Yesterday’s lesson was, as can be deduced from the fact that I didn’t make this post last evening, quite a tiring exercise. The decision had been made a few months ago to put two of our jumping classes in a row, allowing us to ride 1.5 hour instead of 45 minutes, and this had been scheduled to the last lesson for the semester. Yesterday, that is. What we hadn’t counted on was the heatwave that struck a few days ago, and even though we started riding at 19.30 in the evening it was still warm enough to make both riders and horses a bit uncomfortable. Some, more than others.
I hadn’t expected to get Murphy (but of course I was thrilled to be assigned to him again), since I thought our instructor might put the girl who hadn’t jumped for several years on him again (she got Fleur instead, and did very well on her too), but unfortunately I think Murphy would have been much happier to have been left in the stables. His mood was actually quite relaxed and pleasant, but the heat had also made him quite subdued. Add to that a rider who was feeling much the same from the heat, and you have a recipe for a pretty lazy ride.
During the warm-up, it was a chore to get Murphy to do anything but walk, and he took every excuse to slow down. Knowing he doesn’t feel good in the heat, and feeling pretty bad myself, I couldn’t really make myself be firm with him, so I didn’t really try to make him work. I tried to get some trotting and some cantering out of him, but just enough to limber him up a bit and prepare him for the jumping. We were also supposed to practice turns, to make sure we could get the horses to come around smoothly when asked, and that’s where I had to get a bit sharp with him for a while.
Since he had felt that I wasn’t asking him to work as seriously as I usually do, I decided to act as if I was a lenient beginner, which meant he’d refuse to turn away from other horses and he’d try to go in to the middle to park there. I had a bit of a headache from not drinking enough before the riding myself, so I wasn’t as quick to act on this as I should have been, but after a while we had a serious talk about the matter and he more or less got the message. Of course, he was still moving with a serious lack of energy, but hey, I felt much the same myself, so I couldn’t really blame him.
Once we started jumping, things did improve quite a bit, and even though he was feeling a bit laid-back still, I managed fairly well to keep still and just wait for him to decide where to jump off from, instead of getting pushy with my upper body to get more speed or jumping off ahead of him. As usual, though, I had some problems getting him to land in the correct canter right after each obstacle, so I often had to take him back down to a trot and then give him a new canter aid, which he initially didn’t respond to as well as during the last private lesson. But I could hardly expect that given that I hadn’t had a chance to prepare him properly during the warm-up. I did briefly fall back into that old habit of working too hard with my body, but a reminder from my instructor more or less sorted me out this time, and after a few rounds of jumping Murphy did get more alert anyhow, so it became much easier both to get him to canter and to keep him cantering.
That is, as long as I allowed him to run on at his preferred speed. I could feel quite clearly that any attempt at collecting him or slowing the canter down would definitely lead to him falling back down to a trot, and this did lead me to riding a little bit too quickly through certain passages of the small course we had put up. It was fine for the two jumps down the long side, and for the diagonal jumps, but when we came to the two jumps placed along the curves of a serpentine it got worse. Fortunately, Murphy was nice enough to jump even though we came at it at the last obstacle at a terrible angle. On the whole, though, my instructor was actually pleased with how I rode that round. She said I had ridden him very firmly, not allowing him to get away with stopping or slowing down, and that I had gotten him to work without working too much myself. Of course, I was pretty tired afterwards anyway, but I guess I had managed to work properly instead of pushing him along.
The next round we rode the course from the last obstacle to the first, and this suited me better. Now I had the bit where I needed to go a bit more slowly at the start, and the bits where I could let him gallop on at the end. He was getting tired, though, so I had urge him on quite a bit down the long side. My instructor then asked me to see how fast I could ride against the last obstacle and still get the correct canter afterwards. We came it at quite a gallop, and I tried very hard to put weight into my right stirrup even before the obstacle to signal for a right leading leg, but unfortunately it didn’t work. I did, however, manage to get him to correct his canter quite quickly, so I guess I had gotten him quite a bit more alert. My instructor explained that she wanted me to ride very fast to really get me to feel that I could just keep still and trust him to jump, which I sometimes won’t if I feel he’s lacking the energy. I guess it worked pretty well, because I allowed him to handle the jumping.
We finished up with jumping two more obstacles of our choice. I opted for the two down the length of the paddock, to finish up with a nice and easy run that would encourage him to gallop on briskly. If we wanted to, we were allowed to jump the last fence a bit higher, which I decided to give a try. Usually, we keep them quite low to keep from over-extending the horses, so even though I’ve jumped around a meter in the past I found that 80 cm looked quite big once I was galloping towards it. Murphy didn’t seem to think so, however. He did slow down a bit more than before between the two obstacles, so for a moment or two I was concerned he’d hesitate, but I just urged him on a little bit (you don’t want too much speed towards a taller obstacle anyway) and he jumped it like very easily. It hardly felt taller at all when he jumped it, so it clearly didn’t take him much extra effort.
Afterwards, I sponged him off, since he had liked it so much last week. He really enjoyed it again, and I think he would have actually have loved being hosed down all over. We didn’t have time for that, though, since we had to let the horses out too. I do love seeing horses out on a field on a gorgeous summer evening. It doesn’t get much more peaceful and summery than that, and I wish I could move into a little house next to the riding school for the rest of the summer, so I could sit and watch them every day.