Perhaps the bane of ex-racehorse owners everywhere — horse can’t/won’t turn right: it has struck me and Eli. Even we are subject to such banal training struggles.
Of course, Eli turns right just as easily as he turns left. I pick a direction, he goes that direction. It’s not neurosurgery. Our difficulty is a bit more nuanced than that, and the blame falls solely to me. (As it always does to any horse and rider combination, when a horse can’t/won’t do something, the onus is solely on the rider. Blame placed elsewhere is gravely misplaced.)
So, whilst on course, have you ever turned right through a corner to face a diagonal inside line and just kind of hung on the right rein to do it, when you should have directed the turn with your outside leg and let go of the right rein? Yeah. Me too. It did not end well.
So let’s just go through the lesson play-by-play and figure out how it came to that and what we did to correct it. First of all, Eli warmed up easily as always with a few trot jumps and cantering a few singles. The lesson was a semi-private with a jumper rider, but for warming up, we did the same thing. The fences went up a bit after warming up, and the jumper rider and her horse did different courses that we did, but I still find it very instructive to watch other riders and hear what the trainer says to them. Learning by doing is best, but it’s not the only way to learn.
The first course for us actually went pretty well — the only issue I had was that I did not correctly ask Eli for landing on the left lead coming off the outside line toward the barn. So I had to do a simple change before the long approach to the single on the diagonal.
The second course was a little less great. Most of the jumps were fine — if I ride correctly, Eli responds beautifully. However, Eli can be demanding and there is no margin for error if I want to keep him on pace as opposed to lighting him up, getting quick, and jumping flat. We missed the lead off the outside line again, and worse, I COULD NOT get through the right turn to the inside diagonal line. I hung on the right rein, which Eli did NOT appreciate. Although I wasn’t exactly pulling back, I was in his face enough to piss him off, and he took off a bit in the line. I pulled him up HARD before the turn after the line. My trainer actually said she was glad I did that, because he needs to live with a few of my minor mistakes every once in a while and still do his job.
On our next turn, my trainer asked that we focus on just getting that left lead off the outside line. Not only did she tell me to put a little more weigh in my right stirrup, but after I didn’t get it on first try, she said I need to ask for the lead at the FIRST jump and then STAY on it through the line, asking again at the second jump. Big surprise, it worked. This is why we have trainers. She also wanted me to take the single off the long approach again, this time MAKE myself and Eli WAIT. Tempting as it is for me to move up, I held for the add step. It worked. Again. Of course. Again, why we have trainers. She also wanted me to go through the inside line one more time, too, this time approach it better, use some out side leg, and then chill the f out. The approach was better, but I was very weak through my core, so we pulled a rail at the first fence and rubbed the second, but the pace was spot on. My trainer had me take the single one last time, and didn’t seem concerned about the rail. She said she knew that I knew what I did wrong, and we can’t ask Eli to keep working when he is responding correctly–the rail was not his fault. All I have to do is get my shoulders back up and magically we’ll leave the fences up. Oh, wait, it’s not magic. It’s physics. I do have concerns about even just a rub — it may not make a difference in the jumper ring as long as the fence stays up, but a rub in a hunter round knocks you well out of the ribbons in decent competition. It’s not something I want to ignore, but I do have the tools to ride Eli well enough to prevent a rub from happening, I just have to, you know, ride that way.
As many problems as we had, we had far more successes during this lesson. Eli is so responsive now when I do ride correctly. If I present him with a fair question, he answers brilliantly. This was such a fun lesson, and reinforced so many things for both me and Eli. I feel like we are finally on the right path and can start fine-tuning our work.