The event season is in full swing, and I, an avowed lifelong Eventingaholic, have a fit, sound, raring-to-go event horse… and we’re not going anywhere. I’m waiting. And it’s ok. The plan at the beginning of the season was to do a couple of BE100s and then step up to Novice. The first part of the plan went fine…
We’ve had 2 runs this year, and the dressage felt… brittle. Not secure and confident, not swinging forwards happily.
I had to be very tactful, I really couldn’t ask for much, and although we got through the tests without a problem or a disagreement, and didn’t get heinous marks, it just wasn’t secure enough for me to feel able to ask for more to get the good marks we should be capable of getting.
It’s been the same at home. Daisy is not letting me really ride her, she’s not feeling together. She’s tense, tight over the back and not really letting go, not swinging through and connecting, therefore not seeking the hand forwards, hence the brittleness. You can see what I mean from the photos.
I’ve been working on it, but not really getting to where I want to be, and lacked the ‘eyes on the ground’ that are so essential at times like these. I’ve found a new, local dressage trainer (because my long-term dressage trainer lives in Germany, and I need more regular input at the moment than we can manage.) There’s lots of work to do, but I know it is being done the right way, back end to front, so it feels good! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Back to the events so far. Daisy felt very confident in both SJ rounds, but in the first one at Burnham Market BE100 she was tense from the moment she entered the arena, having seen the start of the XC from the SJ warm-up.
My approach was ‘just get on with it’, as trying to get her to soften at that point was probably going to be a total waste of time, and just annoy her, but she was cross-cantering, and landing on the wrong leg a lot. She brings her head up and locks her back (hence the cross-cantering) when she tenses, which ruins her form over a fence. It all goes back to the flatwork – I need to be able to get her to focus, settle, relax when I ask.
She became progressively keener as the round went on, not backing off the fences at all, and a totally-ignored 1/2 halt when half way around the course meant 3 of the last 5 fences down, because once she’s flattened she doesn’t come back easily. Flatwork again. Arrgggh. Here’s the horrible evidence!
The next SJ round at Milton Keynes in the BE100+ just a week later was much better. After having given it a LOT of thought, and watched the video above about 100 times, I tried a totally different way of riding her: keeping it all as light as I could, sitting up but not down, not driving her, no seat aids, trying to keep it all much softer. I’d changed her bit to the soft rubber pelham and was doing my best to use it as little as I could, but still get effective 1/2 halts and get her jumping off her hocks. This was the result:
The course was the biggest she’s jumped and, apart from 1 major moment of confusion between us which led to an expensive miscommunication into the double (I saw a nice distance, and would normally have driven her forward to get to it, but I just sat and maintained everything, thinking she would make the distance fine, which didn’t quite happen), it was a lovely round.
We both kept our composure after the mistake, and in fact, apart from that blunder, she jumped very well. So, this was definitely a much better way to ride her – she was jumping off her hocks not her forehand, and the tempo was better, but the bascule still wasn’t there. She’s still not using herself well enough… yet. But I could feel a definite improvement, and I hope it shows in the video too.
The good bit is that both XC rounds felt absolutely fantastic – she was confident, straight, keen, looking for her fences, but listening and accepting my input, all in a snaffle. Great!
She definitely feels ready to step up to Novice, she didn’t give me a moment’s concern on either course, including managing perfectly well (and not holding it against me either, importantly!) when I saw a couple of slightly duff strides and just left it to her to sort it out and get us over the fence. I think they have to experience moments like that – I don’t aim for them, but if they happen, I just try to let the horse get on with it (keeping my legs on lightly to say ‘yes, keep going, cope with it’…) It’s very educational, and if the first time it ever happens is to a stonking great fence, things could be disastrous. I regard it as part of their education – sometimes I’ll be very little help, and the horse just has to know how to cope fine in those moments.
These rounds were great fun for both of us and felt very easy. I didn’t push at all for the time, just let her cruise at a nice pace and meet the fences out of her stride as much as I could. That’s enough at this stage, and we weren’t in the hunt for rosettes.
But, it’s still not good enough. I think that Novice is the point at which they can’t just pop over the jumps, they ideally need to be using themselves properly… 1.15 is big enough to need correct jumping! Also, a horse working in tension is, in my opinion, far more likely to ‘break’, and we all know how tough Eventing is on them.
I adore this horse and really don’t want to break her if I can possibly avoid it. With her breeding and her attitude (which is improving by the day, she’s finally growing up in her brain!) she could go a long way, and I keep holding onto that dream!
I’ve discovered since those events that she has old damage to her supraspinous ligament. There’s a tell-tale lump (which a few different vets all said was “nothing”) in the middle of her back in the saddle area, and although rest won’t do any good now, since it’s been there for years and there’s no pain at all on palpation, I have to find ways to make her more comfortable. Correct work will help hugely, of course.
She had one Mesotherapy treatment, which seemed to help, and has another booked. Last week she had a treatment from a lovely lady who does Bowen, muscle release, acupressure, and horse whispering… I don’t even pretend to understand it, but I have never seen Daisy as chilled and happy as she is after this lady treats her!
I have finally found a local flatwork instructor who I get on well with, who is obsessed with the basics and with me being correct (yay, exactly what we need!) So, until the flatwork is much more loose, swinging and secure, and Daisy realises just HOW to use her body better, on the flat and over fences, we are holding fire on the eventing.
It’s frustrating, but will be worth it in the long run, I hope. I really rate this mare, she has a fantastic brain and loves her jumping. I just hope that when she feels she can use herself better, she will. I still have my eye on bigger things with her, and putting unnecessary wear and tear on her around little courses feels totally pointless. I’d rather spend the money on lessons than entries, for now.
So, we’re sitting on the bench, but improvements are coming, I hope. When they do, we’ll have another BE100+ run if I can find one, then the plan (written in pencil not sand) is Novice. I almost can’t wait… but I’m making myself. It should be worth it in the long run!