Today’s lesson was hands down the best and most fun I’ve had since I returned to riding nearly a year ago EVEN THOUGH I completely bit it while jumping. Funny though, I made my boyfriend listen to “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen right before I left the house because I heard it recently on the radio and was struck by how amazing of a song it is. I think certain songs just end up residing in our blind spots because they are so familiar, but sometimes you hear them again after a long time or in a certain context and they surprise you. This song has an incredible tense energy, a very tightly restrained mania to it that makes it infectious and exciting and fun. This is what my lesson was like: the percussion and guitars hold everything into a springy steady rhythm like me holding my horse into a forward but even pace toward the first jump and THEN comes the exuberant outburst of Mr. Mercury’s chanting and the rush of a happy, excited horse taking a 4-stride line in 3, then galloping full-out around the ring after with a gigantic grin on my face.
Today I rode a small chestnut mare with a big jump named Jubilee and I am crazy in love with her. We started out indoors but my trainer asked us if we were all right with taking it outside where it was hot but less crowded and we agreed. The sun was beating down but being so close to the water down in Jamaica Bay provides a forgiving breeze that makes it more comfortable. Jubilee was being a little mare-y indoors, pissy about the other horses, but once we got outside she cut the sass and perked right up. Despite the heat, she was full of energy, cantering around and around with barely any leg encouragement from me. I was able to work on my position and breathing and to just enjoy the ride.
It was when we started jumping that Jubilee really started to shine. After a few passes at a crossrail to warm up, we started jumping a line that went diagonally across the center of the oval-shaped ring. My trainer said we should take it in 4 strides, but my girl was having none of that. Heading to the first jump, I sat up and restrained her with some half-halts, giving and taking on the reins strongly to slow and steady her. As we neared the base of the jump, her ears went up and I could feel her engine revving as we galloped through the line to take it in 3 strides instead of the 4. This can sometimes be a problem because if a horse goes too fast and cuts out a stride, the take off for the second fence can be too far away, causing the jump to be kind of low and flat and potentially knocking it over, which would cost you in a show. Not so with Jubilee, who for a smallish horse (probably around 15.2 hands) had a nice big arc on her jump. Another problem with a long take off is that if you’re not ready for it, you can get left behind in the saddle, instead of getting up in jumping position with the right timing to flow with your horse. But I was right there with her today. Her energy was so infectious that even though I was trying for the more conservative 4, I couldn’t help but go with her on the 3. The 3 strides felt AMAZING, like flying, like I don’t even know what, I can’t describe it to you. Like the best feeling in the whole world.
After we did the line a couple of times, my trainer added another jump. It was an element of another part of the course and so was not directly in line with the first two jumps, but slightly on a left- bent course after the second jump. After enjoying the rush of the 3-stride line a couple of times, I was now trying to make a sincere effort to calm her down to the 4. We got it in but she was still moving so fast that it was kind of a tight fit, forcing us to take the second jump in the line a little awkwardly. Because of that, I made the decision to avoid the third jump in the bent line the first time around; I felt I was too disorganized to take it.
The next time around, we were a little slower coming in but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to slow her enough between the jumps for the 4 and so about halfway down the line gave her a big squeeze and she responded right away for the 3, but was in such a little maniabunny headspace that I think she was surprised when I turned her toward the third jump. We had a moment of miscommunication and indecision–she went left, I went right–as we missed the jump and I tried very hard to stay on her back. We were moving quite fast at a quick canter so I could have gone flying, but was able to fight it out long enough, using the reins to slow my momentum down so I took a decently soft landing on my right shoulder. I did thunk my head on the ground but with my helmet on, it just bounced. I didn’t then and still don’t feel any neck pain so I think I’m in the clear on injuries. After catching my breath and catching my mount, who calmly walked off a little ways, I got back on. This time my trainer suggested that we just take the third jump by itself; we did that with a calm, lovely jump. Then she said, “How about doing the whole line again?” I hesitated a moment, I have to admit. But then I was like “Fuck that!” and went for it and I’m so glad I did. It was beautiful. I also said “fuck it” to the 4 and just went for it with the 3. There was plenty of room to the third jump even at almost a full gallop and to try to add another stride was just working at cross purposes to my mount. Once that decision was made, everything just flowed. The world was perfect in those 30 seconds as we tore down that line, hitting our spot on all three jumps, in total euphoric unison.
Moving to this other barn has been the best thing for me. After only three lessons there, I’m almost right back to the level of jumping I was at before I stopped riding. My riding buddy is on the exact same level as I am and within a couple more lessons, I feel confident that we will be doing full courses, which is the most fun. I feel challenged and excited here instead of anxious and down on myself like I did at the other barn. I feel like a real rider again.