I was nervous about my first jump lesson for ages, and equally nervous to jump for the first time in the new saddle. I’d intended to have the lesson next week or the week after, but owing to the fact that if you take lessons with the owner you take them as and when she can fit you in, it ended up being yesterday. This meant I hadn’t yet got round to trying my saddle with jump-length stirrups and I hadn’t checked it was compatible with my body protector. Would I lose my balance in the short stirrups? Would the body protector catch on the higher cantle of the new saddle and push me off?
Ah well, only one way to find out, but falling was much on my mind. I did make a mental note that if I fell I must brush all the sand off my rear end before putting it back in the new saddle! No grinding sand into this one!
I arrived with too much time, which always translates into an increased risk of lateness, and yesterday was no exception. I drifted around the yard greeting people, eventually groomed, and with 13 minutes to go started to collect my things to tack up.
Body protector on, so I don’t forget; hat on, so I don’t have to carry it; gloves stuffed in a pocket; whip stuffed down a half-chap; bridle over my shoulder; oh there’s the martingale, I’ll need that again as we’re jumping. Oh.
And I remembered that the rein stops for the martingale were at home. They irritate me when I clean the reins, so when I took everything home to clean the day before Lee Pearson, I took them off. I knew I wasn’t going to jump for at least a fortnight, so it would look smarter for Lee and for the dressage competition if I took them off. All well and good, but not much use to me yesterday when I needed them and they were still at home.
Could I use the martingale without them? Probably. But is it worth the risk. They’re a safety feature for a reason.*
Could I ride without the martingale? Probably, but not a great idea as he’s been very fast recently and I’d want the extra control, particularly if he got excited to see jumps again.
That left me with borrowing some stoppers. It would only take a minute or two to take the stops off someone else’s bridle and switch them onto mine. I could put them back afterwards. Who was around to borrow from? Who’d finished riding for the day? I looked for Lady-with-a-pony, who I know doesn’t mind lending things but she was on the phone and I didn’t have time to wait. I ended up asking another lady who I don’t know that well, but as she and her two girls all have horse/ponies and copious tack I knew she’d be a good bet for a loan. She didn’t mind, but thought she had a spare set, to avoid taking them off any of their reins. That was all well and good but of course it took her time to find them and time was ticking away. Eventually they turned up at the bottom of a box with shampoo leaked all over them, but I was very grateful and they washed off quickly. Unfortunately I now had only a few minutes to get them onto the bridle and all the tack on the horse. A member of staff offered a hand tacking up and I gladly accepted, but Drifter did find it odd being tacked up by two hasty people at once, and as she did the bridle up, he was most surprised to find his noseband and his flash done up very tightly, one after the other. It is my habit to do the flash up at the last minute just before I got on, so he was very frustrated to have the haynet in front of him and not be able to get his mouth open. I did loosen the flash before heading out, but he was still unimpressed at the departure from routine.
But I arrived in the correct school, with a tacked up horse and a fully dressed rider with 30 seconds to spare. Success!
I got on and started warming up. There was a gusty wind, and I was a bit nervous. Drifter, who’d had a day off the day before, and a less than calm preparation for the lesson, was full of energy. He felt quite “up.” When I asked for a canter instead of the usual stretched out ground covering stride, it was a very up and down canter. After maybe 10 strides, a couple of children ran towards us from the side. He span away from them. After the first sideways plunge I saw my left thigh towards the middle of the saddle and thought I might somehow still have a chance ride it out, but the next thing I knew was the ground hitting me, so that was obviously optimistic.
One is supposed to fall, tuck and roll. I took the alternative approach of splatting entirely flat and level on my back. The body protector was my main point of contact with the ground. I have to say I thoroughly recommend it as a way to fall. Yes I was winded, and shocked but today nothing aches that wouldn’t usually ache after a vigorous ride.
The instructor wasted no time telling the children that their behaviour had caused it and gave them a talking to before coming over to me. The children have ponies on the yard so they do know better. However they run near/at the schools very often despite this. The parents are usually out of view and usually correct them when they see it, but the majority of the time don’t see it. I’ve never felt confident to tell them off, being neither their parent or a staff member, and have often debated reporting it to the owner but felt uncomfortable about doing that.
So when she came over to D and I, I said how glad I was they’d been told off because they were always doing it. “Right,” she said firmly, “I wasn’t aware of that,” and went back and really told them off. By the time she’d finished I’d had time to remember my mental note and remove all the sand and dirt from my bottom before remounting. From the lofty position of hindsight, if it changes their behaviour, it was totally worth the fall!
Also worthy of mention is that when I fell off Drifter stopped and looked down at me instead of running off like last time. This improved my feeling about the fall greatly.
So … where were we? Jumping, yes. Hmm.
So I finished my warmup, concluding with a less eventful but still rather “up” canter on the other rein and was offered the choice of jumping from trot or canter. Trot seemed like a sensible choice!
After getting a nice steady listening trot we tried the tiny cross-pole. And on the other side I remembered it’s not such a big deal going over things. He, I was told, had put in a much larger than necessary jump and I hadn’t really noticed or cared, so that was a pretty good beginning.
On one of the subsequent tries of the same cross-pole he did have a numpty moment and forget how a horse jumps. There was distinct weirdness over the jump and as I rode away I asked the instructor “What on earth was THAT?” Instead of a proper jump, lifting front legs and then back legs, apparently he’d lifted the front left out straight, the back right, and then scrambled the other two over as he made it up as he went along. As it hadn’t unbalanced me in the slightest I found it intensely amusing and spent the next lap of the school mocking him for numpty jumping.
Gradually, slowly, we worked up to a little course of 3, still in trot. We found a steady-ish canter and even had a little canter over the smallest one before going back to trot the course again. I’d forgotten how smooth jumping from canter can be.
We had a few approaches where I decided I didn’t like the line and circled away for another go, and one where he decided he’d prefer to go around, but the jumping part of the lesson was all very secure and positive, despite the inauspicious beginning. By the end of the lesson there were quite a few people watching, who praised what they’d seen and had no idea that was all achieved after a fall in the warm-up.
Conclusions on jumping:
- Jumping in the new saddle is not a big deal
- I appear to have retained skills
- Drifter is a numpty sometimes
Some thoughts on the fall
- This is my 5th proper fall.**
- Until now each fall had been off a different horse.
- The instructor said she wouldn’t have had a chance staying on in those circumstances.
- I like that it wasn’t my fault.
- I like that it wasn’t really Drifter’s fault.
- I love that he stayed by me
- I really like that nothing unexpected hurts today
- It was not jump-related (unlike the other time I fell off him)
All in all, pretty positive. As a bonus, I was glad that neither the children nor their parents were still on the yard when I dismounted, which meant I avoided any awkwardness, particularly as I had to return the martingale stops to one of the parents. But luckily I’d asked where to put them if she’d gone by the time I’d finished, so I was still able to return them. My own martingale stops are now in my bag – I will put them back on my reins at the first possible opportunity to avoid being in this situation again.
The instructor suggested that I try to keep the jumping going now I’m back to it (although I’m not sure she can fit in a lesson for at least 2 weeks, so there may be difficulties there) and I know she’s right. But on the other hand, if I feel stopping and starting fits in with the other things I want to do, I’ll stop again. There are just so many things that I want to do and focus on, and only so much time and money to do them. I’d love to have more dressage lessons (i.e. some ordinary ones in between the Lee Pearson sessions!) but I can’t really afford regular jump lessons and dressage lessons too. But at the moment I think I’m making good progress alone on the flat, so I guess that can wait until I feel I’m not really progressing alone.
*I know someone who was hacking a young horse once when it got the martingale ring caught on a tooth despite the stoppers. I don’t think there was any lasting injury to her or the horse but she vows never to ride in a martingale again after that terrible experience. If I hadn’t known this story perhaps I’d have tried to go without the stops, but knowing what they’re there to prevent is a powerful motivator for using them even when it’s inconvenient and you have to borrow.
**I exclude from the count the time the girth wasn’t done up properly and I fell off at halt; also the time I didn’t fall off but by the time the horse stopped I had one calf hooked over the top of the saddle and one arm over his neck, so I let go and got down because there was no way to haul myself back up.