Henry and I had another lesson last Thursday and he was phenomenal. I tossed up if I should jump or flat and decided that jumping was where it was at as to be frank, dressage at this point at an event is an exercise of managing the horse I have on the day. Additional lessons aren’t going to make it significantly better short term.
As always, we started with trotting over a line of poles on each rein. I needed to get Henry forward and pumping over the poles but also relaxed through his back. I got the relaxation first time but it took a few goes to get a longer, pumping trot. I was pleased he was relaxed, it has taken a lot of work to get to that point over poles, but now I have to insist he is in front of my leg from the get go. That is coming along, but it’s not reliable enough yet.
We then cantered over the poles, it was a line of 6 bounces and on the right rein we nailed it twice before switching to the left rein. It was a little harder that way, I needed to support with my leg better but again it only took us a few goes to get it. It was the first time ever we haven’t had to drill the poles for half of the lesson, and I was very pleased. Progression!
My coach put a jump up at the end of the poles and Henry and I canter through easily, so another jump when in at the start of the line. This was where having him in front of my leg was very important, as he stalled out of the corner and while he jumped, it was from a very stuck canter. I came around again and got it better, but the third time I really had him in the right place and it flowed well. Off the left rein it was a lot harder for me to keep him in front of my leg, he would stall and hesitate more. Some walk-canter transitions helped a bit but it’s something I need to keep focussing on. My transitions are so much better though, he goes when I put my leg on, and stays round in the transition so we are progressing, I just need to focus on maintaining it coming out of the turn.
The exercise we were doing really highlighted when he stalled through the turn, which was a carry over from our last flat lesson. On the flat I have been adding leg on the second stride through the turn, but it has changed to needing more leg on the third stride as we come out of the turn.
The jumps at either end went up and even after a few good repetitions, I totally missed off the left rein. Hen was under powered and I saw a long spot and went early. He climbed over it and bucked to tell me off, fair play to him, I stuffed up. I got a stronger canter and represented. He wasn’t sure but I closed my leg and we did a beautiful line of poles. I am so glad he doesn’t hold a grudge, but lesson learnt for me, he must be in front of my leg.
I find these waiting exercises hard, because he needs to be soft, collected, and bouncy but not under powered and it can be hard to find the balance. I need to ride a little stinger and use my hands to catch the power from behind more. I also tend to be less effective when the jumps go up because I feel like I need to ride faster at a high fence. Really, I just need that quiet, soft, bouncy canter.
Next we added a 4 stride line of a tiny upright to a sizeable oxer. The tiny upright was acting as a placing pole. I needed to ride a good turn, pumping him up through the turn to meet the little jump and keep rolling through to the oxer. From there, we cantered all around the arena to an upright with a barrel under it from a very long approach. The trick was to set up the canter and then just maintain it. I knew Henry would back off it, so I aimed for a collected canter and a deep spot, and we jumped it perfectly.
The oxer went up and I proceeded to do a less good job through the 4 stride line. I didn’t ride into the corner enough and while we got it done, it wasn’t good.
We stopped and Bec explained what the problem was, so I came around and did it again, and bam, we nailed it! I saw the stride right out of the corner, Henry sailed over the fairly large oxer and landed and cruised around the turn after like it was no biggie. Job done for the day and lesson learnt. Ride my corners better and keep Henry in front of my leg, especially through and out of a turn.
Bec had mentioned early in the lesson that we had found our grove show jumping and I had semi jokingly said I might need to change disciplines. We discussed it a bit more after the lesson, talking about how tense Henry was at Capel and how much happier he is show jumping. Eventing is my first love, but it’s tough. The feeling after a bad test doesn’t get us off to a good start and it happens more than it should. Pure dressage is fine, I actually have fun there but eventing dressage kinda sucks the fun out of everything.
After Capel I was really thinking about the future, and then again after States. Jumping is fun, dressage is fun, but maybe I need to change my focus. When this season is done, I will have done 8 events in 2 years. I haven’t really missed doing more. I enjoy xc, but it also scares the pants off me. Well, the higher grades do, 80 isn’t so bad. It got me thinking though, and the idea of show jumping more and eventing less is kinda exciting. That’s not to say I would never event again, but maybe instead I will play to our strengths. There are plenty of events when dressage is separate and goes ok. Brigadoon he is relaxed at, Gidge is ok, Dryandra could be good (haven’t taken him there yet, so we will see about it!). But Capel isn’t for us, Wooroloo could be out, Fairbridge definitely would be tricky.
This is supposed to be fun and spending vast amount of money and giving up my whole weekend to feel totally defeated by the first phase is disheartening. This thought process is where I ended up with Coolie back in 2018, and I haven’t missed eventing him at all. We have found other fun instead.
So maybe next year we will call ourselves show jumpers. We will play to our strengths, enjoy staying closer to home and not giving up the whole weekend. We will go to dressage club and compete at dressage comps, work hard, improve and then if we want, go eventing. Maybe we won’t call ourselves anything and just do stuff!
Nothing is set in stone, but for now, I feel excited about this. Of course the next 2 events could go incredibly well and I get addicted again but right now thinking about the coming event brings a mixed reaction, partially pressure to do well at dressage, dread because of the pressure, and excitement at the thought of xc. Dread seems to be the more dominating thought though. I will put it out of my mind, ride the horse I have and have fun. After all, that’s why I’m there!
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