Yesterday, I saddled Magic up and hit the arena for some schooling, with one goal in mind: FORWARD. Lately, he’s been basically a pain, refusing to respond to my leg and pulling on my hands all at the same time. Normally, it’s run forward and pull, or hide behind the bit and ignore all leg aids. Last session I spent half an hour just trying to get him off my hands, and all I got was a grumpy Magic with apparently no nerve endings in his sides.
I believe very much in the most important thing to remember in riding being to go forward. No matter how slow the gait, it has to be forward. I can deal with pulling or poor rhythm or a bad frame, just as long as the horse goes forward. So, for the session, I decided we’d ignore the frame and ask for nothing but forward. It took about fifteen minutes and one crack across the withers with the reins before Magic suddenly realised that he could go forward and suddenly I had my star horse back: long relaxed strides, plenty of impulsion and, guess what, he came off my hands and held himself properly and looked about a hundred times happier in his work.
Because he was being very chilled and in a good frame of mind, I decided to set up some jumps. Normally, I don’t like to jump too often for fear of boring the horse, but right now my jumping confidence is at a low and so (of course) are the horses’, so we both need plenty of practice.
I started with about a 60cm upright. And it looked big and scary, so obviously I kicked him into it and he overjumped and I pulled him in his mouth (because that’s so the best way to handle a tiny jump that looks big and scary). I’m actually shocked at how low my confidence is on him. I used to jump 1.10 and 1.20 on him with no worries, but I guess we’re in the place we are now and the only way out is onward – so I’m not dwelling on it.
I stopped and thought. Basically, I could either keep the jump at this height and kick him into it and repeat our performance until he either jumped me out of the tack or got annoyed and threw a buck and scared us both, or I could swallow my pride and make it smaller. I made it smaller. As in, 30cm kind of smaller. Then, I brought him to it in a trot, decided it was much too little to be scary, and we popped over.
I picked it up to about 40cm and again, trot in, pop over, canter out. We cantered it twice and he was perfect: jumped out of his stride, not too high, rhythmic and settled, stayed on the right lead. The same at 50cm. Cantering over the little jump again, I tried to figure out what had changed, and then it hit me.
When we were going over the tiny jumps, I was relaxed. Because of that, I stayed relaxed in the saddle and – crucially – kept my hands forward and still with the reins relatively loose. At the base of the jump, I didn’t kick him over, I just gave him a squeeze and over he’d go. When I was nervous, I’d tense up in the saddle and squeeze him continually with my legs. I’d pull him in tight to try and stop him from overjumping and then, at the base of the jump, think he was going to stop so give him a big kick and exaggerated release, so obviously he’d jump way too high. But when I kept my hands soft and let him do the job himself, he did it perfectly.
Liiiiiiiiight buuuuuulb (Despicable Me‘s Gru voice).
I actually can’t believe I didn’t realise this earlier, but I’m sure glad I have the idea now. I’ll try this again today or tomorrow and see if it’s coincidence or a real revelation.
Little steps forward.