action jackson

Toni and Colin came back from two solid months at HITS Thermal reinvigorated and with higher standards than ever. Christi and I have been riding with both of them quite a lot, and more is expected of us: faster, softer transitions, tighter turns, straighter and more precise approaches.

Luckily I spent the winter and spring riding Jackson (my Bella has gone back to her owners, I don’t want to talk about that) and we’ve built and built and built on the connection we made in the fall. Today was our third lesson with Colin in just over a week. He had us riding trot poles then doing inside turns at the canter into verticals. I would look at the impossibly twisty track and tell myself firmly, “We can do that,” and then we did.

My lug-eared, coffin-headed old Thoroughbred Jackson has taught me more than any other horse I have ever ridden. There is a place on his back where I feel strong and safe and secure. I sit there like a little fat Buddha and I can use my hands and legs independently. In one memorable flat lesson, Jackson taught me to weight my outside stirrup on a small circle. In another, just after I got back from London, I visualized myself as a haggis, sinking into the saddle. To get that tight inside turn, I just weighted the outside stirrup and sat like a haggis. We nailed it.

He is both fussy and lazy. If you mess with his face he gets pissy and sucks back behind your leg. If you use your leg more than he thinks is fair, he does huge clumsy stupid bucks. Between the two extremes is a place where you can move him forward off a quiet leg into a soft, living contact, a conversation between his mouth and your hand, and if you can stretch up from there and wait, wait, wait, he can jump anything.

Today we jumped nearly everything like that, forward and uphill off a positive leg into a positive contact. The one exception, of course, was the fence where we missed our distance, he ran out and I toppled off his shoulder. I wasn’t hurt, except in the dignity area, and I got back on and regained our mojo. But I had arena sand down my pants.

Who cares? The April sun hot on my back, the white sand and green leaves of our Grand Prix arena, Jackson listening and hunting the next fence, confident and bright. Colin was unfussed by the fall and called it a momentary lapse of concentration, which is exactly what it was. Everything else, he said, was awesome. I like it when he praises my riding, but I like it even better when he says: “That horse is so much happier and healthier since he’s been in your program. He’s enjoying his work.” I tried to think of a compliment that would mean more to me, but I can’t.

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