One of the many fun things about Cairo is trying to figure her out. She watches me with her bright eyes and I can see the wheels turning in her brain — sometimes plotting and sometimes looking for attention and sometimes just because some part of her is in constant motion, whether it’s her brain, her mouth on the bit or her legs dancing because she’s dying to just GO.
This weekend I figured out just how much she tunes into my eyes. I had a lesson with Kari in order to work on our stadium. It’s nice that after years as a jumper rider, I got a horse who rocks the cross county (my weak spot) and needs work on the jumper round (my strong point, usually).
We finished out of the ribbons at Rebecca because we had some rails in the stadium. I honestly don’t know what place or care where we finished because I was so pleased with Cairo overall — she was so brave and, for the lack of a better word, I’ll repeat where I started — fun. As we were warming up, one of the other horses in the ring launched into a full-on bucking session — back humped and head between his legs. I hopped off Cairo when I saw the rider, who did an amazing job, finally coming off. When I saw the horse begin bolting, Cairo and I slid out of the arena before they could shut the gate.
Cairo handled it well, but she (or possibly I) was just a little more frazzled than usual after that. She schooled well and Meika had me pushing my knuckles into her neck so I followed the rhythm with more flow, and that worked great. We got into the ring and she went after the fences with her customary enthusiasm — I will be surprised the day she actually spooks at a fence! But although she overjumped all the fences, this time she dangled a foot here or there and caught four rails. A couple times she overshot her arc. Basically she was green. Hell, she’s five and Rebecca was her fourth real show and the first one in May was at starter level. She and I have lots of time to work on stadium and I’m just excited at how well she handled everything!
I was pleased with my ride and that was a good feeling. I put her well to the fences and my eq and balance were good. There’s something about Cairo that lets me ride every step of the way and I love that. I think I’m extra conscious of my equitation because she’s so little. Ironically, people who meet her in person who have only seen pictures are startled at how little she is — she rides big, even in photos.
The week after Rebecca, Kristine and went to Inavale to school some more xc. The one fence at Inavale I didn’t think I rode as thoughtfully as I could have was the “Novice trakhener,” aka the log over swale. It’s right next to the Training trakhener that I have fallen at several times and let’s just say I have issues with it. Cairo doesn’t. She sailed over the Novice one and when the time comes, she’s going to sail over the Training one.
Kristine suggested I see how Cairo did jumping off a bank into water. “Grab mane and just walk up to it,” she said. She’s been around Cairo enough to know Cairo’s pretty certain to jump and Cairo did. No problem. “Trot up to it,” Kristine said. So I did. And thank god I grabbed mane because Cairo basically hollered “Cannonball!” and karoomed into the water. Kristine said Cairo landed fix feet out. It was no small splash.
This weekend at my lesson with Kari, we were working on channeling some of that enthusiasm. We were jumping the day after a shoeing where we’d trimmed more than I’d expected — Cairo grew a lot of toe this month! As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to keep the jumps low and that worked well with what Kari had planned. She was incorporating some of the bodywork and physical therapy she’s been doing and basically had me first rotating my body at the canter in a two-point so I looked at Cairo’s tail (why yes, I AM trusting). We did that both directions and stretching both ways and Cairo seemed to like it and relax through her neck more. Jumping, Kari had me keep my hips neutral but rotate my core to the direction we were heading.
We did an exercise with placing poles and once we did it a couple times Cairo was like “Right I GET IT” and wanted to get rushy, which actually let us work on my body even more. Then we added in some fences on a diagonal and that’s when I remembered a clinic with Brian Sabo in which he told a kid who wasn’t steering all that great “Never point a loaded pony at a fence you don’t intend to shoot it over.” Cairo is incredibly keyed into where I’m looking — which explains why sometimes on xc she sights in on some very big fences — she feels me looking at them!
As I rotated my core left around a left corner I turned my head along with my core, essentially my hips were heading Cairo toward the fence, but my eyes were looking away; I was just keeping the fence in the corner of my eye, barely. Cairo cantered calmly to the base of the fence then kind of went “Oops” and hopped over it. She did the same off the right to an oxer (only she leaped the oxer like a scalded cat). I realized that because I wasn’t sighting in on the fences, she wasn’t either. She’s a good girl, so once we got there, she was happy to go over them, but you could tell she’d been waiting for me to tell her something. The next time I kept my torso turned but looked square at the fence a couple strides out. I felt Cairo key in on what I was looking at and we had a great fence.
I like both that she’s so keyed to me AND that when I don’t tell her anything, she’s smart enough to make a decision, and the decision is to go over it.
I’m still pondering what to do with what we figured out. My current take away is that this core stretching exercise is great for getting Cairo relaxed and me stretched, and that if I want to shoot my loaded pony over it, then look at it. In dressage the judges comment that we need more bend on the circles and I’m curious to see if stretching and rotating my core helps with that.