In what was probably one of the most responsible decisions I’ve ever made, I decided that I would take Murray schooling with my trainer immediately after getting home from my 13 day Christmas break. As in, my first ride of the year was to be schooling off property when I planned to get home at nine the night before. But whatever. I’m coming to terms with this new “good horse” I have, and that means I can take him schooling after two weeks of vacation no problem, right?
In fact, that would be correct. With just a little bit of assistance from two friends in the form of some rides while I was gone, Murray was an absolute angel today. The only thing that suffered from a big jump lesson after two weeks of vacation was my position and my thighs. They quiver as we speak.
Fortunately for me, today we weren’t cross country schooling (or I might be a sad sack of jello right now), just stadium schooling off-property to get a bit of a break from the indoor at a friend’s with all-weather felt footing. It was Murray’s first time at the property, and he proved to be every bit the almost-Grown Up Boy I have come to know and love. He jumped right on the trailer no stud chain required, and didn’t even force me to perform some kind of ridiculous girthing-up-voodoo on him. The only bad thing he did was try to walk off while I was doing up the buckled on the bridle, and honestly that’s something we’ve been struggling with a lot lately (yeah, #realworldproblems).
I asked Alana if we could treat today like a show — warm up a bit, and then get straight to coursing. I actually do this a fair bit in my lessons too, but at home it’s much less high stakes. One of the reasons I practice this so much is because I used to seize up and stop riding after warm-up, so if my former lease-horse wasn’t a hundred percent honest or was feeling even a little bit lazy he was like “hahaha yeah just kidding, we’re getting eliminated on fence two” and then I would cry (not joking). I also like to practice scary show-like things for Murray, so that he can have confidence and feel successful at the “scary thing” (jumping things he’s never seen all together in a course) even if those scary new fences are all of 2’3″.
So we did a little warmup, did a couple of little lines to get started, and then threw it all together into a 2’3″+ course. And, interestingly, I had a couple of refusals. This was especially good for me to feel because the last few times we’ve been off property Murray’s been very point-and-shoot to small stuff, but kinda looky at the big stuff, and I’d not paid attention to it. We’ll get to some of his reasons in a minute, but suffice to say the first approach we had to a couple of scary filler jumps (old Christmas tree, a wine barrels panel jump) resulted in runouts and stops, though several equally scary things did not (cord wood, combos).
Our first big refusal was at a two-stride combo, where Murray just ran out to the side and I could feel it from way back in the turn. I did what I usually do at home — big whack, re-approach — and he still noodled his way through it, resulting in me losing a stirrup and jumping two more fences without it but with consistently degrading form. To be fair to him, we would normally have jumped a bunch more times in a warmup — probably five times over each fence, really — so this could be treated like a warmup hiccup. But what I really think is that I just need to be a bit more tactful approaching things when I feel like he’s backing off and ride more like I do to something scary at home — soft, reasonable, but definitely forward. Alana agrees, and had me just circle him if he refused on the first approach and come back to it really straight, and usually that worked really well.
All of our other stops came about because Murray was barreling down on some kind of new jump and I wasn’t trying hard enough/he wasn’t listening hard enough to get the quality of the canter back so we both had more time to think about the fence. My gut reaction, from back when I was first jumping Murray, is just to push him to a fence when he gets like that, and go for the long spot. But I’ve really learned better, and know that waiting for the deep spot results in a much better jump, and that the quality of the canter radically affects our coursing. So I know what we’re working on this month: half halts! And didn’t I just see Robert Dover saying the half halt is everything in riding?
I’ve been watching the George Morris clinics so I tucked in my shirt and wore a belt and my clean-ish show boots, but as you can see, the V-neck is really not appropriate on me for athletics (well, not in George’s world). The hot pink I refuse to give up — it’s just who we are.
In terms of my riding, I was definitely suffering from having had the break, but I am soooo glad I went schooling. It really showed me what we need to work on, and how important it is to get away from home, and made me rethink my schooling/showing schedule for the year. All my old bad habits reared their ugly heads — pinching with my knees, weighting my right stirrup more than my left, and sitting too soon over the fences — but I was glad to see/feel that my automatic release is at least somewhat coming along. All of my previous attempts at releases on Murray have been hideous and result in me throwing myself at his neck over jumps (yes, even more than in one of those photos above!!) so auto is how I’ll have to go, I think. Lots to work on, but at least I know what it is from the photos!
All in all, just a super fun day out coursing with my pony who proved himself, once again, to be more than I ever expected. We ended up jumping around 2’7-3′ (if you measure the poles, Mr. Hanging Knees has never been much of one for following recommended height guidelines), so a solid BN+/Novice school. What a fantastic way to start out my riding year.
After my ride, I got to watch three of the baby/green horses go with their riders and it was awesome. The ponies are all so adorable, and their riders are working their butts off with them. I love watching babies learn. It’s great. Murray, in the mean time, life-hacked his hay bag and then fell asleep once he’d emptied it. What a champ.