There comes a moment in your riding where you have to stop and remind yourself how far you and your horse have come. You are not heading nowhere. Your partnership and abilities grow stronger every day. With every step, with every half-halt, with every canter transition. You and your horse are learning something together. Remember that.
During my vacationing at Disney World 2 weeks ago, Gracie stayed at home in boot camp. On my return I had two days of flatting her (and trying to get myself back into shape so I didn’t feel like I was just flopping around!) before lesson day rolled around. I did a good 30 minutes of warming up and flatting before the lesson – for both of our benefits – and we went right into cantering over little x’s on a circle.
The first thing I noticed was that on the landing side of the jumps she was reaching down and forward and pleasantly cantering away. Not that our problem before had much running after the fences, but she just felt more relaxed and balanced after every jump. Continuing onto 5 or 6 strided broken lines and a long approach to a single vertical, the next thing I noticed was all the adjustability I felt. She could speed up coming around the corner, but I could sit back and bring her back to the same balanced canter I felt on the first exercise before we left the wall again for the long approach to the next jump.
So by this point I’m ecstatic. I walk over to my coach and tell her all the things I’m feeling and what I can see she worked on in Gracie boot camp. Then my coach tells me that she did not jump Gracie over a single thing during her week with her; she only flatted her. This was the first time Gracie was jumping in 2 weeks.
From there she told me what she focused on; getting her to move forward off her leg, and doing everything in a calm zen-like way with this horse. Gracie is a very smart, sensitive mare who is very aware of her rider and therefor her rider’s state of mind. The week before I left for vacation I was stressed and anxious when I rode Gracie, which is where her own stress and anxiety was coming from. This is why this mare spooks. When Gracie would spook, her reaction is to drop her shoulder in and drift away from “the spooky thing”. She is not actually “spooked” by anything, she just feels the anxiety from her rider and this is her reaction.
The way for me to fix this is to be very aware of my emotions and keep corrections relevant to every different situation. If my horse is careening around the ring, be aggressive with my aids and bring her to an immediate halt, relax, walk on and start again like it never happened. But if my horse is dropping her shoulder in and drifting away from the corner, quietly change the bend and don’t overreact if we cut off the corner a bit, just continue like it never happened. There will come a time when certain things should be expected of her, but for now that list is not as extensive as the 10 year old 3-foot hunter I had last season. I’m riding a green thoroughbred who started her new career 6 months ago, had a significant injury, and has been back into full work again for less than 2 months. I’ve got to give the mare a break sometimes!
So the next step; continue what I’m doing and keep adding on. Engage her mind and her hind end in our flat work. Change the pace, extend then collect and vice versa, use the whole ring, get her to calmly go past piles of poles in the ring (they might bite). And the most important thing for my mare is to be very calm and forgiving with her, and she will give the same back.