This is the year that I have been waiting for. The year that I finally get my demons in check. The year that I go on a trail ride, into the show ring, into a lesson, with a partner who trusts me more than anyone else. A partner that I trust more than anyone else. Finally. Not that every ride every time is perfect. Far from it. But we have a bond now. A very strong bond. I have my instructor, Karen, to thank for that . She always has been encouraging, honest, and never gave me any doubt that our relationship was healthy and heading in the right direction. Montana is coming into her own now. She has become more athletic, stronger, has a greater understanding of things I'm asking her to do, is more confident in herself and in me.
This year we've been very busy. On March 17th, we rode in a clinic with Erik Deirks at Stonegate Farm. It was a unbelievably beautiful and warm sunny day, I'd say it hit 80 degrees that day. We rode one day of the two day clinic. Jackie was only able to make room for the us on the first day- grid work. Since this was the first time I've ever ridden in a jumping clinic, I was nervous. But I shouldn't have been, Erik was great. We rode in the beginner novice group with about three other riders. Their horses were green to jumping also. Erik was very focused on straightness and impulsion. When Montana didn't want to use herself over the crossrails on the grid, he had me thwack her on the rump with my crop and yeee haaa!! We sailed over the fences. After about a half an hour the nerves were gone and we were focused and having fun. I even asked Jackie if she could let us do the next day, cross country, but there wasn't room for us. Even so, a great experience!
Then on April 14th and 15th we rode with Jimmy Wofford at South Farm! Talk about nerves. I was a mess the week leading up to it. Karen finally brought me down to reality by reminding me that this is not a performance, I am not being judged, it is a lesson. A lesson where you are expected to make mistakes and are there to learn how to correct them and move on. I trailered up on Friday night and slept in my trailer. Montana was bedded down in the shed row with her new friends. I had all night to fret about the next day. What was he like? He's an Olympian for God's sake! What if he hates drafts? What if we forget everything we know? What if Montana refuses her fences? What if she bucks me off? What if and on and on and on. By morning I was wiped out from worry. As a I tacked her up for the first session, my hands were shaking. I grabbed my inhaler and stuck it in my breeches pocket- sure I was going to need it. I walked into the arena where all the other riders were warming up and mounted from the mounting block. I started our usual warm up- walk on a long rein, letting her stretch, and me getting my legs stretched out, back loosened up, and letting her see the sea of grid poles in three long rows in the arena. And then he walked in. HE. The One. I assumed my best riding posture, heals down, hands even, thumbs up, head up, shoulders up and straight. I was still shaking. He asked our group to come into the middle facing him and one by one he asked us to tell him something about our horse. I squeaked it out. Really, my voice was squeaking because my mouth was so dry. I think I said something like Clydesdale cross, first 2'6" course a couple of months ago- something like that. I honestly don't remember. Watching the video, I sounded better than I felt. First he had us trot through a line of ground poles and then he raised them. The other horses were leaping through them and Montana had chosen that day to plow through them. All the other horses were trotting through and bouncing through the exercise no problem. Then Jimmy said those words I shall never forget and if I could tell him today I would thank him for them. He said, "Margie, if you want to have any fun at all doing this today, you are going to have to canter all of your approaches and lines. Drafts sometimes do not understand why they have to jump over small things at the trot, although over bigger obstacles they are wonderful jumpers. Cantering will make it easier for her." All I could think was, we haven't been cantering our approaches AT ALL. We can't even pick up the left lead canter! The left lead canter is non-existent! Why are we here? Why are we here??????!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to go home!!!!!!!!!!!!
So then it was our turn to go. And wouldn't you know it, left lead canter. Here goes nothing. I got a nice trot, cued her for the canter, she picked it up- correct lead and all. I pointed her at the line and she was great. They weren't all pretty, and she'd lose steam halfway through the line, but she had a scared, nervous, sack of potatoes on her back and I believe she did the best she could with what little (me) that she had to work with. Jimmy was very encouraging and not at all the ogre that I had pictured in my mind. He gave us all advise about our position, our timing, and what to expect from our horses at this point in their training. At one point I noticed that my hands weren't shaking anymore. I looked at the clock and it was 11:05 am. The lesson started at 9:30. I was finally having fun. The next day was course work. Montana was ON IT. She knocked a few rails, but was forward and jumping with much better form over the 2'6" verticals and oxers set at imperfect distances. Jimmy was right! (of course!) We had to learn to count and adjust strides and rebalance after the jump, keeping a steady rhythm with a 20 meter canter circle and then finished up the day with a 9 jump course which included a combination. I was elated! We did belong there . We did belong there. We do.
I was walking on clouds after that weekend. Now all things are possible, right? My next adventure was on April 20 and 21st- we had been training all year to pass the mounted patrol state certification. Last fall we joined the auxiliary unit for Summit County Sheriff. My good friend is a deputy sheriff and is in the mounted unit and encouraged us to join. The weekend was cold and rainy and much of the time was spent working crowd control exercises in driving sleet. Montana was great, although she was a little hesitant with the car extraction exercise- I think we can work on that though. She rode through fights, gun fire, a crazy obstacle course, and some weird scenarios that included a disco ball and a guy with a chicken. Cops have really weird imaginations! We rode from 6:00pm Friday night until 2:00am Saturday morning and again the next night from 1:00pm on Saturday until about 10:00pm Saturday night. In the end I have a well trained police horse. We passed the state certification! Last night our unit was honored by the Sheriff's Department at a banquet for their work - what a cool night! I'm very proud of my girl and our new friends in the mounted unit!
So with my new found courage, not to mention the motivation I got coming off of an incredible Rolex weekend with my friends, I signed up for an eventing clinic at South Farm with Robin Walker on May 14th and 15th. It was another beautiful weekend, perfect footing. We were in the beginner novice group. Robin is a no nonsense type. He is not the coddling type. You're either here to push yourself and your horse or you shouldn't be here. Yikes! Enter the nerves. Well, lets say I tried to be nervous, because that is my old "normal", but I wasn't really nervous. I didn't have time. Robin kept the jumps coming, first a cross rail to see what he had to deal with, then a couple of cross rails, then cross rails to a vertical, then (oh my god) a liverpool --- really? Then a fake ditch. A skinny! Then a jump made of barrels. And guess which pair led the group through each new jump? Margie and Montana! I laughed my way around the course a couple of times. I could hear the people gathered at the fence watching, "gee, I wonder if she's having any fun?" Then he had us put it all together in a small course. Holy Shit. Robin told us that these jumps should not surprise us, that we need to be jumping these challenging jumps at home- jumping at a level above what we will show at in beginner novice. He told us that our responsibility is speed and direction- let the horse take care of the jump. Most importantly was to always have a PLAN! Most of the horses did very well. The liverpool had a couple looking a bit- but overall everyone did well. I invited Heidi and her beautiful horse Gypsy to accompany us on a trail ride to cool down and we went around the perimeter of the cross country and found a competition ditch. I thought, what the hell, why not, right? So we trotted to it and Tana put on the brakes. I turned her around and trotted up to it again! Brakes again! We walked around the ditch and decided to take it back the other way, towards the barn. Pop! Over it no problem, then turned around and popped over it the other way. That was our first real ditch!!!! I was again on cloud nine! The next day was equally as beautiful. We were out on the grass jumping cross country obstacles, rolltops, coops and such. We started with one, then did one and two, then three in a row. Then he threw in three at an angle. Again a lesson in straightness and planning. Robin praised us when Montana began to drift a bit to the left and I straightened her to the jump using my left leg and rein. I was surprised at the little adjustments I was able to make and not over do it. So we finished that part of the lesson with the three angled roll tops to a beginner novice rolltop. Then Robin said he had a surprise for us- we are going to school the water jump! Off we went, our group was all smiles. He setup a cross rail into the water and we trotted in at first and just slogged on through and when we came through again I gave Montana a little wake up tap with the crop, picked up the canter, popped over the cross rail and down into the water and cantered out - weeee!!! We all had a blast, coming back through the other way and then up and down from the bank. All the horses took it in stride and were very confident in the end. What a great day. The best part was at the end when I got brave and asked Robin if he thought we were ready for beginner novice division. I guess I was ready for him to laugh and say, "oh dear, no!" But he said very positively that yes, he believed we would be fine, but we need to challenge ourselves more at home.
So here we are, all this new confidence bursting at the seams. I almost don't know what to do with myself. We signed up for a combined training next Sunday at Buckeye Horse park at Starter level, and a jumper round at beginner novice. So we'll see. This week my focus is going to be flat work and living in that snaffle bridle. So far so good. I have pics of the Erik Deirks clinic to post, and a short video of the first day of the Wofford clinic. I wish I had pics of the Robin Walker clinic, but next time I'll make sure I have someone there taking them. This time around I wasn't sure I'd want any evidence floating around out there!