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Would never have imagined a better official tenth anniversary post. It’s a bit tl; but please do read.

***

‘Are you going to do the eventing?’

Eventing? As in ‘three day’? It was the first I’d heard of it and I had to think twice, to be honest, before I said ‘Yes’. Despite the usual trepidation about doing something horsey I’d never done before, any excuse to be up at the yard is a good one, and I really wasn’t ever going to say no.

Three day eventing is comprised of dressage, cross country and showjumping, and was originally developed to test the cavalry for mastery in all three disciplines. Taken as a whole, it’s daunting, and the variables of each, in terms of riding Connell, were fodder for the sort of mind games I could play to psyche myself out. Taken over three separate weekends, one event each Sunday, there was way too much time in between to get lost in my head — or, if I was choosing to be optimistic, loads of time to focus in my weekly lessons in between disciplines, and psyche myself in.

Dressage: boom. No worries there. In fact, I was keen to show off how good he is at it, how well he listens to the aids, how we actually manage to do this pretty well, together.

Cross country: eh. He has his moments, which do not run on a spectrum but are either 0 or 60. I prefer the latter because we are at least going at speed and I needn’t break a rib trying to get him to go, and I was pretty sure that there was a time factor involved in this aspect — we’d need all the help we could get.

Showjumping: *sigh*. This leg of the competition was bound to be in the upper arena, and we had yet to even get round a course up there, much less me staying aboard. Okay, we were improving in the latter aspect, but despite my intellectual awareness of what was needed to get him to stay a course, I had yet to bring this to fruition physically.

Ah sure, feck it. What did I have to lose?

DAY ONE
We got the test on the Wednesday, to learn by the Sunday. Two years ago, maybe even as little as one, this would have felt utterly impossible. But like anything else, the more you learn a technique the easier it gets. I have a method that has to do with drawing the test out over and over until I ‘know’ it — but knowing it in my mind is not enough. I tried some of the transitions in warming up before my Saturday lesson, and that helped — but the ‘knowing’ comes from the doing. I wouldn’t be doing it until the actual moment on the day.

No pressure.

On the day, everyone was in their proper clothes — jackets, white jodhs, even ties and shite, like the hairnets. Dammit! I have all that stuff but have never worn any of it, because things are generally low key up at the yard. Was I going to lose points for wearing the wrong thing? I was assured I would not, and frankly I hadn’t ever ridden in the jacket and had no idea of how it actually fits in action and wouldn’t want to test it out at the last minute. (Note to self: wear that jacket sometime when actually on a horse.)

I shook it off, and went and groomed Connell, stopping short of trying to plait his mane. I reckoned I could use about half an hour to warm him up. Up in the arena, I felt pretty good: he was awake, aware, perhaps happy to have gotten a good brushing before setting out to work.

The white boundary markers were down, there was a stranger in a Jeep parked at C, the whole thing was utterly official and I managed to be excited by this rather than intimidated. I knew the time for my test but hadn’t bothered to note who was in front of me so I could figure out when I was meant to go. I wanted to make sure we had just enough time to chill before going in, but not so much that Connell (or I, in fairness) would lose focus. At some stage, after doing a bunch of transition and some moves that I thought we might not do so well, it became clear that I could go at any time, so I went.

I introduced us to lady in the Jeep. I brought Connell up to trot, waited for the honk of the horn (my signal to start), got the beep and began.

Well, overall it felt pretty good. We entered, and I thought That entrance was not great, but just kept going, one transition at a time, just went forward into one thing after the next, feeling when something went well, realising when things could have been better, forward, forward until the end, which came as a relief and a paradox: every 20 metre circle felt like it took about 20 hours, but then all of a sudden we were done. Madness.

I got my sheet: 114 out 220, mainly 6.5s and 7s. I also got the insight that what I feel may not match up to what it looks like: I earned a 7 for that entrance, which had felt pretty wobbly. Peeks at other participants’ marks revealed that Con and I were pretty much in the middle of the class; I had hoped to do better, but felt like the pressure was off.

Until showjumping day.

DAY TWO
This ought to have been cross country day, but due to the possibility of rainy weather, the showjumping was moved up.

In my Wednesday lesson, we had jumped in the upper arena. Connell ran out once, up the side of the hilly verge at the edge of the arena, and tanked off to the back of the ride. I stayed on, kept him under control, and tried again. We got over the fence. Later, he tried to run out again, I prevented it, we got over, he tanked off, I stayed on, and… yeah. What an amazing confidence-building exercise.

I woke up on the Sunday feeling actually nauseous and I didn’t want to go. What difference did it make if I didn’t continue? I wouldn’t look like an fool, that was for sure. I wouldn’t look like I didn’t know how to ride a horse. I wouldn’t look like I had some nerve even joining in at all. I kept up this equally amazing confidence-building monologue as I dressed, got on the the bus, walked up the laneway of despair to the hill of death… and as much as I hate that quarter mile uphill, it served to get me out of my head, into my body and onto the horse.

It also served to help me start repeating different thoughts. I am staying on that horse today. Connell and I are going to get round. If I have to take him down to walk in between each fence so he doesn’t tank off, I will do that. I am going to stick to the 70s and stay the course. One fence at a time.

I am going to ride this course one fence at a time.

I walked the course with another rider, went and got Connell, warmed up, popped a few fences. There weren’t too many other participants up in the arena, but we got cracking anyway. I went third. Leg on, head up, heels down, canter, fence one, two, three… He wasn’t fighting me and after a while, maybe around the sixth fence, I didn’t feel the need to bring him down to trot after every element… we went clear through the first round and went for the second, a repeat of fences one to six — and I got into my head before fence three and tried to prevent him running out even though he’d given me no indication he was going to, and he knocked it — but we got over the last three, only four faults, the first time he hadn’t managed to get me off, put in a dirty stop, run out of a fence. We got round, and while I berated myself a bit for that fallen fence, as far as I was concerned, it had been a triumph.

Somebody said, ‘Well done, Sue!’ and I babbled a bit about how this was the first time we’d got round and they said, ‘Yeah, but you’re also in fourth place.’

Whaaaaaaaat. I immediately took a picture of the standings and Insta’d it. If this was as far as I got, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

DAY THREE
Woke up feeling not quite as nauseous because we’d gone out into the fields the day before in my lesson (yaas); got a lift halfway up the laneway of despair, felt pretty good… then saw that there were flags up at the elements in the tyre field, like a proper legit cross country event and got breathless all over again.

I had somehow managed not to Google ‘three day eventing scoring’ throughout the week. Had those four faults knocked me out of the standings entirely? All the other adults went double clear, or only had four faults as well, how would it work, even if they had done the 80s and I had only done the 70s? There wasn’t an updated list… hmm, maybe I needed to concentrate on my course.

I wasn’t going to walk it but realised I ought to because the fence markers were a jumble of numbers and letters. I was going to do the minis which comprised two fields, starting downhill — hate jumping downhill! — in the four jump field into the tyre field and then back to the four jump field, which was now more of a six jump. New logs were down on the ground, and even though I knew to look for the red flag to be on my right, it was helpful to the nerves to have an idea of where I would be going. Anyone in a position of authority was pelted with questions, and one glance at the sheet laying out the fences for the other courses cured me of any notions of doing the midis.

So, the children and I got ready to go. We warmed up in the upper arena, followed the leader down the gate, and went in the order we just happened to be in, in the ride.

Some of the kids looked peaky. ‘I’ve never done this before — gone over these logs by ourselves,’ I said. ‘I’m nervous.’ And the girls exploded with agreement: none of us had ever ridden in the fields basically alone, we all knew how the ponies were, chasing each other, what if we went too fast/what if we went too slow? ‘We are all going to be great!’ I said, and the girls (and I) took a deep breath.

Connell and I were fourth. At the start of the warm up, he felt a bit sticky, a bit distracted by the ponies, a bit bolshy, but I worked through it slowly, mainly because I felt mostly okay. When it was time for us to go after our ‘three… two… one…’, he gave desultory hop over the first log, and then started to trot down the hill after the pony ahead. I wanted to keep him going, but I didn’t want to get up the pony’s butt, so we took it easy — and it became easy. Once we got over the downhill log, it was smooth sailing — he even waited calmly with me until we let the ponies go ahead, and then went from 0 to 60 properly as we trotted through the break in the hedge to fly over the last elements.

‘How’d you do?’ ask the scorekeeper. ‘Clear!’ I replied; I brought Connell down to the walk, patted him heartily on the neck, and the watchers at the gate cheered.

Delirious with relief, I put Connell back up, gave him his well-deserved Pink Lady, and hung around and watched the midis and maxis, standing on the highest hill freezing to death but feeling so well in myself. I had given it a bash. I hadn’t given up. I learned so much: how to gauge how Con and I were doing and how to either do something about it or take advantage of it; how to move forward through something like that challenging pre-showjumping lesson and leave it behind; how to do the thing one event at at time, one transition/fence/log at a time… which is what horseriding is all about, if you ask me. It’s about learning from your mistakes and building on your successes without clinging to either; about moving through the rubbish self talk and overriding it with activity and action; about setting manageable goals and of not over-facing myself due to pride and ego.

After the last rider went, I debated legging it down the hill to the laneway to the bus stop. I put on my rucksack and wondered if I could get a lift from someone, but I was asked if I was leaving? ‘Eh, no?’ I said, and leaned on the windowsill. Everyone had gathered and I guessed that ribbons were being given out? Maybe I got a ribbon?

The first place winner in the minis was announced: me.

eventing-2016

I accepted my rosette and trophy, euphoric and humbled. I couldn’t have predicted this and wouldn’t have experienced it if I had based future events on past challenges.

For every fence I fail to get over, I learn how to change something so that my chances of success increase.

For every time I think I may not bother trying, I find myself moving through the thought to take an action.

Next time when I think I have to do a whole thing all at once, I hope I recall this and break the thing down into smaller parts.

Ten years may seem like a long time, but in horse years it equals about a minute. Okay, maybe an hour. Whatever it adds up to, at bottom it’s all about intention. The only intention I had when I got up there on Mercury in 2006 was to stay up and not end up, ignominiously, on the ground. The intention I have now is to keep going forward, forward, forward. And to go double clear in the upper arena*. And from there, who knows? I may even get my own horse one day.

Until then, I’ll just keep showing up, one day, one lesson, one fence at a time. And I’ll keep my trophy in the loo, I think — I hear that’s where Kate Winslet keeps her Oscar.

***

*Which I did do! And then the next week got decanted onto my face! That’s horses!

I just came across this, as a draft labelled ‘2013/02/06’* Is that June 2nd, or the second of the sixth? No, I think it’s February, as this is an American platform, is WordPress. I wonder why we do the dates differently, here? Today is the 24th of the fourth, or 24 April. As we would say.

Anyway, we did this last year. The lesson was indoors, so yeah, probably February, although after the weather we ‘enjoyed’ this winter — rain, rain, rain, which made sandy goop of the lower arena, which made no odds as we went out in it anyway — it must have been incalcuably miserable outside.

The fences weren’t big, but they were tricky:
THE SET UP

Because after the crosspole, you kind of had to jump sideways. Or maybe you ended up jumping sideways because you didn’t approach it correctly.
THE FLOW

What is amazing to me is that I look at it and I remember it, but I know if I had to do it again, it would be easier to do than trying to write about it.

If you do as you’re always told, and look at the next fence, your body sends much of the information the horse needs. Keeping the inside leg on would help here, as well. I remember there was a bit of confusion on the part of Connell and I the first time we attempted the right rein straight, a ‘Where did that come from?’ moment that ended in a cat-jump.

Looking where I was going really helped with the left hand straight. ‘Looking where I was going’ seems like a no-brainer, and it is, but you’d be surprised what happens when you get up the back of a horse, how common sense often goes flying out the arena door.

Going down to A and all the way back around to the right hand straight at M was easy peasy and made sense to both of us, and then made it easier still to do the whole thing over again, a little bit higher {probs no higher than 70, 75cms} {maybe 80?} — but then the added twist of having to take the crosspole in reverse pissed Connell off, who was using his head quite enough for one evening, and I actually couldn’t get him to do it.

I remeber it was one of those nights when a person new to the lesson was all, ‘I’ve never seen Connell go like that!’ — in fact, ah! he wouldn’t do the crosspole in reverse, and was feckin’ speeding away from it, and I said, ‘He feels too strong,’ and the person new to the lesson was gobsmacked. Which is good and bad.**

I remember also that the straights felt like they were that close to the wall, but there really was loads of room.

I love these sorts of exercises, because I do have to look where I’m going, and when I look where I’m going, I’m not so focused on trying to read the horse’s mind, and we just do the thing, and it’s liberating, and it feels like total collaboration. It’s like, we’re both just minding our own business, and it’s fun.

Less than a week to go…

***

*YYYY/MM/DD is in fact the international standard, says Google Answers. Huh!

**Good in that he was listening to me and being forward going, but bad because I wasn’t accustomed to said forward-goingness and I wasn’t very good at bringing him back.

***

I knew something was up, that something was out of joint: I have been out of ‘real’ time for the last while, between bereavement and jet lag — a lethal combo, do try to avoid it as best you can, is my advice to you — so I knew I was in trouble the moment I opened my eyes Tuesday morning.

I woke up, and immediately began worrying about how I was going to get to the yard later than day.

I had a launch to attend in town and I knew I’d have to do a drive-by as it was far enough away from the LUAS to be an issue; but the 44 bus has a stop near the hotel in which the launch was being held, so maybe I could grab the bus there and then get a taxi? But that was a total waste of money, even if it was going to save me a few steps. ‘Steps’ entered into it, as I am back on shanks mare {ha, ha} and walking up the laneway again; ugh, but having to walk alllll the way from the LUAS? That’s like 20 minutes, up a gradual incline of despair, which I was not in the mood for; if I skipped the launch, I could just get the bus to the end of the lane; but I said I would meet some pals at said launch; but; but; but —

Then I considered skipping the horses altogether, but I had overslept on Saturday, and missed the bus, and missed the lesson, and I really needed to go, to have a go, to move myself forward in some fashion.

Even once I decided to head into town and figure it out as I went along, well, I kept figuring out all the variables, and it was exhausting, and I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to have the energy to ride the horse. Which horse? Ha! Add this into the equation. I was fed up with Connell when last we met, and had gone back to Simba, but I still felt wobbly, and reckoned I’d rather have Connell if we were doing flat, but was not going to jump him, no way, in which case I would take Simba — or maybe even Delilah, because she knows when you’re a bit off and can take good care of you, but only if she’s in the mood —

So: I raced through the launch, got to the LUAS, used my Hailo app to get a taxi from Ballyogan to up-the-lane, rocked up to the office to pay for the term, only to discover that my usual lesson was cancelled.

{Cue laughter, somewhat demented.}

Would I just go in the 8pm lesson? Uh, no: it was 6.20.

Could I just mooch around on Connell? Yes, okay.

And thus began my very first time as a lady who is on her own, on a horse.

***

The very first time ever in my life that I had to get up on a horse all by myself was when I showjumped, also for the very first time; that was a lot of ‘firsts’ in one go. I can get up on Connell on my own, so that wasn’t the issue. The issue was: what was I gonna do? With him? Like, what? Mooch, as I had said, up and down the infamous laneway? Go down to the outdoor arena, and then mooch? It was perfect mooching weather, bright and clear, and not too cold, as excellent a spring evening as one could conjure.

But Connell can be a real slow coach on a walk, and I didn’t fancy the outdoor, even though it was gorgeous out. I didn’t really know WTF I was doing, and I didn’t want to make a big show of it.

Except I found that I did know what to do.

Connell greeted me with perked ears; I rubbed my face all over his neck and he thought that was hilarious, and demonstrated this by nipping me on the bum. He was saddled, I bridled him, I joined a Livery Lass in the indoor, I got up there, and I started going.

I decided to practice riding a little longer in the stirrup than I have been. I mean to do this every lesson, but then I feel the pressure of being in the lesson, so I don’t. The thing is, a longer leg means better aids, and better response, and better posture, but I always feel too wobbly. So I took the time to do a longer leg, at my own speed, and worked on my balance, and we went great. Then I did a whole bunch of transitions, and then I did the reining-back-into-canter thing, and then the Livery Lass, who’d put her horse back up, came in again and asked did I want to jump, and I said yes.

So I jumped, and he only stopped once, which is still enormously irritating, but in the main, we did really well. There was no one there to tell me what to do to get him to do something, so I had to do the things myself, and it was incredibly satisfying, to be able to do something — anything! — because I thought of it myself.

Then he was so sweaty and steamy that I took him for a walk, in hand.

It was still gorgeous out, maybe even better since the sun was starting to set, a misty red haze in the west. We both took our time, and both stopped at one stage to look at something. I can’t even tell you what, I mean, the mountains are always there to be looked at, so I guess we both stopped at the same exact time and looked at the exact same mountain? It was the most peaceful thing ever. Just standing, shoulder to shoulder, setting sun, brisk air, green fields.

I chatted with other riders along the way, and it was like… it was like I was Livery Lady, doing the Livery Lady thing.

I rode for the guts of forty minutes. Now, when I warm up the Big Horse of a Monday, when I volunteer for Riding for the Disabled Ireland, I am only getting warmed up in my own brain after fifteen minutes, then it’s time for me to get down and hand him over. Just as I am beginning to understand what might be good to do — leg yielding, maybe? Work on that wonky rein back? Canter transitions? — there’s no more time to do it in. This was the perfect amount of time to do an amount of work that added up to a good work out.

Le repertoire, though, he is limited:  I would need to be stocking up on things to do, on my own. Swot a dressage test, maybe? I’ve got a book of jumping exercises, with many, many things to do with poles on the ground, working your way up to actual jumps… There’s a mental fitness that you get, I am thinking, when you have to think for yourself. I am sure that there is a many a day when you just want to hang out with your horse, and do some serious mooching, but there’s also all sorts of planning that enters into it, which I hadn’t known.

If you had told me, seven years ago, when I wasn’t even able to get up into the saddle by myself, when I didn’t even know how to pull the stirrups down the leathers, that I would have gotten to this stage — well, I don’t know what I would have said. Not out loud anyway — but in my heart I know I would have been shouting Yes, pleeeeeease! How soon? Is it now yet?!? I would have immediately begun worrying about whether or not I’d ever be good enough, and how long it would take, and how could I get there more quickly and easily — and as it transpires, it took no ‘time’ at all. It’s now, now, and it feels like it hasn’t taken that long, after all.

***

I know that weather is only weather, but holy wow, the weather. It is horrible. As of this writing, the sun is breaking the stones, but that’s just for now. Who knows what it will do later? It could — because it has — turn into November in July in the snap of a finger.

Not that is stops me, or any of us, showing up on Tuesdays.

On Tuesday afternoon, it had looked like the gray, the suffocating gray that has been hanging over us like a shroud, was about to blow off, out to sea… and then it didn’t, it started lashing rain about half an hour before we were to begin, and ach, looked like we’d be stuck indoors.

Now, this is a huge improvement for me, and I am not sure when this happened, but I used to prefer riding indoors. I think the walls made me feel safe. It’s not so much that I feel unsafe indoors now, it is more like I now feel safe out of doors; also, the outdoor arena is bigger, and I felt like jumping. Not like we can’t jump indoors, because we do, but — bleh. We’ve been very, very lucky in our Tuesday night weather, even throughout the winter, and this just — it was crap, just like the weather.

And it’s not like we all haven’t ridden in onslaughts and downpours. Did I post about that time I went on a ride out in Bath, England in a deluge? Yeah, so once, I went on a ride out in Bath, England, in unbelievable, relentless rain. I was doing a residential school week in Bath University as part of my psychology degree with the Open University, and we had free time, and I went to the equestrian centre to which I had gone the previous year at the other res school week I had to do for the degree. I got the same horse, Colt, and off we went, myself and the ride leader, and it was insane, complete and total lunacy, but I needed to be out on a horse; too much head-stuff going on, doing the course work. I was soaked straight to me knickers in three minutes. We passed a car that had helpfully stopped to let us go by; the driver rolled down his window, looked up at me, and said ‘You’re mad.’

That is one of the best memories of my life thus far.

Anyway: so, it’s been done, riding in the rain, but who wouldn’t rather be outside in clement weather?

We went out anyway. The rain had turned to mist, and as we warmed up, it was an exceedingly pleasant feeling to have cool water falling on the skin. Plus, Connell and I were on it: bending like nobody’s business, clean strikes off the right rein in the canter — brilliant. We started jumping, and it was… it was effortless. I was in the space where I was doing what I was meant to be doing without really thinking about it, and Con was juiced to jump. In fact, I had to circle him before we headed for the fences, he was so juiced.

I was happy with all the jumps, which hardly ever happens, and I was doing the thing where I look in the proper direction whilst in mid-air over the second fence, and hey, it really helps the horse get the correct lead upon landing.

It was such a great hour. I think I’ve still got the endorphins floating around in my system. It is so great when it is great. It’s okay when it’s not, even though great is preferable; it’s okay when it’s okay because it’s still being there, on the horses. But when it’s great! When it’s great, nothing matters. Locusts could have started raining down upon us, and it would have been fine. Well, the horses might have been bothered. Right, okay, no locusts.

But is it so great when it is great, when it is effortless, when everything I’ve learned to date seems to be there in my actions, and I don’t have to think, and everything goes.

Wish I could be out there now, in the sunshine…

Our usual instructor was off on her holidays, and our substitute was fab — and I’m not just saying that. I remembered that I had only worked with her once before, in a private lesson, and it had been with Rebel, and as we chatted during mount up, on one of the other tracks of my mind I wondered how long ago that had been?

Anyway, I asked about Himself, and P didn’t have any new news (still out on grass, still has been taken out of half-livery), and then said, ‘But remember how well he went that time? In that private lesson?’ and I was gobsmacked that she even remembered.

We had an excellent hour, and I really managed to stay out of Connell’s way as we jumped: just one fence, but it went up and up to 85cms, and all went well, mainly because — imagine this! — I did as P said, kept my eyes on the tree line and didn’t even flick my gaze down at the fence.

Okay, I did, but just the one time, mainly because I hadn’t trusted myself that I was counting the strides correctly.

As I lead Con away after the lesson, I thanked P, who said how she hadn’t seen me ride in a while, and I was going really well, that I was really together, and that there wasn’t a bother on me. And then we tried to figure out when that private lesson was? And was it three years ago? Three years? Really?

Really. Three years ago. And in fact, eerily enough, to the very day.

How weird is that????

I have one more chapter to go in my horsey-divorcey book, and I  — I don’t even know how to get my head around that.

The last chapter to go is the penultimate chapter, which is weird, but not. It’s kind of the ‘biggest’ one of them all, and the actual last chapter was really easy to write, I think it was the fastest one of all.

I think there may also be an epilogue, maybe.

Sorry, totally talking to myself! I had started about three posts this last week, all with variations on the theme of ‘life-lessony stuff’ and I didn’t get anywhere with them.

I also started to post, at least twice, about how spectacularly well Tuesday evening’s lesson went. I’ve usually got a little bit of the fear after a fall, but holy wow, I went at those fences like, I don’t know, A Really Determined Equestrienne. They weren’t massive, and I can’t resist pointing this out, the second fence of the two, organised as a related distance*, was 80cms, and: not a bother on me. Tiny bit of a bother on Con, who wasn’t only nominally in the mood, but I managed to convince him to rise [LOL] to the occasion, and we went really well. Really well, especially after such an annoying tumble on Sunday.

My impulse had been to write about making excuses: I had been going on and on in my head about Oh, those fences looked so high. And maybe they were ‘so’ high. And another part of me goes, So what, just ride… In a gentler way, a few days later, I can agree with that. On Tuesday, we were coming around to the first fence (a turn which seemed really tight to me…) and we did it really well! and then I got caught in the thought, That went really well! and in the seconds during which we approached the second, I realised at the last minute that I wasn’t very well prepared for it, I was just sitting there, and sure enough, Con stopped. [I didn’t fall off!]

It doesn’t pay to focus on the triumphs any more than the failures, apparently. One of the things I really want to get in the book, and that’s why I think there’s an epilogue-y bit, is something one of my instructors said to me a couple of years ago. It was under very similar circumstances: I had Delilah in a private lesson, and we were coming around to a related distance, and as is her wont, she cut the corner extremely tightly, and as I berated myself for letting her, we barely made it over the first fence, and as a result, struggled with the second. When I said I had realised the turn was too tight — trying to justify why the jumps had been poor — my instructor basically said: get over it and get onto the next thing in front of you.

If I could needlepoint, I’d stitch that on a pillow.

The next thing in front of me isn’t the thing that made logical sense, and I went ahead anyway. I’m tip-toeing around it a bit — let’s say, I’m still warming up. I’ve got it all in line, and with all going well — nope, I can’t even write when I think it will be done, because it’s really soon. Don’t want to rush my fences…

* From equestrianandhorse.com: A related distance ‘refers to a distance in between two fences that the course designer has set to be ridden with a certain number of strides in mind, this is where the skill of knowing your horse comes in so that you can judge how best to ride the distance, for example if you have a four stride distance and are riding a short striding horse you may adjust your horses stride so that the distance becomes five strides instead of four.’

I have been many places in the sunshine, and there is really no better place on earth than Ireland when the sky is clear, blue, and cloud-free. And there is no better thing to be doing than racketing around the fields, up in the hills, on horseback.

If you’re not me. I have had an enormous fear of the fields from day one, and in the past, there has been nothing worse than a ride out. But then, we went out a month or so ago, and it was okay. We didn’t canter or anything, and Connell was pretty annoyed by that, he started throwing his head and snorting when it became apparent that we were heading back to the barn after a desultory amble over hill and dale {what’s a dale, anyway?}*

So that was pretty good. I remember chatting to Con afterwards, about remember how nervous I was that one time we went out last year? Ha!

This Saturday was even pretty good-er, because, I don’t know, I just got up there, and we trotted down the road, then trotted back up the road and the lane, and we went into a field, and we jumped a log, and then went into another field, and had a canter round the place, and then had another canter in another field, and then went up to the tippy top field and cantered there, too.

It was fun! Like, cinematically enjoyable: sunshine, eight horses pelting up the side of a hill, Dublin Bay stretched out before us, in all its glory.

Why wasn’t I afraid? I have no idea. Cumulative experience? General sense of well-being? It may be because I felt like I was completely balanced in my light seat. Also, after Connell bunched, and then went into the gallop {it really was a gallop-y canter}, the first six strides were like running for the roses, and then I think he went Hey, wait a second, this is tiring and then he started to slow down. To the degree that during the last few runs I was egging him on: Go, Connell, go!

I can’t tell you how great that was.

I can’t tell you how crap the jumping was on Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »

We didn’t jump on Tuesday, and we didn’t jump on Saturday, and I woke up on Sunday wondering, Do I remember how to jump?

I ride often, but I haven’t been riding for very long, and so stuff like that gets into my head. In the beginning, even up until my second year, time taken off was a source of anxiety upon return because, you know, maybe I forgot everything in a week?

I didn’t have enough experience to draw upon; showing up on Sunday, especially when I felt like I wasn’t going to remember what to do, is helping build up my reference library. Read the rest of this entry »

So, I can’t post video here, but I have it up on FB, and — and I put it on my phone, too…

I’ve got a list:
> Toes in
> Contact!
> Sit back
> Elbows in, too
> Look up!

I’m sure there’s more, but I swear, if I look at that thing one more time, I will never get anything else done!

I did a circle in the beginning, before I approached the first fence, and when I first watched the video I was like Sue, what are you doing? I mean, he was on the correct lead! But then I saw that I had picked up the contact, which was good, because the reins had been flappin’ like a washing line. Okay, I get that.

>Hands down a bit, as well, I think.

Oh, geez, okay, hang on, going to — yeah, wow, get those toes in. And the weight in the outside stirrup. Okay.

The thing is! I am now at the stage where I can actually think about things. Before, it was all about just getting over the fence, now I can finesse my position, the approach, everything. All the… grown up stuff. I’m not a pony girl anymore…

Speaking of approaches: I went alllll the way into the K corner on the way to H, I am so delighted with that.

Fan-feckin’-tastic.

I woke up and thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to just lie here and daydream about going double clear over the 80s on Connell?

This is the thing that makes people not do what they say they’re going to do: it is nice to just lounge around and make up the story, the perfect story, about the thing you want to do, because it always works out, er, perfectly. As a writer, I find this to be the hardest part about getting anything of length produced. I have these really excellent scenes, right, bits and pieces that do have a sequence and a narrative drive, but it’s the linking bits, the other bits and pieces that threaten to make the thing never happen, because, well, they are the nuts and bolts.

You gotta be handy with the nuts and bolts, or the whole thing collapses.

I got up anyway, and commenced conjuring up positive images in my mind. On Tuesday, Connell and I jumped really, really well, and on Saturday, whilst the fences were teeny, we had to jump a grid and then a twenty metre circle over to jump at X, and then another circle to jump at M, and we managed it better every time we did it, so I was feeling pretty good.

Also: nervous. I mean, 80s*. If I hadn’t gotten Con over more than four fences without incident in the past, well, that had demon had been exorcised — but only over 70s.

But I could do it. I was pretty sure. Yeah. Okay. Read the rest of this entry »

FIGURES OF EIGHT

Ten years on from my first ever riding lesson, these posts are still wandering round and round, a figure of eight starting with today, probably, and yesterday, definitely. It's the antithesis of how I usually do things, but... that's horses for ya.

TACK ROOM

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