Murray and I have now proven ourselves to be such delicate flowers that Alana offered to take me on my very own XC schooling adventure last week, to prep for the upcoming show at Woodland Stallion Station. You see, our last adventure didn’t go so well, and beyond my general lack of understanding how I needed to ride, part of that was the group atmosphere.
If I didn’t tell you before, I hate schooling in big groups. It’s generally nothing about the people themselves, but just the emergent property of groups that somehow it takes 2^n (where n is the number of people in the group) amount of time to get anything done. People are gabbing, facing the wrong direction, not paying attention, having a jolly good time and all that… and I’m over here like “let’s jump this shit and move on. Jump it and move on.” It’s part an adaptive strategy from Murray (who until quite recently couldn’t school in groups), and part just my general desire not to sit around in the sun, wait, or force the horses to do those things. Now, of course I’m very understanding when someone needs additional schooling — that’s something else entirely, and I get that everyone (especially me) has those days/weeks/months/moments — but it’s all the other sitting around that gets to me.
So we went schooling all by ourselves. And it was awesome!
The theme of the outing was accountability (much like my life, right now). Within the first couple of jumps, Murray proved that as long as I’m riding right, he’s willing to go. As I’ve written about, at Camelot I mistook Murray’s forward gallop for confidence and bravery. Since then I’ve been slowing everything down so that Murray can remember that fences don’t eat you, and I can re-learn how to ride. But in the course of slowing everything down I over-corrected too far in the other direction. On our first approach to a quarter-round-bench-thingy, I mistook Murray’s slow-and-steady canter for quiet confidence and didn’t check in with him to remind him that we were really going. So we didn’t.
Alana reminded me to actually be present for the ride, and when I re-approached with some leg (possibly more than necessary!), Murray went right over. For the rest of our time out on course, I worked on finding the pace that was calm and steady enough to be safe, while also containing enough energy and enthusiasm for Murray to feel like this was no big thing. A very valuable lesson, since clearly balls-out galloping is not a solution.
We worked backwards through the course and came to our old nemesis… the curious case of the extremely steeply downhill log. Alana had me trot up it first so that Murray would know exactly what the question looked like backwards and forwards.
I was a little apprehensive but just maintained that forward canter and soft contact and Murray took care of the rest. Thank goodness for awesome ponies. Also, powerful canter uphill feeling!
And then we trotted down it the other way. Alana checked out all the footing in front of it first, as part of our problem last time was that Murray skidded in the loose footing. Clearly we were not the only horses that had slipped because there were two distinct divets/holes right in front of the log. Alana had me steer to the left of those and approach at a trot but not let Murray die out and lose power. Our first go over was a bit lurchy, so we repeated it a few times for good measure.
We worked our way back towards the beginning of the old course and strung together a few fences at a time. Murray felt better and better as we went, and finding the right pace became less challenging. At least part of that was Murray listening to me more — he had to spend less energy just figuring out how to keep the two of us alive (technically my job, but apparently I couldn’t be trusted). The super awesome upside of this is that it left Murray free to do all those awesome things he used to — like regulate his own striding as we approached the fences, settle back on his haunches, and not rub every single fence we jumped. Now I just need to get my position back under control.
I have a few new rider-goals for the event at the end of the month. First, to balance Murray’s energy to prevent him from getting rushed and frantic but keep enough power and speed. Second, be present for every fence. Even though you can’t always ride just one fence at a time, I can’t let my thoughts about the next fence prevent me from riding the one in front of me.
I find myself slightly annoyed that I didn’t take the time to learn these lessons before — or at least, did not learn them well enough to implement them when they were critical! But it is a learning process, and we’re working on it together. Probably it’s a good thing that Murray let me know I couldn’t ride him absentmindedly at such a low level; much safer than if he’d suddenly put up a fuss at Novice or above. Yet another thing I ought to thank my horse for.