Hippoi Athanatoi

Adventures to Left and Right

Today, our instructor fortunately had her voice back, and so the planned jumping lesson went ahead. We’ll also be jumping next week, to make up for the one we missed last week. I expect I’ll be riding Murphy then too, as I had him today and it sounded like she wanted us to ride the same horses for both these lessons, as we’ll be doing related exercises. After that lesson however, she noted that I really need to ride some other horses for a change. I should have known that thinking about maybe needing to try someone else would lead to something like this. ;P On one hand, I guess I do feel that a change of pace would be good (even if I love riding Murphy), as I feel my riding so far this semester has failed to show any progress at all. On the other hand, I am not sure what other horses I could ride. Malupin is injured again, Fleur may be too or if not she’s just never available for our class, and the latter is true for Sammy and Gamir as well. I did suggest today that I could give Nikita a try—she’s pretty big and fairly strong, but she’s not a big mover and she seems quite bomb-proof and reliable—so I suspect I may be reporting back on that in a couple of weeks.

As for today’s lesson, it consisted of a fairly simple setup but a rather more difficult task: getting the correct leading leg for the canter following a jump. I am really, really bad at sensing how my horse is cantering, so I always have to break the rule and look down to check, which means I am not good at managing quick corrections. Add to this the fact that Murphy’s canter is, oddly enough, quite even-sided and also pretty tied to the ground, making it very hard to feel if its correct or not. Oh, and then there’s the small issue of him generally responding rather slowly to canter aids. In short, I had my work cut out for me. ;)

During the warm-up, the lack of energy and determination that has plagued my riding this semester once again made itself known, as I failed to be firm enough with Murphy, who happily took advantage of this. The walk and the trot were passable, but when it came to cantering to the left (the tough side for him) he would not respond at all at first (admittedly, this was only once, so I am doing much better than a year or so ago), then he kept getting the wrong leading leg and finally, when he did start getting it right, his canter was so poor that it was just fractions away from being a trot instead.

At that point, my instructor got firm with me and told me to demand much more of him, since he was just being lazy. If he didn’t take the canter aid right off, I should use my riding crop at once, and if he didn’t put enough effort into the canter, I should remind him of the crop instead of working too hard with my legs (or, worse, my upper body, though once again I did pretty well with this and kept quite still). As usual when I get a bit more decisive, I was thoroughly surprised by the result. It took one tap with the crop to get him to respond better to my canter aids, and one or two taps while cantering to get him to actually use his whole body instead of dragging himself along as close to the ground as possible, with no activity to speak of through his back.

However, even though much of it is due to him being lazy, his canter to the left is worse than that to the right, so even with these improvements it was still a long way from good. But once we switch the difference was very noticeable, as his canter to the right became much rounder and he actually became much lighter in front once he had been asked to and allowed to pick up the pace some. It seems as if many Irish horses (Sammy is the same) need to start off cantering at a fairly high pace to be able to properly use their whole bodies in the canter. You simply can’t get them to a round, balanced canter unless you first gear them up a bit.

Now, this was supposed to be a jumping lesson and not a cantering lesson, but for Murphy and me the hard part was definitely the cantering. He can jump in his sleep. What he can’t do, however, is consistently land on the correct leading leg. Basically, the main exercise consisted of one obstacle across the centre line and a turn to either the left or the right to jump a diagonally placed obstacle. We approached the first obstacle at a trot and were supposed to approach the second cantering, leading leg depending on which obstacle we were jumping. And then there was another change of leading leg following the second obstacle, as we then were supposed to curve around and jump whichever diagonal obstacle we didn’t do as number two.

That’s a lot to keep track of for a girl who gets her lefts and rights confused when she’s on the ground. ;) However ... it came out better than I had expected. To start with, yes, it was hard to get Murphy to land on the correct leading left to the left, but once we put up the obstacles a bit, his jumps and his canter were made rounder, and it became easier for him to get it right. It also became a little easier to correct his canter reasonably quickly, and I think my instructor felt my decisiveness had improved towards the end.

For next week, however, I will have to sternly remind myself to give at least 110% from the get-go.

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