One of my biggest adjustments when moving to Flatlands was not getting to jump whenever I wanted. I’ve always been at barns where there are jumps out all the time, and if you want to jump, you just go over and play. Don’t get me wrong, I understand completely why we only jump in lessons, but because of my schedule (evening lessons, often with flat-only riders) it means that I don’t jump very often unless I make a really committed effort to ride in every extra jump clinic offered.
Which is why I was utterly delighted to arrive last Tuesday night and see jumps in the indoor. It gave me enough of a shot of adrenaline to stay in my car and be responsible and work on grad school research instead of going in and puttering around the barn.
Tristan wasn’t entirely thrilled to see me; some days he just doesn’t want to play. But he warmed up quite nicely, if sticky bending left. We did lots of transitions, alternating, and focusing on our new rules about the canter transitions: no more corners, no more popping the bend to the outside and flinging through them. If I have to manhandle the bend, then that’s what I do. It’s really making a difference. So much of what I do with him is channeling: no, you can’t do that, you can only do this, and eventually he starts picking the right option. He’s not a horse who’s shown the correct way once and goes with it. He has to have every avenue of escape closed off, systematically, every time.
Anyway: line of three jumps, and two angled to the right.
We started figure-eighting over the angled jumps at a trot, and almost immediately found our first challenge. Tris was, per usual, seeking a long spot, which meant that I was taking my leg off too soon, not waiting as much as I should’ve, and then folding far too much in the air – riiiiight on the edge of leaning forward, but not quite. T. pointed out the revelation moment: he was suckering me into leaning forward. When he first said that, I was a little skeptical; I tend to place my leaning habit squarely on my own shoulders. But come round again, with T.’s voice telling me to sit-and-wait, sit-and-wait, leg-leg-leg, hips-to-hands…and there it was. A moment a half-stride too early when I felt Tris brace up through his back and leave his hocks out behind, and I wanted so badly to lean forward and say go, go ahead, take the jump from here. And I didn’t. It was an unbelievably frustrating feeling to fight, like resisting the temptation to scratch a particularly annoying mosquito bite, but I held back, kept my leg on, rode him up…and he went to the base of the fence.
My mind, it was blown. I said as much to T., and he laughed at me, because he’s good like that. Now that I knew what it felt like, I could catch it more and more – at least on single jumps. Coming to the gymnastic line, it all fell apart.
Tris is 15 hands, with maybe an extra half inch if his feet are long, or he stands up straight. His stride is on the short stride, and he does not always appreciate being told to lengthen it, especially in the canter – combination of laziness and lack of education. So we come to a line of three jumps, each a one-stride distance, and for now the first is a crossrail and the rest are poles…and oh my, we demolish ’em. I stick my legs out in space, plant my hands on his neck, lean for all I’m worth, and he lands in a canter and after one stride does a ridiculous trot through the canter poles. Sigh.
So our focus from then on is as it always is: leg-on, leg-on, hips-to-hands, DON’T-LEAN. T. has me canter him in to the crossrail to try and build up a head of steam, and slowly, slowly we start to get it. I keep my heel down and my lower leg more on, and Tris agrees to play ball and thinks about his footwork in the canter. The jumps go up, and I keep kicking, and again there’s that need-to-scratch feeling but I shove my heels down and keep my legs on and sit and wait…and they almost get good. They don’t get glorious, but they get more rhythmic, more balanced.
Only one minor disaster of the day, when I lose my focus and thus my channeling, and my point-and-shoot pony…goes where I point him. To the right of the third jump, after a bad approach to the first, a serious drift at the second, and a glance off the right standard of the third. I could’ve yanked him back for it, and I know him: he would’ve jumped it. But I didn’t slow everything down enough, and I didn’t want to punish him for my idiocy. I swore, loudly, the moment we landed the second jump and I knew it would happen, and then we went through again, and made that $#@$@# line straight.
All in all, it was one of those educational lessons, where you’re wrung out and tired but there was progression. One major bright spot: his canter is so much better, more adjustable, more steerable. I could sit deep and bring my hips to my hands and turn him with my outside aids and all of a sudden I had this little bouncy ball underneath me (or at least the seeds of it) and I could do what I wanted with it. T. even praised our canter, which…never happens. Guess that flatwork is paying off.