Spring classes at my university started last week, meaning riding lessons are back in full swing as well.
During the fall semester, I had some huge breakthroughs with The Black Mare; working on her responsiveness before and after the fences, smoothing out her simple changes, finding the right balance of bits, nosebands and artificial aids, consistency in the bridle, her form over the fences, my equitation…we were jumping 2-3 times a week with great results. Our progress allowed us to continue to move up, and we ended the semester schooling 3’6”.
I spent a very long holiday on the beach with my family for some much needed R&R, but that meant The Black Mare did no jumping for 2+ weeks. Previously when The Mare has gone a few days without jumping, we’d spend our next lesson rushing the fences, running away on the backside, and otherwise ignoring everything I tell her to do. The Mare doesn’t easily get tired, but I tried my best over the weekend to work her down so that we’d be prepared for our lesson on Tuesday. Monday night we had a lovely hack, and I remained optimistic that maybe the time off would not negatively affect our first lesson of the semester.
I made sure she was clean after bringing her in from the tundra that is currently Ohio, made sure her tack was clean, wore my tall boots instead of my paddock boots and half chaps, a new sweater and polo I’d just gotten, and my Tailored Sportsman’s (first lesson of the semester, I figured I should try to look presentable, right?)
As we started to warm up, my coach commented on how consistent in the bridle she looked. She was relaxed and moving nicely, so we quickly flatted around a bit and moved on over fences. Much to my surprise, The Black Mare was incredibly quiet. A little bold to the fences, but very much so listening to what I was telling her to do—I was quite happy with her. We started to add more combinations of fences: trot-in to a grid, single. Grid, now a bending line. Grid, bending line, oxer. Good, great, done. My coach put the fences up. ‘Now do the same course again’.
Coming out of the corner, The Mare locks onto the oxer, throws her face up, makes a little bid and I see no distance to the fence. I did expect my eye to be a little rusty after a few weeks off, but man, I’m really not seeing anything. By the time I comprehended that we were real deep to the base of the fence and she needed more support from me than I was giving her, I was already laying on her neck and she was trying to find a way to monkey crawl her way through this oxer.
A quick side note: My horse is quite honest. She is willing to do just about anything for me: as long as I’m confident, she’s confident. She’s a little quick, a fast learner, and very anticipatory. I have a habit of anticipating her anticipating, and tend to get my butt out of the saddle too early and too high. I think you can probably see where this is going.
While my saint of a horse was trying her best to swim through this fence I told her to go over—even though the distance was awful and I basically used no leg in any attempt to help her get out of a tight spot—I was already in two-point, leaning on her ears. So when she decided that should could not haul herself over this fence, took out the front rail of the oxer and tripped over the back rail, I went tumbling right over the front of her.
My first thought as I’m headed towards the dirt is that I’m in my Tailored’s and a brand new sweater (Of course I would be). My second thought is that this was not a very promising start to the semester. I land, shoulder-back-head kind of all at once, but pop back up right away. The Mare is standing on the other side of the demolished oxer, giving me probably the most exasperated, annoyed look I have ever seen. She tolerates a lot from me. I hop back on, and as we discuss what happened and why, I can only be mad at myself. Pats for The Black Mare. She’s completely unflustered, and we finish jumping around just fine.
If I had a dollar for every time my coach told me to ‘sit up/back’ or ‘bring your shoulders back’, I might actually be able to afford my horse. My coach has this habit of being right all the time. I guess that’s why we pay trainers though, right? To tell us what’s going to happen (good/bad/otherwise) before it happens. They can better see what we can’t, and give us the insight to get a better picture of ourselves and our horses.
Most of the time they have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen and why, and armed with that knowledge, can help us avoid the bad and achieve the good. Sit back there, half halt here, shorten your reins, lower her poll, do ___ to get ___ result. Our coaches are there to remind us of the things we should know to do but get caught up and forget to do. They are there to teach us the nuances we aren’t yet able to discern, unteach bad habits, reteach good ones, work through problems, offer advice, share experiences…and apparently predict the future.
“One of these days you’re going to lean up her neck and fall right off the front of her”. How many times have I heard that? A million? More?
Ah, right again. Lesson learned.
So now I am currently brushing arena sand out of my new sweater and Tailored’s, wiping my helmet off and trying to remember if I still have a warranty on it, and resolving that this semester can only get better from here!