Saturday, Eli and I had a pretty easygoing lesson. Some kind of medal finals course had been set up so there were jumps all over the place. Which meant TURNS. Not really tight turns or rollbacks, but turns that needed to be neat to get to the next fence correctly, turns that meant many changes of direction while on course. We broke it up into pieces, really jumping like 3 or 4 jumps strung together instead of a complete course. It was fun, but I am glad equitation is not in my future.
I had been giving Eli Sundays off for a while, but experimented with his work schedule and found that Mondays off seem more beneficial to him. Since we almost always jump on Saturday, I find that flatting him on Sundays helps him to stay loose, and then he doesn’t do nothing and get stiff a day after jumping. After a Monday off, he comes back to Tuesday with a little more freedom in his movement. So this Sunday I focused on just having a relaxed, forward canter and not much else.
Tuesday evening, I rode Eli under the lights and we worked on a little more consistent engagement in the trot and some counter canter. Typical of a thoroughbred, he got a little more energetic as we went along, and he started getting tense right as I was trying to finish up with a left lead counter canter. That meant accepting a few steps of left lead counter canter and praising Eli’s efforts, rather than trying to press through the tension and demanding more. We avoided any outbursts (yay!) even though I could tell he got close a few times–riding Eli is a balance between riding for the improvement of us both, and riding to placate his nerves. Both difficult things, made more so when having to transition between the two styles of riding many, many times in the space of 30 minutes. I still really just reassure him a lot that nothing is going to come out of the darkness and eat him and try to harness the edginess into a purposeful ride. This mostly works.
Thankfully, by Wednesday night Eli had accepted the whole riding-at-night situation and didn’t feel overwhelmingly edgy. I typically wear roller ball spurs every ride, but very, very low. They actually came into play last night! Although it only took a couple touches and Eli moved right off my leg after that. I took a number of low fences/cavaletti from a trot, cantered a colorful skinny vertical once — from a perfect distance, it felt like — and walked Eli out on a long rein for a while. The evenings have stayed warm enough to rinse Eli off after a ride, and while he has grown his winter coat, it doesn’t amount to much extra hair at all so he’s not taking forever to dry or anything. I haven’t even bothered to hang up his blankets on the blanket bar on his stall yet.