My main competitive years growing up was in the Show Jumping arena. During my teenage years I was really lucky to be in a position to ride and own some pretty speedy accurate and jumping ponies. I rode in affiliated junior competitions from the age of 13 through to 16 years until I grew out of the BSJA (now BS) rulings of riding ponies. Myself and a school friend, Jason, rode together and competed together and his parents drove us miles around the country to compete. I was fearless on the whole (although I wasn’t as ‘gung-ho’ as Jason was, prefering a slightly more calculated tight turning approach to jump off courses) and me and my 13.2hh Connemara gelding, Blue, were frequently jumping courses around the 3’9″-4’0″ size. Which in new money is around the 1m 15cm size.
Pretty sizeable. Blue had a huge heart and taught me much back then. I have fond memories with him of jumping a proper Puissance track at an event held in the Milton Keynes Bowl. MKB no longer holds horse shows I don’t think, but we always went to their annual show as it was a lovely venue. On our final trip there we jumped a 5’2″ wall. Frustratingly we knocked down the triple bar before clearing that wall height and so went out of the competition, but to be honest I think I was right at the end of my bravery with the height at that point!
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I didn’t grow much and I totally and utterly adored my ponies, so I just didn’t transition onto horses at that stage. I carried on jumping at unaffiliated events but always just in the bigger open classes at the end of the day. When I did finally transition onto horses I never went back to affiliated shows, but did do a bit of jumping here and there into adult life, but nothing on the scale of those teenage years.
Jump forward (I’ll take that pun!) to today and my new start with Tiny and our jumping life in the hunting field.
I now have a steep learning curve to cope with here as my formative jumping days have been spent neatly folding forward. It was flipping clear that I really REALLY needed to adapt my style to something more akin to self preservation in the field. Particularly as Tiny’s own way of going is, as been mentioned before, still in full on racehorse mode of wanting to stand off things and at speed. With the occasional huge balloon jump thrown in too.
Nothing wrong with a bit of speed, nothing wrong with learning to cope with him standing off a bit and nothing wrong with scope…
However, when you fold too far forward and don’t sit up soon enough on the way down then with the above combination the chances are the ground is sooner or later going to come up and find you and you’ll be eating dirt and dusting off muddy breeches and paying a fiver to the Tumblers Club!
To this point our jumping out hunting had been ok. We’d got through but I hadn’t jumped very much at all as my confidence was still somewhat iffy. However at a recent Tuesday meet I was a little too motivated at some rails and his resulting huge jump nearly had me out of the saddle on landing. As I regained my seat after a few strides a small stumble from Tiny almost took me out again. I laughed it off, was more impressed with his scope than anything, and jumped a couple more rails at slightly less speed without too much trouble.
Then we hit one.
We had come off a road, headed up over steepish rise with a rail at the top after just a few strides. Tiny’s blood was up and so far that day he’d been keen enough to take all fences on for me, all of which had been giving me confidence. We got in a bit close to this rail and rapped it going over, then as we landed he propped a bit and his neck came up rapidly and smacked me clean in the face.
It bl**dy well hurt.
Slightly dazed I did manage to keep my seat but at that point it really hit home it was time to work hard on my seat. As we cantered away a friend, who also came into hunting having previously done a lot of show jumping, said she now tells herself to sit up as she comes up to a fence. Obviously it’s often not quite as stylish but who needs style when it means clean breeches, no cartoon bluebirds buzzing round your head and £0 going into the Air Ambulance Tumblers Club fund (sorry to all fundraisers!).
So from then on I decided to remind myself to SIT UP SIT UP SIT UP as I approached any fence. Less fold on take off and a quicker vertical recovery.
I was ready to test it out.
Problem was we didn’t jump another fence that day!! Typical.
A few days later on a strong Saturday meet I approached a fallen branch across a lane, it was tiny and Tiny(who actually doesn’t seem to be able to cope with logs for some reason which I need to work on as apparently they are REALLY scary things) and I didn’t really need to make any effort to clear it, it wasn’t the kind of height I’d naturally fold to anyway. The next fence though was a proper rail with a bit of an odd landing to it. This one was the first ever fence I jumped on Tiny and he ballooned it like a steeplechase fence on both occasions that day. So this was the perfect fence to properly test everything. So I pushed him on as usual, committed to it and then started my internal mantra… SIT UP SIT UP SIT UP.
It worked like a dream, it probably wasn’t terribly pretty, but he jumped it well, we landed without issue and we went away from the fence perfectly. Tony had stopped after he jumped it and was watching on from the other side of the fence to see how we got on. He laughed at me (!) and said that was much better!
Later in the day talking to some of the others in the field it was pretty clear they’d all adapted their jumping style to go hunting.
As I had been this particular hunts main photographer for the last couple of seasons I was beginning to wonder how and when I’d get a picture of the pair of us jumping! We had some lovely images sent to us by some keen amateur photographers at the meet, which has just been fabulous for me, but actually being out in the country and putting yourself in amongst the field to get the action shots is very different. You can’t believe how RIDICULOUSLY excited I was when one of the foot followers took a phone picture of me jumping a little rail. I didn’t care it was probably the smallest rail I’d jumped with him. It didn’t matter that my position wasn’t great, or that he’d hit it on the way up as we actually managed to just pop it rather than balloon it. It was the perfect memento and I adore it for all it stands for.
It just continues to remind me just how precious photo’s are and that I shouldn’t ever give up the day job…. 😉
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With love from me and The Orange One, see you next time!