If you can’t be kind, be quiet

This plaque of this hangs in my barn manager’s house.  We’ve all heard it before.  It’s something I generally try to keep in mind in regular life, and now I’m adapting it to my riding life as well.Today I joined a jump lesson that isn’t my regular one.  I felt like jumping, and our assistant trainer was kind enough to let me join her group lesson.  The lesson was fantastic; our assistant trainer is one of the most positive people I know, and we really worked productively on Murray’s tendency to rush between the jumps.  At the end of the lesson, we tacked on the quarter round to our course.  My barn’s quarter round is about 2’6” by 2’6” and we’ve jumped it before, just not in a few weeks.  I had reason to be a little intimidated: it’s big, solid, and someone had added an extra pole behind it (oooooh, scary).

See?! Jumped it already! Without standards even!
So of course, Murray ran out.But let’s be brutally honest about the ride: as we approached the quarter round, my nerves got the better of me.  I sat, and when I felt Murray hesitate and drift left I threw my left leg on and he ran out to the right.I apologized to Murray for my ham-handedness, circled, took a shitty route back to the quarter round, and we jumped it right off.  He rushed in, and I let him, as long as he was going to be honest and take it.  We jumped it twice more for good measure, ending on a nice, clean jump with a calm approach.

So what is going on here?

That “left leg on” was, it seems, the equivalent of flooring the port thrusters with a simultaneous direct injection of uncertainty.  When Murray checked in with me to see if we were really jumping that thing, I responded with my body as I so often have in the past: “HELL YES WE ARE.”

It turns out that Murray doesn’t need me to yell at him (with my body or otherwise) about jumping.  He knows what his job is, how to do it, and he actually likes it.  If he could speak, I’m sure he would tell me he’s da boss, gosh darn it.  But every once in a while, just occasionally, he’s not totally sure he can do something.  In those moments, in that split second of hesitation, he needs me to back him up (“yeah man, we’re jumping that!”) without treating him like an imbecile (“JUMP IT YOU MORON!”).  For Murray, this means stay the course: not too much leg, don’t pick with my hands, and eyes focused beyond the jump.

This is the blessing and the curse of a egomaniacal sensitive horse.  Support me, but don’t smother me.  Ask me, don’t tell me.  I know what get off your leg means – I’ll get off it right past the jump!<

This is a new place for us, and let me tell you, it feels fantastic.  For a long time, Murray needed some pretty firm aids, closed legs, and a driving seat to most jumps, especially ones he was a little noodly about.  So when I’m not sure we’re on the straight and narrow for a jump, my first instinct isn’t to trust the kid – it’s to remind him that “HELL YEAH WE ARE JUMPING THAT.”  But apparently, not trusting my pony, and the subsequent body-language-yelling isn’t very kind.  So if I can’t be kind, I’ll just be quiet.  And if I’m quiet, Murray has shown me that he will rise to the challenges I set in front of him, and even get me out of a tough spot if I need.

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