This has been a week of lessons in flexibility. Yesterday I tried to go cross-country skiing and arrived at the Sno Park without any ski poles, which meant an instant change of plans. Today I arrived at the barn to find Micah had pulled a shoe, on lesson day no less.
Natalie heard me moaning.
“Would you like to ride Jaffa?” she asked.
Honestly, I was disappointed. And the last time I rode Jaffa (several years ago), it seemed like a lot of work to keep him going forward. Still, I really wanted to ride, so I said, “Yes!”
Jaffa is the resident schoolmaster at Natalie Perry Dressage. He’s tall, lean, well-educated, and kind. His show name is Jaffa Gold but I think of him as Jaffa Heart of Gold. Jaffa’s high performance days are behind him but he still has plenty to teach his fortunate students —from the beginner who is learning to post and steer to the more experienced riders who are honing their skills.
I apologized to Jaffa as I took him away from his breakfast, promising I’d make it worth his while with carrots and sugar lumps. I enjoyed grooming my old friend as he stood in the cross-ties, shedding white hair all over me. He enjoyed the carrots.
In the saddle, I let myself adjust to Jaffa’s walk. I hadn’t ridden another horse in nearly a year, so to me, Micah is comfortable and familiar.
Jaffa’s not a super brave horse and tends to roll his eyes at things that alarm him.
“He feels so tenative,” I told Natalie.
She laughed, “That’s because Micah’s a take charge kind of horse.” It’s true, Micah will call the shots if you let him.
I worked on giving Jaffa a sense of direction, at the same time letting him know I would treat him fairly. He began to relax and give me a much better walk than I recalled from our earlier lessons. (Actually, I think we spent most of our very first lesson together at the walk, frustrating one another.)
We picked up the trot and, again, Jaffa was better than I remembered. He quickly settled into a forward, balanced, and relaxed trot. I was pleased! Much of what I’d been learning with Micah was translating directly over into Jaffa.
Like Micah, Jaffa is more stiff going to the left, which made using the outside rein all the more important. Unless I kept control of his outside shoulder, Jaffa drifted to the outside.
This was most evident when we tried a leg yield from the quarter line to the wall. Jaffa made a bee-line for the wall. I laughed because this was something Jaffa wanted to be in control of and he’d clearly gotten away with it many times.
Natalie had us leg yield three steps, straighten until I’d regained control, repeat. Again, controlling the outside shoulder was the key.
I found I needed to use this same amount of focus on the outside shoulder to do a three-loop serpentine, to keep Jaffa from drifting. One of the great things about Jaffa as a teacher is that he’s consistent yet responsive — if I consistently anticipated and prevented him from drifting, the serpentine was really nice. He really made me think.
Due to his long back, Jaffa’s canter is a little tricky to pull together — but we did it. Again, the outside rein was critical.
“Think of pulling your outside rein back, toward his hock,” Natalie said.
My disappointment in not being able to ride Micah turned into a fantastic time, reinforcing the lessons I’d been working on. It was thrilling to have Jaffa respond so well — a direct tribute to the effectiveness of Natalie’s teaching.
“You’ve learned a lot,” she said. “I’m proud of you.” Music to my ears.
I gave Jaffa, my old friend, his due of carrots and a candy cane, thanking him for being such a good teacher.
When life hands you lemons, make lemon drops!