After a week of hacking, no stirrup torture, and some really great flat sessions with Mr. Riley, it came time to get back in the jumping swing of things in preparation for the show next week.
I had my first lesson in about a week and a half on Thursday, and arrived at the barn feeling mildly apprehensive. Riley has a tendency, even when worked every day, to get a little, uh, exuberant - throw in some jumping, and you know why Trainer always tells me "put your feet forward when you land after that first jump..."
The Assistant decided Thursday was Gymnastics Day, since it was raining like crazy and the outdoor arena was a big sand puddle. I quite enjoy gymnastics, so warmed up gleefully. We started out by trotting a 2' vertical, which she put up to about 2'6" after we went over it twice. From there she put it to about 3' and had me canter a bending line, which read in a boxy eight or a normal seven. We worked on my position a little bit, and tweaked some things to help with my tendency to shove my feet forward on landing and end up sitting back too soon.
After this, she put up a small gymnastic. We started by trotting in to a 2'3" vertical, and cantering three strides to a pile of poles. After we did this once, she made the poles into a jump at about 2'3", and we trotted in and cantered out in three strides. She then put up a second jump in between those, so we trotted in, jumped, took a stride, jumped, landed, took a stride, jumped and cantered off. She put a landing/placing pole down on each side of the gymnastic and worked the jumps up to about 3'3" after a couple rounds... that would be trotting in to 3'3" as well. Riley handled it with ease, and he felt smooth, easy, and patient, though he gave the landing pole the hairy eyeball the first time through. When we trotted in to the 3'3" jump for the first time, I could feel him hesitate and suck back slightly, and a soft closing of the leg was all it took to reassure him that all was well without squeezing him forward like toothpaste shooting out of a tube. I felt really great about that, since my tendency with gymnastics is to rush my horse a little bit. Not today! Our communication was spot on.
We closed out the lesson by jumping a small course, including the gymnastic, set around 3'3" (oxers) to 3'6" (verticals). I rode pretty well and was very pleased with my lesson and the way Riley stepped up. It was hot, so it actually wasn't a tremendously long lesson, but we got a lot accomplished and I was thrilled with him.
I gave him Friday off, just because I felt he should have a little time off in preparation for the show, where he'll be going six days straight with more jumping than usual. It also gave me a chance to watch the Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows, and watch my ridiculously talented Trainer put in some fantastic rounds!
I also had a lesson in the late morning today. I slept horribly the night before, who knows why, so showed up a little cranky and crabby, only to be effusively and warmly greeted by my absolutely adorable horse who evidently missed me greatly! There's nothing better for the soul than a great equine partner.
We warmed up for our lesson, and he felt sluggish and draggy, yanking on my arms and being very heavy. I did my best to work him through it, but he was constantly falling behind my leg. Finally, a well timed swat with the crop woke him up and we were off to the races. I balanced my warmup with a lot of lengthening and shortening within the gaits, as well as a lot of transitions from canter to halt to canter. This is one of my favorite exercises for him - he is fit enough to pull it off quite well and it really helps to balance him up and pay attention.
We started our warmup by cantering over a small, maybe 2'6", vertical. I hit every range of stride from way too slow to too fast, then finally just right. From there, we moved on to adding in a few other jumps. I still couldn't find the perfect rhythm, despite the Assistant shouting at me to do just that, but nonetheless managed to find the jumps and Riley jumped like a star. Every time I spend a few hours watching world class showjumping - like the Nations' Cup last night - I find that I feel like my riding steps up in confidence and precision. It's a neat tool, and one that I try to use when I'm feeling negative and like I can't ride. Visualization also helps, but that's another blog post!
We rounded out the lesson by jumping a course, with the jumps up to about 3'3". Nothing too intimidating but enough that the rhythm needed to be there. Which... it wasn't. Too slow, too fast, too here, too there. Riley handled everything marvelously, and once again my distances were good but it was a little bit of a flurry. The Assistant had me land, figure out my canter while cantering in two point around her, then directed me from jump to jump. We finished by jumping the course again in great, patient, lovely rhythm.
Usually, this kind of lesson would get me down, because I wasn't able to be totally perfect the whole time, but I actually felt good about it - if only because having the knowledge that I wasn't riding 100% perfectly led to everything still being just fine. (And realistically, my "crappy" riding is about 50 times better than it was last summer at this time.) I was really happy that Riley and I were able to sort out the proper rhythm and jump a beautiful course, and I was extremely pleased with him for turning into an adjustable, soft ride after having a less than stellar flat warmup.
Trainer arrives home Sunday evening, and from there we waltz off to the horse show for the coming week. After this week's set of lessons and great flat sessions, I'm feeling excited and prepared for the show. Two things you won't hear me say that often!