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Success or Failure?

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IMG_20130722_141827Sometimes it feels easy to decide if an experience is a success or failure. Take our event outings so far this season, great days out, great progression, great consistency, all good.

This month deciding if our experiences  have been a "success" or a "failure" not been so clear cut. Straight after the last blog was the longest heat wave since 2006! It was not possible to cross country school as everywhere was baked hard. In fact in the heat riding at all was difficult!

In an effort to keep Jay's familiarity with XC up, but without concussing Jay's legs, we went hacking at Osberton. As it was so hot we arrived before 8am and I was out on his back by twenty past eight. We had a lovely trot on the longer grass, and even a canter through the woods where it was shady and there was some leaf litter down to make it cushioned. We even popped a couple of logs. I had permission to go through the water jump, and Jay was straight in there, and after a couple of cautious passes through he became comfortable to jump in down a small step, or canter right in and through, leaving a tidal wave in his wake.

After this we went to where there are some river crossings. Jay met these in 2011, the first year I had him, and it would be fair to say that at the time he was less then keen. You may know that when I bought Jay he had a nasty rearing habit, but since I have owned him we have had this happen maybe 8 times, but two of these times have been at these river crossings. In fact one was at  a ford over the road with fast moving water and a steep concrete downhill approach, and the second and much more violent emotional outburst was at a much smaller stream.

It has been nearly 2 years since Jay has been back here, and I was interested to see what lessons he has learned, as in trust in me, but also that he has much more experience with crossing water. As soon as we saw the ford Jay slowed down, but unlike last time he continued on to walk to the water's edge. Jay hesitated for quite a while, minutes even, I think it is because the water is fast moving and it does look strange, and also the steep downhill slope is a bit slippery and creepy. No hassle though, after a few minutes of being allowed to think through the problem, sniff the water, paw at the edge, he lurched in and through. Because we had taken our time, and the final decision to enter and go was all Jay's doing, and it was slow, thoughtful and controlled, that was it, every time I asked for him to enter the ford it was no problem.

On to the bigger river crossing. Jay was fine, trot entry first time, and even a canter down the river a short way. Ye ha, water droplets shining in the morning sun. Even the swan looked happy.

Next up the small stream. I always thought that the major issue that Jay had with this was that he could not decide if he should jump the stream or wade through it. It seems to be the indecision that blows his mind. We started the same, but I made an observation. With the ford I was more relaxed, more inclined to give him a long rein, I felt that time did not matter and I knew that it would come to a peaceful and successful conclusion. With the small stream I was tense, pushing a bit harder, and the tell tale giveaway was that I was firmly grasping the neckstrap!

I realised I was riding differently just before Jay copped out and swung left, and even thought about lifting his front feet off the floor. I stopped, drew breath and asked "Jay? Really? Do you feel you have to defend yourself like that?". Jay decided not and straightened back up to face the problem. I then had time to think why it was that I was riding this hazard differently. I realised that it was the concern that when Jay went he would launch over the stream instead of walking in, and that was making me jumpy. To make Jay really happy in water it has to be his decision to go in, not to go in because he was forced. I can set the situation up to have him believe crossing the stream is the best option, but not physically force him. I tried to relax, and he would work it out and teeter on the edge of leaping the stream, and as he did so I was getting ready for the leap, and being jumpy, giving a kick or two, over pressuring him to get the uncomfortable leap over with, so when he did finally leap it was all a bit forced and tense, on both our sides.

That first leap took over 5 minutes to achieve. Afterwards  we did it several more times, indispersed with the other river water crossings, which were all happy and successful, unlike the stream crossings. Each time though the stream I could not relax and let him sort it out, each time he would have a little dither and rather than letting him check it all out I was a little worried about the leap and gave a kick or two...... and although he got so he would always leap it was not with the quiet confidence that we achieved with the other water crossings.

I left it there and finished the hack happily. I knew the other water crossings came under the banner of "success" but even though we got across the small stream I was not sure if it could be labelled the same. I guess that when it started to go all wrong between me and Jay, and he thought the nasty rear-ey thoughts, it was a success that we turned it round, and it was a success that we jumped the stream a good few times with no bad behaviour. I guess I could look on it as a "failure"  as we did have a problem here in the first place, it is a long time since Jay said "no" to anything. Maybe long term it is a bigger success than the actual water, in that Jay decided that he did not need to pursue the defensive behaviour even once he was in a pickle?

With the hacking and also a couple of jumping sessions on a surface I felt we were well enough prepared for our next 100 event. That week though the temperature was up in the 30s, and I was not coping well with the heat. Jay was fine, working early morning and even being turned out by 7am and back in for 11am or midday, but I was working the day through, and I was not enjoying it. I knew the event organisers were preparing well for the event, the SJ was to be watered, the XC was aerovated and had all weather take offs and landings, but I just felt that the heat was too oppressive for travelling. With a sad heart I withdrew, lost my fee, but was strangely relieved once I had done it.

The weekend of the event came, and,........ the weather changed and felt cool and perfect! Well that felt like a gigantic failure! I made a conscious decision to not be miserable about it, and decided instead to go enter show jumping at Sykehouse instead! After all my horse is all fit, trained and ready to run.

The last two classes of the show were the 95cm and the 1.05m jumping. I decided to do both of those classes. Jay was a star. Although I am not so bad in collecting rings now Jay looks after me, he went in and worked in a fab rhythm. Di had built the course, and it was incredible. There were technical questions, innovative lines, areas where you would possibly get too long and then have to quickly reorganise to do a sharp turn. Jay was a pro.  I have to admit, I even rode him well! Clear round, and into the jump off.

David gave me instructions to not run his legs off, but I decided that although I would keep his rhythm and not lose my head, we would try for some sharp turns. It was great, the first time I have ever "gone for" a jump off. Jay turned, lengthened, shortened, jumped off angles, adjusted his stride, and all within a rhythm. Double clear round and third.

In fact I was so pleased with Jay that I did not enter the second class, but walked him home and turned him out for another hour to celebrate.

I walked back to the arena, had a refreshing cold lager in the bar and looked at the professional photos. Ha Ha, it would be fair to say that although he was jumping brilliantly, Jay was not exactly having to put in much effort! 1m seems very small to him. Maybe I "should" have gone in the next class, as I had intended? We are jumping at that height in our lessons, and it would progress us. Maybe by being so pleased and going home after one small class, that could be a "failure"? I felt that we could not have jumped "nicer", but maybe we could have jumped as nicely, but over a bigger track. Success or failure? I don't know, but my horse finished fit and happy, and the beer was nice, as was the company in the cafe!

I must have been thinking about the event we had missed, despite trying not to,  as this morning I was compelled to look up the results. Some people seem to have had a lovely day, finished on sub-30 scores. But, across all sections, at a glance, it seems that about a third of competitors did not even finish the event. There were a fair few withdrawals before XC, but also a boat load Retired part way round XC, and a whole lot were eliminated XC. So, the weather did cool down, but maybe it was not such a "Failure" to have withdrawn. A lot of people "succeeded" in getting to the event, and did not have a good time.

I guess even the best preperation would have left the ground hard enough to sting after this heat wave.

As for the Osberton stream, was that a success or a failure? Well, we are going back there this afternoon to find out how the last experience has left us, and to see if we can come to a better solution. Who knows, maybe by being patient last time, and not getting all unnecessary with each other, maybe it will already be solved in Jay's mind, even if I did get a bit jumpy about when the leap over the stream was going to happen? Maybe I was good enough, even if I was not perfect?  Maybe we will learn more about each other and come to an even better understanding?



This morning we had a lovely ride out! Not perfect, but a whole lot more harmonious than before. The ford was as I suspected, we sorted that out last time and Jay trotted straight in. Next up the small river, it is a tight turn to get to the bank, and as we trotted to it Jay suddenly found that there was a showjump on the bank, so he would have to jump in to the river. He hesitated, then jumped, but got his legs all confused to the poles fell, he had his back legs on the bank and his front in the river, with rolling poles underneath.

Once upon a time Jay would have panicked and backed off, but now he just stood over the rolling poles, and even when the wing fell into the water he waited for further instructions. When it had all come to rest I asked Jay to walk the rest of the way into the river, and he did, it was all fine. No upset at all.

That was it, that river was "sorted", we went in and out a few times, I re-set the jump and we jumped in and out. We even stopped for a rest and went for a paddle downstream. At a point where the river was quite narrow we stopped at a particularly lush area of grass, more or less growing out of the river water, and Jay had a picnic. In fact, I realised I had no photo for this blog, so I whipped my phone out and took a photo.

To finish.... the dreaded stream. We did have a stop first time, Jay was not straight, and it was all wrong. So, I straightened him up, asked him to go, and we were gone! A few times it was a bit of a lurch. The final time we did a little course through the river to the little stream, and Jay decided he could do it. The whole approach felt different, it was like he was looking how best to DO it rather than looking for a reason NOT to do it. 

That final jump over the small stream was FAB, a proper confident jump, and afterwards Jay skipped up the bank in a silly rocking canter with his head down. It was Jay's victory dance, he was very pleased with himself!

That was it, we strolled back to the lorry.

Next up? Next is the clinic with Manuela McLean next weekend. I want to go back to basics, to soften up and have a flexible mind in Jay as well as a flexible body.

 One final thought........ At the start of this blog I said that it was easy for me to see that our events so far this season had been successful. Four double clears, improving dressage, fun days out with our confidence increasing each time. We even moved up a class, and loved it. I guess "success" or "failure" is very much a matter of perspective though, as some people think we "failed" as we had time penalties and therefore were not placed....... One person's success is another's failure...........


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  1. Gail

    Oh, dear Ruth .. no failures at all! There are always things a horse and rider need to work on, and we all know that no one is perfect all the time. You did the right thing in looking back at how far you've come in this time with Jay! You have given both you time and permission to take the time it takes to feel comfortable with an activity. While we all love to take home a blue ribbon in competition, sometimes the best feeling is having achieved the goal we set for ourselves....

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  2. Di B Arnold

    I think it's so much easier to LEARN from Successes than failures. quote from David Arnold Ex-teacher of 38 years in schools

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