Lee Pearson and the inoffensive sandwich

The night before the Lee Pearson lesson we noticed that Nutmeg was washing his tummy with too much interest.



On inspection he had some really concerning open wounds. It looked to me like he’d gone over a fence with a nail in and got caught and one in particular looked deep. It didn’t justify an emergency vet call out, but it did need checking by a professional sooner rather than later. But of course it was Friday night and the vets was closed for the night. They do open 9-12 on a Saturday morning, but it is by appointment and obviously we  didn’t have one. The surgery opens at 9.00 and I needed to get to the stables in good time to prepare myself and Drifter for the lesson with Lee at 11.30.

Which is how I came to be dressed in my riding gear, with a cat in a crate, waiting on the doorstep for the vets to open, begging them to see me in the next hour because I had to get to a lesson with a paralympian! I was prepared to take Nutmeg with me to the stables if I had to, to let me wait a little longer for the vet.

The receptionist said that they were pretty much booked up, but that as the vet working was the quick one, there should be a chance at some point. I settled in for a wait, distracted by a boisterous labrador who was so excited by everything and his owners didn’t have any real control over him. Luckily, the second appointment of the day didn’t turn up and we were seen much quicker than I’d dared to hope.

The vet provided pain-killers, antibiotics and a cone collar, the latter to be used at our discretion! He didn’t seem too worried by the injuries themselves, but said that they were almost certainly bites from another cat. We were aware that there are new cats in the area and that there were serious tensions, but not that things were this bad. Hopefully now Nutmeg’s lost this round he’ll back off next time.

I had plenty of time to drop him back home and get out to the stables. Hurray!

As I walked onto the yard, two members of staff were discussing sandwiches. One demanded of me to tell them what an offensive sandwich would be. Thoughts swam through my head, and I almost said “Sardine and jam”, which I think would fit the bill, but taking the question seriously and thinking about what people are offended by, the answer I came up with was, “A penis sandwich would be offensive.”

One nearly fell in her muck wheelbarrow laughing.

Once they’d recovered they explained they were really trying to establish what would be an inoffensive sandwich, but they disagreed over what would constitute an offensive one, for comparison. They did agree that a penis sandwich would definitely not be inoffensive although they found my thought processes rather surprising.

I went to groom, hot cloth, swipe the saddle over (the time for a proper cleaning there was spent on a vet trip) and tack up.

The rain was torrential but it was boiling, so the grooming and tacking up was characterised by a great deal of putting my coat on to fetch something from the tack room and then taking it off again as soon as I stepped into the stable. Thank heaven they always give Lee the indoor school to teach in.

We were tacked up just in time. I put my raincoat back on and his big waterproof turnout over the saddle and we went round for the lesson. Lee was running to time so I went straight in, which was very welcome!

I got linked up with the earpiece so I would be able to hear Lee and hopped on. Drifter was in quite a cooperative mood and as we warmed up started going reasonably round, by our standards, which was handy. Lee asked for a quick update, and on hearing about my rejection of jumping shared that he doesn’t jump for pretty much the same reasons. It doesn’t appeal and, he said, “I can’t see a stride to save my life.” Well I take that with a pinch of salt 😉 But once again it’s really nice to be reminded that there are plenty of “real riders” who choose not to jump.

We showed our paces, and Lee said that once again we’d be focussing on canter, because that seemed to be our biggest problem.

The plan was to get from the fast scramble-canter with his head in the air to something softer and more manageable. The key to this? Transitions and lots of them. While I’ve got into the habit of doing lots of trot-walk, walk-trot transitions in quick successions I’ve never done quick canter transitions. Someone early on in our canter story told us he wasn’t the kind to be able to go quickly back into canter after he’d come into trot and I accepted that, and didn’t try canter – trot – canter very often, but with Lee quick transitions between canter and trot were exactly what we did. I realise now that if he finds a thing hard that’s exactly what we should work on, so that person wasn’t being helpful. I think it probably came from the riding school mentality of trying to improve just the rider rather than the horse or the partnership.

Anyway, we came onto a 20m circle and stayed on it while doing lots of quick transitions between canter and trot. At first every upward transition to canter took us from a submissive “dressage-pony” outline to a giraffe impression, but as we kept working we a few transitions where it was like we hardly changed between the two. That was amazing and I’ve never felt that on any horse before.

Lee explained that although Drifter’s physically much stronger than he was and so doing much better in canter, he’s still a bit weak and underconfident about it, so he goes really fast to keep going and drops back to trot if I don’t let him go really fast. Lee said that lots of horses are insecure about the transition but fine about the canter itself but D’s insecure about both. For this reason the more we practice the transition the more he learns that it’s not a big deal and he can do it, while strengthening the muscles to make it easier in future. I realise as l write this that I am also a little less confident than I would like about canter transitions so practicing loads will be good for me too.

As we were working on the transitions the door opened and in came one of the staff members from the sandwich conversation, bearing a plate. “I’ve bought you an inoffensive sandwich,” she declared and both she and I burst out laughing, which did little for the quality of my transitions, I have to say. I had no idea that the conversation earlier had been about what sandwich they should buy for Lee!

Of course unusual hilarity about a sandwich must be explained, so she filled him in as I cantered about still laughing. When he heard about the penis sandwich conversation he declared that he didn’t want the cheese and ham she offered, could she take it away and get him a penis sandwich instead!?

As she couldn’t actually fulfil this order he did accept the ham and cheese inoffensive sandwich instead, and we got back to work.

Towards the end of the lesson we even did some counter flexion in canter – something it would never have occurred to me to try and I wouldn’t have thought we could do. The purpose of this was to encourage D to let me have his head and neck in different positions that his usual “Oh **** I’m cantering!” giraffe position.

Another point he made was that I’ve got to stop letting D get away with tossing his head when he doesn’t like what I’ve asked him to do. He mentioned it last time as well but I’ve not really made much progress there. Must try harder.

By the time we finished we were dripping with sweat, but at least it had finished raining.

I’m delighted with the progress we made with the transitions. Like most (all?) of our previous lessons with Lee we came out and I realised I’d done things I didn’t know I/we could do. We had some stunning canter transitions that I just didn’t think we were capable of and some really nice bits of canter between them. We have loads to work on, but plenty achieved and plenty to be proud of. I certainly hope we’ll be having another Lee lesson in another couple of months and I can’t wait!

Lee Pearson CBE, Lesson no. 3

277On the morning of the lesson neither Drifter nor I seemed in the best of moods and we didn’t seem to be communicating as well as we might. I was nervous, which manifested as things like worrying that the saddle was in the wrong place and taking if off again and putting it on again, which Drifter hates. He was picking up on my anxious energy and it was a windy day so he was a bit girraffey anyway. Eventually I got us both around to the indoor school a bit early to warm up and settle in, again watching for Lee’s car so if he did drive straight in I’d have Drifter in my control. I’d switched back to my crop but D was very giraffey even after 10 min, which was not what I wanted to see. Hey ho.

Lee arrived and stopped outside the school to greet staff and announce his arrival so we were able to briefly leave the school while he manouvered and parked in the corner. Then it was ear-piece on and down to business! We discussed the saddle and how I felt I’d got on and he had me carry on warming up.

He commented that I looked like I was riding much better than when he last saw me. This was obviously very pleasing 🙂

He asked me if I’d ever worked on riding from the back of the horse though to a contact to get them round and on the bit; if I’d ever had that on any horse. I told him that while people had tried to teach me that on riding school horses it hadn’t been something I felt I’d ever achieved and on D the focus of the teaching I’ve had was on getting stop, go, gears and steering working. So we worked on getting him soft and round and on the bit from the back end. It was hard work but when we got it we really got some lovely moments in walk and trot and some better-than-before moments in canter. We worked on circles, bigger and smaller, getting him to bend, soften and drop while keeping my mind more on what the back end was doing than on his neck. Whether I can replicate what we achieved without his voice in my ear telling me when to half halt; when to put more energy in, I don’t know. But I’m really proud of what we achieved.

I mentioned that Drifter’s not particularly good at respecting my rein aids and Lee suggested the “ask for more than you want” approach. If you’re finding he doesn’t respect trot to walk then practice trot to halt. If he doesn’t respect walk to halt, try walk to rein back. Here we had a brief interlude while he taught me how to have a go at a rein back, which I’ve only ever got by accident before. What we managed was as much sideways as backwards I have to say, but something to work on.

One of the take-home-tips … was to get and use a schooling whip rather than the crop! Doh! Lee thinks I need to be able to use one to activate the back end. I told him about the previous day’s adventure but he was having none of it, so I guess I’ll try again with it and D ought to get used to it over time.

Lee said some really nice things at various points and very much praised how I rode that day. He said he seemed more excited at how well I’d done than I did, but I was too busy riding my butt off to have room for assessing how I felt 😀

All in all it was another completely wonderful confidence building lesson. And he didn’t even take the piss out of me too much 🙂


On the Saturday Lady-with-a-pony had a great lesson with him and came out with her confidence raised. Her daughter asked Lee for an autograph and a picture with him and he was very happy to oblige. I wasn’t there but apparently he seemed delighted to be asked and the photograph they got is absolutely wonderful. Both he and her daughter are very photogenic and when I saw the lovely picture I was jealous I didn’t have one like it!

On the subject of photography we have returned the new camera, as it kept crashing, but I did manage to take it to the stables before we made that decision, hence the photos!103

Lee Pearson Lesson

In the run up to the leeson (what a felicitous typo; I think I’ll keep it!) I was more nervous than I expected. After the last lesson with him went so well I had high expectations for this one. (Here’s a link back to the post about the first lesson.) As a natural pessimist it’s unsettling for me to have high expectations, so that contributed a lot to my nerves.

As things have been going so well for us lately I was reasonably confident we’d do OK but then on Thursday I started to feel the first signs that I was getting the cold that’s been tearing through the office at work; a plague of such virulence that its inexorable progress down the office has led to a plethora of absentees in the last week or so. This did not suit me. During Friday I worked swathed in scarves to keep warm, keeping my fluid intake high and avoiding exertion. I had hoped to ride Friday night, in order that he’d be obedient and moving well on Saturday, but that plan was cancelled to save my strength. Luckily the weather had not been quite so unpleasant that morning, so he did get some turnout.

After work I stopped by the stables long enough to check he’d been out and to grab the bridle. It would have been nice to take the saddle home to clean as well but just picking up the saddle felt too much like exertion, which I needed to avoid. Throughout Thursday and Friday I dumped zinc, vitamins, echinacea and any other immunostimulant cold-scarers that I could think of into my system. Wrapped up warm at home on Friday night I strip-cleaned my bridle in front of the television and went to bed at a reasonable time. On Saturday morning I woke up feeling like I might have convinced my body that we could achieve the lesson with Lee. Hurray!

I fear the cold may have only been postponed, but at least I was well enough to ride.

Filling my flask with a strong echinacea and rosehip tea (one of my trusty cold-deterrents) and grabbing the clean bridle, my plain white saddle pad that I usually only use for shows and the new lambskin girth cover that I hadn’t previously allowed myself to use on any occasion, I headed to the yard.

I was surprised to see I was obviously making a special effort with our appearance. I pretty him up for shows because I have to. Wrong colour saddle pad or loose mane and they could tell me I haven’t complied with the dress code and so can’t take part. But this was the first time I wanted to look the part for us, not because of external pressures. I didn’t go as far as wearing my cream jodhpurs or plaiting him, but I made an effort. I overheard one of the other liveries saying the other day that when they’d been out and about someone had commented on their good turnout. She went on to say that she always wants to look awesome even if they can’t do anything under saddle and come last. This couldn’t be further from my own feelings. I think I want our appearance to match our level. I’d hate to look totally glamoured up so people expect a lot from us and then ride dreadfully. It would be so much better to look a bit rough around the edges but go beautifully. Anyway, what I think I’m learning from this tangential paragraph, is that I think we should dress a little better now because we’re doing a little better. Like a knight earning his spurs, we’re earning the white saddle pad and the lambskin girth cover. Actual spurs, if I ever go there, are a very long way in the future.

So I groomed him until the beginnings of his summer coat shone and put black hoof-ointment on. The saddle got a quick lick and a promise and when I tacked up he wasn’t looking too shabby, for a cob with a clip growing out. As his copious mane blew about I sort of wished I’d plaited it, but I’d had neither the time nor the energy. There was space to warm up in another school, so we had a little bounce around before we went in to Lee.

I was expecting that Lee would be sitting in his red Landrover in the corner of the school, so was mildly surprised to see he was in a new white one instead. I put on the earpiece and battery pack and we began.

I have written recently about trying to keep my reins shorter; I have now officially achieved shortness! Lee suggested they were rather too short. What a pleasure it is to have achieved the skill of shortening reins such that I needed to lengthen them.

The main theme of the lesson from the horse point of view was to get him using his back end more. The big lesson for me was to stop shoving with my seat and do more with my legs.

Lee had me lean back more (or try to) in all gaits (how lucky that Russel Guire recently taught me what leaning back means on a horse!) and get him pushing energy through from the back legs, over his back and into the contact. At times we got it. It felt really strange trotting with that power coming though and me feeling almost left behind because I was not in my usual position.

Within the trot we played with speeding up and slowing down, keeping the energy from the back end, and trying to maintain the energy into walk. We do need to do serious work on our walk. Lee correctly assessed that we both use walk as a coffee break, not a working gait. That needs to change.

I’ve mentioned before that we have issues with free walk on a long rein. We worked on that too, which really pleased me because it’s one of those things I knew was weak but didn’t know how to improve.

On to the canter. It is in the canter that my shoving with my seat is most obvious. People have mentioned before that I need to be stiller in the seat, but never in a way that I understood. By getting me to lean back and … well I can’t really remember how he got me to do it, but eventually I got to a point where I was still but moving; following not shoving. And I lost it again. I gained it and lost and gained it again. When I had it, I could sort of see how much more use of my legs I will have when I get used to riding like that. I suspect once I’m used to it cantering will be a lot less tiring and I’ll have more control. Of course as far as Drifter was concerned the changes of rider style were a bit concerning, so we had unwanted transitions and a few moments where he was off without the brakes, but at no point did we come near to crashing into the walls or Lee’s car, so we had much more control than last time 😉

When we changed to the right rein we both struggled. I could not find how to sit without shoving on that rein! I had a tiny flash of getting it at one point but it was much harder. I asked Lee whether it was harder because of me or because of Drifter and he said it was both of us. Drifter struggles on that rein and falls in and out; I overbend him because I’m (subconsciously?) worried we’ll crash into a wall if/when he falls out.

We went down to a walk to finish off, stopping near Lee’s car so I could talk to him better and then walking off to keep Drifter moving. As I did so he noticed that to walk I’d just shoved him on from my seat and not used my legs at all. After he showed me that I could see how to be stiller in my seat in the walk as well. When I manage it and it frees up my legs I can see how I can use my legs better, but the muscles aren’t used to working like that yet. It’s going to take some serious practice!

So the homework is to learn how to use my legs and not use my seat, to work in the walk, to get the energy coming from the back end, to get some reasonably different speeds within canter on the left rein and some small adjustments of speed in the unbalanced right canter. Is that it? 😀

About two-thirds of the way through, when I was already feeling dazed from the learning and exhausted from the cantering, Lee asked did I mind the trainer/dealer who works out of our yard showing him a horse? I was glad to have a breather to be honest, so I didn’t mind. We had a walk and did our best to keep out of the way while the other horse’s paces were shown. I actually found it really interesting to hear Lee Pearson horse-shopping. Having only bought one horse in my life it was interesting to hear what someone more experienced asked. One of the questions I liked was “What’s the worst thing he’d do?” He asked about riding it with a whip and without spurs. He seemed interested and I’d like it if he ended up having it; it would be pretty cool if he ended up competing on a horse that used to live on our yard. He asked for videos and said he might come back to ride it at a later date.

We then resumed my lesson and ran over the end to make up the time. It was quite nice having had a break for things to sink in.

Once again, I finished with an extremely sweaty horse! As he’s fully clipped on the body now, unlike last time, and I have a better cooler rug, I didn’t feel that a bath was the only way to deal with him  this time and although he took a long time to dry it was a lot more manageable.

If I can get a fraction as much out of my homework from this “Leeson” as I did from the last it will have been an absolute bargain again. So I’ll say again what I said before: if you ever get a chance to have or watch a lesson with him, you really should. Find the time, find the money and do it!

As for the cold… I’m feeling a bit off-colour and I suspect it will make a reappearance, but at least it let me have today the way I wanted. Hopefully it won’t be so bad that I can’t practice my new skills sooner rather than later.

In which Drifter remembers the difference between over and around

So we had our first private jump lesson with the yard owner…

Drifter was not in the mood.

In the school before the lesson as I did the pre-mounting tightening and checks he had a grumpy demeanor and the yard owner/instructor asked what his problem was. His problem was that it was half-past-dinner and because of the lesson he hadn’t been fed yet. Neither me nor my horse are at our best at half-past-dinner if we haven’t been fed. As I often end up riding at this time and feeding him late I barely registered it, so I was interested that she did – she’s very tuned in. She doesn’t know him, and he wasn’t misbehaving (he was standing still without needing to be held as I took off my jacket and his rug) but she still picked up on it enough to ask what the issue was.

Up I got and off we went. The warm up went well and I got a lot of useful position advice, etc. After a time we were ready to try a jump. I was told to come in trot … and D decided we would go around the jump to the left.

Again, shorter reins, more impulsion.

We went around to the left.

Again, with instructor standing to left of jump.

We went around to the right.

Again, and mean it.

Back round to the left.

Repeat until instructor loses patience with naughty horse.

I get off.

She gets on.

Let battle commence!

Instructor demands obedience. Grumpy horse says no.

Instructor demands carrying himself properly. Snorty-cross-pony says no.

Instructor demands he stop leaning on the left rein. No, no, no.

They fight it out a few times round the school… *

Until he finally realises it is going to be easier to submit. Suddenly he is going like a fine dressage cob – in an outline on the bit without even the slightest tension on the reins. Pretty pony!** Once this has happened on both reins, she takes him over the jump a few times. Suddenly he has remembered which choice he’s supposed to make between over and around.

She gets off, I get on.

And we go over instead of around. It was not always pretty, but it was always over rather than around.

I did feel that he had shown me up, rather, but it will be years before I’m able to fight with him like that. I don’t have the strength and I don’t have the experience. It was interesting to see that he knows full well how to carry himself when he is properly reminded. I wondered previously if his dressage training might have been rather minimal but recently I’ve suspected he knows more than he’s letting on (I’m pretty sure the reversing he tried when I wanted a halt the other day was a proper rein-back rather than random walking backwards). It’s nice to know he has more potential than I feared but embarrassing to find out how little of it I’m capable of bringing out in him.

l suppose I’m feeling quite mixed emotions about the lesson. On the one hand we have the negatives that l couldn’t convince him to go over in the first place and I’ve never got him going anything like as well as that; on the other the positives that we probably almost doubled the number of times I’ve ever jumped, I didn’t fall off, he is obviously very capable & I got some good position tips.

That’s more positives than negatives. So why do I not feel happy? I think I’m disappointed that I’ve made so much progress recently but now feel like it was a false peak – I though once I got us reliably cantering in 2 directions I’d be standing on top of the world. But apparently this is just a foothill and the mountain I hadn’t seen before is blocking out the sun. Ignorance was bliss and now I feel cheated.

It’s just paranoia but I can’t help wondering if the mountain climbers are sniggering down at me and my tiny hill. Maybe they are, but they are of no significance anyway.

So how am I going to approach the mountain? I need to expect more of him. Quite what I do if I don’t get it I’m not sure yet, but expecting more will be a good place to start.

And while I’m doing it, I can still canter around on my hill-top in two directions. That is not to be snorted at. And the good thing about a metaphorical mountain range is that it’s OK to be in several places at once.

*A battle of wills and strength, but not of violence. There was no whip or spurs, and no bucking or rearing. Not that any of these would necessary be violent, but I hope you know what I mean.

**Note to self: that pretty picture would look even better if his mane was pulled more evenly. Take more length off towards the poll, but the rest is looking good.

The fourth jump lesson

It was very pleasant to be looking forward to a jump lesson rather than dreading it. Whichever instructor it turned out to be and however many horses were in it, I was pretty sure I’d be fine … until I found the lesson had been moved inside as the outdoor schools are so boggy today.  That meant we were moving from a 60 x 30 m school to one 40 x 20 m and there would be 6 horses in the group. This did not feel good to me,  but at least we were having the owner teach the class, so I was hopeful that she would organise the available space as well as possible.

From the beginning she made it clear that at any point everyone except the one person jumping should be on the outside track, i.e. against the wall. The open order warmup was not to include canter – there would be an opportunity to canter individually after the initial warmup was done. This did wonders for my concerns.

During our individual canter we got the correct canter lead on the right rein first time. Woo!

In the indoor school it was more obvious just how many spectators watch the jump lessons, but I wasn’t too conscious of them.

We began with a pole on the ground some distance before a little cross pole.  We had to count the canter strides between the two.  When I was watching the others I couldn’t get the hang of it,  but when it was my turn it made more sense, and handily it was on our good canter rein.  Drifter got praise for his perfect neat 3 canter strides, which I managed to count on the second approach,  as on the first I was so focused on counting that I forgot to steer and we missed the jump.

Then we linked two jumps together that were not in a straight line and needed us to take a gentle reverse s shape to link them. To me this sent alarm bells ringing regarding canter leads,  so we did it in trot, and it went very nicely.  One of the others, a large horse inexperienced at jumping, did it in canter. I don’t know if the canter lead was the problem as I wasn’t watching his legs, but balance and steering were an issue as they came off the second jump and they pretty much crashed into the pony at the front of the ride, head to head. But nothing bad happened. This was the first time I’d seen a horse and rider actually get right inside the personal space of another horse and rider – it is something I worry about in these group lessons if I lose steering and Drifter loses his balance, but judging by the lessons so far, it seems we’re not as much in danger of doing it as I feared, because he understands how to jump. I also think that Drifter is quite submissive to other horses and so even if he is off-balance I think he would do his very best not to get in another horse’s face. But also I’m relieved to see that even when this crash that I had feared did happen, everyone was fine. Obviously the horses and riders involved were a bit ruffled, but the horses kept quite calm and gave their riders no trouble over it. So that’s another thing that I probably don’t need to worry about as much as I have been.

After that we tacked a third jump on the end of those two, but this was quite a straightforward line afterwards so we trotted over the first two, picked up canter and popped over the third, in a very satisfying way.

The next challenge added two more jumps to the beginning and one to the end. While part of me was insisting I couldn’t remember where to go over 6 jumps, other parts of me managed OK. So far I’d jumped everything on the right rein from trot and everything to the left in canter. This time I had a go at the first two, which were to the right, in canter. We got the right canter lead but as we jumped the first my foot and stirrup almost parted company, leaving the stirrup under the wrong part of my foot, so I steered away from the next as I didn’t feel secure to jump until I’d adjusted that. We went around to try again, this time struggling with the canter lead and going over in trot anyway. Ah well. I remembered the course and we got stronger as we went on, finishing with me feeling quite proud. The merit of jumping 6 things in a row is that if the start is not what you planned there’s still time to do better!

To finish off, we ended with two jumps in a straight line and a return to the ‘counting the strides between’ task. Unfortunately for us this was on our unbalanced right rein. The instructor suggested I approach in trot and just canter between the jumps. I’m sure this was a sensible suggestion but it confused me mightily and we did not manage a canter between the jumps. Then we were told to cool down. I was really sorry that the lesson, which I’d felt really good about until then, was going to end with me being all confused like that so I asked if I could just jump one more thing so I didn’t finish on a bad one. After being told that the instructor will decide when it’s a bad one, not me 😉 , she told me to do the same again. It went worse, to the outside observer, but mentally it went much better for me so I didn’t care. But as it looked worse she sent me to do it one more time. I’m not sure if that was any better, but I’m glad I had those extra goes.

It’s difficult because I want to get my confidence up by jumping from his balanced trot, not his unbalanced canter (whether right or wrong lead he’s always unbalanced on the right rein) but on the other hand if I don’t try then it will turn into a big deal and that will make it more difficult.

On the subject of the canter lead, I managed to lunge him one night this week (owing to the waterlogging issues lately it’s been really hard to get a chance to lunge unless you’re there at seriously antisocial hours, so I haven’t managed it for about a month) and it was very productive. I started with him in the pessoa to get him working, but after 10 minutes I took it off to work on the canter without it. I wanted him to be free to move how he chose so that he would better learn which canter lead was balanced and which unbalanced. Using Lee Pearson’s advice, when he was on the wrong leg I brought the circle smaller so he could feel why it was wrong. Once he got it right I let go out on a bigger circle and let him “have a coffee break” in walk. It worked really well and he got the correct leg maybe 80% of the time, which is real progress. There was one moment where I rolled my eyes at him for getting the right lead, then doing a flying change to the wrong one, but by and large he really seemed to be learning. I hope I’ll be able to repeat that, but the school situation is still problematic.

From a jumping point of view, I think it’s now feeling much more “ordinary” to leave the ground on the back of a horse. From an all round point of view I wish that the jump group was once a fortnight and I could have  a flat lesson in between. Working on the canter alone is going well, but I could really use eyes on the ground more often to let me know if I’m correct when I feel like the lead is wrong or right. I had thought I was making progress on feeling the lead, but today it felt wrong to me when it was actually right, so I still have work to  do there that I can’t really do alone. I could decide to go to the jump group only on alternate weeks, but I would miss out. If I hadn’t gone today I would have missed the work on counting a stride, and then when the group built on that  in future that I would have been at sea. At the moment I don’t feel that I have the stamina for a jump lesson and a flat lesson in the same week, and of course like everyone we have January finances to consider!

Richard from Centaur Biomechanics is coming back later this month but I don’t know if I want a session with him or not. On the one hand I think highly of him and you get lovely videos out of it, but on the other I have so many new ideas and new opinions on my riding in my head at the moment and not enough time for it to all settle out and sink it. It’s not long since we saw the-dressage-judge-that-upset-me and Lee Pearson, and since then I’ve had two different instructors for the jump lessons. Do I really want to add another set of opinions right now? Especially as we’ll be seeing Lee again in February. But Richard doesn’t have an intrusive style of coaching, so he probably wouldn’t add too much to my overfull brain…

I may find that by the time I make up my mind there aren’t any slots left and this will all be academic. Hmm.

Time to tie up this waffle, I think, and wish you all a very happy 2014. Let’s make it a good one.

Third time’s a charm!

I knew that jump lesson number three was to be taken by the yard owner, as originally advertised, but I didn’t know what to expect from that. Having been though the wringer in the previous lessons I didn’t think it could be any scarier than the previous ones. Early indications were that there would be 5 in the lesson, although as it came closer to time another 2 had booked in, taking us back up to the 7 that had scared me so much in the first class, and meaning that we would have a mix of big horses and little ponies.

Although I’d very much hoped to be feeling 100% by this lesson I was still not totally well but feeling much better than I had before either of the previous lessons. We all went round and started getting on board and walking round. This time we were only asked to use open order for our walk warmup – in trot we were all told to stay on the same rein, so everything was a lot less chaotic, and there was no canter warmup at all. Then the lesson proper began.

We began on a circle around the instructor and she asked if anyone who was particularly nervous would put their hand up. I think all of the adults present put their hands up and all of the kids kept them down. She asked each nervous person what in particular were they afraid of. I said, “Too many horses in the school and The Right Rein.” I can’t remember what most of the others said, although when the last lady said, “Falling off!” everyone rushed to agree with her. What I do remember is that no one’s fears were dismissed or laughed at and no one was told they were being silly. It felt like an atmosphere of trust was created.

Next she explained about jump position. Not just how to get into it, as others had explained, but where the muscles should work, where your weight should be, what would go wrong if your leg was in the wrong position. The she asked to see each of us do some canter poles in jump position, either in trot or in canter as we chose. Not as the horse/pony chose, as we chose. She also said that anyone who chose canter had better do well, so we chose trot and received a complimentary comment.

Once everyone had been assessed like that we came back onto the circle and she asked us each about our goals. Had I had longer to think of this I might have answered that I want to see if I can jump and see if I like it, but being on the spot my answer probably came more from the heart, “I want to keep my horse interested, because he likes jumping.” This earned me a, “That’s a really good answer.” That was particularly pleasing as I had had a feeling the “correct” answer would have been more competitive/rider oriented. At this point I began to hope that the lessons might be about the particular needs of the horse/rider combinations present, not just one-size-fits-all. In this I was correct. Everything we did had flexibility. If people wanted to jump from trot not canter, takeoff poles were set accordingly. At no point were D & I made to canter on our right rein, but for those who wanted to that option was there. Everything was managed calmly but quickly, so that there was no hassle about accommodating different needs and no pressure on anyone to do anything. The whole atmosphere was calm, organised and supportive.

We approached our first jump in trot. I hadn’t been expecting to go next, but we were called and I didn’t have long to get my brain, legs and hands in gear before we were over the fence. We’d been warned that she’d ask us how it felt. All I could think of to say was that my jump felt confused. She asked me to elaborate. “I think he was confused because he didn’t know what I wanted from him. And I was confused because I didn’t know what I wanted either.” The lesson learned: have a plan. Even if the plan is just what line you’ll take on the other side of the jump. This was a very useful idea for me.

During the lesson we did canter poles to a fence as well and gradually worked up to a little course of 3 jumps. But the progression was very gradual. We got at least two goes at anything before it got more complex. And each time we had positive feedback. I can honestly say that I felt no fear at any point in the lesson. We were eased into jumping rather than pushed into it. At every point I felt like I achieved something, even when it wasn’t going quite as I would have planned. With the calmer approach and the managed atmosphere I was able to jump each time without going blank with fear. That meant I was actually present to try to sit up and steer on landing. At no point did we fail to go round a cone or miss anything I was aiming for. At one point I did an extra circle before a jump because I didn’t get the canter when I first asked, but in terms of inaccuracy that was it. I was pretty proud of that.

Close to the end I realised Mr S was standing at the gate with a camera on us. Apparently he’d been there some time, but I hadn’t noticed. He actually filmed quite a few of our jumps and it was so nice for me to be able to watch them back.

The below is one of the better videos (because there weren’t any horses or people in the way!) It’s not one of my better jumps as it was early in the lesson. Please don’t ask me to explain why I seem to be trying to rise in the canter after the jump, because I have no idea what was going on there, but please ignore me and see my pretty boy jumping nicely despite the rider 😉

(If you notice that I didn’t go round the cone, it’s because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to, but I did go round it on the next go!)

The second jump group lesson

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!