We began the summer, after the Solstice, with some relaxing of the COVID-19 health restrictions. Finally, open-air competitions were allowed, and, glory be... there was a weekend with a training meet and I wasn't working! The competition was a teaching format, which means day one, I went round the entire course with a coach, over all the jumps, and day 2 went round again, but as a competition.
So we spent the first training day doing well enough, our dressage was sloppy... much sloppier than we have been of late, but he did do all the jumps in the show ring, the first time, with some hesitation and reluctance, but much less than ever before, and then over the cross-country jumps, stopping before each one as if he'd never seen anything like it before, as usual. But in the end, we went all around the jumps and my jumping is obviously much better than last year.
The second day, the dressage was very good -- 67%, even with an error of course (the downfall of discovering I'd memorized the wrong test the night before and had to learn it in 5 minutes) -- but, as usual, the standard comment was 'needs more impulsion.' Sigh. I wish I could bring some of that lively, bouncy energy he has when walking home on the trails with us into the ring.
We did the show jumps successfully, a little slow, of course, because, well, he's not full of energy. To be fair, it was a hot day. Also, as usual, he invariable comes down on the wrong lead, despite my best efforts to do exactly what my coaches say. When we need to go left, he's always on the right lead. Good thing I've spent so much time working on counter-canter and on lead changes, so it doesn't matter. The exhilarating part was it was a clear round. My jumping technique has improved markedly over the past year and now he is confident I won't hit his mouth, I won't be off balance, so he feels safer jumping. That's a huge improvement.
Then we practised the cross-country jumps, he was doing great. Finally, our turn, time to go, I squeezed with my legs... and Big Lebowski took one look at the jumps ahead and shuffled out of the starting gate, me desperately wishing I'd decided to wear spurs and bring a whip. I didn't start to get The first jump -- we're talking something he could step over -- had fake flowers. Gaaah! He was not going over that now way, no how! But at least now he's alive. Bad that he wouldn't step over the obstacle, but good, because he is now full of energy. I can work with that. So we did, veering away from the fence, circled, allowing him to canter, and then over we went... and promptly back to a shuffle. OK, it was a hot day, but he always had lots of energy to run away from the fake flowers. Eventually, we got to trotting with a couple of canter strides before the jumps, the ones that didn't have fake flowers, and we did make it all the way around without any other problems. In the end, we were eliminated, because he balked at 5 jumps, but the format meant we could continue as long as we didn't fall, didn't get hurt, and didn't take too many tries at a single jump. So I'll call that one a big win. First time around a real course.
I'm buying some fake flowers to decorate every jump. He's going to stop losing his mind at fake flowers.
Much of July as been every practice, working up the training ladder, using what Warwick Schiller calls "The Donkey Kong Principle" and Clinton Anderson advises, "Always go back before you go forward" and what Col. de L'angle called, "La development de l'excellence par répétition." So each lesson with my coach now begins by riding strides over trot poles, cavalettis, raising the cavalettis up, then over x-rails, cross rails, until we end the lesson at about 1.1m jumps, including doubles, and oxers, which is where our skill level is now. Up until the end of last year, a jump even that size was too intimidating for me, but I've always maintained that the limitations we have are between the pommel and the cantel of the saddle, not so much underneath it. Now it is a normal part of a ride, within our comfort zone. Right now, my skills need to practise at that level to become good.
Early this month, Oakley got a trim, but because he'd badly chipped his hoof, the trim had to be rather severe. He isn't lame, but his weight is on the sole, rather than the wall, and he walks over hard ground tenderly. Obviously, I can't get on his back, so until it grows back, he can only do some groundwork on the soft sand. This is not a terrible thing, because horses always need groundwork. Meanwhile, I've been riding another horse, and, because it makes me a better rider, will probably keep on riding him at least once every other week, for the next while.