I like to think of myself as a confident rider. I’m not fearful or especially nervous, and I know my horses well enough that I’m rarely surprised by their actions.
That said, I was not feeling confident last week about my chances at Willow Draw.
I’ve been spending a lot of time hacking Moe to build his fitness and working on his dressage. I haven’t spent a lot of time jumping him. My reasoning is this: he’s not a young horse, working on young joints and muscles. He also knows his job- he’s never been one to stop, run out, or otherwise act a fool about jumping. (Well, other than progressively picking up speed.) He was great at Gallery Farm’s combined test and marvelous at the hunter pace back in the fall; Moe is a horse who is jumping well and feeling good. I don’t see much point in drilling him over fences.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to get over some fences now and then, so last Thursday I set up a low vertical and a two-stride combination, a crossrail to a vertical. Moe was fine warming up and jumped the little vertical with his regular enthusiasm. But when I took him through the two-stride, he promptly ran out at the second element. It wasn’t a spectacular disobedience- he just dropped his left shoulder and scooted around the jump. Shocked, I directed him through it again. And again he dropped his left shoulder and ducked out. At that point, I realized that while Moe is a good horse, I probably still need to ride him. I got him through the line a couple of times and called it quits. I felt anxious and disappointed.
Thursday’s ride wasn’t very inspiring, to say the least. I dwelled on what had gone wrong, how poorly I’d ridden, how things might be terrible in Texas later this month. I decided I needed to jump over the weekend- really jump. So when I headed to the barn on Saturday, I had a plan.
I set up a course of four jumps that could be ridden in either direction. I reset the combination to a more generous three strides. I also made the jumps relatively low, around 2’3-2’6. That’s smaller than we’ll be jumping at Willow Draw, but I figured I’d rather have a boring, completely successful ride over small jumps than a ride that made me feel the least bit freaked out. I was looking to build my confidence back up. (I’m not particularly worried about Moe’s confidence, as he’s never seemed very perturbed by things going wrong.)
I spent a lot of time cantering over the small verticals in both directions. Moe jumped them just fine. There was no hint of a run out, no thought of refusal. He jumped enthusiastically, and better yet, we saw eye-to-eye on distances. They were generally good distances, too! We only had one very, very long spot (which we both agreed was better than an awkward chip). I worked on keeping my leg on, keeping my chest up, and not over-releasing. When I finally felt ready to send him through the three stride, I did. I felt him think about going left and promptly applied my left leg. He took an awkward step, hurtled over the jump, and cantered away.
I put together a little course after that. We navigated it well, and I ended our ride with lots of pats and praise for my good little horse. Moe took it as his due, swaggering around the arena at a bouncy walk to cool out.
I take Moe for granted more often than I should- yes, he’s an eager and honest jumper, but it’s not reasonable to expect he’ll do all the work for me. He’s a horse! I can’t sit on his back like a sack of potatoes. If I give him a fair ride- a supportive leg, a good approach, a confident ride- he will do very best to get us to the other side of the jump.
If I’m confident, he’s confident. I can’t ask for better than that!