That was the theme of my ride with Jim Wofford on Friday. I was privileged to participate in a clinic at beautiful Greystone Farm. The weather was wondeful and I was finally able to get Elizabeth Madlener to come with The Bird and me. I’ve been experiencing difficulty integrating our progress on the flat into the jumping and I was sure she would be able to help me with Bird if she saw us working with Jim. How lucky am I to have my Grand Prix dressage coach accompany me to watch me ride with Jim Wofford? Of course, she came because of That Bird.
So a short background on Bird – as if you haven’t heard enough. Bird was a horse that jumped out of fear when I got him. He rarely quit a fence because he was afraid to. He did not jump out of joy or willingness. I didn’t know how to jump, but was good at staying out of the way, so all the responsibility fell on him. In a weird way I think it helped build the tight relationship we now have because he made all the decisions and had to take care of me. That is a lot of pressure for a horse, but he came through each and every time.
As time marched on, Jim and Elizabeth worked hard to improve my riding skills, but also to build the fragile confidence in The Bird. This Bird now jumps from joy, he jumps because he wants to and he is not afraid. Enter the new, ugly problem. Well, if it’s Bird’s responsibilty to take care of the jumping and he’s not afraid to voice his opinion – and he doesn’t like the look of the jump – he stops. Kim Clark loves That Bird, she loves him when he’s good, she loves him when he’s bad, she loves him when he’s ugly. Besides, being far from a perfect rider. I take responsibility. I make mistakes.
This stopping started happening several Jimmy lessons ago. Jimmy has been telling me that I love that horse too much. He’s been telling me to correct him for stopping. Yesterday, Jimmy went off. Of course it may have had something to do with the fact that Bird sort of almost ran into Jimmy. Not a great thing to do during a lesson. Jimmy told me to punish him if he stops. He said I know exactly what you are thinking. “I made a mistake”. “Of course you did, but he must jump anyway. If he makes the decision to stop he has to pay the price. If you don’t start correcting him, I will and you won’t like it one bit if that happens.”
Well I think Jimmy feels passionate about this issue.
That man is in my head and everything he says is exactly right. I don’t know how he does it, but that man knows me like a book. So……
I hit Bird and Bird went off. I held my position and stayed focused on the fence instead of letting Bird change the subject to “I’m crazy now because you hit me.” Jump the damn fence. He jumps. Bird did try stopping a few more times throughout the lesson. He couldn’t believe I was correcting him but our relationship began to change. Suddenly I was responsible. Suddenly Bird was a normal horse.
Now it is true that not that long ago, I would never have hit The Bird. Jimmy would never have told me to hit him either. He was a frightened horse and would have been horrified had I hit him. He had no confidence. That was then. He isn’t afraid any longer and has started to assert himself like a normal horse. I have to respond like he’s a normal horse and discourage the bad behavior, because that is what it is.