3 Years…. Time to take stock.
So after 3 years of Amber, where are we?
Well this is the area I still feel I struggle most with. And I can’t really see much progress at all really. I can choose a gait but she still dictates the pace on hacks. She hates being left behind. She can take over and launch at jumps. She can rush and be silly. I am better at managing her but I have not changed that part of her and am as far away as ever from the holy grail of ‘complete control of all 4 feet, over all terrains in all gaits at all speeds!’ I think I just ride her better when she is being Amberish and so I can do things I used to not be able to do. But she is no easier to ride than she was when we first started out together. She is probably worse because she is so much fitter and because I have introduced her to XC which she loves and now anticipates.
She feels like a completely different horse to the gangly, unco-ordinated beast I first rode but after figuring out where her legs were and gaining some condition in her first 6 months with me, not much seems to have changed since. She showed flashes of promise at our first camp in September 2017 and intermittently since then but we have never managed to get any consistency. We have also never reproduced work at home in a competition environment. Amber has had dressage lessons where we literally get nothing done at all as she is just not co-operating in any way. And we have had dressage lessons – like the one at camp in 2017 – where she just for some reason relaxed and listened to me and produced lovely work. Like the rideability – dressage is where I feel we are most stuck. Videos from 2 years ago look great. Videos from last week look bloody awful! From an objective point of view, I’ve been scoring 60-65% or 35-40 pens forever. Comments are always the same too: capable horse with nice/correct paces who needs to relax and submit/engage /work over her back/ accept the hand for higher marks. I feel things have been getting better in the past 6 months but not tested that hope out in competition yet!
Now for some better news. 2 years ago I was trotting round 70s. The SJ in my BE80 year was always pretty wild. And my first BE90 a year ago was a car crash. But over the season she settled and I felt like I was actually riding her more and being towed around less. Her jumping in clinics can still be a bit yeehaa but I am better at getting her back and reacting to her surges of acceleration more quickly. I know a decent rider would have been riding her like that 2.5 years ago and been jumping 90s back then and be onto goodness knows where by now. But there is no point thinking like that. I am the rider I am and she is the horse she is and we can only progress as fast as this particular partnership allows. A better rider would be in a totally different place with her. But then I also might have progressed quicker on an easier horse. But we are where we are and progress – though slow – is very definitely there.
I first jumped a 90cm XC fence on a Gemma Tatersall camp in September 2017. Over 2 years ago. But that was 1 fence at a time. And they were easy fences. I am still jumping 90 but I am jumping full BE90 courses with very generous use of the brush rule, technical lines, skinnies, combinations. I am also less of a passenger and more of a rider. So another place where progress is definitely happening. Having said that, I jumped lines last winter I would not want to jump now. So how XC will pan out over winter and into next season remains to be seen. BE90 was such a big step up for me that I may be there for quite a while!
It is hard not to be frustrated by this review. I don’t feel I have got very far in the 3 years I have had her. But I guess we are learning together so things will inevitably be slower. I can imagine getting another horse and starting out pretty much where me and Amber already are because 80/90 courses look manageable now. With Amber I had to start at 50/60 because I had never jumped higher than 70 and that was on a pony I had taken up to 70 from cross poles. I was basically a very novice jumper when I first got Amber. And she had never show jumped either. Green on green was never going to be the quickest way of making progress.
It depends what point of view I take: As a rider, I have gone from 70cm unaffiliated on an easy pony to BE90 on a challenging horse. I have gone from being towed around to actually influencing my horse. I have started riding in an outline for the first time ever. So I as a rider have improved a lot over the 3 years. Amber, on the other hand, is still only using a fraction of her ability. So I have done a pretty rubbish job pf producing her. But I am not really trying to produce her, I am trying to get as good as we can be together. I will always be the limiting factor in our partnership and I guess that does not really matter.