Like most problems in my life, Murray’s issues jumping this year weren’t exactly sudden-onset. There was (some) warning, and I probably should have known what was going on sooner than I did, but alas – such is the life of a (sometimes deluded in her horse training abilities) amateur. It started in December with the Chris Scarlett clinic, where I was pushed to encourage Murray to open up his stride and take the good longer spot when it was available, as opposed to the shitty shorter spot he prefers, and will sometimes go out of his way to get to. Then a bigger stride was a focus of dressage camp, at both the trot and canter.
The open stride got stuck in my brain. I really pushed Murray for it in warm up and over our warm up fences. And it was going ok. And then I started pushing Murray for a bigger stride and longer spots over slightly bigger (2’6”) fences, and that’s where things really started to go downhill. Murray was stopping basically any time I asked him to take a long spot to a fence bigger than 2’3”, and then when I’d re-present to the fence he was wild-eyed and irrational. During our last jump lesson before the break B lowered all the fences to cross rails and Murray was alternately bolting around the arena and balking any time it was clear we were headed to a fence.
One thing was pretty clear: Murray’s confidence was shot and our trust bank was running dangerously low. But why was our relationship regarding jumping so shitty?
All the evidence suggests it had a lot to do with the number of challenges I was putting in front of Murray. Not new fences or scary filler, but a combination of mental and physical challenges. Murray is not the bravest kid around, but he has usually been pretty willing to try something that’s a little mentally challenging (bounce-one stride-bounce-bounce-one stride grids, for example) or even something that’s a big physically challenging (3’3” fences, tripe bars, etc). But it is rare that I’ve ever asked Murray to do something really mentally challenging that is even a little bit physically challenging.
So let’s go back to this new jumping style. Murray has always, always been the type of horse that wants to take fences a little deeper. From the very beginning he would get right up against the base of little cross rails before popping over them. So to ask him to take a fence a little long is, at the very least, a small physical challenge. To ask him to change the way he addresses every fence? Definitely a mental challenge. I should be clear here that none of these spots were LONG. They were just longer and in pace with the canter we had leading up to the fence. Those extra little stutter-steps that Murray throws in before fences not only puts him in a place he’s more comfortable jumping from, but also gives him the chance to take another peek at whatever we’re coming up on. When I turned Murray toward a fence that, on its own, represented a bit of a challenge and then asked him to do something that he was mentally really uncomfortable with? Yeah, I should have known.
Mental challenge + physical challenge = exploding pony brainz
Because this really isn’t the first time this has happened.
Jumping from an open, steady canter stride is obviously a good goal. It is something I want Murray to be comfortable doing. But at the moment he is pretty clearly not comfortable with it, even when I do my absolute best to give him a really good ride to the fence. And that’s ok. Comfort will come with time. For now we will practice the open stride and not making choppy, shitty adjustments immediately before fences over poles and things that are in no way challenging. I will stop trying to make my horse’s brain explode, and maybe one day we will be able to jump a galloping fence!