Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tucker, this is your pilot speaking....

I had a two hour marathon lesson this afternoon.  No, Alicia is not a slave-driver. . . it really took me two hours to get it together.  I'm incredibly sore right now, but I'm feeling very satisfied with the ride overall, despite the fact that it included some really dreadful moments.

Here's a diagram of the course:


We started off jumping fences numbered 1 and 3 above, which were green and white verticals set at around 2'6," starting off on the right lead jumping fence 3, landing and turning left, then cantering all the way down the long side of the ring and then down over fence 1, landing and turning right.  First two times were good, went up to 3' and they were still working out well, but then on my third time to fence 3, I lost my rhythm in the corner and then we accelerated all the way to it and it ended up a little tight.  Not terrible, but not exactly right.  Then we fixed it and fence 1 off the left lead was good, I sat through my turn and compressed his canter but kept a good rhythm, and he found the jump right out of stride.

Then we did the full course.  Fence 1 off the left lead, then the outside line (2a and 2b) in 3 strides, which was a 3' burgundy & blue vertical to a 3' red white and blue oxer.  Around the end of the ring to fence 3, turning left, jumping fence 4 on the diagonal, which was another 3' vertical gate, landing right, then long approach to the brick wall oxer on the outside.  The first two times through I think the course went okay, but the outside line was pretty tight both times because we jumped in really nicely, which meant he landed with more canter than we needed, and I tipped my upper body at him and shoved my hands in my lap whilst standing in my stirrups trying to fit it in (totally and completely ineffective, why do I do these things to myself? why?), so he never really collected and it was more like 2 and a half. 

Then things started going a little downhill.  We were doing just the outside line, and Alicia told me to get a quiet, collected canter and then just soften for three strides, instead of landing too big and then having to fight to fit in three strides.  So, we got a really quiet canter and a nice soft quiet distance in.  And then I did nothing (another shining example of my unerring judgment).  And then I realized at stride three (hopelessly too late to do anything besides grab mane and mutter $&%@!) that we were miles away from the oxer.  Any other horse I know wouldn't have left the ground.  Any such horse would have been well within his rights to politely decline to perform acrobatic feats on my behalf.  Not Tucker, who is clearly blinded by love.  That saint of a horse just sat down, pushed off as hard as he could from behind, cleared the tops of the standards, and landed gracefully on the other side. 

About midway through this monumental effort I felt that horrible moment that most jumping riders have felt at some point or another when no part of me was touching any part of him.  My hands were still on the reins, my feet were still in the stirrups. . . so I couldn't be that far away.  "Tucker, this is your pilot speaking, requesting permission to land. . . ."  Somehow despite the fact that I know I landed like a ton of bricks, he just loped around the corner with that "well, gee, she sure made that difficult but oh well" attitude that makes me love him so much.  Big pats, thank you Tucker, sorry about that, you're a Good Boy. . . . 

I struggled with that outside line for the next hour.  No exaggeration.  There was a lot of this:  Canter around the corner with a good rhythm, get straight to the fence, Tucker starts slowing down, I do nothing except wonder why we are slowing down, and then crawl up his neck for a really ugly chip.  I think he was slowing down because he thought that's what I wanted, or thought that's what he needed to do.  But you'd think that if that wasn't what I wanted, I'd do something to clue him in like, oh I don't know, close my leg? Instead, I circled out of the line about ten times after eating the vertical, seeking to avoid a repeat of the above-described permission-to-land circumstances.  Then I'd try to fix it, by overriding, coming at it way too strong, and then getting down the line in two-and-a-half. 

The good news:  my horse is really listening and super adjustable!  The bad news:  when I start riding badly I'm about as subtle as a sledgehammer and tend to communicate messages like "GO!  GO NOW!  RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!" instead of "Okay Tucker, we need to move up a little here."   *Sigh.*  I'm a work in progress.

We ended on a positive note, finally managing a decent outside line after oh, say, at least two dozen tries, and then the rest of the course was really good, even the long approach to the brick wall oxer.  We did have to jump the brick wall twice before we ended.  The first time I got a little impatient and leaned at him.  The last time, I just sat up nice and tall, opened my right rein for two strides to tell him to stay straight, and then it was a perfect distance and I held my position and landed with a nice balanced canter around the end of the ring.

In spite of all my bad riding (and believe me, I really want to come down hard on myself on this one), I ended the lesson feeling pretty good as I took Tucker for a walk down the driveway.  A year ago, if we had a few bad fences in a row like that, Tucker would start getting really worried and completely flustered and we'd likely have to simplify the exercise to cantering over a pole on the ground in order to make any sort of progress. Today, I screwed him up six-ways-to-Sunday and he couldn't have cared less. Never got worried, never got upset, just kept thinking it through and trying to figure out what I was asking. (Bless his heart, because I haven't a clue what I was asking.)  So that's major progress.  And for the most part, although I was definitely getting into a deep mental rut because I was getting so frustrated with myself (I mean get it together already lady would you?), I didn't have the terrified panicky feeling that I've felt in the past.  So, while I still have some more mental coaching to do with myself, there's some progress there too.

All in all, I am very lucky to have a horse as tolerant and athletic as Tucker, and believe me I take none of it for granted.  Tolerance:  for days like this when it takes me an hour to keep making the same mistakes before finally fixing them.  Athleticism:  for the moments when I make his job truly difficult and somehow he gets it done anyway.  I left him this evening with sore-no-more on his back and legs, standing wraps on all fours, and lots of extra treats for being such a good guy. 

1 comment:

  1. ROFL @ your take off with Tucker. You guys crack me up.

    ReplyDelete

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