It wasn’t a very promising start. I knew my lesson was in the indoor school but when I turned up it seemed to be full of other horses, other riders and even other instructors. One of the other instructors ushered me in, breezily saying that because of the weather we were sharing the indoor school. I was not given any choice in this despite personally being of the opinion that if I do not have the private use of the school I should not pay the full usual price. Whenever this has happened in the past I’ve been phoned ahead of time and been given the choice of sharing or cancelling the lesson and always chosen to cancel. This time I had no choice and it looked like we’d be sharing the 20 x 40 m school with 2 other “private” lessons.
I led him in and found a spot to remove his rug and tighten the girth, etc., but before I’d had a chance to undo the rug the lights went out and we were pitched into total darkness. With 4 horses in the school, 2 of which were being controlled by children, jumps everywhere and no one sure what to do, it was not the best situation to be in. I was not hopeful that the lesson would go ahead at that point. At first it was assumed to be a power cut but the owner stuck her head out of the door and saw lights on in her house still, so it appeared to be a blown fuse. One of the children had her phone in her pocket and the LED torch app was used to locate the fusebox and eventually find the switches. And we had light! Everybody settle down.
It was actually really lucky that the fuse blew at that point – at the end of the previous lesson and before ours had begun. One lady in the lesson before had been jumping massive oxers and had the lights gone out while she was jumping that would have been a pretty undesirable situation, her horse being a little on the lively side.
It turned out that actually we were only sharing with one other lesson – there had been two sharing previously so one instructor and two horses/riders were leaving.
After the inauspicious start we got ready and got to work. I had decided to take the crop to the lesson although I wasn’t confident that I’d manage it well. We warmed up and he went quite nicely.
I found it quite awkward warming up with another rider and another instructor to avoid as well as the jumps, but my instructor took me out of open order quite quickly and directed me in and out between the jumps which meant that I was mostly using the middle of the school while the other rider had the track. As we went on I barely registered the other rider or instructor and actually didn’t feel I lost out on anything by them being there. I did feel guilty afterwards that we probably dominated the school and the other lesson couldn’t do that much except go large, but then I was jumping and she wasn’t, so that probably couldn’t have been avoided. Anyway, I have to admit the sharing was managed well and, contrary to my expectations, didn’t reduce the value of my lesson in any way.
Before we started any jumping my instructor had me ride the lines I would need to get to particular jumps but then go past the jumps, so when it came to do it for real I’d already know at what point I needed to start turning. This was useful because when I came to jump I was already confident in where I was going.
Holding my excited horse with the new shorter reins and managing the crop was making my hands hurt, so I shed the whip at that point.
We spent almost all of the lesson jumping from trot, and we jumped a lot. I think I’m now as comfortable jumping from the trot as from the canter. I managed to keep my reins at a much more useful length than I have in the past and at all times I had full control of him. We steered tight turns (by our standards!), we stayed together and we were mostly well balanced. The jumps were all very small and he jumped economically – I don’t think we had a single unnecessarily large jump in the whole session.
In short, we were amazing 😀
The instructor was very impressed by the improvement.
I have to say I was too, although I was less surprised by it than she was. It was so many miles better than the previous lesson only 6 days before, but every workout in between had been focused on rein length and it had paid off. I’d also been googling rein length and found some useful ideas. This Yahoo answer was really helpful:
My former instructor used to say “your (closed) fingers hold the mouth, your thumbs hold the reins.” As you get farther along in riding, you’ll realise that your fingers don’t actually hold the mouth, your back does, but for now fingers will work. The thumb should be the digit that keeps the reins from slipping.
That was the main idea that really changed things for me. I’d heard so many times, “Thumbs on top,” but nothing that had ever suggested to me that the thumb should be doing anything except resting there. I was holding with the bottom finger. Once I tried this it made so much sense and I totally got what she means about the back holding the mouth.
Another really useful concept came from the Chronicle of the Horse Forums:
I took a lesson with IMHO the best dressage instructor in my area and she told me to imagine that the reins went through my hands, up over my shoulders and down my back so that they buttoned to my beltloops behind me, like suspenders, and now steer with my shoulders, torso and hips.
Between those two ideas I had a whole new way of thinking about my reins and my back in relation to them. I focused on my thumbs and my back, not on my fingers. And it worked. Of course Drifter is missing his old “do-what-you-like” rein length (that he used to get because I couldn’t stop the reins slipping through my fingers) and does work at trying to take them back off me, so the week has been full of argument between us over this point. My instructor says I should decide how long to make them and stick to it. Then it’s his job to work nicely to that boundary. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. No one likes new restrictions or working harder, but both are good for him. Sometimes he does manage to pull the reins longer, but now I’m tuned in to the role of my thumb I’m much less susceptible.
I think we’re on a good path here.
I was interested to see that after working him in shorter reins we do actually get some small amount of stretch (and no head tossing) when I lengthen the reins and ask for free walk on a long rein. I knew that if the horse is working properly that stretch should happen naturally but won’t if they aren’t (but couldn’t work out how to get him to work better), so this is a good sign that he’s working better in the short reins than he was before.
I won’t be having a jump lesson next week because a) D should be seeing the physio so he’ll be on light duties midweek and b) I can’t afford a jump lesson as well as my next Lee Pearson lesson. He’s coming back a week tomorrow! Ever since we booked in for a second session with him I’ve been secretly fearful that on the day he won’t see much improvement in us, but now I’m confident that even if we have a really, really bad day next Saturday he should still see a massive improvement since we last saw him in December.