I had to go to South Florida last week for some meetings, and while I was down there, I decided to take a lesson with my old instructor, Luciano, who is the owner of Cavalia Stables, located in Southwest Ranches, FL (about an hour south of Wellington).
Let me start by saying, I love this barn.
From the outside, you can’t even tell where the barn starts and the house/office ends:
I show up, and one of the stable boys already has my horse groomed, tacked, and brought over to the mounting block (they only do this for the advanced riders). As much as I appreciate ground time with my horse, during the work week, I REALLY appreciate being able to show up 5 minutes before a lesson and still make it on time.
He offers 45min private lessons and expects you to spend the 15min before warming up at your own pace. He has 2 rings, one smaller (“hunter”) and one larger (“GP”) ring that he can open up the fences in between and you can ride right through and ride both rings, so I usually do while warming up. Two or three times around at a trot with and without stirrups, two or three times around at the canter, with and without stirrups. It’s a long way around in the heat too, so you’re definitely warmed up after that.
Luciano speaks limited English but well enough to yell at me in a combination of that, Spanish, and lord knows what else. I really enjoy our lessons. I learn so much about riding and how to speak a bit of Spanish at the same time!
Anyways, I was handed a lovely bay mare (my favorite haha) named Cassandra. I’m told nothing about her, and off we go!
After I warmed up, he set up a crossrail. I trotted up to it, no problem. I then cantered up to it, and he tells me to stooooooppppppppppp (just like that) and come over.
He then gets very passionate and starts talking about how “every American drops the horse in front of the jump!” He goes on to remind me the importance of having contact before the fence, over the fence, and after the fence. Duh, why do I drop my horse in front of fences? It’s the easiest way to get refusals! And I had just read about how critical it was in Bill Steinkraus’ book, Reflections on Riding and Jumping, which I highly recommend, but that’ll be another blog post.
He then tells me a bit about this horse I’m on. Cassandra is his 1.40m horse who “you cannot ride like an American. She is no joke.” You drop her before a big fence, and she will drop you. Interestingly, she’s super chill (dare I say lazy?) during the warm ups. Surprised at her powerful jump, Luciano mentioned that she’s literally his coolest horse and does the 1.40m at Wellington one day and then will have a 2 year old on her back the next. Gotta love my mares!
After a solid discussion about it, I came back around at a canter, maintained contact the whole time, and he was pleased. Have to say, it felt nice having that connection the whole time. Felt like I could keep talking to my horse with no “phone drops!”
He racked it up to 1m, added another fence, and we started working on a figure 8 basically with those two verticals.
Everything was fine, and then I hear stoooooppppppppppppp.
I go over, and he decides he wants me to stop using an auto release and work on my crest release. He wants my back more flat and tells me to only release my hands, don’t change anything else. OK easy enough.
And that’s when I felt it. The next time around, it felt like the horse was actually carrying me over the fence instead of me just ducking! What a difference a day makes. He racks up the fences again to 1.10 and makes the second one an oxer, and we finish up strong. Leg stayed put, shoulders waited, hands released, eyes up, back flat, maintained contact the whole time, and I’m obviously dying of heat and sweat at this point (too used to VA winters!) so that’s the end.
Overall, he was pleased with how far my leg has come and how much better my eye has developed, but now I need to work on “just releasing the hands” (flatter back, wait with the shoulders) and maintaining contact before, during, and after the fence (such a novel idea, I’m still mind blown).
I cool down Cassandra and then one of the stable boys rushes over to grab her. I took a few more photos of the barn to share, so I hope you enjoy!