Oakley Diaries - 31: First Half of the Year

Let's see...

I spent April travelling in Europe. I worked out a tour of sites I've long wanted to visit, for a variety of reasons. Of course horse-history is a big part of that, so I thoroughly enjoyed going to museums full of horse-armour and getting a definitive answer to a question that has bugged me for a long while, about the size of horses in the middle ages. It turns out that, although my horse is considered "small" at 15.2 HH being constantly surrounded by horses 16 to 17 HH, it is a revelation to find that all the existing horse barding from before the XVI Century would fit him. There are only about a dozen complete sets, and all the rest that exist in museums are mixed pieces, but all of the barding in the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, the Wallace Collection Museum in London, and the Musée de l'Armée in Paris are made to fit horses his size, or very close to it. Those knights in shining armour did not ride huge Shire, Belgian, & Percheron sized horses. That's a late 19th Century fantasy that Hollywood grabbed and hammered into the popular 20th Century consciousness. Their horses were small, but stocky.

(No, I'm not planning on making us a suit of armour, or anything. I'm just tired of dealing with all the conflicting 'information' floating around out there.)

I also got to ride with some friends who live in the region of Abruzzo, Italy, near Guardiagrele. The country there is a mostly composed of steep-sided ravines, with farms and walled towns on top of the ridge-lines, which made for a delightful 3 hour trail ride as we went across three ridges & back. I was given a sensitive young mare who was quite nervous at first, until she realized that I know how to sit in a saddle, & wasn't going to pop her mouth or anything. It took about 15 minutes and she was responding nicely to the lightest signals, and had learned not to try and bolt when asked to canter. Honestly, I think the first lesson anyone should learn, and should practice every time they mount (at least for the first year or so) is how to do a proper one-rein stop.

As far as training Oakley goes, we are in that stretched out phase of refining everything he's been taught. We went to a competition on 11 June, at which he got his best marks ever in the dressage portion and absolutely refused to go over any of the practice jumps, no way, no how. Jo Young, who was running the event, since I was the last rider & I pulled out (if he was not going over the practice jumps, we did not waste time even trying the course), came & gave us about a half hour of help, so eventually, he did go over the practice jumps, and over the first couple of jumps on course, which was an absolutely awesome end to the day.

My take-away is we need to keep on working. Every two weeks, on a Wednesday evening, I put him onto a trailer & take him up the road to a nearby school where another friend runs her school & we jump for an hour. At this point, he will go over the X-rails and single jumps that are usually set at about 60cm without much fuss, but not without some reluctance. He always refuses to go over the blue barrels and the small oxer (also 60cm) at least at first. Once we go over, he doesn't refuse, but it's about a dozen repeats each time before we begin to get smooth and confident and the jumping gets good. He still impresses everyone because, even after a half hour of jumping, he shows no signs of being tired, even though we may both be covered in sweat. He really is a powerful horse.

The plan, as vague as it sounds, will be to continue going over jumps, gradually increasing the height, but only once we are both absolutely comfortable. That, I am absolutely sure, is the trick: to not go outside the comfort zone, but stay at the limit, to keep doing the almost-difficult until it becomes almost-too-easy, to keep repeating a move until "you can't get it wrong" as the saying goes. The explanation for that curious phrase is that one must repeat something until, under all conditions, one can perform without having to think about it. Do it again, and again, and again until the action becomes as automatic as walking. Most of us don't have to think about how to take a step, about maintaining balance, about raising the foot, about how to set it down, we just walk. That is what I'm trying to get with my riding, but it's still going to take a lot of hours in the saddle to get there. And that means spending a lot of time just changing gaits and changing speed within those gaits and getting him to be ever more responsive; much more, "Yes, sir, right away, sir" and a lot less, "Umm, ok... sure, gimme a sec..." when I ask for something.

So that is the plan. So far, so good.

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Comment by Jackie Cochran on July 24, 2017 at 12:28pm

It is good to see this update!  I am glad that both of you are progressing.

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