Another update: now with 20% more cantering

Things continue to go well for us. This is what horse owning is supposed to be like. Mr S is very much enjoying that at lately he knows what mood I’ll be in when I get back from the stables – a good one.

Everything is so much easier when you’re on the same page as your horse. At last we seem to be getting things together. We had one ride this week where he was so switched on and I could have whichever canter lead I wanted as soon as I asked and anywhere in the school I chose. My seat in general and in canter specifically is much stiller and, perhaps as a consequence, I think I’m starting to get some speed changes within the canter, even sometimes on the fast right rein, which usually comes in two flavours : “ridiculously fast” or “oops, no, that’s a trot again.”

I told you before that I had become a canter whore, but I think it’s really only in the last fortnight that it’s really kicked in. Before now my favourite gait was trot. Now it’s definitely canter, and if you tell us we can’t canter, we both get a little frustrated. The canters are the meat of our workouts now. And we’re really working!

That said, I did a little sitting trot work today and had a few pleasing moments. I need to practice more, but I find it hard to plan a workout for both crazy cantering with his brain switched to “reactive” and also the sitting trot work for which he has to tone his trot down to something that barely moves to give me a chance, and then block out the bouncing thing on his back, which necessitates switching his brain to “ignore.”

Despite our intense canter work, in our jump lessons we’re still mostly jumping from trot. We had a lesson yesterday and it went really well. We worked up to a little course of 8 jumps, mostly crosspoles. We had a couple of occasions where we went around rather than over the jumps but they were minor blips and although I know they happened and they were undesirable, they didn’t touch my confidence, which was really rather high. As it was a Saturday lesson there were spectators, many of whom haven’t seen me jump since I last did the group lesson, and several people seemed rather impressed with my progress. I got the feeling my instructor was quite surprised at how well we did, especially as she threw some steering challenges into the course – one of which caught me out the first time, but after that gave me no problems.

I’m glad to say she didn’t 09506-500x500make us jump what she’d made some of the others jump that day – a skinny wooden frame with this road sign attached, which I think was about 1 m wide, to give you an idea of scale. Actually I think we were in no danger of being asked to jump at as it was taller than anything we’ve tried so far, but it was leant up against the fence of the school and apparently was one of the spookiest things imaginable for D. We had many many passes by it in our warm up and still had issues with it later on in the lesson. Actually the owner had made the sign into a jump purely because so many horses had spooked at it out hacking, so she thought it would be good for a challenge for those riders ready for one! I’m not looking forward to the day I’m asked to jump it though, but maybe by the time that day comes I’ll be up for it. I have to say I’ll really struggle not to stare at the jump when it’s that eye catching.

I think this is a sign* that my confidence is rising – I do believe there will be a day when we’re ready to try scary fillers (although I’m hoping we’ll start with the painted pigs with the big staring eyes first, they’re much smaller and less intimidating.) Only months ago I was wondering if I’ll ever be able to do a walk-trot-canter dressage test; now I’m wondering how high we can jump together, one day, when we’re ready. I even caught myself wondering whether we might go out and try cross-country one day in the far off future. I’m not sure about that one though – cross-country seems a bit on the terrifying side to me 🙂 But who knows? Anything’s possible.

 

*Pun intended 😉

Image from: http://www.lastingimpressionsonline.co.uk/road-flooded-sign-09506

Update on the week: jumping & flatwork

 

 

 

Things have been going very well under saddle. Apart, that is, from the saddle itself, which is almost certainly now too snug for the horse who has muscled up so well since he was fitted for that saddle. We have a saddle fitter booked who is coming to see us in about 3 weeks, with a van full of saddles and the smile that comes from knowing there’s very little chance the existing saddle can be made to fit, so it’s probably going to have to be another saddle rather than a little re-flock. Slipping my fingers under the pommel when I’m onboard, I’m pretty sure it’s digging in, and pretty sure that’s the un-adjustable tree of the saddle that I can feel. I have asked them to bring out any second-hand saddles that would do for us as well as the new ones, but I won’t count my chickens that any of the second-hand ones will fit.

I also have the unease that comes of riding him in a saddle I know doesn’t fit as well as it should. He’s not showing any negative signs from it though, so it obviously doesn’t feel as bad as when the flocking compacted this time last year, when he would only move in straight lines because it dug in if he bent to go around a corner.

Anyway, although I am concerned about the saddle and the expense of a replacement, the balance is that other things are going very well for Drifter and I. In terms of my riding and his way of going, we continue to make great progress. When I saw Lee Pearson, which I think was only last week (can that be right?) I rode in a running martingale. While it’s not dressage legal, so I wasn’t sure what he’d think, I wanted to present us as we train, which lately has been with the martingale. Lee had no problem with that, and said that if it worked for us as a training aid, by all means ride with it. I said I felt I couldn’t get him on the bit consistently without the martingale yet and I felt it was better to get him working well and developing his muscles in it, and then take it off in the future. He agreed with that, but he also said I should make sure that from time to time I  take it off and see what we can manage without it. He said he thought I’d be able to do without it sooner than I might think.

I had a couple of flatwork sessions alone in the days after the session with Lee, and felt like I worked well on the pointers he’d given us. For the first time I realised that I had a soft, elastic contact; a supple yielding frame. Drifter went to lean through my left hand and as I corrected him for it I realised what I was experiencing prior to that attempt to lean. Rather than the constant tug of war at the front end we had achieved the goal. He was on the bit without tension, moving well from behind, into my hand, but not against my hand. This is new for us. In fact it’s new for me. I’ve never felt this on any horse before. Aside from the occasional blip, and the erratic variables that our canters are made from, we managed to keep that feeling a constant presence until our private jump lesson on Thursday.

On Thursday the tug of war was back, but he does get very excited jumping, and to be soft in the hand for jumping would be a lot to ask just yet. And so we jumped. It was excellent. We had no disagreements and no hairy moments, although there was one massive leap which shook me forward over his neck and caused the instructor to dryly comment, “This one can really jump!” Apparently he thought he needed to take off very early, necessitating the huge jump to be sure to clear the tiny cross-pole. As we were in trot at the time I’m not sure quite why, but maybe if I could have seen what he did it would have made more sense.

One of the new things that we did was to have two cross pole jumps with two strides between them; jump the first from trot and then pick up the canter on landing so we would jump the second from canter.

I found the concept of picking up canter without a corner rather a novel idea, and being naturally suspicious of novelty, I asked if I could try getting a canter on the straight without a jump first. The instructor agreed, and had me try picking up the canter on the long sides of the school rather than in the corners or on a circle (which were the only places I’d picked up canter in the past). Once I’d had a go at that we tried it with the jumps in and it went well. I did it on the first attempt but couldn’t manage it again until the fourth attempt. Nevertheless I was very pleased. She left me with a homework flatwork exercise: Trot down the centre line and decide whether you’re going to pick up left or right canter. Over X, canter on the lead you decided, continuing on the centre line and tracking right or left depending on which canter you chose. She told me it would be hard but it would be a really useful exercise.

The next time I rode, unfortunately, although we were alone we were in a school full of jumps, and the centre-line was entirely blocked. So we weren’t able to try out our new idea. Because the school was full of jumps, Drifter had his excited jumping head on, so I decided to make the best of what I had to work with. We had a workout weaving in and out between the jumps, picking up canter in random places, trying to steady the canter despite his excitement. About half way through we had some unexpected lateral work, when some lightweight plastic numbers, which had been used to number the jumps and then left on the fence, blew straight at us as we cantered past. It was the largest spook I’ve experienced from him, but it didn’t unbalance me and I brought him back to them to show him they weren’t scary. Which would have gone better if another gust hadn’t thrown another 3 straight at him. Oops, bad human. But this time he wasn’t nearly as worried or surprised and I hopped off, gathered them up and weighted them down and we continued. I was pleased with the way it all turned out, because it hadn’t been an ideal situation but nothing bad had happened and I hadn’t been worried or shaken by it. 

When I rode this morning we did not have to dodge jumps, but we did have a relatively short time and we were sharing a school, so I had limited opportunity to try the new “canter at X and go straight” idea. I did have a few goes though. I had expected to find it easier on the his easy left rein and harder on the traditionally weak right rein, but he surprised me. On the right rein I asked for the bend, asked for the canter, got it pretty much on X, kept straight-ish and turned right at the end of the school. All good. On the left rein though, it was another story. It was hard for me to get the bend right before asking for the canter. He is stiffer that way and it really exposed it. He even went on the wrong leg, i.e. he took the difficult right lead, upon which he is still unbalanced, presumably because I couldn’t get the bend right. Eventually we did get the correct left lead just after X but I could not keep him anywhere near the centre line and we veered off to the left cutting off about a third of the length of the school. Still, that was an improvement on the previous attempts and I had to leave it there.

Aside from when he got a bit over excited from the cantering, throughout today’s ride we had softness in the contact and he was carrying himself well. In all of the walk and trot work I felt he was in a nice outline. At no point did he try to lift his head, but stayed seeking the bit. Very nice. What I haven’t told you yet is that we weren’t using the martingale. I thought I’d take Lee’s advice and try without it, even though I thought we still needed it, just to get a ground-line on where we were. But apparently I can do without it! I’ll still use it for jumping, because when there are jumps there is every chance that he’ll get over excited, throw his head up and go like a giraffe every now and then, but when it comes to dressage, we can get that outline without the forbidden martingale. Hurray!

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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.

Oops!

To cut a not particularly long story even shorter, I took a spill yesterday when Drifter and I had a misunderstanding over a jump. I understood he was going to jump it; he didn’t.

More detail than that about the direct cause of the separation of horse and rider I cannot offer. I assume that it was mostly my fault, but also suspect if he’d been on his A game he’d have got me out of trouble anyway.

We’re both fine, by the way.

It was a series of 3 crosspoles in a straight line with a stride between each jump. Somewhere between jumping the first and taking off for the second the misunderstanding became apparent as I suddenly found myself in close proximity to the surface of the school and the demolished middle jump while watching my horse take himself over to stand with the other horses and riders on the other side of the school.

Remove me from the horse and this is the view I got as he left me behind

Remove me from the horse and this is the view I got as he left me behind

My vanity would have prefered him to stand over me with a surprised expression, but I like the way his brain worked – “What do we do after a jump? We go and stand out of the way with the others so the next one can jump.” That was much better than galloping off like a mad thing (in the previous lesson time was wasted trying to recapture a pony whose rider had fallen.)

The ground crew led Drifter and I separately to the mounting block and we were reunited. And pointed at the same jumps again but told to do it in trot. This was no doubt supposed to make me more confident but I don’t like jumping from trot because you can’t as easily judge when they’ll take-off. This time we ran out to the left at the second but left everything standing and remained together for a third attempt. On the third attempt he went around the right of the second jump but I hauled him back to jump the third (tiny) jump of the set from a walk!

It was time to move on and the lesson ended with everyone jumping a single jump positioned where the third of the three had been, with the wings of the others still up so we had to come between them. D had a little wobble on the approach but then jumped very big (I assume because he didn’t want to risk knocking this one down!)

While I did not ride that big jump anything like well I remained on and enjoyed it rather more. We cooled down and we were done.

Throughout the lesson and for a couple of rides beforehand I’d been struggling with steering. Checking the dates I saw that it’s on the early side for the physio to want to see him again, but not by that much. The signs are there that he’s not balanced, either in a straight line or round corners. He struggled with the canter lead that he’d made so much improvement with and the usually easy left canter was laboured and unbalanced.

Today we had a gentle little potter around the school. He was very “tuned in” to me. There was at least one transition that happened as I thought about it, before I went to give the aids. He was cooperative and trying to please with everything I asked for. But he was not balanced.

So I’ve booked the physio – he should be seen a week from tomorrow.

I was the first time I’ve had a proper fall off my own horse. I don’t count the time the saddle slipped so I fell off from a walk. So that’s a milestone of sorts. It seems likely that I fell off the right side of the horse, and if so it was also the first time I’ve ever come off to the right. This is a triumph of chiropractic medicine – every time I’ve fallen before I’ve fallen off the left of the horse because I was twisted/leaning that way. Now my posture has altered I can fall off the other side too 😉

I have been taking it easy. It was, as the instructor pointed out, quite a nice fall. Hmm. I’ve had better. But aside from a bit of ankle swelling (which has been fine today as I iced it yesterday), I’ve had more pain lots of times after weights workouts, so I’m really only inconvenienced by the exhaustion from the shock of falling. Drifter seems to be himself – certainly all the legs are in good working order (or as good as they were beforehand) and the processing of hay is progressing at the usual rate, so all seems well with him.

Shhh! Don’t tell the universe…

Shhh! Don’t tell the universe…

… but things are actually going quite well for me and Drifter at the moment.

I’ve been putting off posting because I felt like as soon as I typed those words we’d immediately be visited by terrible lameness, hideous infection, a meteor crash or all of the above.

Perhaps I’d better ring the stable to check on him …

Paranoia aside, stuff is good!

  • Drifter seems to have got both his head and his legs around the canter-lead business. He’s probably gone from being wrong 90% of the time to being right 90% of the time.
  • I am getting the hang of feeling the canter lead. How easy I find it depends on his balance, speed and what sort of shape we’re on, but I’m making progress.
  • On Saturday we jumped 3 little jumps with a single stride between each and on one attempt  at this I actually managed to be upright when I should be and folded when I should be, which is a surprising amount of coordination for me (or most of our jump class to be honest). The people watching clapped and I waved to my audience. Happy days.
  • He is working rounder. I put his running martingale on him for jumping and am too lazy to take it off the reins again to do flat work, so we’ve been in the martingale all the time and I reluctantly have to admit that it suits him. My reluctance is because I want to get him dressage-round without the non-dressage-legal martingale. But I think I have to accept that he is developing better muscle working in the martingale all the time than working without it. I am starting to see that he is a show-jumping horse at heart and by his training and so he has probably spent most of his working life in a martingale of some kind. If it works for him I should use it. If he spends enough time working nicely, building the relevant muscles to carry himself then hopefully when I take it off him for a dressage competition the habit of moving well will carry over. If not, who cares? I’d rather have a horse carrying himself well 99% of the time and badly in a dressage test (that really means nothing) than carrying himself badly all the time while I fuss about why he won’t put his head down. I did not buy him as a competition horse. I bought him for the 99% of the time when I’m not competing.
  • Because he’s working rounder everything is easier for us both. Balance is better, suppleness, responsiveness, communication between us.
  • Because we can work in the canter rather than working to get the canter we’re both getting more exercise
  • I’ve twigged that the reason I get out of breath quickly in the canter is because I’m not breathing normally. So now I’m making an effort to breathe in relation to his canter strides, e.g. in for 2 out for 2 which is helping with my breathing and my canter stride counting for when we jump. I think it’s also calming him not to have me gasping on top.
  • I can’t actually remember the last time we had a bad ride.

So you see, stuff is going well for us!

To finish off, here’s the picture Julie requested in her comment on my last post: a unicorn, in the style of My Little Pony. For no extra cost I have also included wings.

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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 😉

Jump lesson no. 3

(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!)