Mom, Willard, Felix, and I made the trek to Mike and Charlene’s this morning so I could have a lesson with Charlene. Felix came along just so he could see what the outside world is like. He was a champ, loaded with absolutely no problem and didn’t even look twice at the new sights once he came off the trailer. Willard had numerous jokes at his expense about his furriness, and roundness- compliments of Mike. All in good fun. Charlene even said after our lesson that he looked better with more weight on, and it’d be awesome if we could keep him a little bulky- with more muscle and conditioning of course. Don’t think he’d make it around a 3ft course at the moment.
As to be expected, Charlene took us right down to the basics. My equitation was picked apart and right away we were on to fixing some habits I’d developed while overseas. I have to say, my equitation has definitely improved over the past 6 months. I’m much more solid in the saddle, and my lower leg doesn’t move much- where as last year I was working hard on fixing that. Something about riding young expensive horses in front of the trainer and owners at a barn across the planet fixed that. Perfection is everything in that situation. That being said, because I rode so many young horses, I got used to riding with my hands in a wider position- which is a common practice when riding some horses, especially younger inexperienced ones. But on a horse like Will, or one who is farther along in training, you don’t need wide hands. So right away Charlene picked at my hands. Another hand issue I have is I tend to pull too much on the inside rein, and we worked on fixing this by doing large circles with me focusing either on my hands, or the centre. Just so I could get the feel back of riding a trained horse, and not having to correct his every move. Because with him I don’t, anymore, he’s falling back into his old regular self again. Slowly but surely. The first half hour of the morning was spent with me just warming up and getting Will used to that arena again. He knew where he was as soon as we walked in the ring. He’s always loved that ring. Then Charlene spent a bit with me working on the flat, nit picking at my equitation. Another habit we’re working on killing is letting my hips slide to the back of the saddle. A minor problem that many riders have. Charlene always emphasizes the importance of keeping your hips close to the front of the saddle, so your legs remain under you- keeping the angle open. This is one of those habits that it’s hard to tell when you’re doing it, because it is such a minor position change- but a important one. And as Kyle Timm once told me in NZ, “The difference between the great riders and good riders, are the ones who have the ability to fix habits on their own without having a coach tell them every five seconds to fix it”. It’s always up to you to better yourself. A coach is there for guidance and support- but if you’re going to progress it really comes down to how focused you are on your riding. Something that’s stuck with me.
After flatting, we began some jumping work. Pretty low key stuff- seeing as I haven’t jumped anything more than thistles in a pasture for 8 months, and neither has my horse. First up was a cross-rail with a pole placed one stride in front. The first time or so we did this exercise it was pretty.. dodgy. We got over it, but our timing was different. We were both arriving at the jump at different times and expecting different things to happen. But after a couple iffy goes, we synced up our timing and did it quite nicely. I’d forgotten how round Willard jumps- and how much this tends to throw me forward more. Now that I am remembering all this, I can focus again on keeping my shoulders up over jumps, and not letting myself fall too close into his neck. Especially over baby jumps. After this exercise we moved to a vertical set in the centre of the ring. Trotting over it and stopping. Simple enough. Again though, the timing thing just wasn’t there. I ended up on his neck a couple of times. At least I’m good at catching myself? Haha. So, we went again, this time with me transitioning from posting to sitting trot a few strides before the jump, so I didn’t get caught mid ride when he hesitated. This helped immensely, and built both our confidence in each other. The next step in the exercise was trotting the centre jump, coming back on an angle one way, then the other, and then back through the centre to a halt at the end of the ring. Coming into this lesson I expected him to be quite strong and pully once we started jumping- because he’s always been pretty excitable when it comes to jumping. I think this is what Charlene expected too. But he surprised us both. Cantering away from the jumps he maintained a light, balanced feel and didn’t try and run into any jumps. He was very responsive to my aides pretty much the whole time. A welcome surprise!
The last exercise of the day really proved he remembered was a light, balanced canter was. We trotted into a wall jump on the diagonal off the wall in a corner, with an awkward line away from the jump. I was to keep him balanced around the corner and then transition to a walk after cantering through the awkward corner. He did it perfectly. I hardly had to correct him. That was encouraging. Even though the whole lesson was focused on the basics, and we were only jumping little stuff meant to build our confidence and get us used to each other again- I was so happy that he was listening so well. It means that once we get into more complex work again we won’t have as far to go. I knew that when I stopped training for 8 months I ran the risk of having to start over completely again, so I’m happy that we aren’t getting thrown right back to the start-again. We’re on our way back! Small victories!