It’s been a while since I wrote anything here. Part of that is due to work and being so mentally exhausted that I had nothing left for this blog. Part of it is due to the fact that May and I got a bit locked in a battle of wills over the last few weeks. Now that I really feel like we are closer to the other side of it, I feel like I have the necessary clarity to talk about it.
The last time we jumped a course before this past weekend was my last blog post… a month ago. The lesson after that focused in on bending and suppleness. We basically circled around over 4 jumps on like a 30M circle, working on keeping the rhythm and the suppleness. And it was… mostly a disaster. Multiple moments of May just muscling her way through my aids and being, in nearly every way, belligerent. However, I felt like we got to a place of better suppleness and softness by the end of that lesson, and I was hopeful that we were making progress.
The next lesson though… It was a semi private with another rider. The first exercise was simple: cavaletti to xrail oxer to cavaletti in little bounces. They were set short so a comfortable distance for May to get with minimal effort. All in all, it should have been a super simple warmup for us. Instead? It was basically a disaster. She got continually more stiff and less willing to move off either of my legs, locking her jaw and running downhill at the exercise.
I put her on a smaller circle to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. (balancing and softening makes the circle easy. stiffening and bearing down makes it harder.) May was having no part of it being any easier. The fight was escalating, and we weren’t making any progress.
For the first time in MANY years, I called it quits in the middle of the lesson. I simply told my trainer that this wasn’t productive anymore, and I was done for the day. We’d pick it up in a private lesson next week. She offered to just teach the rest of my lesson on the flat, but I didn’t have it in me. Instead, I had tears, frustration, and thoughts about whether or not to even keep May. (part of this is due to frustration outside of horses, but still… it wasn’t pretty).
Luckily, Chloe is A) wildly patient and B) really well rounded as a trainer. We took jumping completely out of the equation (other than a cross country schooling I had already signed up for), and we went back to serious basics. May got to work in the round pen, learning to yield to pressure (which started with her stomping all of her feet as quickly as she could like a toddler through a tantrum).
My lessons also changed drastically. Show aspirations were thrown onto the back burner. And my lessons turned into coaching on how to get my horse soft and supple and listening. Equipment changed. My trusty Myler gag was replaced with Stubben’s version of a wonder gag. A running martingale was added to our breastplate. The goal with everything was to make the right thing easy (staying soft and supple) and the wrong thing hard (barreling around like a cannon ball rolling downhill).
May also got seen my a chiro/DVM, who wanted her to work in a more connected, supple fashion (yeah, me too) but saw nothing physically preventing her from doing so. While she got limited benefit from the first accuscope treatment, we did another one, focused on the jaw, that did seem to provide some benefit.
On Saturday, I did a lesson with some of the women at my barn. (We all ride at slightly different levels/goals, but it is a lot of fun and Chloe handles the chaos well. It has really helped me, mentally, take a step back from trying to be a perfectionist). She felt REALLY good on Saturday on the flat. Soft and supple and responsive, so not only did we get to go in straight line, but we got to jump a bit! We started just circling over a xrail. The first couple of times to it, May wanted to get stiff and bulge through my leg to it, but this time I was able to correct, she understood the correction, and it got nice and soft and supple really quickly.
We finished by jumping down a small grid. x rail, 4 strides to a raised pole, xrail, raised pole bounce and then 3 strides to a little vertical. It wasn’t perfect, but I felt like she was soft and listening. So we finished that lesson a high note.
My lesson after that though… was even better. May came out feeling even more supple. We got some great work on the flat. (Moving the focus to getting her more maneuverable on her hind end). We then did a little related distance work. 2 poles 7 strides apart. Goal was to do 8 strides. First time through? 9… second time through? 7… third time through? finally 8. On a positive note, my horse was MUCH MORE rideable.
So rideable in fact, that I kind of didn’t know how to ride her. I was reacting to things that weren’t happening yet. So… Chloe told me to ride her like she’s a horse I’ve never ridden before. Just be quiet and soft until she isn’t quiet and soft. Cool. Sure. Yes… except… I haven’t jumped a horse other than May in YEARS. I mean like at least 4 years. But I was determined to try.
We started with the same crossrail as the last lesson, but figure 8 over it. And you know what? May stayed really soft. So I tried to stay quiet, and it all seemed to work… a lot easier than it used to. We had an issue with her not wanted to change leads over the fence (some residual stiffness), but when I rode her a bit more forward after the fences and insisted that she at least try, it got a bit better.
We then moved onto a line, where May stayed quiet and soft and we did the add for seven instead of the true six strides. The jumps were small, so I didn’t mind the add as long as she stayed quiet and soft, which she did. Finally, we were able to put a course together again.
Perfect? No. I should have circled after the crossrail when she got stiff on me to avoid that fight. The 6 was good, but again, could’ve done with another circle after it. Then through the one stride, a lot of horse’s were peaking at the AstroTurf box, so I rode it a bit more aggressively than I needed to. May didn’t look at it, and basically scooted out after it.
All in all though, it felt SO MUCH better than the last time we attempted anything like this. Still a work in progress, and it’s a completely new experience riding something that is so much more rideable. It makes me pretty excited about what we might be like in another month.