Pa, Kiki, and I are hot, sweaty, and exhausted from a long weekend on the road and in the saddle but it was well worth it. The clinic with Jim Wofford was a huge success! I'm sorry this post is long, but there are lots of stories (and pictures!) to share.
(Warming up on Day 1)
I wish I could say the same about the drive down, which was an absolute nightmare. We left almost exactly when we had wanted to and were hoping to be in Dover, PA, by 9:30. Then we hit traffic in Hartford… and Waterbury… and Danbury… and then got deluged in a massive rainstorm that slowed everyone on the road to a crawl in New York state, and then hit traffic again just outside Bethlehem, PA. Ughhh.
At a few minutes before midnight we finally rolled into the farm for the night. The farm owner was SO NICE and had waited up for us and showed Kiki to the nice big grass pen with run where she'd be staying. Kiki was pretty ready to get off the trailer, but in classic style took two steps into her paddock and immediately started eating. What a champ. We got her tucked in for the night and then stumbled off to our hotel and fell asleep almost instantly.
Day 1: Stadium Jumping
The next day dawned early as we got back to the farm to get Kiki all squeaky clean before the 8am Q&A session. As usual my mind went utterly blank as soon as I was asked to come up with questions (this happens in school all the time, too - one of my biggest weaknesses) but Pa came through with a few really great ones about the differing philosophies between having a quality canter and needing to see a distance. It's so cool to hear Jim reach into his deep, deep well of experience and give such eloquent, funny, intelligent responses.
After that we quickly grabbed Kiki, got her ready, and I headed up to the ring with butterflies beginning to flutter around in my stomach. We warmed up briefly and then got to work right away, trotting and then cantering over a small vertical all while counting out loud to try to achieve a steady, unchanging rhythm in the approach to the fence. This was ultimately going to be the big take away from the lesson, which I was somewhat expecting given my previous experience with him as a clinician. Which was mostly why I was nervous, because smooth and steady in the approach has never been Kiki's and my strong point!
(Looking so cute!)
I think I was a little nervous to start and kept trying to overcorrect Kiki in order to not have her start rushing, with the opposite effect that I ended up choking her into some miserable jumps. To fix this, Jim made me change my grip on the reins to driving reins (basically the reverse of normal, so that the reins lie over the top of your index finger instead of coming up from your ring finger) which makes it harder to pull.
(Showing off our new driving reins)
The first time I came around with my new grip I had a total mental panic attack and got into the fence totally wrong. Kiki launched from way way off and I got left behind, slipping reins out to the buckle to try to keep from hitting her in the mouth. Jim immediately layed into me, saying that I was a bad rider who didn't have good enough balance to stay with my horse when I wasn't choking her to death with the reins. He then suggested I take up waterskiing instead so then I could at least lean against a boat, which didn't care, instead of a horse, who did. Yikes!! That was a pretty rough response for one mistake!
At this point, the lesson wasn't moving in a direction I was particularly happy with. It didn't help that the next exercise was a long four stride (which, with Kiki's short stride, was always going to be a tougher one) that we got five in like three times in a row. It felt like I had to be pulled aside after every attempt I made, and had to do the exercise like five times more than everyone else. We took a water break and I was feeling a bit low.
But then, we got better! I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants, and got my sh** together. I got Kiki into a nice canter and then stayed quiet and relaxed, and she actually responded beautifully! From the break on, we really made no mistakes from there out. I could have brought her back a bit more the first time we went through the next exercise, a tight downhill 5-stride, but nailed it on the second attempt.
(Being nice and quiet into the quiet 6)
Our last course, which involved a going 3 to a steady 3, around to the forward 4, back to the quiet 5, and then up a quiet 6 stride, went very smoothly. I could have ridden the 3 to 3 better, which Jim noted, but then I got myself together and rode more and more focused as we went. Jim even complimented us at the end - wahoo! As we walked back for lunch, I admitted to Jim that this was only the 8th time I'd jumped since last August (which, shockingly, is true!!), and he agreed that it was just a matter of time for me to get my mojo back. Phew! A lesson that could have easily gone south ended up excellent!
(Finishing up over the faux-corner - after which, Jimmy said, "Thank you!!")
Day 2: Cross Country
Day 2 started even earlier as we were trying to finish before the heat set in. We moved the Q&A to the end and started riding right away out in the cross country field. The first field we were in was very hard with short, wet grass that made the going extremely slick. I had put studs in but still felt a little tentative as we cantered around to warm up.
(Kiki's tail having a life of its own again!)
We just did a few little coops and rails to start, and then popped on and off a little bank. After our first round Jim said, "Ah excellent, Kate, starting off today where we finished yesterday: jumping in stride!" Which made me very, very happy. Kiki was a little spicy and lit up with the start and stop nature of the 6-person cross country school, but jumped wonderfully.
(My first bank in 11 months!)
After that we started moving onto the real xc course, with our first station at a post and rail on a slope that we had to jump coming uphill, turn, and jump again going downhill to practice different approaches for different terrain. Kiki was great and I was really starting to feel back in my element, position and balance-wise.
We did a few more things in the woods, which were more difficult because of the fact that Kiki was very tense leaving the group and getting going on the uneven footing, rather than because of the jumps themselves. When we moved out into the big field, though, we were in our element! Once I could actually let Kiki canter on a bit before I had to start jumping she immediately chilled out. We did a few little courses, for which Kiki was a total champ.
We only had one hairy moment when we came up to a corner that you couldn't see the width of on the approach. We got there on a bit of a going stride and then Kiki saw the width at the last second and hesitated ever so slightly and ended up sort of diving across the face. She knocked the top of the corner very hard with her forelegs, which would not have been that big of a deal except that the fence wasn't fixed properly and it tipped slightly, meaning that her front legs dragged along with the fence longer than they would have if the fence had been totally immobile. The end result was that her trajectory changed fairly significantly and we sort of nosed dived into landing. Yikes! Not good!
Fortunately, Kiki didn't seem too worried after our incident and jumped neat as a pin from there on out. Jim was very happy with the way we went, and gave us some nice compliments at the end of the lesson. Kiki was definitely the star of the class and finished up fresh and very proud of herself. Yay!!
(Flying over the spooky green coop that undid some other members of our group)
The weird thing, though, was that driving home I didn't feel super confident. I'm so happy with Kiki and proud of our performance this weekend, but for whatever reason didn't walk away feeling super assured. I think it was that the jumps stayed very small all weekend, and I still found it plenty hard enough. Looking ahead to GMHA, which is in just two weeks, our planned return to Training is still feeling like a big ask. Hmm...
I've also been very short on sleep and my neck has been bothering me more than usual (it always hurts a little bit, all the time, but I tweaked it at the dressage show last weekend and it's gotten bad enough again that sitting in a chair for the four hours of my German class is almost enough to drive me to tears on a daily basis), which could be accounting for my grumpiness. Hopefully a week of maximum rest, minimum stress, and maybe a trip to a chiropractor can get me feeling feisty again! In the meantime, I just have to remind myself of what a star my pony is, and think good, happy, chill thoughts. Onward!
(Also, sorry for the continual changing of the banner - I promise I'll settle on something soon!)