My horse appears to be suffering from a mid-life crisis. He did just turn ten, after all. Seems to be in the midst of some sort of existential dilemma, I’m afraid. Perhaps it’s an identity crisis? He’s been a good guy for so long, maybe he’s just experimenting with the bad-boy persona. Feeling his wild oats, literally.
I had a jumping lesson with Lindsay yesterday and all started out well. We actually had some real lead change breakthroughs (!). We worked on counter-cantering, switching from outside to inside bend, and then we’d ask for the change just before the corner by pushing him out, stepping my weight to the outside and then asking lightly with my outside leg. I missed a few at first, but once I got it, they were great — smooth, and relaxed, and clean. Everyone’s always told me the counter-canter is a great tool for learning changes, but I feel like now it’s finally clicking for me.
Then we started jumping, and things started off fine while we were working on some single verticals on a circle. Then Tucker’s turnout buddy left the ring, which shouldn’t be that much of a crisis, unless you’re a big fresh horse looking for a good excuse. He was clearly tense, but thus far behaving (other than squealing — which I could always do without), and I figured he’d get over it in a minute. When we added another vertical on the diagonal, landing with a sharp left turn, Tucker was a bit strong — pulling me to the jump on the last stride, then grabbing the bit and rooting the reins on landing. Still rideable, but less than pretty. Then we added another vertical on the diagonal, off the short turn, going toward home, and all hell broke loose. Tucker apparently mistook that vertical for the starting gate at Belmont Park, so we landed going Mach 10. (Not exactly the stuff that winning hunter rounds are made of).
So, the next time we jumped that vertical, instead of heading straight down the back stretch — er, diagonal — we opted to land and continue turning left back to the rail. Tucker did not approve of this plan at all, and voiced his opinion with some head shaking and more rooting of the reins, but at this point I was still trying my best to ignore him. The next time we came to this fence, again planning to turn left, Tucker decided he had had quite enough and opted forego the subtleties of head tossing in lieu of a more definite statement.
It was one of those jumps where you know before the horse leaves the ground that things are going nowhere good. You know that feeling when the horse grabs the bit between his teeth, jumps the meager 2’6″ vertical beneath him like it’s the last fence of the Aachen Grand Prix, and lands with every muscle flexed and ready for launch? Yup, it was one of those. In the midst of an extremely athletic series of leaps, twists, broncs, and bucks, I heard a voice in my head say, quite calmly actually, “You are not staying on this one. Just fall.” Then, because Tucker is so gosh darn tall and was roughly ten feet in the air at this point to begin with, the voice said, a little more panicky, “Where the heck is the ground?!
THUD. Oh yes, there it is. Thankfully, we just got new footing in the outdoor ring, and it was a soft landing. Other than some scrapes on my arm from the sand and what is sure to be a splendid bruise on my butt, I’m completely fine. Still, the makers of Advil may send me a thank you note for my patronage today.
After we caught the wild beast, Lindsay got on and jumped him for about 15-20 minutes straight. She was firm with him to start out with, and had to pull him up when he landed and threatened to repeat his dazzling PBR performance, but as soon as he started behaving she rewarded him by being soft again. It didn’t take him long to realize that life is a whole lot easier when he plays by the rules. I got back on and jumped a single vertical on the circle a few times, then did my little course twice more. By now I had my horse back. I was able to ride really softly to each fence, give him a nice release, and he was willing to wait or calmly extend his canter, as requested, no emergency dismount necessary. He even seemed a bit contrite.
This isn’t the first time in the past few weeks that I’ve had a rough jumping session with him. There was this ride, where he wasn’t naughty but really strong, and there were a few others in between that weren’t exactly stellar. Basically, he just hasn’t been as rideable as usual, but I was chalking it up to Spring Fever. Now it’s clear that we have something that needs to be addressed, so of course I’m making my usual rider list of “what could be causing this” and will be going through the isolation of variables process until I figure out a solution (you know the usual suspects: training, attitude, pilot error, discomfort, ulcers, feed program, etc.). I swear, teams of NASA scientists have nothing on a rider trying to figure out her horse’s most recent change in behavior.
This week’s plan is to have Lindsay do two jump schools with him during the week, and I’ll take another lesson this weekend, to see if a few pro rides will bring him back to his senses. He didn’t jump that much this winter, so it’s possible he’s just a bit over-zealous now that we’re back outside and doing courses. Let’s hope it’s that simple.
Maybe I should watch Grease again. . . Sandy sure seemed to know how to straighten her bad boy out.
p.s. – Today is the last day to enter my Giveaway! Like Tucker the Wunderkind and Sidelines Magazine on facebook for a chance to win a free subscription to Sidelines. Winner will be announced tomorrow on Tucker’s facebook page.