Then, as if that's not enough, I took a big TB that's used to going rather briskly, put him out in the open for the first time since October, and pointed him at solid objects to jump. Oh, and I haven't actually completed a XC course since July last year. Am I brave or just really, really stupid? I'm still not sure.
Ben and I took the next step in our relationship yesterday: XC schooling.
At least he's really cute
We carted the troops off for a day of galloping and jumping. There were five adult students that played hooky from their various jobs to go play. We loaded up our five experienced horses and headed out. Three of the horses had been out already, but two (Dorkzilla and the Meathead) were going out for their first time of the year. I decided to bit up, putting on Ben's Wonderbit to get some leverage in case I needed it.
Trotting around to warm up wasn't bad. Cantering wasn't bad, until I came around the end of the field and pointed him back toward home, the trailers, and all of the other horses. He started to accelerate, I told him no galloping in warm up, and he threw a temper tantrum. A propping, snorting temper tantrum. I kicked through it to the best of my ability, but he did it each time I pointed toward home. The more nervous I got, the bigger the temper tantrums got. To be fair, he never twisted or tried to unload me, but he was very clear that he disliked me telling him to stop. He completely forgot how to do anything but halt or canter in a little ball. I actually had the trainer move the rein on the bit so that it acted like a snaffle so I could take a feel without him completely overreacting. It didn't help much and he managed to shake me loose enough that I really thought I was going to be eating dirt.
It was the first time in years that I was genuinely scared while riding. I got so damn spoiled riding Fi. I was fearless on my mare and that made this even more terrifying. When he dropped his head and propped, I had no idea if he was about to send me flying. When he jumped and took off, I had no idea if he was going to bronc or if I could regain control. As I told my trainer, 'this sucks!'. My trainer had the right idea and just kept sending me out over and over again, despite my protests, to do a long loop around the field over low fences, forcing us to figure each other out and wearing us both down. He needed to be less excited, I needed to be less petrified, and exhaustion would take care of both. It wasn't a recipe for a soothing, beautiful ride. He was going to be naughty on his first outing, I was going to be nervous on a new horse, this was all expected. At least that's what the logical part of me was saying.
It's really hard to be logical when the hind brain is scrabbling at the inside of your skull and screaming, "I'm out of control and he's really big and I'm going to get hurt and I'm scared and I WANT OFF!!!". The front part of my brain was logically going through the variables and commanding my legs to get out in front of me, ordering my upper body back, and forcing my hands to go down and release so he could gallop. And in the middle of my brain? Some safety feature kicked in and I started belting out "Henry the Eighth" at the tops of my lungs. They taught me to sing when jumping as a kid when I was nervous and it still works. Of course I used to use Mary Had a Little Lamb, but Henry the Eighth works better when galloping down to a table or drop into water.
My friends were highly amused and told me to not quit my day job.
But the important part was that it worked. I came down a notch from my frantic grabbing, Ben's ears flicked back since I was actually opening my mouth and communicating again, I starting breathing (which really helps), and singing is good for releasing feel good hormones. I'm singing, things can't be that bad. I made it down the bank, dropped into the water, jumped the log out, took the big ditch, jumped the little house, looped around to the coop, and finished up over the big table. I even managed to jump up the one stride steps. Not bad for my first school in nearly a year and my first school with my new partner.
My trainer said that she completely understood being nervous in the situation and that she kind of wished we'd gone to a smaller schooling facility for that first outing, but I said it was better this way. Get out there, get it done, and prove to myself that I could do it. Fun? No, not in the slightest, but sometimes I need to quit being a chicken shit and just get it done. I can do it, Ben can do it, we just needed to knock some rust off. We were both well within our comfort zones for the questions asked, it was all about us figuring out each other. If this was Ben at his worst, we were going to be just fine. By the end of the ride I'd found the brakes and could hit them without the temper tantrum and felt comfortable galloping down to a fence.
When I got off, I almost fell down. My hands and knees were shaking so hard that I could barely walk him to the trailers. I finally noticed how much adrenaline I had in my system when I couldn't speak a coherent sentence. My legs ached from holding on so tightly. Today I'm an aching wreck from shoulders to ankles. Not only am I out of practice, I had to ride my brains out to get around. My body is not pleased with me.
But I'm pleased with me. There's a sign in the barn that says "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway". I was definitely courageous. Here's hoping I get it under control before my first show. The trainer will be very embarrassed if I'm still belting out melodies while jumping.