I’ve been waiting to jump outside on Miles for months. My biggest challenge with this horse is keeping him mentally happy and in the game. Indoors, he gets cabin fever; I can hardly blame the guy, after 6 months of riding in the indoor, I’m sick of it too. So on Monday when we got to jump outside, I was beyond thrilled.
Miles was my second lesson of the night (more on that later), so I was a tiny bit behind by the time I mounted up. No big deal though, as I knew I wouldn’t need much time to catch up. I did a quick warm-up on the flat, working mostly on Miles being responsive to my leg (forward, bending, sideways), yet not being too abrupt or demanding. For us, it’s important to find the balance between allowing Miles to go and do, but him still respecting that I’m in charge. Overall, he was really good despite the heat (it was over 80* by the time I got on at just after 7:00pm).
The lesson pretty much started over fences right away, and we began low and slow. For me, I like this approach when I need a little bit of confidence. We trotted a small crossrail a few times, where I focused on looking up and creating the canter on the landing side. This is key for my success with Miles over fences. I’m getting much better at seeing distances and picking one (even if it’s not perfect), but what I need to be more active in is the landing: stretching up, being strong through my lower leg and creating that forward canter away from the jump. Trotting crossrails really helps me with that, because the jumps are small and therefore the energy upon landing has to come from me.
Our next exercise was cantering the crossrail, and then coming around to a bending line, which was a single vertical to a hogsback. The fences weren’t big, maybe 2’3″, but the hogsback made me nervous because it was a bit different… we don’t normally jump “jumper-y” jumps like that with Miles — he mostly just jumps plain verticals, verticals with fill or oxers because that’s what we see in the show ring. I shouldn’t have worried though, because Miles was great. I tried to create a more forward canter to the first jump, because the line had ridden for others in a forward five strides. The vertical came up nicely, but I wasn’t quite sure of my pace through the line, and ended up with a long spot out over the hogsback. It wasn’t super long, and I planned for it, asked for it and was prepared to ride the landing, so it went well. I came around and jumped the line again, and even though I got a short spot into the line, I really sat up and asked for a gallop out and the hogsback was perfect.
I was thrilled with this. The whole time, I was thinking and riding. I didn’t always find the perfect distance, or know exactly what pace I had, but I made each decision, communicated what I wanted to Miles and rode what I got. I’m starting to really see progress from all of out hard work over the winter, and DAMN this victory felt sweet.
After our short coursework, we transitioned to a gymnastic. Longtime readers will know that before this winter, Miles and I crashed through gymnastics. I suck at them, Miles sucks at them and it was just no bueno. But we’ve both worked on this skill, and while we’re not great at them, we CAN do them. This gymnastic was two one-strides, which started out as crossrail -> one stride -> crossrail -> one stride -> crossrail. It took me about two or three times through to feel the correct rhythm (I got left behind a few times). But once we got going, it went really well. The fences went up, until the last time through the jumps were raised to a crossrail, 2’3″ oxer, 2’3″ vertical. I worked hard at keeping my eyes up, leg on and releasing over the middle jump, which is shockingly difficult to do!
One time Miles started to play a tiny bit after the third jump, but I was able to stretch up, bring his head up and he let it go. To which I loudly proclaimed “I love this bit!” Yes, the Waterford is indeed magical.
We finished on that note, and I was feeling the high of an awesome lesson. My horse felt great, I felt strong and capable — it was a really big confidence boost for me. I’m starting to really feel ready for show season. And I can’t help but be excited and hopeful… maybe this year will really be our year.