Very many seem to treat this year a something of a kidney stone, and in much of the world, according to the news, it was. But in my little corner of the world, it was awesome.
First, I spent most of the year's focus on learning to jump, and teaching Oakley to jump. To learn, I hiked up the road a ways to another barn, got on school horses that would reliably jump. One cannot learn to jump on a horse that won't and a horse that doesn't like to jump, definitely won't when saddled with a rider who doesn't know what they are doing. So I jumped with school horses instead of Oakley, and worked to get rid of the bad habits I've acquired: looking at the jump, tensing up, bracing myself for impact, figuring out how much it's going to hurt... that sort of thing. So it was wonderful to experience the joy of arriving on the far side of a jump with the horse still under me, and even more, to become confident that this would be so. Then, of course, I could focus on developing the techniques of going over, so, while I'm still pretty crude, I'm much better balanced, my legs are much more stable, and I am projecting confidence, which helps the horse.
I put Oakley through a course of jumping, too, but starting over low obstacles and trot poles, and working on getting him ever lighter and more responsive and developing his own confidence. Some of us take more time to do things than others, and I, personally, don't worry about taking lots of time to work on basics at anything. The better the foundation, the better the building.
Over the course of the summer, I got to a couple of dressage shows with our best marks ever, we went from small x-rail obstacles under 30cm (1 ft.) to 1m (3 ft) jumps, we went cross-country schooling until he would jump over Entry-level obstacles the first time. In early October, at the end of the season, we finally managed to get to a cross-country show and actually made it successfully around the courses! As a bonus, we even took home a 4th-place yellow ribbon (and weren't last place, either)! I know they probably heard my whoop of triumph all the way back to the farmhouse, because when we came back around the trees, everyone had a grin on their faces.
On October 31st, we got in the trailer & went to visit some riding companions, Sam & Cheryl, who used to live at the farm next door, that I haven't seen in over a year, who have not seen Oakley since early 2014. We had a great long trail ride. At one point, Sam decided to go for a gallop down the field, so he & Jewel, the young lady riding with us, took off. It took me a moment, but I turned Oakley & went after them at a full gallop... and beat them to the far end, despite their head start. My horse is fast. Later we cantered about some fields, bending around hay-bales, we went through the woods and Oakley jumped over fallen trees with only one hesitation. They were impressed. Then I gave Oakley to Sam to ride, so he could feel the improvement. Sam has ridden Oakley a few times in the past, because he is a superb rider who grew up on horseback, & a feisty horse isn't a danger. The last time Sam rode Oakley, Oakley spooked and tossed Sam off. Sam was awed by Oakley's power, because he hasn't had a horse able to throw him off in years. This time, after no more than a minute, he started gushing about Oakley, about how light, how responsive, how well-trained he was. He was adamant that I let Jewel ride him, "So she can feel what it's like to ride a well-trained horse." That quote is going to stay with me.
At the barn, the general opinion now, of the ladies who occasionally exercise him for me when I cannot, is that he is the best-trained horse in the barn and an utter delight to ride.
Yes, it's been a very good year for me & my boy.