Today was awesome!
The first big piece of news is that my riding buddy got a car. So no more paying for Zipcars every week and no more fretting about returning them on time. This lets us be so much more relaxed during the lesson and then after it, while cooling down our horses. Walking them out after the lesson and then hosing them down is really relaxing and makes me feel so close to my horse. Being face to face with him and caring for him creates a much stronger bond than just riding him and handing him off to someone else.
The other good thing is that Hannah was back. We were both a little rattled after last week’s lesson with Omar, and Hannah’s calm energy soothed us immediately. We warmed up with flatwork like we usually do with her and that made us both able to jump at our normal level. It was a relief.
I rode a large bay gelding with a long neck named Jasper, and my riding buddy had a compact flea bitten grey (that’s grey with little flecks of darker colored hair throughout) named Casper. Both of them were new mounts for us and both were a pleasant surprise in their own ways. My poor man, Jasper, was really tormented by the flies today. We rode outside in the sunshine to escape the crowded indoor and despite the fly spray we had a swarm of them following us. It’s too bad I couldn’t explain to Jasper that standing still and biting the flies is a never-ending and futile battle and that if he would just keep moving they’d have less of an easy target to bite him. I could have very easily gotten extremely frustrated with his stop-and-go-and-swish-and-bite routine, because constantly squeezing him to walk forward gets tiring on the legs, but I just decided to let it go. We just walked slowly on our breaks with a lot of fidgeting; not the most tranquil way to rest between exercises but after fighting it in the beginning I kinda just had to let him have his little OCD fantasy of killing all the flies with his teeth.
Once we got moving and I told him that we needed to focus, I found him to be a very solid and comfortable ride. He is larger than the other horses I’ve mostly been riding, like Jubilee, and had a long fluidity to his stride. Especially at the canter, it was a joy. When you’re moving at a faster gait like the canter it can be hard to sit deep in the saddle and drive your horse forward if his stride is short and choppy. But I love when the stride is long and lope-y; it’s like sailing on waves that are smooth swells instead of chop. While jumping, this also makes it easier to maintain position in the saddle and use your seat and legs to guide your horse instead of frantically gripping to just hold on.
I could really feel the difference in Jasper’s jump as opposed to Jubilee’s as we did our first line. It was the one that she sped through in four strides a few lessons ago. Jasper took the line in a much slower pace but with his longer strides that just eat up the ground, we took the line in five. I loved the solidity of his jump. When I was younger, I loved riding bigger horses. I was like a tiny bug on the back of these 17-hand giants and I felt secure with all that horse under me, especially over jumps. As I have aged, my taste has turned toward smaller horses because I felt I had more control and frankly, less distance to fall from with them. But today I was reminded of that feeling of solidity and steadiness of a larger horse. I felt like I had more time to plan for the next jump this way. It is not as heady as the swoosh down the line where my muscles just throw themselves into jumping position from instinct, but it is in some ways more fun and interesting. This was very useful because today for the first time since returning to riding about a year ago, I got to jump a course.
There are several jumps scattered throughout the ring in different configurations; a course is simply a prescribed path through certain of those jumps. It takes a lot more control and a lot more planning than simply going over one jump or even over a line. The one we did today really challenged us to do just that. We started out with the first jump in a line on the long side of the rectangular ring but turned away instead of doing the second element and instead made a rounded turn to take a jump that was placed on the diagonal in the center of the ring. Then we made a very sharp, very deep turn around to the right to take the second element of a line on the opposite long side of the ring. Then we came around and took the second element in the… Hahah. I just realized no one will be able to picture this like me and that I was getting carried away into real nerd territory here. Suffice to say that it was a challenging and fun course with a lot of unexpected twists and turns that kept us and our horses on our toes. And we did great! It felt awesome. My riding buddy looked so professional steadying her faster mount as he was having a tendency to charge some of the jumps. And she said that Jasper and I looked so collected just floating along and then popping over the jumps as they came. We were in much mutual admiration today and both feeling so good about our progress and abilities after last week’s setbacks. We felt like champs!