It’s no secret — neither Eli nor I handle distractions very well. We have focus and discipline issues. But we are working on them. We got to work on them A LOT last Friday and Saturday.
Friday, I had tentatively planned to school Eli over fences with my trainer in the afternoon because it looked like that could fit in my schedule. However, something came up and my trainer had to leave early. No problem, I’ll just hack around in the sun for once during the week! My trainer said I could work on whatever I wanted to over fences and we would school on Saturday for sure.
Hrrrm … this leaves me facing that whole discipline issue. My trainer basically told me to work on jumps to be ready for our lesson the next day. While I do jump sometimes on my own, I hadn’t had much consistent riding on Eli for the week because of the weather and my work schedule. When last we jumped, we worked on trotting into a line and halting, then trotting out, etc., but that wasn’t something I wanted to do on my own without a pair of eyes on me. I settled on trotting a few fences, trotting in and cantering out of a bending line twice, trotting into and cantering out of a straight line once, and cantering two fences on a large half circle once. Eli rode well, very obligingly, and felt as though he was jumping well, too, although the fences were quite low. There was a bit of a biting north wind, but I mitigated that with a bonnet on Eli so the wind wouldn’t distract him as much.
I felt pretty good about what we had just worked on and thought we would be able to accomplish a lot in our lesson the next day.
And we actually did accomplish a lot the next day — just not so much over fences. Not that we didn’t jump — we did, but mostly in the same vein as the day before — trotting in, cantering out, halting in the corners … while I had hoped we’d be able to build on the day before and jump some courses, Eli wasn’t mentally in that place, and I’d be hard-pressed to get there myself under the circumstances.
Saturdays are very busy at the barn, which is to be expected at an h/j barn with lots of amateur and junior riders. But this Saturday seemed busier than most, both in and out side of the arena. I think there were 3 or 4 lessons going on across two arenas and they weren’t all private lessons. One horse threw a spook in front of Eli, so Eli took that as his cue to jump a tad out of his skin. Also within view of the arena were a few piles of cleared brush that were burning off and I think that had a few of the horses a bit nervous. And it was drizzling, which Eli hates. And there were dogs, and multiple trainers giving instructions as their students rode. All of this was frying my brain. Eli jumped out of his skin a second time, and I decided to try another approach, rather than just trying to ride through all the white noise and traffic. Plus I thought it would be pretty rude to any of the students riding at that time for me to stay in the arena with my nervous horse.
But this is exactly the kind of environment Eli needs to practice in. I walked him back down to the barn, walked him through the barn aisles a few times, got back on and took him up to the fields. His brain had slowed back down and he wasn’t totally relaxed (mainly because of the drizzle at this point — he seriously hates it) but he was rideable, and we could work on getting warmed up for our lesson without getting in the way of others. Luckily the grass in the fields wasn’t slick yet even in the drizzle.
My trainer and I agreed that all these distractions set up a bit of a test for Eli, and it was good for him to be exposed to so many things and still have to work. We jumped a few jumps and Eli, though tense, was not doing anything out of place — halts in the corners were messy, but he landed on the correct leads and jumped from good distances otherwise. And of course I had to really resist any urge I had to move up to distances and just let him jump from a quieter canter and out of a shorter step.
I am very proud of Eli for handling the situation the way he did. He is still not what I would call simple or ammie-friendly, but he is getting there. When we got to the business of jumping, he stayed very focused even when surrounded by a lot of commotion outside the arena.
Unfortunately, rain is in the forecast all week, so we probably won’t get a chance to jump again until after Christmas. I’ll have pony time every day anyway, even if it is just to work with Eli on the ground in the barn aisles. They are saying we could get snow again on Christmas, which is insanity in this area!!