Saturday, May 3, 2008

Always Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt

Last week was the week to really get back into a riding routine. I had it all planned out:

  • rest monday
  • dressage tuesday
  • jumping wednesday
  • rest thursday
  • dressage friday
You should know that just the fact of me planning the week is a sure sign none of it happened quite that way. But it was still a great week and we had some good rides.

I kicked back into formal jumping with the old Jimmy Wofford trot pole exercise. It was a good exercise to move Brego forward without the "dressage frame". For whatever reason, mostly related to my riding, I am sure, he is never as forward in the jumping saddle as in dressage. He did ok after the first few times where he tried very hard to step right on the poles and snap them like twigs. He finally remembered that he was supposed to step AROUND the poles and suddenly his life was easier. A perfect example of cause and effect.

I then set up a 2'6 vertical with a small gate and just wanted to canter it basically on a circle working on rhythm. You count the strides out loud and the goal is to let the rhythm of your voice help you stay consistent during the approach and landing of the fence. The first couple times coming around on the left lead, we chipped and overjumped, literally throwing me out of the saddle. When he launches 5 feet into the air, I am not strong enough to keep my position.

Then after a couple more fences, he started not being able to turn, jumping sideways, just really terrible stuff that I thought we had covered. I was very frustrated, thinking the time off had made him completely green to jumping again. I was rusty, too. It was just gross, I had visions of buying a proper jumper and just doing dressage with Brego. In dismay I hung my head during a rest and noticed that my saddle was crooked, leaning literally 4 inches to the right.

Ok, so a couple of things I did wrong. I tacked up Brego and did my girth tightening ritual and put the buckles right into their worn grooves on the billets. I did not check my girth after warm up. My own balance is not what it used to be, especially on my left side which has always been a problem. I failed to take into account the fact that Brego's body might have changed over the last two months. And then I was a jerk and blamed Brego for not turning to the left and jumping poorly when I was hanging off his body unknowingly.

I felt instant shame, as I should. And much love for the big guy who suffered under my blame when I was completely at fault. I straightened my saddle, tightened the girth properly and lo! he was instantly balanced through the turn, straight on the jump, and leaving at a proper distance.

To the right he was perfect, so we called it a day. And please believe, I will never forget the valuable lesson I learned.

The next day, Brego walked up back sore. Shocker there, eh. So he got two days off until he no longer showed signs of discomfort. Then I looked at the weather and saw rain over this weekend, so I knew if I wanted to get any conditioning rides in, I needed to do it Friday night. I like to finish my three day rotation with conditioning, instead of starting it, but I figured it was more important to get it in than to put it off.

We aimed for three 5 minute trot sets and two 3 minute canters. This time, I was working on a packed dirt road that wound up and down a large hill, so maybe 75' change in elevation over a half mile. It was certainly more hills than we ever saw in Texas. The other good training lesson I was working on was moving forward at the canter over new ground. Brego is a true looker and he will need to move forward over an unschooled cross country course. So I wanted to see if he could stay forward along the road which has many fun things to look at including children's playsets, a machine shop, a small cemetery with granite pillars, buddy horses in another field, etc. And I did the ride solo, so it was just me and scaredy, er brave, Brego.

The heart and lungs were no problem. Brego completed the sets with good recovery and did not get overly tired. He did suck back looking at all the new horse-eating things, but he at least kept in a trot and I was able to control his bend away from the objects and keep him moving forward. He dropped behind my leg often, but responded to the urging forward. For our first conditioning ride of the season, I was very pleased. He will only get better from here and I think I can get him moving forward mentally as well as physically.

At the end of the last canter, I couldn't resist taking him up a 2'6" bank along the road. It was a good test, we've ridden past the bank a few times, and now at a canter I pulled him off the road and rode him forward to it. Without questions he jumped it, leaving so long and so powerful that I got jumped out of the tack again. Right in front of some hunter girls who frown upon that sort of thing. Sigh. My riding is not what it should be, but Brego continues to pick up the slack and was very brave. I then came back down the bank, slowing to a trot to let him think about it. We have not cantered off banks before, so I did not want to start schooling at the end of a conditioning ride. He jumped right off, no problems.

So all in all, the week did not go as planned. But I am learning how far I need to come, and how kind and generous Brego is all over again.

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