I survived my first pre-indoors lesson! From late August through the end of October, all of Val’s lessons are even more demanding than usual. She sets difficult courses that test our and our horses’ abilities to lengthen, shorten, and turn in short spaces, just like we will have to do at all the finals.
Depending on how well we ride, these challenging lessons can be more fun than the rest of the year, or they can be much, much worse. With the stress of finals looming over us, it’s easy to get discouraged if we make mistakes. On the flip side, it’s a great feeling to be successful, even on a small scale, during this season.
Because riding is so expensive, my family can’t afford to board with Val. Instead, my horses live at Chase Meadows, where my mother works (and where Calvin and Tess’s owner lives). This means that lessons require a short trailer ride for my horse and me, so I can’t always lesson as often as my trainer and I would like.
My most recent trip to Val’s was my first since CHJA Finals. I wouldn’t exactly say Calvin and I were rusty, but I probably could’ve been pushing myself harder on the flat during that break, so I was extra nervous. I didn’t want to disappoint Val by looking sloppy and unprepared.
Fortunately, because it was a group lesson, she didn’t kill me while we were flatting. She did tell me, yet again, to keep my reins at a length that feels uncomfortably short, because I’ve formed the bad habit of riding with them way too long. I was reminded to keep my legs still while pushing my horse forward, but overall she wasn’t too critical.
Then came the jumping. After circling over cavaletti a few times, I was asked to stop and put on THE FLOATIE. The floatie looks like a blue water wing that goes around a rider’s neck to keep her from looking down. It doesn’t really affect the way I ride, but it makes me keep my chin up and look ahead.
Something as simple as looking down, Val says, can make a rider look less confident and ruin the entire tone of their ride. I jumped a few more low jumps wearing the floatie, and then we progressed to coursework, and I took it off.
Our courses included a three-jump bending, quiet five to forward four, along with a direct seven-stride line, single jumps, an end fence and a trot jump. We practiced over a more straightforward pattern first before working on our testing skills.
One test that many riders struggle with is the hand gallop. Riders are often too reserved and don’t truly gallop, so Val encouraged us to really go for it when we were at home to get comfortable working with a bold pace. Calvin was absolutely perfect and flew right down to the jumps and met them perfectly in stride each time. I was able to bravely hold my rhythm knowing that he would bail me out if I made a mistake.
We also trotted jumps because I have a history of botching them pretty seriously. The only major issue we had was after hand galloping into a bending four and halting. We had approximately 15 feet to trot over a 3’ jump to finish the line. In order to keep me on my toes in tricky situations, I was told to jump the fence anyway. I jumped up my horse’s neck, but he kept going like the honest guy he is. I was so pleased!
It’s hard not to let the stress get to me, and I passed the first test without too much trouble. Each experience I’ve had keeps reinforcing in my mind that I am going to be successful this year.