Holy crap. Wednesday night was….well….super, uber, amazingly awesome. Even Trainer had a huge smile and recapped all the breakthroughs that happened during the lesson.
Lets back up a bit. Wednesday night was lesson night and I am really starting to love my summer evenings in the arena. I had my choice of either dressage or jumping and chose the latter. With jumping we typically spend the first half on flat work anyway, but then I get to work on jumping too and it feels like a bit of a reward for both Gem and me. Plus, I really want to work hard on beating down my fear when it comes to jumping and only practice will solve that problem.
True to form, the first half an hour was spent working on the flat. I was really proud when Trainer complimented my posture and even said my elbows were loose and following. I have worked really hard over the last four rides on my own to get my hands to remain with steady 1 pound of pressure on the reins and follow Gem’s head instead of being stiff. I was so happy my hard work paid off. It still isn’t effortless to ride like that: if I stop thinking about it I revert to my motionless arms, but I can more easily return to it once I think about it now. Soon it should become automatic.
It was hella hot out, near 100F and humid, and the sun was still full blaze at 7:30 pm, so we stuck to the middle of the arena where the shade was and made a square. My first exercise was focusing on maintaining her rhythm around the entire square and making my turns without letting Gem fall to the inside. At first I floundered pretty hard. I’d put my inside leg on to turn, but it still wasn’t right. After many attempts I finally got it. After spending 7 years falling in like a motorcycle on every turn, having her weighted evenly felt so good. I was giggling like a 12 year old again.
Breakthrough #1: how to approach and make a turn correctly. Trainer finally got me doing it correctly by doing this: when approaching my turn begin to turn just Gem’s ears inside, when I get to the spot I want to turn add inside leg to push her rib cage out, at the very end of the turn allow her hind end to follow. She told me to act like an 80 year lady driving on ice making a slow, long turn instead of jamming Gem into the turn and breaking through it like a sports car. In this way I was controlling her entire body in segments as we approached, went through and ended the turn.
Not only did it help make the turn even, but I also felt how she could maintain her rhythm throughout the entire square without losing it in the turns. After we made several circuits in both directions, she had me repeat the same exercise at the trot. The purpose of doing this on a square was to have purposeful bend at each corner and then make Gem get square again for the straight aways. In doing so, I really felt how I needed to block her movement out of the turn with my outside aides to get her straight.
The trot work took a bit more effort since Gem barely tolerates my leg and basically insists that any leg equals “go faster”, but we are slowly chipping away at it. As usual we started off braced and rushed, but then I had my next epiphany.
Breakthrough #2: allow my body to melt into my saddle. Sounds weird, but let me explain. Trainer is always after me to slow my posting down and stay closer to my saddle. Her words kept bouncing around in my head but never created any action. Well, this time she told me to melt like ice cream into my saddle and get sticky. I needed to still sit tall, but that “tall” should be in a melty sort of way. I don’t know why this imagery worked so well, but it did. I started to really feel what she was talking about and began posting the way she wants. This created two changes: Gem was much more responsive to my half halts since my center was closer to her and I was able to use my legs more effectively as they remained draped around her with a soft knee.
It was also a heck of a lot more work than my typical style. My legs were screaming for a break after a while and they never do that!
We both got a walk break after that and moved towards one end of the arena. There was a solitary jump set up and Trainer marked that as the center of the circle she wanted me to create. Since the footing had been recently dragged, she would be able to see my geometry perfectly. It was time for the dreaded 20 m circle.
We once again began at the walk and I immediately got called out for only looking with my head. Once I turned my entire body in the direction I wanted to go, Gem became soft and bent as well. I know this. Why I can’t just do it is beyond me. Then we moved back into the trot. We started going left which is Gem’s weaker side by default that it is mine. My left leg tends to want to drift forward. When I lost my bend, Gem lost hers and got tense. Trainer did allow for the fact that any time I put my left left back and on, Gem scooted forward and gave me a little allowance for that but it is something we still need to address. Going right was much better.
I was still in giggling school girl mode as Gem was listening so well. Yes, she sometimes got too fast or sometimes went super slow and heavy but she was easily brought back to where I wanted her. Trainer commented that it was the most rhythmic 10 circles we have put down to date and that we were working together and not at odds with each other.
I would have been happy to call it a day after that, but then Trainer said the C word. Wahwahwah. I really, really, really need to get over my concerns with cantering. I can canter all day long on the trail. I can canter after fences. It really isn’t the cantering I mind, it is the transition. I suck at them. I make them tense. I make it so that I spend the first five circles fixing what I created. Ugh.
Back on the circle we went to the right, my stronger side, and I did my best to ask for a nice canter transition. I sat tall and leaned back a bit. I gave with my hands. She cantered. Then I threw her away and we went careening out of control. Seriously, I can chew gum and walk at the same time. But then I did it again and this time I forced myself to look where I was going, keep my damn legs on her and steer. And you know what? It led to
Breakthrough #3: steering during the canter produces a nicer, more relaxed canter. Odd how not abandoning your horse actually helps things, isn’t it? But honestly, when I forced myself to stop thinking “cantering, cantering cantering we are going to die!” and actually rode by keeping my posture upright and stable and then maintaining a path of travel in which I looked 5 strides ahead of where we were to give Gem a clue as to what we were doing, she moved into a nice rideable canter that was nearly fun to do.
Left was harder, but again my left side is weaker and it is predictable. Trainer was really pleased with it though. She said it was the best canter work we have done. I told you it was an amazing lesson!
After the canter work it was time for the fun part: jumping! I was determined to not let my nerves get the best of me. She set up a solitary cross rail that was set off the rail and required a very particular approach to get it right. We came in at the trot off the rail going left and I made the turn at the correct spot, but let Gem get buried in the turn and she ran out of gas. Then she was so focused on me nagging at her to trot while simultaneously having a death grip on the reins, that she never saw the jump coming and slammed the breaks on right in font of it.
Yeah. My fault. Sorry, Gemmie.
We approached it again and this time I rode her through the turn and did my best to tell her I wanted to jump. It was still a bit stilted because I stared at the ground and held her back, but we went over it. trainer had us approach it from the other direction and then she added in a 2′ vertical. I was to come at the crossrail going left, aim for the rail on landing, sneak between another fence and the rail then loop back going right to hit the vertical. True to form, I freaked before the vertical because it was a new fence and Gem ran out. Again, my fault.
I’m pretty sure Trainer was screaming inside at this time. I mean, I say I want to jump and I am on an honest horse, but then as soon as I see a jump I freak out. Sorry, my brain is messed up.
Trainer set up three jumps all easy enough on their own but with tricky, tight landings. The point was to get me focusing more on where I was going and not at the jump itself. The first jump was our old friendly green and blue crossrail with a tight turn left off the rail, this led to a red and white cross rail set on a bending line which if failed would cause us to run smack into the rail, coming out from jump 2 was a longer approach with a loop to the right then hitting the red and brown vertical which required close attention to thread the needle on landing between the rail and another jump.
Breakthrough #4: Quit caring about the jump, it is a non event, and focus all your attention on the landing. By doing this, Trainer forced me to quit staring at the jump itself or else my landing was awful and we ran into things. By changing my focal point, I was able to keep my legs on and take the jump as it came and then immediately take control on the back side to get us to point B.
The first time through I was still a little hesitant coming towards the jumps. Gem was perked right up and taking me right to them and it was a new sensation for me. It felt like she was speeding way up, when in reality she was just locked on to her target.
The second time though?? Magic! I looked where I was going, kept my legs on the darn horse, let her take me to the base of the jump without holding her back, and then kept my position after to steer.
If felt amazing!!!!!! Like 20 million exclamation points amazing. Gem was up and willing, she was obviously having fun and even dragged me at a canter over the bending line. I had SO MUCH FUN!
And the best part??? All the butterflies were gone from my stomach. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t even nervous. Now if only I could go out that way the first time, but baby steps. I felt like we could have jumped anything at that point.
It was the best lesson I have ever had both on the flat and over jumps. It felt like a major breakthrough happened and we all of a sudden reached a whole new playing field. Gem was happy and relaxed and I enjoyed every single minute of that hour. So much so that I did something maybe a bit stupid – I penned us in for a cross country outing next Friday the 28th!!! Eeek!
I’m not 100% sure where it will be yet, I think at FENCE for those local. All I know is that Trainer mentioned working on water, ditches and banks. All of it sounds scary yet fun so here is hoping it works out.