As some may recall – In November, Hugh Jackman, 18+hh OTTB came to me from my daughter who felt he’d be better placed in a non-jumping home. She is starting a new horse for 3-Day.
Originally, she and I hoped he’d be suitable for Mounted Archery. He was not. Initially intimidated by him as he was a foot bigger than anything else in my barn (sedate QH geldings), in about a month, we did find joy in short rides --but with no direction or purpose. Just before the winter closed in, I asked HJ what he wanted to do to earn his keep with me —he took me out to the dressage ring (we still have one from years past), and showed me --he is truly a gifted dressage horse !
And now to the present --after a long cold winter where I fox hunted QH and left HJ blanketed in his pasture until May --we set a goal --show in one local dressage show August 13. I had not/have not done dressage since 1970 --when I did take 5 lessons. Since then, my kids have taken lessons, daughter has trained a few as an adult, and I enjoyed watching them.
I started with what I knew --and found HJ knew a whopping lot more than me. I could ride him at a walk, and a trot, but Holy Cow I could not achieve a canter. A friend gave me a dressage saddle, I bought a used pad and a sparkly brow band . . . what more did I need? (I have all the clothes from hunting).
Yesterday, HJ and I trailered up and spent the day up in horse country. We stopped first at the saddle-fitter to find out our “free” saddle didn’t fit HJ or me. Bad news. Good news was it was a good saddle and the saddler offered me almost an even exchange for a saddle that did fit HJ. The saddle fitter (a long-time dressage rider) watched me ride in the new saddle to be sure HJ and I both liked it. She continually said, “That horse is really well trained!” And that I rode like a fox hunter (yeah, I do).
Next off to the instructor/trainer who had worked with my kiddos for 10 years (he lives close to the saddle fitter). He knows the horse from seeing DD and horse on the circuit where he himself shows. He said, “HJ really looks good,” and, “I didn’t realize he was THAT big.” --off we went to the dressage ring for about 45 min of “let’s fix that canter.”
And as you might guess, HJ has a lovely canter --and walk/and trot. Trainer repeatedly said he was well trained, sensitive, and eager to please --and a beautiful mover–HJ is practically a mind-reader. When I want to trot, I think “trot” and off he goes --same with walk and halt. The canter problem was totally mine --backwards cues from all my Western riding —once it was sorted (head tilted in, my opposite shoulder back, weight in hip forward, --HJ cantered very nicely —and I was able to relax my death-grip on his reins --he needs contact but not a lot.
We stopped when HJ and I had three acceptable trot-canter transitions. I think HJ could have done another hour or two --but riding dressage is HARD --I was tired!
HJ and I will work on what we’ve learned at home, and perhaps wander back up to horse country for another lesson or two. Our local show is only 7 miles from our farm --should be fun.
Only part I didn’t like about the entire day was it was suggested that I use my small dressage ring instead of my full size as the tests I plan to ride: Intro B and C and Training 1 and 2 (if my canter transitions improve) are all held in the small size dressage ring. I LOVE my big ring as HJ is so large, I like feeling like he’s not cramped. But best to practice what we’ll show. AND I’m not to work on dressage every day --just once or twice a week --and enjoy riding him on my trails the rest of the time. Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of Mounted Archery season and need to practice that on the more reasonably sized William Tell!