After the "Arnie-the-mini-pony is sneaking up behind Bernie" rearing incident, I'm not surprised by Bernie's rearing behavior. That day, with that first little rear, showed me rearing is in Bernie's vocabulary, his bag of tricks. Some horses have a deeper bag of tricks than others. Apparently Bernie's is pretty deep.
So, in spite of our rearing issues, I still very badly wanted to ride Bernie in the upcoming Derby Cross. (I will admit, I did not necessarily feel Bernie I were ready for this, okay, I did not feel I was ready, but if Bernie was quiet, I thought I could grab some mane and give it a go). For those newbies unfamiliar with a Derby Cross it is a series of jumps, stadium intermingled with cross country, set up in a ring or multiple rings. In the case of the Derby Cross at Loch Moy farm, a series of different rings which the horse and rider go back and forth between. (And I have no idea if these characteristics are global to all Derby Crosses or just the one and only Derby Cross I've witnessed). Sounds fun right? Fun and a little scary. If you will remember, Bernie and I practiced over only one of these jumps when Kerry was testing the course, and we remained on edge the entire time. And at this point in our training as a team, I'm not sure we had strung more than three jumps together for a course. So, a course of 12+ jumps, consisting of some crazy looking jumps we had never done before, and my very first show/event EVER was a bit intimidating. But, I still wanted to do it if Bernie was quietly game. I'm trying to push comfort zones people! So I screwed my courage to the sticking spot, which has got to be somewhere far away from my over-active brain and showed up ready to ride. Here was the plan: Kerry had two entries for elementary (a step even below Beginner Novice, I mean seriously, I could probably give someone a piggy-back ride over an elementary course, this was perfect). Both horses she was planning to ride/school ended up selling. So, she was going to ride Bernie through the course first, if he was good, I would ride him through the course again, for the second entry. If not, Kerry would just take him through again. Not a bad plan. And so Kerry rides him through both times. Apparently the whole thing looked worse from a spectator point of view than from Kerry's rider point of view, because to me Bernie looked a bit crazed and I'm quite sure I could see the white's of his eyes the entire time. At the start, Bernie gives a little tiny rear of protest, but Kerry gets him forward. She turns to the first fence and Bernie is so distracted/spooked by a tent set up outside the ring but right at that first turn, he almost runs right into the fence. Luckily the fences are so small he can step over them. She gets him going, and he is jumping everything (one stop at one of the cross country jumps, but she circles and gets him over it on the second effort, some pause-then-leap situations over others) and its clear she is the one holding this team together. She is riding the shit out of him to every fence. I never would have made it, there was nothing quiet about this ride. All parties agree Kerry takes him again for round two. This round is remarkably better, no stops, but its certainly not brilliant or quiet. Kerry is still the only link keeping this train from crashing; Bernie, at best, seems to be an unwilling/unsure, but somewhat obedient participant. I was really hoping Bernie was going to knuckle down and show up for work that day, proving to us all he is/can be the business-like event horse I was hoping for in my newbie naïveté. Instead it was kind of a hot mess, disastrous being avoided only by Kerry's professional riding expertise. At one point the announcer even said, "It looks like Kerry is schooling a young horse, trying to get some miles on him." Heh. Nine is not THAT young and "schooling a young horse to get some miles on him" is not exactly the description a newbie wants for her first event horse. Kerry was more optimistic about the situation, saying he felt rusty, like he just hadn't been out to an event in a while. I was encouraged by this appraisal, but the questions and doubts still started to creep in.
With the Derby Cross behind us and practicing cross country out of the question, Bernie and I are relegated to ring riding. We are doing okay, slowly getting better (me) but lacking in any substantial progress (aka me feeling comfortable enough to slightly bump up the fence height). I can't ride every day (see side bar about regular 9-5 job and add some nights for job number two) more like every other day, and that day of rest in between seems like just enough for Bernie to lose focus on our work. Our rides are becoming a little like Ground Hog's Day (movie reference) and I feel like we take one step forward and two steps back. He likes to pause and look at new fences the first one or two times over, and then jumps them nice and easy the rest of the ride. Its like he's gotta eyeball that f**ker, determine it is definitely not going to make a move for his underside, and then he will jump it. I guess Bernie has a comfort zone too. I would like him to take them easy, without the pause, all the time. If we miss a day of riding (and jumping) even if it is a fence we've been over a thousand times two days ago, he still needs to pause and look, like it's an unfamiliar fence. This is only an issue because I am a newbie rider, and lack some confidence going down to fences. I know I am "letting" him pause, I need to ride aggressive and strong to the fence and push him through the pause (that's what a better rider would do). But for some reason, I interpret this need to pause as "he's unsure about going over this fence" which makes me unsure about the fence, which then makes me back off (newbie, hello!) the EXACT opposite of what needs to be done. All this results in some very awkward first fences, him jumping from almost a stop and me lurching forward with my shoulders. And while this situation calls for some more aggressive riding, which IS what I need to learn, I am not stepping up to the plate and am frustrated. Here's why: I need some more confidence before I can be more aggressive. I do realize that forcing myself to be more aggressive could lead to confidence building. Unfortunately, my inability to force aggressive riding is having the reverse effect, eating away at my confidence. This situation is not entirely Bernie's fault. If I was even a little better rider or if I could just conjure up a little more confidence to push through the pause, we could progress. But I'm not, and that ever important rider confidence remains elusive for me. Kerry and I discuss this fence pausing and both agree he is much better, with less pausing and looking, when ridden, and jumped at least a little, every day. I struggle with the feasibility of this, because I cannot logistically ride every day, nor can I afford to have Tom and/or Kerry ride him every other day. And while some concerns are fair (i.e. Bernie rearing) and some are unfair (i.e. my lack of ability to push past the pause) my Bernie concerns are mounting.
So, forgetting the rearing for a moment, as a newbie, there is some argument that Bernie's "pause and look" jumping style is a good learning tool for me, to hopefully push through and overcome. There is also some argument, that because the current status of me NOT pushing through and overcoming is eroding my confidence, maybe Bernie is not the best learning tool. The jury is still out for me. It is a bit dejecting for me to think Bernie isn't the right horse simply because I can't muster the balls to ride him in a manner that would resolve the problem. But I am a newbie, and these are the things I struggle with.