I’m tempted to just leave it at that, but there is so much to say. First though – it was soooo much fun and I still can’t wipe the smile off my face.
Let’s back up to how it all began…
Last Sunday I sent a text to my trainer (squee!) asking to set up another lesson with Gemmie at home. She was happy to come out, but had plans to take her lesson girls to Aiken for a xc school and wasn’t sure which day. I responded innocently that I wish I was brave enough to do xc, but I was pretty sure Gem would kill me to which she responded that I could use her school horse, Ralphie.
I froze. Really????
We decided that a jump lesson at her barn was a good idea before attempting anything over solid obstacles and the lesson became a reality Wednesday evening.
I had butterflies in my stomach all day at work and vacillated between extreme excitement and nervousness. It has been 7 years of riding Gem and only Gem plus I have never had a real jump lesson before. EEK!
I practically ran out of work. It was 30 minutes away and I arrived about an half an hour early. The grounds were really pretty even in the diminishing light and odd time of year where things are just starting to wake up. Two girls on gorgeous horses were having a jump lesson and when trainer J saw me, she came over to give me the run down on where to find my horse and his grooming kit.
Turns out Ralphie is a 24 year old Arab/Welsh Cob with dinner plates for hooves and great bone structure. Most of J’s clients have their own horses and Ralphie is her own personal horse. He was taken out of the lesson program when he had suspensory injury running in for his dinner (the man loves to eat) and was put out to pasture for a year to rest and heal. He came back stronger than ever and is mostly retired now. I brushed him out while he ate his dinner and then waited until her lesson was over to figure out his tack situation.
We walked back up to the jump arena and she asked my experience with other horses and jumping. Um…. I haven’t ridden anyone except for a few times on trail in 7 years and while I have popped Gem over jumps here and there, I have never had a jump lesson in my life. I’m sure she started to wonder what she got herself into.
AHHH…there is just too much to say!!!! Deep breaths…
We started at the walk as usual and there were so many things I noticed about Ralphie right away. Like he actually has brakes, a thing Gem most certainly thinks is optional. The slightest touch of my heel on his side sent him laterally with barely any effort. This horse is trained. What was really funny though was when J would start to apologize for him when he started to get “naughty”. I just laughed. Ralphie’s naughty is nothing compared to my Gemmiecakes. What did he do? Well, he could get a little snippy and when I would push him over to the rail he would then basically run over the rail and I could just hear him thinking “oh..you want me on the rail do you? Well, how is this? Close enough for you?” No drop the shoulder and spin 180 degrees. No get hollow and run off. No pissy head shaking and crow hopping. I giggled each time. in fact, I think I giggled through the entire lesson. When a dream comes true, you just have to enjoy every single moment of it.
The lesson again really doesn’t warrant a blow by blow. We walked and trotted on the 20m circle, then did the spiral exercises and played with transitions seeing how little effort it could take to get a nice transition. The canter was a shit show as I worked through some major Gem induced PTSD. My legs would tell poor Ralphie to go, but my hands would then clamp and tell him no. I finally got it sorted out and things were good. The second half of the lesson we worked over some jumps from the trot. She created two cross rails (here is where my complete lack of jumping knowledge is really going to shine through: I know nothing of your terminology) one was on a diagonal and if ridden straight had me on a line back to the rail and then it was a turn to the left for a second cross rail straight ahead. I think they were likely too far apart to really be considered on a bending line, but the turn had to be ridden correctly or I wouldn’t make the second jump. It also forced me to bring Ralphie back to a trot after the first jump, half halt and prepare for the second.
And this is where the light bulb finally went on and EVERYTHING CHANGED FOR ME.
About half way through the lesson, I just stopped and looked at J. Something was wrong. My right ankle was on fire and everything was just really, really hard to do. She kept telling me that I was posting off the back of the saddle and to bring my hips forward, but I physically could not change anything. I tried. I really tried. I understood what she was saying, but it just wasn’t possible. I looked at her and told her something was fundamentally not right. I know riding is hard. I know it takes time to create muscle memory and everyone has issues with position and what not, but this just seemed more difficult than it should.
She had me come into the center of our 20m circle and she had me move my legs onto his shoulders and just sit. Then I brought them back under me and my entire posture shifted. My legs dangled, my heels breathed against his side, I was sitting on a different part of my seat and it allowed my upper body to sit up straighter with shoulders back. All this without any effort from me. My ankle stopped burning, the tension went out of my elbows.
When I went back out onto the circle, Ralphie was noticeably happier about my balance. When I tightened my core, he listened. When I half halted, he listened. She had me cue the canter and it wasn’t scary anymore. He just went off with the slightest brush of my heel. The jumps came easily and I was able to balance him after each without any effort.
I was grinning like a fool by the time we were done. I can’t wait until the next one and hopefully by summer I will be confident enough to do a xc day with the pony clubbers.
Things I did right:
- She didn’t have to tell me one time to move my shoulders as I turned or was on the circle. See, I can learn!
- My jump position was actually spot on and stable. I think I’ll be participating in 2 point tober next year!
- I jumped in good timing with Ralphie, neither ahead or left behind
- I never once caught him in the face with my hands.
Things that need work:
- Soften those darn elbows
- Raise my hands. I tend to bury them in his withers which locks my elbows in extension
- Don’t get grabby in the canter transition.
- Slow my posting down. I’ve gotten so used to posting at 12 mph along with Gem on trail that it feels normal. No, that isn’t a good pace in an arena on a 20m circle. Slow it down.
- Ride to the actual base of the jump. I tended to stop riding too soon creating a long distance for Ralphie. Ride all the way in
- Practice sitting correctly with my seat which allows everything else to fall deliciously in place.