After our excellent dressage lesson, and in line with experimental protocols (which I promise to tell you about soon), Murray and I had a jump lesson. This was a multi-purpose jump lesson, as it gave me the opportunity to try out my new jump saddle! I found an Albion monoflap for super cheap on international eBay, and after hearing so many success stories with international saddle purchases I went for it. I also knew that the Albion monoflap tree fit Murray reasonably well, because I had the same saddle on trial in too large of a seat size back in May.
When I got to the barn at 8, I couldn’t find my horse, which was a touch disconcerting. I shortly found Murray in a friend’s stall, which was a side effect of another horse being in his stall overnight. Murray had plowed down 5 lbs of alfalfa in the 30 minutes he’d been in his friend’s stall, however, and since the damage was already done (nothing but crumbs remained of that flake), and I had to ride another horse first, I figured I’d just leave him there. The feed problem was compounded when my barn manager came through and delivered buckets, and didn’t realized Murray wasn’t the horse that belonged in that stall. In the four seconds it took for her to step out of the stall, grab the next bucket, and turn back to Murray in shock realizing what she’d done, he’d discovered his luck and was absolutely HOOVERING down his friend’s LMF gold.
The lesson itself was like a Freaky Friday/Christmas Carol mashup, because Murray was hardcore channeling the ghosts of his jumping past. I didn’t blog then, and there’s not much relevant media, but there was a period when every jump lesson with Murray was just a bucking mess. He balked before fences, bolted after them, and bucked throughout. I would be so deliriously happy to get through a course of 2’3″ verticals smoothly that I’d call the assistant trainer over to come watch me do it again (which never happened because it was never repeatable).
(And yeah, we can play the “he was probably in pain” game, and maybe he was. I had a different saddle then, he definitely had chiro issues that we were addressing from month to month, and — oh yes, pertinent to this story — I still fed him alfalfa.)
We started out unable to get a spot to a pretty small vertical at the trot. I tried a few different approaches on the way in, adding leg, asking for more balance, but it all ended up messy. After we changed directions I focused just on the rhythm of the trot and tried not to think too much about the spot, and it rode much more smoothly.
Our next challenge was a little corner built out of a barrel and two standards. I made the same mistake I’ve made every week for the last month and assumed that a forward canter = a confident horse. NOT SO. Murray slammed on the sideways brakes a few strides out from the barrel. “NO,” I told him. “NO BULLSHIT TODAY.” (I had already fallen of one horse that morning, and he was a super honest but green sales horse, so I wasn’t about to let my much more trained pony get away with bad behavior.) I circled, as we’d already passed the point where I could reasonably make the correction and slow up to a manageable pace. We trotted in, thinking again just about the rhythm, and popped over, and Murray gave a few disgruntled bucks after.
There was a one stride one stride grid set up also, and B lengthened the distances out a touch for our lesson mate, RBF. It’s what Murray and I are working on right now anyway, so I was cool with it. Right up until we headed in to the grid. Murray actually responded really well when we turned to the grid and pulled me toward it, which was fantastic — there was once a time when he’d have backed off hard. He jumped long and flat through it, and then took off playing immediately afterward. This was actually exactly how I’d fallen off the sale horse earlier in the morning. Fortunately for me, Murray is more responsive to my yelling and pulling and slowed down before the arena wall rushed up on us, and I was saved from the disgrace of falling off of two horses, in the exact same fashion, in less than 3 hours.
The rest of the lesson was much of the same. B kept the fences small because we were clearly struggling a little (RBF’s Lucy was also feeling pretty sore from some heavy duty booty dressage rides), and I focused on riding my horse. Murray was up to his old tricks, balking in front of fences and then bolting after them, and bucking on all the long canter strethces. At one point I pulled a little to regulate his speed and direction after a fence and instead of adjusting a little Murray slammed on the front brakes and threw his withers and neck in to my pelvis. I lost my patience at that point and was like “No! No! You can canter like a NORMAL HORSE!!”
I put my leg on, but kept a firm contact with my hands, and didn’t give Murray anywhere to go but between my leg and the bridle. To his credit, he responded really well (shockingly well, actually). He put his head down, lifted his back, and cantered like a normal horse. I didn’t let up for the rest of the lesson — the only time he felt any slack in the reins was when I pushed my hands up his crest a little over the fences.
It will surprise no-one that the fences came much more easily when Murray was keeping a consistent rhythm and actually using his hind end to power his gaits, instead of to fishtail around or kick at imaginary birds. But it surprised me! At least a little. I haven’t really been able to put Murray together this well in the past, so contact to fences usually* == slowing to fences. Since I don’t want that, I err too far on the other side and flap the reins at him like that will solve some kind of problem.
(* Sometimes short reins/contact to fences == me leaning too far forward, or making other amazing mistakes.)
It was by no means a bust of a lesson, though I do want to start jumping a big bigger coming up to Camelot in August. First, Murray helped me figure out that I can probably stick his shit in the new saddle. That’s for sure a win. Second, it gave me valuable data on exactly how to ride Murray when he gets in one of these moods. And while they aren’t common any more, they do show up in some unfortunately critical places — stadium jumping rounds at shows, for example. If I can get Murray as put together during stadium as I did in the lesson, that will be awesome for us.