Sometimes it just feels as if we're not getting anywhere. Another beautiful autumn, the last show of the year goes by and the difference between this month and last month is hard to discern. It seems as if we're just inching forward. We're fighting a World War I battle, a titanic struggle over a few yards, at great cost and effort with nothing to show.
And there is some backsliding, too. A couple of weeks ago, after a frustrating hour and a half trying to work through typical Toronto Works incompetence -- they once again did simultaneous construction that closed off or restricted all the routes that run north of the 401 so no one could go anywhere and traffic jammed up and crawled slower than walking pace -- I arrived at the barn with just enough time to load up and head to the show. Naturally, Mr. O decided to "think outside the box" and refused to get on the trailer. By the time he was on, it wasn't worth going, so, instead, we spent the next hour and a half re-learning to get on the trailer -- again.
And yet... when we went downtown as part of the honour guard for the investiture of the new Lt Governor of Ontario, he walked quietly up the street, not upset by anything (except for the white paint on the road. He wouldn't step on any of the painted traffic marks. Kind of like the way kids play "don't step on a crack" on the sidewalk.) He was completely unfazed by the artillery salute, eating his hay and looking curiously about as the boom of the guns set off all the car alarms for blocks around.
I came back from seeing the best competitors in the world at the F.E.I. World Equestrian Games in Normandy, all inspired and eager to get going.
A few days ago, it felt somewhat frustrating that we're not further along. We’re still only going over small (1 m) jumps; we have only done some dressage tests and not entirely successfully at that.
He loses energy and dies down to a walk about halfway down the arena wall when we try to trot a shoulder-in or a leg yield.
He still tries to lean on the bit after a few minutes.
"It'll just take time," said my instructor. "But look how far you've come in the past three years."
True. We have come very far indeed.
So, instead of comparing where we are to last month, let's take a look back to where we were a couple of years ago and compare what we are now to that rather than where we were last month.
My, what a difference.
He used to spook at every leaf or butterfly. He doesn't spook any more, although he does still have a somewhat overdeveloped sense of self-preservation. Nonetheless, Oakley is calm and quiet despite flags and bands and crowds and noise and flapping tarps.
He goes reliably over small jumps without a fuss. I can finally look to my own jumping technique, which has long suffered because for years now, I've been assigned unreliable horses. The downside to being pretty good in the saddle, is one always gets awarded the 'difficult' horses... the horses that consistently refuse jumps and need a good rider to encourage them. But, while I am good on the flat, I haven't really learned to jump, because it's pretty much impossible to learn something new on a 'difficult' horse. All one can do with a 'difficult' horse is hone skills already learned. Thus, I've never really learned to jump properly because the horses I have tried to jump have reliably refused every jump, which, in turn, means I could not even acquire the most basic jumping technique. I learned how to not get thrown, which is a very useful technique, but not if I'm going to compete. I learned how to prepare for a refusal, not a jump.
Three years ago, going over a trot-pole was a life-and-death argument with an explosive leap into the rafters and a buck as the final stage. Today, he'll hop over the fence and the only time he refuses is if my own technique isn't right. But if my position is correct, my balance good, and my timing is on, he'll canter over with a smooth bascule. If anything I'm doing is off, he'll let me know, but it won't be an all-out rodeo. He'll just say 'nope... not this time' and that will be it. I'll readjust my seat and then he says 'OK' and we're over.
I was awe-struck and inspired by seeing the world's best at the F.E.I. Eventing competition in Normandy a few weeks back. Now that inspiration needs to be put into practice.
Are we ready for a competition? No.
Will we ever successfully compete? “It’ll just take time.”
How much time? As long as it takes. An inch at a time.
Meanwhile, I'll just take a moment and look how far we have come.