This week has been a hectic one, for both pony and non-pony business. I have to negotiate the process of getting a new passport (more complicated than it should be, but I’ll cover that when it’s all said and done) and we leave for Camelot on Friday, so there’s lots of packing and laundry and tack cleaning to be done. And I’m moving at the end of the month. And the WSS Horse Trials are on September 2nd. And I expanded one of my positions at work.
You know. Just a few things going on.
Anyway, my fearless leader had to travel for the first half of this week, leaving me without a trainer for a jump lesson pre-Camelot. This isn’t a big deal, since our jump lesson last week was super fab, and we also get to school the XC course on Friday prior to showing. But one of the young riders, and resident kid of our barn manager, set a new stadium course on Tuesday so I asked her to give me a little lesson before Camelot. This kid, we’ll call her Pie, has been running prelim for the last year and riding naughty ponies as long as I’ve known her. She also has plenty of experience riding Murray, though mostly early in his career. And she’s fifteen.
During warm up, Pie told me to slow my trot on approach to a crossrail. I was like “um, do you even Murray, bro?” because a slow trot always leads us to disastrous warm up fences. I much prefer to over-do it and kick him to them instead. She insisted at the canter as well, and I didn’t comply and pushed Murray for a long spot instead, which resulted in a really ugly chip + me getting ahead. So it was going so well so far.
I didn’t want to jump too much, so Pie built up the course in pieces. We started with a short approach to a white gate, rollback to oxer, shallow bending line to vertical. I kept my philosophy of squeezing Murray into the contact in my mind, and tried to remember my revelations from earlier in the week (post also coming later) about shaping Murray using both my inside and outside aids before a transition. The transitions weren’t beautiful, and the canter still wasn’t in my hand, but stadium rounds start whether you’re ready or not, so I tackled the first fence.
Murray, shockingly, did not stop at the gate, which hasn’t been on a course in six months or more. He did pull a little through the rollback, got a funny spot to the oxer, and somehow what should have been an easy seven turned into an ugly eight for us. We tried again, and got the same funny spot to the oxer, then I pushed for six strides yet drifted even further out on the bending line for another ugly eight (or seven, I don’t even know).
Murray: oh Nicole, could you stop biffing the turn to this oxer please?
Pie lectured me about the bending line. I needed to pick a track and ride for that track, instead of not picking a track and riding for nothing. “And half halt,” she added. Which, to her credit, she had been saying to me for the entire lesson already. I just wasn’t really listening.
Half halting my horse is hard. Half halting while jumping results in slowing down and stopping. Much safer to push.
Anyway, we finally committed to a good distance, then added in a triple bar (!!! for triple the fun) with five strides to another vertical. I felt Murray hesitate ever so slightly as we first approached the triple bar, so I tapped him lightly on the shoulder (and immediately regretted it because I worried that he would use it as an excuse to lose forward momentum), and we went right over. I did absolutely climb his neck at the vertical though, because we had too much speed coming in. Pie told me to half halt, I did nothing, and so we got yet another atrocious spot.
In case you haven’t caught on (I hadn’t), that was the theme of this lesson: Pie told me to half halt, I didn’t (or maybe did, but only a little), chased my horse to the fences, and got shitty spots. It was the. whole. lesson.
Murray, on the other hand, was a freaking star. Long spot, short spot, Nicole climbing his neck, Nicole getting behind — he jumped it all. He is clearly ready for this. At one point we lost momentum after a sharp turn to the barrels, and when Murray had nearly ever excuse to stop over it, he went anyway. He was jumping really well, and being so, so, so rideable. He was a good boy.
I, on the other hand, was riding like a juggalo.
After a full course at Novice+ height (we measured later and Pie had set it kinda big, which is good because that’s how I like to prep for a show), we discussed my half halting problem. I had realized throughout the lesson that my problem was that when I heard “half halt” I was hearing “slow down”, and the two aren’t really equivalent. I also didn’t want to half halt because I have a tendency to be grabby with my hands, and that really does slow us down. If I instead half halted with my leg on (you know, a real half halt), I could balance Murray’s energy instead of letting it get long and flat.
Pie also said that I needed to stop chasing my horse to fences, and trust more than he was going to do his job. The phrases “you don’t need to gallop to every fence” and “this is not cross country” may have come up.
But, I whined, I’ve had to kick Murray to fences for so long that I don’t know how to do anything else.
Half halt, Pie told me.
I settled on one more course of a few fences to get the pace and balance right. I picked up a canter and approached the first set of jumps — the ones that had given me so much trouble throughout the day. “Is this the canter I want?”
Pie told me to half halt. (She does actually know how to give directions other than this one.)
Magically, we hit the gate perfectly. Through the rollback, Pie told me to half halt again. So I did. I crossed the line we had (literally) drawn in the sand to mark where I should be able to tell how many strides it was to the oxer (yet another problem I was having), so I told Pie that it was three strides from there. Which it was, perfectly. I had to half halt again in the bending line to the vertical, but that also worked out perfectly.
The first three fences had gone so well that I decided to just finish out the course. Coming down to the triple bar I heard Pie tell me to half halt again, so I did, and that one was a perfect spot also. Every single fence came perfectly, except one that I couldn’t resist chasing Murray to the base of.
So yeah. I spent my morning getting schooled by a fifteen-year-old, which I am not used to. I’m sure I would have struggled with the directive to half halt even if it came from B, though I probably would have just done it because it’s ingrained in me to do what I’m told by authority.
I learned a lot from this lesson. Namely, my horse is being a fantastic boy right now, and I should trust him a little more. I can’t chase him to the fences, because it messes up his ability to find an appropriate takeoff. I seem to have no clue what an appropriate canter is for stadium, but I’m sure I’ll learn. And for god’s sake I need to remember to half halt (when Pie tells me to).
Next step: fix those atrocious hands and awful landings!