September 30, 2012

"That pony has a TON of jump!"

As it turned out, being the first ride in a weekend clinic means that there is never anyone around to take pictures of you, so I very sadly did not get photos or videos today.  Here, have a gratuitous cute non-riding pony photo instead:

Today we were out in the big grassy XC field still doing stadium fences, since they fall over if we make a green horse mistake!   The biggest challenge for both of us today, besides turning left, ended up being the wet grass.  The ground here is still fairly drought-stricken and hard, and that plus the wet grass made traction a bit difficult, though I think barefoot Connor handled it better than the shod-no-studs horses.  When I made a turn he was uncomfortable with on the footing, I felt him hesitate slightly as if to say "I'm not really okay with this, are you sure?" and he even broke once when he really felt he couldn't handle it (cantering downhill and making a slight turn).  I was overjoyed to see him thinking for himself and having a clear opinion, but still trusting me enough to continue.  That will only serve us well on the cross-country course.

Unlike yesterday, when I felt very discombobulated over fences, today we felt like a real team.  We had one disagreement on the first vertical distance we saw, but other than that, we agreed on all the spots and just flowed over most of the fences.  For the first time, I felt like I could pick up a good quality canter on the correct lead whenever and wherever I wanted, within seconds of asking.  Remember when picking up the canter used to send him into a panic?  I can definitely say that's over.

Our one big, uh, learning moment came over the oxer, which he was unsure about and therefore jumped huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge over it.  Cathy knew from our previous rides that he would do that, too, and told me to approach it with my weight centered and my heels down and calves on him.  Even still, I ended up massively jumped out of the tack and on his neck (but still have never come off this pony, knock on wood!)

Afterward, when she asked if we had questions, I said, "So that jumping big thing.  That's just a lack of miles?"  She said yes, and she had me jump the little crossrail immediately after our "learning moment" because she wants him to know that jumping is easy and within his reach and she doesn't want to turn it into a big issue.  She said we need to spend the winter jumping a big variety of little jumps so that he gets used to seeing different things and gains confidence but doesn't get overfaced.  She also said that as we jumped, his canter improved, and that that will continue.

Finally, I got a big "That pony has a TON of jump!" which felt fantastic to hear.  

So what are the big takeaways this weekend?  We've made very noticeable progress over the summer, according to a BNT that saw us for two rides in May and now two rides in September.  We now have a roadmap for the winter (Dressage, Dressage, Dressage and lots of jumping little jumps.)  and will be ready for the 2013 show season.  He might turn out to be a really good, smart, careful, independent cross-country mount despite his idiosyncrasies, and whether or not that happens depends on how well we bring him up and how much we empower him.  

Finally, the biggest takeaway is that this pony and I were made for each other.  We felt like such a complete package out there today.  Everything about him completes me, including his incredibly strange spooking behaviors and random over-jumping.  There are things about him that everyone else shakes their head at, but I just laugh at and roll on.  We are awesome together.  Go pony eventing!