Hamish and me at the Jessica Bortner-Harris clinic, photo by Katie Cavalluzzo

Hamish and me at the Jessica Bortner-Harris clinic, photo by Katie Cavalluzzo

When you get three life insurance junk mails on the same day, you ought to pay attention. I took Hamish over to Easton for a lesson with advanced eventer Jessica Bortner-Harris of NC. I arrived early to watch the session before me, and there were three gymnastic lines set up with three canter poles centered in the arena on the approach to all three lines. It looked like a really good exercise for me and Hamish, just what I needed to try and get some confidence going so I could go forward with plans for the year with him and the other horses.

He loaded fine and arrived just perfectly, no stomping or nervousness in the trailer, but lots of pooping! He was up and looking when I took him out, so I hand walked him in the barnyard for a couple of turns, letting him see everything and all the other horses and activity. After 4-5 times around he calmed and was more receptive. Got on, got warmed up. Jessica instantly changed our frame a little, asking for him to come lower out of the wither, slow the rhythm in the trot, and he felt “through” very quickly, despite being a little spooky here and there in the strange ring. I need to watch my left hand — I overbend with it (You are all hereby on notice to remind me whenever you see me overusing it! It takes a village!) Canter was good, I need to get a little fitter so I can canter longer. With four riders in our group we had to go a bit longer and I got out of breath.

Jessica zeroed in my failings as a rider extremely quickly, she has a super eye. Hamish was very good, very smart, and learns very fast. He only needed to jump down through an exercise once to “get” it.  We started by butterfly-ing over the three canter poles, an excellent excercise for ANY level, at trot and canter. Then moved to the first line, just poles on the ground. The line ended in the center of the ring about three strides from the end fence, a pipecorral panel. This is important to note. It was also cold and windy and we were all wearing several padded layers. This too is important to note.

When we added the jumps to the line, Hamish was a tad hesitant, and I over-rode a bit, trying to do too much rather than support. Because I was concentrating on jumps and not on the supporting direction he needed, we landed straight, then sort of ducked right and or left when we turned after the last fence. This jumped up and bit me. After the third time through, Hamish didn’t get any direction from me when he landed on his forehand, and ducked left at the last minute and I got close and personal with the pipe corral panel. The panel made me land face first in the sand and I didn’t shut my mouth fast enough so I did get a sand-wich! I am sure my dentist will not approve…Anyhow, the really funny thing was Hamish. He took only four or five strides, then turned about, and looked at me on the ground with a look of true horror on his face! “Did I do THAT?” you could see his mind, he was very surprised I was not on top of him. Oh, Hamish, I am so sorry! I wasn’t hurt (padding and dumb luck) so we climbed back on and regrouped and then tried again when it was our turn.

This first time, we put down the last jump, and I over-rode him through the line and then stopped at the end. Jessica immediately corrected my technique. I rode through softer, three times, at her direction with a collected and organized halt at each. Then I planned to go left upon landing, looked left, and went left. Hamish was much better once I rode him with a plan and we did great from then on. It was a great lesson in staying organized and riding properly on a horse that you haven’t owned for 12 years like Rugby! So I have some ground to cover with my non-Rugby rides and I think I got a great start to the  year with this lesson, despite falling off.  Today is a hunting day and I think it will be great. Just in case I have a bottle of wine in reserve in my closet, in case I fall off hunting!

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