Jumping a Juggernaut

Sometimes you just feel so small!

It’s a shame the rain picked up this afternoon, as before that it had been a really lovely day. That’s not to say the rain really made much of a difference to my mood, as we were still able to have fun, we just got wet at the same time.

You know how some days you wish you hadn’t bothered? Well today was not like that. Today was one of those days where I was very grateful to myself for getting up and getting on with the day. Because I’ve come away from the day feeling boosted in every possible way. My bank of knowledge has increased, my practical experience has gone up and my general feeling of self feels secure and positive.

I digress. Why did I feel so small today, you ask? Because I was set the rather challenging task of jumping a large and seriously strong Irish Draught Mare. And I’m not a very big person, despite the fact that I’m taller than most of the others at college. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever been considered tall. But I digress, again.

My first task was to get this enormous steam train of a horse under control in a pace other than walk. The walk was fine. Nice and active in fact. Which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, as it meant she was going to be forward and strong in the trot. Better than lazy though I guess. So the second we popped up into trot, she started trying to run away with me. Which immediately set me off thinking “ooooh shiiiiite, here we go, steady on Miss Maggie.”

“Steady that trot Megan” Kelly called to me across the school. I had to focus so hard on slowing my rise while keeping my leg on, feeling down the inside rein and keeping the outside rein consistent all at the same time. I was also conscious of keeping my back straight, as I tend to collapse my lower back a little to try and protect it, and of keeping my toes in.

I was focusing so hard on the things I was doing that when Kelly shouted “YES MEGAN loooooovely” it came at me out of nowhere and I thought “what is she so pleased about?” I looked at down at Maggie to see her rounded, head down, working on the bit and then suddenly realised that the pulling sensation in my hands had gone completely and instead there was a lovely light feeling of connection. Astounded, I turned to Kelly, “Oh my god, this feels AMAZING.” I was probably grinning like an idiot. But I was totally amazed. This massive horse had somehow responded to my comparatively minute hands and legs, and was working a beautiful light and collected trot.

I was then able to continue that lovely light contact through transitions between walk and trot, which felt pretty good. I was thrilled. The other two, Tillie and Emma, also seemed to be achieving some nice trot work out of their horses, so Kelly decided it was time to chuck up some fences and throw us at them.

My problem was that Maggie is not a small horse, which meant the initial cross poles didn’t present much of an obstacle to her. She remembered to pick up her feet, which made things slightly easier, but she was still only stepping over the jumps really. It was a good exercise though, as it forced me to keep my leg on (which I still forgot regularly) and really got me working on keeping the mare straight.

Once the fences were made into verticals, however, we were able to really jump. And boy did we. Kelly kept yelling at me “put that leg ON…come again and this time, LEG ON.” So the next time I kept that leg on and we soared over the jumps. She’s such a genuine mare. Granted, our turns left something to be desired given that I was attempting to steer a cruise liner, but she kept going and allowed me to correct her through the jumps. And when one of our circles went a bit wrong because I completely neglected my outside aids, the super honest and hard working mare that she is, she jumped one of the stands from almost standstill.

Although I had to work extremely hard in between going for the jumps in order to get her back into trot and rebalance it until we were light in front and nice and calm, I successfully managed to keep her steady, controlled and going in the direction I wanted. So I was well chuffed!

Aside from the riding, we also learned some more restraint methods as well as stretches to do with the horses. Poor little Jack got jumped on by the four of us and had skin twitches applied to the extent that he almost fell over in pure “ooooh yeeeeah” joy, all four legs thoroughly stretched out and his withers scratched and rubbed so much that he gave his very best impression of an aardvark. After his initial shock of “aaaah people with things and they’re poking me” he was actually one very happy pony.

The rain may have changed the day a bit and made us less keen to go outside in the afternoon, but it certainly didn’t diminish the successes of the day. I feel very fortunate to be able to get this kind of extra tuition. It’s nice to know that the yard staff are willing to share some of their knowledge and experience with us, and even better when we are able to have a bit of fun at the same time. I certainly think that we are very lucky to have had Kelly join the team, as she is really helping us to advance in our understanding and experience with the horses.

All of this extra stuff we are doing at the moment can only serve to improve our employability. And it is certainly boosting my already determined attitude to learn, improve and push myself to be the best I can in this field. Alongside this I am also hoping to start working on the progressive tests which will eventually gain me the BHS Stage One qualification in both Riding and Stable Management. Which, considering that I’ve only been doing this for 10 months, will be a pretty awesome thing for me to achieve.

I do think I just might make it through!

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