Wednesday, August 22, 2012
It has been almost exactly 3 years since I was last tossed by Eddie. I can count on my two hands the times I've actually come off of him since the day I got him 7 years ago. We are usually simpatico, for better or worse. Yesterday was a real surprise, though.
I have been excited the past few weeks at the prospect of finally regaining some sort of official event schedule this fall and (hopefully) next spring. I have been doing well with my fitness and getting out there and riding. I have been riding stronger and more balanced, with a lower-leg I haven't had since I was 21-years-old. Things are looking productive! Then, Eddie took over.
I've been trying to get us into a regular jumping routine lately, since we've done tons and tons and tons of flatwork the past two years. Yesterday, we were working on a simple combination of a 2' vertical, bending line to a crossrail, then back again the other direction (from crossrail, bending line to the vertical). No biggie. However, Eddie was not my typical, plodding, steady Eddie. He was absolutely busting at the seams (literally busting....he has gotten HUGE this summer and the veins along his neck and shoulders were bulging like he's on freaking steroids). He was bouncing like a pogo stick and I just couldn't get him to move out and stretch down. You would think he was some over-amped, hot-headed warmblood, that lives in a stall 23.5 hours of the day, and not the 17-year-old QH on free-range, 24/7 turnout that he actually is. I kept working through it, and when he would fling himself at the crossrail, I just calmly sat tall and brought him to a halt several strides upon landing. I added a 2'4" vertical on another bending line after the crossrail, but he was going at it with his head in the air like he'd never jumped before, so I kept quietly bringing him back to a walk and circling until he calmed down. I kept remembering how effectively Francis Whittington handled a similarly hot horse at the Chattahoochee clinic last fall. He would not pull back on the reins to ask for the halt after the jump; he simply sat tall and deep in the saddle, just tightening his fingers on the reins. I am not Francy Pants, by any means, but I was trying to channel his controlled and capable demeanor as best possible. I finally got Eddie to jump decently by walking the approach, trotting a few steps out then walking upon landing. I came around from the other direction to take the combination from 2'4" vertical, to crossrail, to 2' vertical and I was going to call it quits if he was fine with that. I'd already been riding for about 40 minutes, as it was, and he was finally getting tired enough to come down a bit. We popped over the vertical and turned to the crossrail. Suddenly, he started jigging and bouncing towards it like a kangaroo, so I sat up on the approach and asked for him to halt about two strides out. He came to a slamming stop, grabbed the bit, reared up like he was in an old cowboy movie, twisted, sat down on his haunches, and I went flying off the right side as he leapt to the left. I landed on my right side (ok, to be honest, I landed on my right buttcheek.....which is why I'm happy, for once, to have a little extra padding back there), instantly rolled over to my left and up onto my knees, thinking Eddie just might have been coming over on top of me. When I sat up and saw him just standing there in front of the crossrail looking at me like he had no idea HOW I GOT ON THE GROUND (what a shock!), I wanted to kill him. But, I had the breath knocked out of me a bit, so I sat there for about 10 seconds and just took deep breaths. As I got my breathing back to normal and realized I hadn't done any physical damage to myself, I croaked out, "COME HERE." Eddie perked up his ears and walked right over to me, reaching his neck out so I could grab his reins, and politely standing there while I held onto his breastplate as I pulled myself up. He was as still and quiet as an innocent little angel. I brushed off my britches, picked up my whip, pulled the reins over his head, and walked over to the mounting block and got right back on. Within 30 seconds, we had circled and easily popped over the vertical, crossrail, to vertical like nothing at all had happened. Mentally, I was completely unfazed and looking at the jumps and cantering right down to them was almost therapeutic, rather than unnerving. I cantered him around a few times, asking him to lengthen out before the jumps, and he was moving much better from fence to fence after that. We jumped another minute or two, I praised him verbally and patted his neck, and then I called it a day. Was it a disaster of a session? I might have thought so, since I got thrown off. Did I salvage things and both Eddie and I learned a great lesson in the process? YES.
I have been revisiting yesterday's ride in my mind, trying to figure out what was going on and what I need to do to fix it. One thing I've noticed this summer is that Eddie has really gotten very big, since I've been feeding him compressed alfalfa hay every morning, and he gets about 2 handfuls of Ultium in the evening (plus pasture grass and timothy/orchard grass hay whenever he wants). He looks great, but he's almost a little too fit and amped (note my previous comment about "steroids"!) and his attitude has reflected his diet lately. I don't want a scraggly, undernourished horse just so I can manage to ride him, but I am going to cut back on the richy-rich alfalfa and feed him more of a mixed grass balance. He loves the alfalfa, so he will be mad, but it's making him too intense. Even his personality has been more aggressive the bigger and more over-stimulated he's gotten the past few months. So, adjusting his feed schedule a bit may help even him out more reasonably. I also think he does something like this every few years, he gets it out of his system, and then he's fine. He is an animal, afterall, and I have to remember that. But, the one thing I did realize is that -- just like we say about riding the horse you have that day -- I need to be really aware of the way he's going when I'm riding him. When he's like a balloon in the wind, up and down and all over the place, he doesn't need to be jumping if he's not going to be safe. He's not listening when he's like that and it's a simple recipe for disaster. And, ultimately, I need to continue to get out there and ride regularly and work through it. I love Eddie more than life itself, but I need to quit spoiling him sometimes and I need to be THE RIDER.....not his #1 fan. I love him and he loves me, but if we're going to make a successful run of it this fall, I need to be the boss. Otherwise, Eddie is the big boss and I'm the underling employee, which is not the business relationship that will ultimately be safe and happy for all involved. Am I right? I'm battered and bruised today, but I am unafraid. Onward we go!