Who would’ve thunk it?
I would certainly have been the last person to ever imagine jumping the fat pony that messed me around so terribly on my first day of college (see First Contact).
To be perfectly honest with you, I’m the last person who ever thought I’d be jumping at all. This time last year I sure could not have envisaged myself launching over a jump on the back of a horse. I wouldn’t have done it on my own feet, let alone relying on someone else’s feet.
My first experience of jumping was one of those completely unexpected go with the flow moments. I can’t remember why (it was way back before Christmas) but for some reason Becky and I were the only students having a riding lesson. I was competent enough in canter by this point (just barely) to be able to ride properly with other students (much to their relief, I’m sure) so Angie was teaching us both.
I was riding a horse that was new to me, a coloured cob called Bramble. He and his friend Queenie come to the college every winter/spring from Llanthony Trekking Centre. (Check them out here: http://www.llanthonyriding.co.uk/)
They’re an absolutely fab pair of horses, but at the time I had never ridden Bramble before. As it turns out, he likes to disunite his back legs in canter. Which I had also never experienced before. It was an interesting feeling, having the hind legs swapping about all over the place underneath me. I tried my best to ride him through it though, with some success. After a while, and I can’t quite remember how it happened, Angie decided to chuck up a couple of jumps. When I chimed in with “Umm Angie, I’ve never jumped before” I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen.
“Oh, well, do you want to have a go? Good okay, you’ll be fine. If you feel unsafe, just hang on.” Becky added her reassurances, and so I thought “Well, why not? It’s worth a try.”
She only popped me and Bramble over a few small crosses, but it was my first ever experience of having absolutely no connection to the ground at all. Bramble was a good boy, and took me over nice and easily with not problems at all. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was meant to be doing, so I just tried to move my body along with the movement of the horse. It seemed to work well enough.
Now that I have learned more about jumping, I know that moving with the horse is part of it. What I didn’t know at the time, were the technical details like softening with the hands and pushing your weight back into your heels and bum even when it’s out of the saddle. I’ve been taught these things, and more, since then and have had the good fortune to do a fair bit of jumping at the weekends with the yard staff.
Today was one such jumping day. Okay so it’s not a weekend, but it is the holidays now. There was a staff development day going on, where a group of HCT staff from the Hereford Campus came and rode for a bit in the morning. They seemed to enjoy their team-building experience and were cheering each other on during the riding sessions. Once they had finished, we were able to turn out most of the horses. This meant that my choice when it came to riding this afternoon was limited to one horse and one horse only.
The fat man. The chubster. The sexy pony. The little dude.
I thought, “well, okay, let’s see if we can get some nice work out of him today, let’s get a feel for that horrific saddle and do my best.” Kelly then announced that we were going to do some jumping work. She set up an exercise in the school of three jumps going across different diagonals.
We worked a bit on the flat first, and got some seriously beautiful trot work out of that little man. I mean, super nice stuff. He looked fantastic according to Kelly (although she does have a crush on him, so is slightly biased) and he felt great in my hands. I was working him in a consistent rhythm, which was a good test for me as well as I was having to use my legs and hands independently. He was working so nicely, I didn’t want to ruin it. As it turned out, I need not have worried.
He’s a superb little jumper. Of all the horses on the yard, he is one that could never be called lazy. He always tries and gives it his all. Which he has to be commended on. Because you can have a much more productive ride if the horse is giving as much as you are.
Kelly popped the jumps up one by one and had us riding over them like this:
And boy did that pony jump. He’s got a seriously smooth jump, and he really tries hard picking those feet up. He dragged his hind feet once and brought down the final fence, but for the most part he was clearing them no problem. In fact, he was almost a little too keen at times and locked onto a certain jump when I wanted him to go towards a different one.
He was sweating like mad before we’d really got going. But then I was working him hard, and it was a hot day. He locked onto each jump and broke into canter, which was fine, landed in canter but then I had to bring him back to trot and rebalance it in the circle before lining up for the next jump and repeating the whole thing.
It was good for him, because it got him having to bend in both directions and work his body evenly. It also helped with getting him to listen to his rider rather than doing his own thing, and the whole exercise was dependent on having a good rhythmical balanced trot to start off with. So he worked well.
And it was good for me too. I had to be very direct and decisive with my aids. I also had to be consistent with my legs, soft with my hands and bendy with my hips. All at the same time. I then had to sit up again in order to rebalance Jack after each jump and get him ready for the next one. So I worked hard too.
If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that I would be doing that with him today, I would never have believed them. Because that fat little pony from my first blog post who chucked me about and made me feel vulnerable and insecure, was sure not my favourite for quite some time. Not because I blamed him, but because he made me realise that I was not going to be able to just jump on and do it straight away. He has come on a long way and has real potential to be an awesome little pony. And in the process I think he has taught his riders a great deal.
It really does amaze me to think how much I have learned this year. If I try and think about it too much, I can’t really take it in because there is so much. My attitude towards it all has altered dramatically and things that used to bother me are now “pfft whatever” moments.
I just can’t quite get my head around the things I can do now.
I wonder if I ever will?