As I left the barn on Monday night, a feeling I can only describe as euphoria came over me. It was cold, dark and rainy, yet I couldn’t help the smile that was plastered across my face. I have struggled with big problems and tough decisions regarding Miles all winter long, and truly successful, happy rides have been few and far between. Monday night was proof that I couldn’t deny: my riding and my partnership with Miles have both dramatically improved over the few months.
Despite my lamenting about the tediously slow progress I’ve been chasing, I had a ride where all the right things came together all at the same time. The lesson didn’t start out very promising: rain all day kept my horse inside, and our flatwork was lackluster. Our warm-up was so, so and I focused mostly on loosening my horse up from standing in his stall all day. As a group, Trainer had us do a few flatwork patterns, which again were so-so. I rode okay, Miles listened okay; nothing terrible, but nothing spectacular either. Our warm-up jump (trotting a small crossrail) was similar in feel.
So when we moved on to jumping a line, I wasn’t feeling the magic. We trotted in across the diagonal over a small crossrail with a steady five strides out to a vertical. Our first time through was okay, but we didn’t stay straight in the line. the second time through was very nice though — a super even five strides, a nice jump out and I worked on stretching up after the fence and shaping the turn. We had a break after that while Trainer schooled a few other horses through the line, and Miles promptly fell asleep.
When it was my turn to jump a course, Trainer asked what I was comfortable jumping. I told her everything, but that I was a little nervous. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I doubted their truth. I didn’t feel confident, but I also didn’t feel nervous. So she had us pick up a left lead canter and gallop over a 2′ oxer (with scary AstroTurf boxes underneath). And it was perfection; just absolutely lovely. Miles picked up his canter right away, and moved up when I asked. I found a great distance, had a good release, stretched up on landing and shaped my turn beautifully.
Our first course was the 2′ oxer, to the line (which cantering was now a forward four strides instead of five strides), and around to a white gate. We had a nice first fence, and hit the line well. The four strides was right there (to my surprise!), and I didn’t have to chase Miles out at all. He got a little heavy in the corner, but came back nicely. I found a short distance to the white gate, but I saw it, asked for it and rode it well. That’s one of the best courses I’ve ridden all year, especially on this horse. I was beaming!
We waited our turn again, and the next course was absolutely perfect. We started out with the line, which challenged my ability to get the correct pace right away. I felt confident though, and got my pace quickly without a fight. We cantered up the line in an easy four again, found a slightly longer distance to the white gate, but we were rolling by then, so when I saw it, I just closed my leg and it was no big deal. Miles was a perfect gentleman on the other side too! I found a tight spot to the oxer, but again, made it work well. Trainer shouted for us to keep cantering and do the whole course again.
I knew by then that our momentum had increased and that I’d need to half halt in the line. So I stretched up on stride one, half halted on strides two and three, let go on four and over we went — absolutely perfect. The white gate was a little bit short, and I found the perfect distance to the oxer this time. I finished absolutely thrilled. So much went right during the entire course:
- I established the correct pace and knew where I was to every fence
- I was able to stretch up and balance Miles through the turns
- Miles behaved after every fence and took every distance I asked for
- After 8 jumps I wasn’t dying!
Over the last six months I’ve had so much doubt about whether Miles and I could succeed. I’ve worked incredibly hard to get better, and on Monday night I proved to myself (and Miles proved to me) that the horse I bought and fell in love with is still in there, and that we absolutely can go show at pace in the 2’6″ hunters. Slowly but surely, my confidence is being restored and I’m realizing that all of my struggle over the winter wasn’t for naught: I’m a better rider than I’ve ever been.