I know I have been quiet of late, but that's only really because the Royal Winter Fair was on, and I was busy doing the following:
a) watching amazing international jumpers (hi Beezie!!! hi McLain!!! hi Darragh!!! hi Philippaerts!!)
b) partying debaucherously with (some of) the above
c) partying debaucherously with everyone else
d) stuffing myself silly with amazing Royal food
e) watching all other manner of horse everythings
f) recovering from hangovers.
Yes folks, the A Circuit Party Scene is alive and well. I can personally attest. Ha ha.
I may or may not be in this photo somewhere.
Putting all that aside, in combination with the Royal, I gave Riley some time off (on purpose, I swear!) He had been acting a little tired, due to the intense flatwork and jumping sessions we've been having lately and I wanted to give him some time to regenerate. Same thing for most of the horses in the barn - they (and we!) have all been working like crazy. To be honest, I didn't really realize I was carrying some level of sore-all-the-time on my own person until I had a few days in a row off from riding altogether.
But toward the end of last week, I started doing light flats with Riley and some of the others I ride, and they all came out of it feeling absolutely better for the short break. I fully expected psycho horses and bucking and wildness and they were all very ho-hum about it - cheerful, but certainly manageable once we started back.
This led into the past week, where we got Trainer back from Doha (where he was VERY successful, YAY!!!) and had him all to ourselves for an entire week. New Assistant was trying horses in Germany, so he took over all the lessons.
Tuesday was easy - we had a light flat session, and I flatted a little with Barn Owner who is a few weeks back into it after having most of the summer off. It wasn't the most challenging lesson I've ever had but a great opportunity to review basics and work on a few fiddly little things, like my left hand apparently having a mind of its own. We did a few exercises with rollback turns at a good canter after Barn Owner retired, and ended really well, working with a more direct rein instead of the opening rein that Trainer started us all out with. ("Eet is more definite, more precise, you ready to use both at same time when necessary, we play with zis, see here you need more direct and here you need more open, yes good!")
Wednesday we moved into jumping a little. We started out over a single vertical on, set in the exact middle of the ring, facing down the long side - so you would canter down the long side, say on the left lead, turn left down the middle of the ring (C for dressage people, I think?) and jump the jump after a long enough approach, then turn left or right depending on your preference.
Trainer started the jump around 3ft for my first warm-up fence, which I mentally noted and wondered if we would in fact be jumping a bit higher today. We warmed up well and then the jump went up hole by hole.
At around 3'6" I started to do stupid things - kick a bit too much or pull a bit too much, lock my leg on the last three strides, and try really, really hard to manufacture a distance out of thin air. The purpose of the exercise, of course, was to get and maintain medium canter, come through the turn, not press your horse too hard or take back too much, and keep that nice medium canter and adjust only if necessary.
But can I just say how HARD that is to do? OK, at 3ft, or 1m, or whatever it is all fine and dandy, even if you throw in a bigger fence in the middle of a course. But when it's a single off a sharp enough turn and THEN a long approach (so you are messing with your rhythm on the turn, then giving your mind and your eye a million years to second guess on the way to the jump) you really, really want to be DOING SOMETHING. This goes back to my last post, where we practiced the Art of Doing Nothing, and the exact same thing applied here.
I managed to figure it out well enough at 3'6" and the hole above it, but once the jump hit 1.20m I kind of stopped being able to do very much right. The first time I pulled to the base and got a frog jump, then I galloped, and then I just kept seeing the REALLY short one over and over (and over.) Trainer put the fence back down to 1.10m (which of course looked teeny tiny by then!) and had me jump it; no issues and a lovely distance, then cranked it back up again right away and had me think about and replicate the same feeling. This method worked absurdly well and suddenly I could ride again. We jumped the 1.20m vertical 3x in a row in a lovely fashion, I was happy, he was happy, Riley was happy. Then we had a great talk about the open water and how horses read 1.60m jumps and how to ride Grand Prix and actually it was a great night, the insight is incredible. Have I mentioned ever how lucky I am?!
Friday Night Pony Frands
I gave Riley Thursday off, then flatted Friday. I had a few horses to do, so I ended up on Riley last and just rode bareback. (I know you're all shocked by now.) It was definitely my best bareback ride to date; we trot and cantered and did a normal flat then courses upon courses over poles where I just worked super hard on keeping a nice, medium canter and letting the pole come to me instead of trying to find it perfectly. My poor little bean was quite sweaty by the end - time for another clip - and took about ten years to dry under the heaters.
Then Saturday happened.
Once again, silence on the flat warmup - and then we began to jump. We warmed up over the same vertical in the middle, set this time (as a WARM UP JUMP NOT FUNNY) at 1.0m (3'3") which looks plenty large for your first fence of the day. After maybe four quite perfect jumps, Trainer had me hop off Riley and go walk a couple of lines that he had set. I walked the first line, a vertical to vertical, in a quiet-ish four, then the second line, a bending oxer to vertical in a going five. Trainer was all, OK hop on and show me how to ride them. So I made up a course including the lines and got the numbers but had to work for them a little, meaning I was under pace. I repeated the exercise after Trainer's instruction ("think about what you did, I'm not gonna tell you, now you fix and we talk about it after") and we were both very pleased with the result. I got more pace right away, actually hit my first jump too forward, but then melted back (but not too much!) and settled beautifully for the lines. We practiced the course once or twice more making the bending five into a quieter and less direct six. Both the five and the six were pretty easy for me and Riley; his adjustability has really grown by leaps and bounds and settling back for the six was no problem and neither was assertively going for the five.
Trainer decided, after this, that it was going to be High Jump Saturday - a little bit of a repeat of Wednesday. I personally love High Jump Saturday and was excited to improve my riding from Wednesday.
Well... where do I start? The jump started at 1.10m, grew very quickly to 1.20m, and I was still having no problems and sailing right along feeling great. I hit my distances well - sometimes they were a squidge short, or I would have to lightly put my leg on - but it was never abrupt or yanking or particularly disturbing to the lovely medium rhythm. Mostly, I did what I was supposed to by just SITTING THERE, supporting with my leg and feeling lightly with my hand, my horse in a lovely package and my position in the right place. It's truly astonishing how very little there is to do if you've done your preparation, are secure in the saddle, have a balanced horse and the right canter.
We did the 1.20m vertical off both leads, from short and long approaches, and then the jump just kept going up. I started wondering if Riley was going to just stop or jump through the fence, but he just kept on trying his adorable little heart out. Once the jump hit 1.30m he was a little bit surprised, over jumped it by a bit and stumbled slightly on landing. Then he really started to concentrate! I couldn't believe myself, readers - instead of getting nervous or worried, I was excited, and confident, and my only thoughts were concentrating on my canter and Trainer's voice. My position was, dare I say it, as close to flawless as it's ever been; I was never once out of balance, falling on Riley's neck or getting left behind, my leg was under me at all times, and our take-off spots were as close to ideal as they can be. And so the jump just kept rising and rising. By the end, where we eventually stopped, it was the smallest of hairs below 1.40m. And guess which super cute little horse didn't even touch the rail a single time?
This is not me, but this is a horse jumping 1.40m.
We jumped the 1.40m jump (can I just say how much typing that BOGGLES MY MIND?!) three times in a row in truly lovely form before stopping. Once we reached that height I could feel Riley doing different things; he was studying the jump a bit more as we came to it, and I could feel him really summon himself up, almost crouch and then sort of explode off the ground to clear it. It's definitely a different feeling than the ~la la la smoooooth~ feel we get most of the time when jumping smaller.
Also not me, also 1.40m.
And can I say? That was officially the coolest thing ever. EVER. The adrenaline junkie in my person craves more. All I want to do now is jump that big again and revisit the memory in my mind over and over. I am so happy and so proud of both myself - I've never jumped that big - and my horse - who has also never jumped that big!
Still not me, still 1.40m.
Trainer was also, how shall we say this? acting like a proud parent? He made me take a picture next to the jump, he is in the photo as well grinning like crazy, and spent most of the afternoon bragging to anyone who showed up about how big we'd jumped. Of course I was setting jumps for him after and he did high jump for himself (on one of the 8 year olds who has more scope than should be allowed) and cleared 1.55m sort of casually. So cool to watch.
Saturday definitely comes toward the top of the list in terms of the best days I've had in my entire life, and of course one of the best horse related days. Any motivation that may have trickled sadly away at the dire thoughts of never ever selling my dressage horse and never moving up in the jumping world has definitely been renewed with vigor. As trainer said, "you have entered a new phase in your riding!" and I fully intend to first stay there and then move forward and that the universe is not in fact conspiring against me and that somehow it's all just going to be okay. I feel like I end blog posts like this a lot lately but... it's coming together. I can feel it, the proof is now actually tangible and I am so ridiculously hopeful and excited for the future. Big things are coming.