To make up for losing a Saturday to bad weather, I schooled with my trainer Wednesday afternoon. It. Was. Difficult. Eli and I warmed up fine, but we struggled with pretty much every part of the jumping portion. We had to regroup on the flat a few times in between fences. I felt frustrated at times, but also very happy with my horse when we did get what we were going for. There was a lot of circling and transitioning, and at one point I even said I was having a bad day! The wind wasn’t helping either — it was hard to hear my trainer sometimes.
But, never once did I see the struggle as something my horse was causing. Never once did I have thoughts assigning blame to my horse for things going wrong. Never once did I see the struggle as a battle between me and my horse. We may have been challenged by the deceptively simple the fences, but we were in it together.
Did I have to halt hard a few times? Yes. Did I have to pony-kick with my right leg once or twice? Yep. Did I make many, many mistakes? Abso-effing-lutely. Were Eli and I on the same page all the time? No … but we got there eventually. Isn’t that the whole point of a lesson? Learning from mistakes, correcting what isn’t desirable into what is? Achieving the goals for the day by the end, even if those goals seem simple? My trainer is teaching both me and Eli. I am working on NOT sitting two strides out from a fence. I am working on transitions with Eli to get him lighter in the bridle through the corners. Eli is as responsive as can be provided I ride him correctly. We still have light years to go until we can be consistent over a course of jumps in the hunter discipline. But we are getting there. If I stop sitting on him and just wait, he stops rubbing the rails. If I keep my hands forward, he carries us down the lines easily. If I use my right leg AT ALL he doesn’t drift. This is a lot of work and there are no short cuts. There is no bit that will make things easier and Eli lighter, and my hands most certainly fix nothing if I pull–pulling on a TB is pointless unless you are looking for heavy on the forehand. There is not a helmet that will endow my brain with timing. It is all practice, seat, leg, practice, leg, leg.
But a battle? No. Eli is NOT my adversary; he is my partner. I can not understand when riders use language like “battle,” or “bad,” or “fight.” What exactly, are you fighting? Your horse? To get results? Think about what a battle is — conflict, violence, terror, death — is that what you want to experience while riding your horse, to get those things as results? Is that what you are experiencing when you’re riding your horse?
When I ride Eli, I am reinforcing the results I want by rewarding Eli: a cookie, a pat or scratch on the neck, a walk break on a long rein, dismounting after desirable behavior like getting a lead change without a thought … if he reacts in a way that I am not looking for, I question myself first, and usually find my answer. A horse and rider should be in harmony, a tête-à-tête in pursuit of a bigger jump, a more powerful medium trot, a gallop that feels like flying, or a consensus that today is a good day for eating grass and sitting in the sun. It means a lot of self-reflection on the part of the rider.
Riding means A LOT of self-reflection on the part of the rider.