Wow. I’m going to let you guys know now, this post will be a little picture heavy because they pretty much tell the whole story. In short, Val may not be the horse I’d have picked for myself back when he fell into my life, but he is absolutely, 100%, my unicorn, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never have another horse quite like him.
The weekend started with waffles (J is really loving the waffle maker he got for Christmas, and I never turn down waffles, so we’ve had a lot the past few weeks) and new breeches, and then a really productive flat ride. We worked on some of the lateral stuff, but I focused more on asking him to really work through his back by lengthening and shortening, a fair amount of sitting trot, and a lot of counter canter. Both of our bums were pretty tired by the end of the ride, and my thighs were burning after dropping my stirrups for most of the work that required a deeper seat.
Even though he has a tendency to short circuit after a while, I was really proud of how he stayed with me for the whole ride, and really put in a lot of effort. It wasn’t all perfect work, but he never had a temper tantrum or said no. He did, however, get so tired in the counter canter that he broke to the trot through a corner. So mission accomplished. We ended on a nice stretchy trot and a long walk to make sure all of his muscles were cool and loose and that mentally he was feeling good.
All-in-all, we put in a good 50 minute of work, and Val was really plugged in for the whole ride. Except for the very end of our cool out because he was really ready for dinner. But, you know, otherwise.
After such a good ride, he got a bunch of cookies (and carrots because his favorite carrot lady at the barn had extras) and then after some conformation shots, he finally got tucked in to eat.
Sunday though, was when the real fun happened. I showed up to the barn early to take pictures of a few lessons before me, and trainer mentioned our lesson would be a simple grid with some height. We haven’t done one of those in a while, so I was pretty excited.
We did a nice little warm up, and I could tell he was definitely a little tired from our flat the day before. I kept our warm up pretty short and sweet as a result. Just a little leg yielding each way and opening/shortening our stride to make sure the tools I’d need in the grid were functioning, and then a couple of trot jumps to make sure we were on the same page there. The first one was super ugly, so I’m really glad we did that. Ha.
The first time through, all we had set was a bounce with 2 crosssrails, then 1 stride to a pole. He picked his little knees up to his chin and needed one little cluck, but was otherwise great. The next time was the bounce, 1 stride to a vertical, then the second bounce turned into a vertical, and finally the last jump (another 1-stride) was made a vertical, and then an oxer. Even though he was peaky the first few time through, Val was really pretty great, and went really straight every time through. You may remember grid lesson posts where I mentioned a pretty bad right drift, so it was nice to see that our straightness work is paying off, and he’s learning to be self-sufficient through these.
For the rest of the lesson, the oxer just kept going up. And up. Aaand up.
As it reached the 4′ mark, it was really starting to look big, but it still felt really easy for Val. He finally put some real effort in at 4’3, but still not as much as I might have expected. Trainer had initially said that would be our last go-through, but it felt so easy, that I asked if we could go one more hole. And she acquiesced!
Let me just add that until Sunday, the biggest either of us had ever jumped was 4’3, and we’d only done it once, back in October or so. And here we were, testing our limits again. As it turns out, he really tries over 4’6, but there’s still more in there. And boy did it feel good. I was pretty proud of myself for holding on and staying relatively balanced. I was also really stinking proud of him for noticing that it was big, and popping right over anyway.
Another girl in the lesson asked for it to go up one more hole. Her horse has done 4’3-4’6 in grids significantly more than Val, and her mare really stared down the oxer at 4’9, but obliged all the same. Val, however, decided that was where he drew the line. And in all fairness, I was busy staring and didn’t help much. Seriously, don’t watch as your trainer shoves the pole up above her shoulder. It’s not good for instilling bravery. After we stopped at the oxer out, we trotted a little jump, then jumped through with the last jump as a vertical around 4′. We then went through once more with the oxer rail back up around the 4’3-4’6 mark and ended there. He gave it a lot of space, and I was definitely a little in the backseat, but he was really brave and that’s all I can really ask for. He could have been really weird and sticky going through, but other than asking once if maybe he could just not at the first crossrail, he was very polite about going right down with the jump back up.
Seeing as 4’6 is 6 inches bigger than we’ve comfortably jumped in grids, I’m pleased as punch all the same. He’s still learning how to jump when suddenly it requires a large amount of effort, since he tends leave 6 inches of space over everything anyway, and there was once a time when 4′ scared him too. I don’t think I’ll ever have plans to show him above 4′ but he just keeps showing more and more scope so who knows!
This lesson was loads of fun just because we got to jump big jumps, but I also really appreciated that, through everything, Val was straight and simple, which meant I really got to work on myself. I felt really secure, and I worked hard on my auto release, especially as the jumps went up, which I think went quite well.
Honestly you guys, I don’t know how I lucked out with this dude. He’s a total weirdo, but he gives me so much when it really counts. Even if he retired today (but hopefully not, because I would be devastated) he’s taught me more than any other horse I’ve ridden, and I’ve gone farther and done more with him than any other horse in my life. I know there are lots of horses out there that were made for this kind of thing, but this horse owes me nothing, and yet even at almost 14 with a complete lifestyle change in the middle of his life, continues to get better and work harder, He’s truly my once-in-a-lifetime, little bay unicorn.