Rather a good weekend all told. Part 1, Saturday

On Saturday I had a jump lesson. As the last one went so very well, I was not surprised that we had new challenges awaiting us and the instructor was going to step things up for us. During the warmup I showed off our new ability to pick up whichever canter lead I chose wherever in the school I picked.

Once we were ready we started with the first crosspole of the day which was set on the diagonal of the school. Starting the session with something that wasn’t on a straight line parallel to the track was a new challenge for us and it took me a few attempts to get the steering right. On my first attempt I got the turn wrong, and the clumsy extra leg I used meaning “shove over a bit, we’re not straight” was interpreted to mean “turn left and go around it”. On the second attempt I got it wrong again, and because we’d already been round to the left once, and again were not on a strong approach, he decided around was a good option. On the third and subsequent attempts I got the line right and there was no confusion so we went over the jump. Good.

So next we jumped two jumps with a related distance, the first of which was …

[Cue music of doom]


The Pig Fillers!

Each of the two pig fillers bears 3 bright pink painted pig faces, each with its oversized black and white eyes pointing in a different direction, so that whichever way a horse sees it, one of them will be LOOKING at him.

For our first up-close-and-personal experiences of these monsters, they were not set under the middle of the jump, but at either side, so that there was one in front of each wing, with a 50 cm or so pig-free area under the center of the jump.

I was advised to approach in trot, and knew we might have issues, so was not surprised when it took a couple of failed attempts before we got over the jump, but after we managed on the third attempt we had no further issues with the pigs.

We had conquered the pigs! To be honest it went much more smoothly that I expected. The first time he ever caught sight of them they were in the adjacent school and I had trouble getting him to go in that direction even with a thick fence protecting him from the pigs, so to have got over them repeatedly after only two failed attempts was a triumph in my book.

And so time for a new challenge…

The world’s tiniest oxer.

To me it didn’t really look any more of a challenge for him than anything else we’d jumped but I could really feel the difference in the way he jumped it. We will need a lot of practice before I can look like a rider over those! But of course he is more than capable.

We finished the lesson with a course of 5 jumps including two tiny oxers and the pigs. It took us a couple of tries to go clear but when we did, she popped the final oxer up a tiny bit and had me do just the pigs and the final oxer. She said, “I’m surprised you’re not telling me you can’t do that!” I replied, “I’ve learned to save my breath!” Which may have come across a little sharper that I meant it to, but she’s a tough lady and wouldn’t be upset even if she didn’t realise I didn’t mean it to be harsh.

When I though about if afterwards, it’s true that telling her you can’t do something is a waste of breath, but it’s equally as true that I’ve learnt she doesn’t just stick up a jump up and see what happens. Everything she puts in front of us is tailored to us. When she challenges us she does it with thought, so if she’s put a jump in front of us, I can be pretty sure it is a reasonable ask for us to do it, so I’ll just shut up and try it.

By this time we finished I was absolutely drained. It was completely different from the last lesson. In the last lesson pretty much everything went right. This time we had lots of failed attempts, poor lines, unbalanced rider moments and general iffy-ness. But this time we had more challenges and we didn’t do too badly at rising to them. With the pigs it was the first time he’s needed me to give him confidence about a jump – he’s jumped much, much higher with other riders before I had him so our little crosspoles he could do in his sleep. This one that LOOKED at him was the first time he needed support from me rather than the other way round. And it took me a few tries, but I did it, which seems a pretty good result to me.


Private jump lesson no. 2

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.

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 beginner jump group – lesson 1

It was always going to be a busy weekend, with the first lesson of the jump group on Saturday and the Christmas show on Sunday, so I was not best pleased on Friday night to realise that I had a cold. But I decided to try to go ahead with everything and then pull out half way through if needs be, so I turned up for the first beginner jump lesson as planned, but not feeling that I was on my “A” game.

The lesson was not taken by the yard owner, as had been planned, but by one of the instructors. I’ve had lessons with her before, but not recently. There were also considerably more horses in the school than the 3 others we’d been expecting … there were 7 of us in total, which when you consider that D and I usually work alone or with one other, that was enough to get the pair of us worked up before we’d even started the lesson proper!

After the somewhat concerning warmup in open order (the first time I’d ever experienced a walk, trot and canter open order warm up) and no one had crashed into each other, we formed a ride and  proceeded to practice our jump position in walk and trot. Then we did some trotting poles. This was all much more in my comfort zone than the warmup had been.

I pretty much knew that the assurance from the owner that there’d be no actual jumps in the first session meant nothing now she wasn’t teaching it, so I wasn’t that surprised when the instructor set up a tiny cross pole.

At this point I’d realised that every other rider there had considerably more jump experience than me with my 1 jump lesson 18 months ago. I was certainly the only one there on a horse I’d never jumped before. Although it had been advertised as a beginner group it had turned into a back-to-basics group as a result of the people who booked in.

Someone fell off during the jump position work, which did no favours for my nerves.

So when it was our turn we aimed at the tiny cross pole in trot… and he took it in his trot stride. It was put up a bit and he, again, decided with a little effort a trot stride would do the job. As we were approaching on the right rein I’d been hoping to get a jump from trot so I didn’t have to approach my first jump on the wrong canter lead, but instead everyone changed the rein so we approached on our easy left canter.

I had a reasonably straight line in and got to the fence, where I felt a considerable lift and heard an “ooh” from the instructor. We landed. I thought I was falling off, but suspect that might just have been what landing feels like, as then I was up and braking to avoid crashing into the back of the ride. Apparently he’d jumped very big. I’m told this is because we came in too fast, but if he has a steadier canter I’m not sure where to find it.

I have a half memory of being sent round to do it again, and I imagine that was a more modest sized jump, but I can’t say more about it than that.

Then as if I wasn’t far enough out of my comfort zone, the instructor announced a course of 3 jumps, starting with the approach on the tricky right rein. At this point I panicked and could not take in the course, no matter how many times it was explained to me and how many other riders I watched. Eventually the instructor suggested just doing the first jump and I asked if I could approach in trot.

This went well and we cantered away, D in charge of steering, while I got over the shock of having jumped again, and as he happened to have turned towards the next jump, we did that too. We came round to the third one but, it being the first thing put in front of me that wasn’t a cross pole, I didn’t like the look of it. So I stopped him about 10 meters away from it. The instructor dropped one end of it to the floor, we went over that, and the lesson was done.

The verdict from all and sundry was that Drifter really likes jumping, which I had suspected, and that he’s really bloody fast in canter. Considering that I know he didn’t show anything like his fastest canter, and I thought he was quite steady, for him, this surprised me a little.

It seems I may need a stronger bit, but as so far this week he’s broken his flash and his water bucket, last week I paid out on clipping, a new cooler rug and an exercise sheet, as well as the Lee Pearson lesson, use of the wash box and show entry fees as well as the usual bills, I can’t do any more spending. Perhaps we can borrow one or perhaps I can be firmer in the bit we’ve got. We also need a martingale (luckily I do have one) and I need a body protector. I had been assured as we wouldn’t jump yet I didn’t need one yet, but that theory has been disproved. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage that one.

Generally I feel like the lesson was too much too quickly. I have to keep reminding myself I stayed on and I actually jumped things. On the one hand I’m not sure the group’s right for me, but on the other hand if I don’t do it there won’t be another opportunity to join a group like this. I’m already behind the standard of the group – if I don’t stick with it there will be no chance of joining them later.

I’ve toyed with the idea of dropping out of the group and continuing privately, but that has many disadvantages, among which is the fact that I’m more likely to do it if it’s a set class at a set time than if I have to arrange a jump lesson myself and can say “oh, I’m too tired this week, I won’t bother, we’ll jump next week.” Next week might never come.

I think I’m going to give it another week or two and see how it goes. Bearing in mind that I’ve done virtually no cantering all year until the last fortnight, this group is a bit of a tall order for me, but perhaps in another fortnight of cantering and these jump lessons it will be a better fit. It is disappointing that at present the group isn’t what was advertised and I don’t know what to expect from it, but I’ll give it a go.

After the lesson the school was free and myself and one of the other riders who I’ve made friends with since moving to a stable near her remained in the school. Her husband set up some canter poles for her and invited me to have a go as well. I hadn’t ever done canter poles (surely I should have had a chance to do those before having a jump put in front of me?) but had a go. I’m not sure what Drifter did with his legs exactly… he didn’t kick any poles but I think he was quite inventive about how he missed them because it was distinctly bouncy and un-rhythmic from my point of view – I’m pretty sure we had big strides and little ones and a little hop. We had a few goes in both directions, once even on the correct right canter lead, and he remained inventive throughout. I suspect slowing him down so he’ll do a normal length canter stride is going to be a challenge… and quite the opposite of how we have been working recently. I think we did the canter poles badly, but that was probably more useful for me than doing them well – I needed to see that nothing bad happens when you do canter poles badly.

They also gave me the chance to let off some steam with only one other horse and rider in the arena. I needed that too.

Overall I’m kind of annoyed with myself. I know Drifter and I did really well. Not only did I learn jump position, we got over jumps. We even strung two together. I didn’t fall off, and he didn’t stop listening to me. Yes, he got excited and I got scared, but that is to be expected. He’s not jumped for a year and likes jumping so he got excited. I’ve only tried jumping once before and narrowly missed hitting the floor so I got scared. He’s fast and lacks balance so we lack finesse.

The annoyance comes because somehow I can’t feel that we did well. I know it rationally, and half the yard has told me we did well, but I’m just not connecting with it. Maybe it’s because I’m exhausted and my sinuses are full of glue. Maybe it’s because I can’t stop measuring myself against others whose situation is not comparable. Maybe it’s because my expectations of myself are too high. Who knows. Anyway, the facts are that we jumped stuff, even though I wasn’t expecting to, and that I stayed on even when he jumped rather larger than was expected by anyone present. That can’t be bad.