Hands down, Eli and I had one of the best lessons on Saturday that we’ve had since trying out the hunters. We didn’t jump all that many jumps, but the ones we jumped felt pretty much perfect. And you know why? I stayed out of his way. (Of course, still no media because I keep forgetting to bring my little camera up, but I have multiple witnesses so I know I’m not just being crazy about this. My trainer “yelled” at me anyway for forgetting it.) I think the reason Eli was so good when I stayed out of his way is because he knows this job, and wants to do it.
But it’s a hard thing to do, changing my ride to adapt to a horse’s way of going, rather than trying to convince the horse to adapt to my way of riding. I know there are lots and lots of riders who have one ride, for one type of horse, and honestly that’s not good enough for me personally. I don’t want that to be the answer for me and Eli. I can stuff him in a jumper mode fairly easily and he did well with it, but not great. He seems so much more comfortable traveling in straight lines, and big, sweeping turns, and soft, light approaches to the fences. Tighter, efficient turns were difficult for him, even with practice–which makes me think they were difficult for me to do correctly on Eli–no way can any problem under saddle be the responsibility of solely the horse. While he did as I asked as far as approaching fences with a stronger ride (my strong ride is just not all that strong, though) and more leg, and sometimes me simply trying to gun it to get to the base, it was easy to see that by some of his reactions on the back side of the fence that he was slightly offended by this way of going.
I still have A LOT to work on, but at least now I have the confidence of knowing that Eli goes really, really well when I let him approach the fences like he wants to. Hopefully I can get consistent enough that he, too, gets more confident with this style. And of course it helps that my trainer knows my habits, and especially as we came around one of the turns to a single airy Swedish oxer, I could hear her yelling, “DON’T DO IT!” I.e., LEAVE ELI ALONE. And that turned out fantastically. Like, literally, I did nothing and he jumped it great. We only did one full course, although we took parts of it separately before and after to cement some of what we were working on, but it was enough.
There is a small schooling show at the barn on Saturday and the large arena is currently getting some maintenance, so in the meantime I’ll be riding Eli in the small ring and use the low jumps as cavaletti. We did a little of that last night and Eli kind of forgot to pick his feet up a few times, so I pony-club-kicked him over one and he was fine after that.