“No, no, no. You are not allowed to get mad at her there. You put her in a few bad spots there, didn’t you? You can’t expect that of her at this height.“
Pause. Rewind. 24 hours earlier, I asked my coach if The Mare and I could jump around a little bigger in our lesson. She’d been super good lately, but we also had been doing a lot of smaller, technical exercises. We’re shooting to move up for the summer, so I figured we needed to bump the height a little and start working more consistently over bigger fences. My coach agreed, and I was actually excited for this lesson. Still being relatively new to the world of jumping, I’m usually a chicken, and the only time the fences go up is when my coach cranks them up while I’m not looking.
We warmed up over some lower fences, and The Mare was behaving fairly well. I wasn’t finding the best distances, and we weren’t completely jiving as well as we do some days, but it wasn’t awful. We kept the warm-up to a minimum to save her energy for the bigger fences and courses my coach had planned.
My coach raised the jumps, told me the course, and then everything fell apart.
Jump 1: Chocolate chip.
Jump 2: POWER chip.
Jump 3: Good Lord, my horse is a saint, she should not have gone over that.
By the end of the course, my horse is flat-out running around, getting her legs out of the way as fast as she can, swimming over the fences, and I’m a frustrated mess. I pull her up, harder than she deserved.
Insert quote here about The Mare being a solid citizen and saving my butt.
“This is not on her. This is on YOU. At this height, YOU have to be more accurate. You can get her to the fence at any distance and she’ll leave the ground for you, get herself out of the way, be tidy and smart…but only up to a point. At this height, you can’t drop her at the fence and expect her to magically make it to the other side. YOU need to help her.“
Okay, yea, I deserved that, but it still stings a little bit.
The lesson did get better, but after a disastrous first course we took a step back, broke it down into a few exercises and returned to the course at the end of the lesson. I was happy there was improvement from the beginning to the end of the lesson. We agreed — in addition to my horse being a saint — that we needed to work some grids for my sake, and consistently throw in bigger fences so my eye and confidence are stronger.
Fast forward to my next lesson.
“Those are the best worst distances you’ve found.”
Wait, what? Coming out of the corner to a large oxer — true to her word, my coach has made sure every lesson has had its fair share of big jumps — I was seeing absolutely nothing, and instead of dropping her and saying a prayer, I leaned back and put my leg on like I’ve been told a million times before but rarely actually do. It wasn’t the prettiest jump in our course, but The Mare went over without a second thought, both of us still in good form, and we continued on with the rest of our lives. When I asked my coach what exactly she meant by the above statement, she clarified:
“That was the nicest jump you found on a half-stride. I want every missed fence to look like that.”
She meant that instead of being a passenger I was actively doing something to put my horse in the best possible position that I could. Not that it was going to be perfect, but that it would work out just fine.
As a perfectionist, this revelation was almost amusing to me, and I laughed. I asked my coach, “Are you telling me that this is the right way to ride a wrong distance?”
It makes sense, I suppose. Not every distance is going to be perfect, and it’s almost just as bad to micromanage and nag every stride to the jump as it is to do absolutely nothing. But what do you do when you know it isn’t going to be a good distance? Obviously letting the horse figure it out isn’t always the best decision. You have to ride the wrong distance and help the horse out. If you are far enough out, you might be able to make it look like nothing was ever going wrong. But if you are just a few strides out, what you do or don’t do is going to directly affect how and how well your horse makes it over that fence. And when the fences start to go up, you need to be able to make the right decision for that fence and your horse in that very instance.
Fast forward again, past a grid lesson to help out my hunchback of Notre Dame inpression, past a grid lesson with an enormous oxer and The Mare “not even trying,” and past a lesson with the jumps cranked, me making decisions (good ones this time), and The Mare continuing to be a wonderful kid (even better when we are on the same page!)…we have our eyes set on 3’6″ jumper classes for the summer. As long as I can hold it together, I know The Mare will be great.