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.