I think I may have been a bit ambitious when I said that my goal was to take Billy in a TAKE2 Thoroughbred class at WEF this season. That is still my goal, but it looked far off today. I have just recently started to jump again, 11 months after my accident. I am starting at home with poles on the ground and small fences so that I do not get into much trouble if I misjudge my distance. Since I am on a green OTTB who is not yet as adjustable as I would like him to be (although he tries), the poles and small fences are helping him learn rhythm and adjustability without too much pounding on his legs. The best thing going for us right now is that he is brave and wants to get to the other side of the fence, which makes me very comfortable in jumping again.
But, maybe not 200% comfortable, yet. I brought him to WEF for open schooling on a recent Tuesday. Billy had never schooled in the jumper ring there, and on my walk over I was thinking that maybe I would school him in the ring, and since my pole work and small jumps at home seemed to be ok, I thought I might be ready to jump the real jumps. But when I got to the showgrounds, it was just pure chaos. In every direction there were golf carts, bicycles, scooters, pedestrians, dogs, water trucks, drags, flags, jumps being knocked down, fillers blowing over in the wind, grooms leading horses, ponies, and it was all just sensory overload… for me.
I guess they call this post-concussion syndrome? All I know is that is was a lot for my brain to process when I am still having some recurring trouble focusing my vision and keeping my balance. Now I know what WEF must seem like to a young or green horse: it is crazy over there!
I did jump Billy over a cross rail a few times, but I felt a too bit unbalanced and was holding with my hands too much. My trainer, Nicole Simpson saw what I was feeling too, so we ended on a good jump and she took over to bring him into the ring to school. And Billy was amazing. He jumped all around and didn’t think twice. In fact, the spookier the fence was the more effort he gave. He is truly a class act!
Was I disappointed that I didn’t feel ready to jump around yet? Yes, I was, but a professional ride is always a gift for a green horse.
As I hacked Billy home, I thought about how I can improve my riding, for both our sakes. Getting my balance back is something that will take time, but I know if I am stronger in my core I will improve faster. So, off to Target I went to buy a Pilates ball to start exercising with at home (sit-ups, sit-ups, sit-ups). My second problem was that I felt too heavy in my hand, so I bought a hackamore. To be honest, I have no clue how the idea to get a hackamore popped in my head. I knew I wanted to erase the hand equation from my riding and I figured that this was a surefire way to do that. I want to take some time to focus on my seat and leg, and if I do falter and grab with my hand, it won’t affect Billy’s mouth in a hackamore.
It was the best thing I could have done. I could feel everything, I could feel Billy better and tell when my balance was slightly off or shifted and correct it without punishing Billy’s mouth by mistake. Billy got more relaxed and started working through his back better, his canter circles became more correct as he started to engage his inside hind because I was sitting properly, finally. It was a really interesting experiment that paid off for us. I even jumped him over some small fences and he didn’t rush because I was not grabbing his mouth. What a great feeling! I am hoping that by forcing myself to take away an aid I will come back and be able to use that aid properly once again. Through it all, Billy is such a good sport!
Siobhan Gallagher grew up outside Boston, Mass, and spent most of her childhood on the back of a horse. She is an amateur rider with a background in show jumping and polo, and worked with horses professionally for many years before switching careers to real estate. She is currently an agent for Equestrian Sotheby’s International, and continues to ride in her spare time. Siobhan is a year-round resident of Wellington, Florida, where she manages an active polo facility with her partner, Ruben Gracida, while bringing along her own personal horses. This blog follows the progress of her newest project, a five-year-old Thoroughbred named Billy. Read her previous post here.