I know that I’ve schlepped my way through the lower levels on Monte, but since Prelim is on our horizon, I also know that I need to step up my technique and stop getting by on a wing, and an albeit well-balanced, prayer. (I have concluded along with the help of a friend of mine that balance can’t get me out of everything and that sometimes, especially when jackrabbitting over a fence, gripping with your legs is not only necessary, but acceptable – the alternative result is popping off.) Hours a day on a horse have tuned my balance and coordination into near pitch perfection, and along with reading as much theory as I can scroll through, it has gotten me far. But if my goal is the big leagues, I need a coach.
Part of my deal with Forrest is that Jesse pays for lessons – or barters them for dental work. I started with one trainer, Ashley Johnson, in Ocala I had started using out of convenience on occasion when trailering with a friend, and while I liked her a lot and she did help me a lot, my riding generally reverted to rudimentary when I rode with her. It was almost like in an attempt to be humble and put myself in a position to learn, I also wiped out all my confidence and screwed myself out of getting as much from the lessons.
Jesse had just done some dental work on a friend, Joe Meyer, who’d ridden in the Beijing Olympics so we agreed we might as well try him out for lessons since they were “free” and my current coach wasn’t quite right, as much as I loved her.
I do feel a bit like Goldilocks, and I also feel like especially when it comes to Monte where I pay for the lessons (which means they can’t be as consistent), maybe I just didn’t give the coaches a fair shot. I took a few lessons on Monte with Ashley, and she did help and see that he jumped better (used his shoulder and lifted his legs rather than hanging them) from a more open stride … but hauling two horses to Ocala to two different coaches didn’t make much sense, and I didn’t have money at the time regardless, so Monte’s jumping lessons went on hold.
Lessons on Forrest with Joe started with a good xc school then a couple really bad stadium lessons where we were lucky to even make it to the jumps. I tried again a few months later and Forrest’s canter had improved enough that we were actually able to jump and get better and consistently keep it. I decided to bring Monte.
Even though we’d had a smooth double clear at training the weekend before, he was in a new place and had to rush, refuse and bunny hop the x-rail. So much for good first impressions. We spent the whole lesson working on keeping Monte relaxed coming up to the fence and when we had some of the nicest canter I’ve felt on him, I was stoked, even if we didn’t jump over 2’6″…
The next lesson was not quite as ridiculous in the beginning and we actually progressed to a small course, and the next lesson started ok and ended ok but had Monte planting me across a fence and tiptoeing over me in the middle. Joe called Monte a dog and told me I needed a better horse.
I can’t even say I got offended. I know Monte’s a difficult horse by all means. But I love him and we’ve made it this far and Joe’s reasoning was that he’s seen horses plant their feet and not step on their riders. My justification is that everything happened so slowly.
I chased Monte to the jump while trying to get “more canter” and when the dickhead (I will admit he was a dickhead right here; he could have easily just jumped the damned oxer.) slammed on the brakes, I went onto his neck. Then he dropped his neck and I slid to the poll … then off the right. The moment he dropped his neck and I went to the poll and off to the side, physics, or just trying to catch his balance, or whatever, made him take a step. Then one more. Then one more. I watched, then tucked my head as my horse clambered, delicately, over me. He ticked my helmet with a hoof, Joe said, after I’d stood up and thrown my crop – pissed at such a stupid fall.
The thing is, I know my horse. I know what works for him, an individual. As much as I’d come to like Joe, it seemed like he wanted each horse to go the same foot-perfect, hunteresque way. It’s a very hard position to be in because this guy has been in the Olympics. He knows a helluva lot more than me, but when I try to get my 12-year-old horse to do it his way, to slow down and wait and relax (which I do personally enjoy more), I land Monte on top of an oxer at home and myself on the opposite side and in dirt in my lesson. It seems like my way might be the safer way? With speed comes confidence with Monte, and at least we both make it to the other side of the fence that way?
I wish that I could just get Jesse to give me lessons. She pushes me, treats me like I should know what I’m doing, and when I don’t says something along the lines of, “You might want to try that differently next time … jackass.” But I ride Forrest because with two babies and a dental practice, she doesn’t even have time for her own horse.
It seems though, in hindsight, that fate has been trying to work Jennie into my life for a while. After a wild xc run on Forrest, one of his first ever, she commented in passing both en route to where we both always try to park at POP in the shade he seemed “fresh.” I found a video camera her working student had let bounce out of the dirtbike at another schooling show, and she happened to be driving by at that moment. I always envy and can easily spot her gorgeous, big moving horses that could just as easily make it to Grand Prix as Advanced, and am simultaneously impressed when she looks like a dressage rider – not like a curled up eventer in her tests. The final push came after I’d been Facebook stalking her one morning – checking to see how far her farm was from mine, how much her lessons cost, and reading her bio on her website – and later that afternoon when chatting with the fiance, he told me he and his dad had just check out some woman’s farm in Apopka and he thought I’d like it but couldn’t remember her name. “Jennie Jarnstrom?” I said. And it was.
So I messaged her on Facebook and told her my deal: I have a quirky horse but I love him and know he’s totally capable of a one-star and am looking for someone who will help me with all the technical stuff and treat each horse as an individual, because I do have other “nicer” horses coming up too.
She invited me to come xc schooling with a group of students after a POP schooling show (which Forrest kicked ass in) and I figured it was probably a good idea since Monte will give a better first impression xc. And he did:
The start stop start stop rhythm of group xc schoolings isn’t as good for Monte as it is to just start going and picking off fences, but after Jennie saw this for herself, and we started picking off small courses, it was a great lesson. Jennie has a get ‘er done attitude, regardless of what the make-up and hairnet might lead you to assume in the beginning, and she is also very safety conscious, which for eventing is an awesome combo in my mind.
For the banks she stressed keeping your horse absolutely straight – if they stumble they can catch themselves instead of being off balance and falling. In the water, she advised that slower is better because the water splashing up distorts the horse’s vision and when a girl came galloping through, she shook her head and said quietly, “That’s way too fast.”
“Stop jumping every jump the same way,” she said to me. “And get out of the saddle! You’re not riding dressage right now!” She had me jump prelim options and told me how to jump them: collect some, this is vertical not a galloping fence; don’t let him lengthen coming downhill to the jump – if you let them lengthen, you’ll get a chip in every time; commit, keep your legs on and focus!
She pushed and focused on the technical side – and how to let Monte be Monte while still being safe and “correct.” His natural way of going is xxx, so you need to do xxx. It was exactly what we needed. Prelim here we come!