certain height, everyone jumps and anyone who doesn’t clear it is disqualified. The jump gets higher and everyone still in has a go. It goes on until the bar is so high only one person gets over it.) They had to declare two winners because they couldn’t put the jump up any higher. It was at 1 meter 30 cm and the little horse ridden by one of the joint winners was, I think, only 14.2 hands. It looked like the jump was bigger than she was, and I couldn’t believe she could clear it but she did. I don’t have any desire to jump that high myself, but I do wonder where D’s limits would be, with the right rider.
I’ve booked in for the lesson next week. I believe this time it will be with the owner, not with the instructor. I hope it will not be a massive group, but if it is, I’ll probably survive. I don’t know what to expect, but I imagine it will be fine. Like Drifter says, jumping over things is fun! Maybe next week I’ll actually manage to go to a jump lesson not feeling awful with a cold!