30 05 2012

As suspected, not a lot to write home about. Attended club. Mucked out a stall. Swept up. Watched upper years’ practice. Helped a few of them dismount. Ooh, I did do a new thing I’d never done before, though; I helped to clean the inside of the horse box, which was, needless to say, utterly filthy. There were three of us; a sempai with a damp cloth doing the walls, another first year with a hose and me with a stiff-bristled mop scrubbing the floor, trying to get horse manure fibres out of the pile of whatever substance carpeted the floor and pushing them out in the running water. An amusing conversation was had in here; the other first year commented on how very hard I always seem to work on making things clean, and our sempai effectively replied with, ‘Yes. Is this a problem?’ And we laughed. I’ve noticed that I certainly seem to be among the most vigorously/meticulously clean and tidy people at the stables, too – in fact, I’ve been told off a few times for taking too long to do things because I was caught up in doing them perfectly – and I often find myself thinking, How do you keep someone with OCD occupied for hours?… Give them a dustpan and brush in a stable. Heh.

The horse I interacted with the most directly today was Yuki. I thought he was the biggest horse we have, but it turns out Daria is taller. Anyway, I only washed his face and groomed him. It amuses me how horses all look elegant and refined and graceful from a distance, but when you look at them up close they’re actually really goofy-looking. Yuki really didn’t want to have his face washed, and held his head up out of the way and refused to put it down for me for some time. Which was funny, because when he did eventually concede, he seemed to really enjoy it. Daft animal.

I’ve been notified that my next ride will happen on Friday, and that I will be riding Max. Yay.


Not all fun and games

29 05 2012

Apologies for the recent radio silence – I was unwell over the weekend and so did not attend riding club.

However, although Monday is usually a day off, I was in then helping with the ‘horse therapy’ event. The idea behind this was to invite in members of the public for a fun and relaxing time around the horses, with extra ponies loaned from the Tokyo Riding Club for children to have rides on. Those of us who didn’t have classes or another Good Reason not to be there were all required to stay and help out. It ended up being another long day, even though the event was cut short halfway through by a torrential downpour that came out of nowhere. My job was to guard an off-limits area – out of harm’s way where I couldn’t shame the club with my wonky Japanese. Heh.

However, I had quite an upsetting experience yesterday. When we were tidying up, for something to do I was asked to help with grooming the horses, and given a choice about who I wanted to do. Predictably I chose Hokon, but he was like a completely different horse. Initially, he let me clean under his hooves and his face okay, but as soon as I started to groom him with the curry comb he turned on me viciously, aggressively trying to bite me and throwing his back end out at me as though he was going to kick me with both legs. Nothing I could do would make him stop it. He was lead out of his stall and tethered in the middle of the stable, and two sempai and the manager of the Tokyo riding club took over from me. Once he’d calmed down, they gave me the brush and told me it would be okay for me to finish the job, but while he behaved then, when I put my gloves on and untethered him to lead him back into his stall he turned on me again and had to be taken off me again. I’ve no idea what I was doing wrong, but I would like to so I can make amends. That left me feeling kind of heartbroken 😦

On the plus side, we have a new horse! A young male thoroughbred called Kit (so I shall be calling him Knight Rider. Heh). He’s been acquired as a practice horse for first years, so I imagine I will get to ride him fairly soon. He’s very cute; light brown with socks on all four legs and a stripe. He looks really young, and from what I saw of him seemed to be friendly and inquisitive.

Nottoo soon, though, apparently. It was explained to me at practice this morning that because there are a lot of competitions throughout June, there won’t be very many opportunities for first years to get to ride the horses, and I was asked to be patient and bear with it. I imagine this means more long days helping out rather than actually getting to do any riding, but I don’t feel too short changed as long as I am still allowed equine interactions.

Oh, and today I rode Tifon for five minutes after the team captain had finished his practices with her. She was lovely and well behaved throughout.

Report ends. For the next month, my entries will probably get much shorter, but I shall endeavour to keep updating as often as I can.

Horses make me happy; you, not so much.

25 05 2012

Today was a non-riding day for me today, and I had to leave early for a class. I didn’t get to do anything interesting or unusual.

However, today’s excitement came in the form of a young lady from America and her local relative visiting the stables, just as curious members of the public. Both spoke fluent Japanese, although their first language seemed to be English. They seemed nice at first, making polite enquiries about the school, our practices and how long myself and the other first year I was standing outside the main training ground with had been riding. They also showed us pictures of the horses they knew back in America (the young lady said she had been riding since she was five years old, and that she had trained horses). They politely spoke to me in Japanese; I thought about taking the easy option and talking to them in English, but I wasn’t comfortable with dropping out of using Japanese at the school on this occasion. I was flattered that they were interested in my experiences as a foreigner.

What bothered me about them – or rather, should I say, the young lady (her older female relative was perfectly polite the whole time) – was what happened when my team mate went in to the training ground and mounted up after our sempai had finished his practices. In spite of the fact I had demonstrated to her that I understood both of the languages she was speaking in, she proceeded to watch her practise, all the while pulling faces and making bitchy comments to her relative about the things she was getting wrong, in a mixture of Japanese and English.

I found that to be appallingly rude. Not only is it unfair to criticise someone who’s less experienced than you (and also, in a manner of speaking, disrespectful to the person who happens to be teaching them), it’s downright arrogant and extremely inappropriate to talk like when you have essentially been welcomed in as a guest somewhere. Furthermore, she herself had acknowledged in our previous conversation that the style of riding practised in America (Western Style) is different from the one we practise in Japan (English Saddle).

After being made privy to all of that (unintentionally, perhaps), it pained me – as my team mate rode out into the yard and dismounted – to watch the young American woman approach her and offer her some suggestions before leaving.

I hasten to assert that I am only speaking for myself here, but nonetheless I frequently think: Horses > people. This is one example of why.

On Top of Things

24 05 2012

So, today I got to riding club early. I needed to be there for 6:45, but wanting to err on the side of caution, I made it for 6:30. A handful of other first years had got there even earlier and had gotten stuck in already with mucking out the horses’ stalls, which was great as it meant they all got out and ridden faster, but it also messed up the order of the day a bit so that those of us who were still left at the end were all scratching our heads a bit trying to work out what still needed doing.

In the least dodgy way possible, I really enjoyed learning to take the horses’ temperatures. It felt good to be learning to do something that would benefit their health. There are a few that really dislike having it done, most of which my sempai did for me, apart from Shirika, who clamped her ears and her tail as soon as she saw me approaching with the thermometer, poor darling. The way we did this was by patting each horse on the shoulder, then running our hands along the length of their body and patting them on the rump, so they know it’s coming. Then, obviously, you insert the thermometer into the horse’s anus. The thermometers we were using had a string attached with a clip on the end; this was then clipped onto the tail, and the horse was left alone like that for two minutes. Once this had been done, the whiteboard was marked with a tick to let anyone thinking of mounting the horse know they had a thermometer in them, and when the temperature was taken this information was written below the tick. Then, when you’ve done all of them and because most systems in Japan require you to shout something at some point, you shout: ‘Zento taion owarimashita!

Next was riding practice, which followed a lot of watching other people first. I was the last person to ride Max, after a couple of others had trotting practice on him, and then the sempai who’d been instructing them had a turn herself. I mounted, was told to hold the reins at their maximum length, and I waited a moment, before she told me I could start walking practice, and that I had five minutes.

Now, what I was expecting to happen next was for her to walk alongside me offering advice and instructions. But she didn’t. I asked Max to start and turned him around to go around in a circuit of my own making in one corner of the training ground (which was being used by several other riders at the same time), and what happened next totally surprised me. A large group of first years came into the riding ground and, working as a team, created a large, rectangular enclosure around me as I carried on riding out of show jumping fence posts. Now, I know that the underlying message behind this was ‘We now think you can ride by yourself, but don’t trust you enough yet to let you loose around the other riders,’ but having all those people working simultaneously to do something specifically for me, on top of the fact I quickly realised I’d been left to my own devices for the first time, made me feel big and important. Heh.

So I steered Max around the outside edge of the enclosure, making him speed up when he slowed down to maintain my pace, making him cross the enclosure diagonally to change direction at intervals and practising making him double back on himself in a circle, and making sure he stayed on track. It may have only been five minutes (it felt like more), but I got a lot out of it. The sempai who’d ridden him before watched me the whole time, but didn’t shout out any instructions or criticisms at all, at least not until my time was up, when she just told me to ride Max out of the riding ground to dismount in the yard. Her only comment was ‘Ii, yo,‘ which I guess in this context just means, ‘That was good.’ That made me really happy.

After that, I lead Max back into his stall (after a brief headbutting/pushing contest with him after I lifted the reins over his head to lead him off, which he let me win) where I was helped by one other person to untack him. Then I went and washed his bit, hung his bridle up, and went back and lead him out to the araiba to wash him. He was beautifully well-behaved throughout, but then tried (unsuccessfully) to bite me again after I’d returned him to his stall when it was all done and I was about to leave him to his own devices. I’ve heard other riders describe him as ‘high-tension’; he’s so unpredictable. I think he might just be either territorial, or trying it on with me to establish which one of us is in charge. Anyone more clued up on horse behaviour have any ideas?

The rest of the session wasn’t much to write home about, but I came away from it feeling very positive about things. Long may this continue!

I can even write about nothing

23 05 2012

Not a lot to report besides the usual, really. Today, for the first time, I cleaned out little Shiro’s stall. For all he may be little, Shiro is probably the most misbehaved and obnoxious of all the equines, and he did not come quietly to be lead out of his stall and tethered up outside while I did this, attempting to bolt instead with me still trying to hang on to his lead. An upper year student intervened and took him off my hands.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that I don’t get to ride on Wednesdays. I am sure there is a very good, considered reason for this, but to me it seems illogical because I have no lessons that I have to leave early for. Nevertheless, it means I get the Important Task of standing by the entrance to the practice ground and opening the barrier when anyone wants to ride in or out, and in between doing that just watch other people riding. Yay!

After everyone who was getting a turn at riding had finished and returned their horses, I tried to make myself useful as best as I could, but all the menial work seemed to have been done already, so after cleaning horse boots and giving some rolls of bandages a preliminary soak and squeeze, I wandered around aimlessly for a while before asking another first year (who seems to have had quite a bit of previous riding experience) if she would like me to help her wash Shirika. I ended up finishing this task by myself as she had to leave to attend a class, and leading Shirika back into her stall to eat her dinner by myself as well. I enjoy being trusted to do things like this with the horses. Shirika was well behaved, but she was wearing a mesh jacket to help her fur dry faster, and she kept trying to unfasten it with her teeth and then giving me The Northern Look when I told her not to.

However, one of the second-year sempai then tipped me off that she likes having her chin touched. This had me amused for quite a few minutes, as I noticed you could stroke it, tap it, boing it and pull it about and she seemed to enjoy it all. I was also amused when I pulled on it to reveal her teeth, to find that her tongue was sticking out of one side of her mouth. Heh.

Tomorrow, I have to be in early to be shown the correct way to poke a thermometer up a horse’s bottom. And then, I get to do it to every single one of them. All the glamorous jobs!…


22 05 2012

Second awesome Tuesday in a row!

Today’s break from the norm was a team of blacksmiths coming in to fit the horses with new shoes! Aside from their world-standard attire of mechanic’s trousers and overalls, they were just as you’d expect a team of Japanese blacksmiths; serious, professional, and with long hair and a headband tied around the forehead. Heh. They all seemed like very nice men, and I was impressed with the way the handled the horses; gently but firmly, and I never heard a single one of them shout ‘Hora!‘ at any of the horses, instead just looking up at them and speaking to them softly when they tried to kick or yank their hooves back. It was very interesting to see them work, anyway.

The oldest of them at one point stopped suddenly in front of me as he was walking past and just looked me in the eye for a few moments. I’m unused to being approached in this way, so I stood my ground and returned a puzzled, enquiring smile. Then he asked me brusquely which country I came from, which lead to a chat about the Olympics. In spite of his abrupt approach, he struck me as being friendly and jolly. Heh.

Anyway, today I rode Shirika again. Shirika’s long name is Kaorizakura, the first part of which can mean ‘sweet-smelling’, which I personally think is a fitting name as I like the way horses smell. She is still a funny one. It makes me chuckle when she raises her head high as I stand close to her and looks down on me with one eye; I can’t read the emotion behind it, but I’m going to start referring to it as The Northern Look, because there is definitely a hint of disapproval in there. Heh. In any case, once I was on her back she was just as magical to ride as last time.

Once again, it was pouring with rain, but I did not mind this one bit. I actually like how the rain makes it seem a bit more dramatic. Particularly as today I was practising trotting again. I was started off just trotting as normal, but after several attempts and lots of pointers about improving my riding posture and then being made to do it again, my sempai suggested I trot without stirrups – which I have done before, but never without being on a lead nor on a horse without a strap on the front of its saddle for me to hang on to! The point of the exercise, however, was to help me get used to doing it with the right posture, and to demonstrate that it’s okay to just relax in the saddle.

However, before it actually happened, when he suggested it as the next thing I would do I initially panicked, afraid at the idea that I might fall off. This feeling vanished, however, when he then asked me what I thought and if I would be scared, to which I thought to myself, No way, bitch! and just went for it. (I’m like that.) As I went round and round, keeping all of the advice I’d been given in mind (back and neck straight, legs relaxed, looking straight ahead and not down at the horse, straight line through my arm to the horse’s mouth), I was genuinely surprised by how not-scary it was. Yes, there were several moments where I thought I was going to fall off, and I did have to do the odd bit of nudging with one leg to keep her going around the edge of the pen and not straying into the middle of it, and I am not saying it was by any means easy, but I surprised myself by how well I coped with it – and by not falling off. My sempai asked me as I was going round how it was and if it was scary, and I replied that no, it wasn’t, and I was surprised by this. Heh.

Then I rode Shirika out of the pen, through the yard and back into the stable, where I dismounted. I briefly assisted in washing her, but then had to leave for a class.

Today’s lesson really made me happy. While I love horse riding and cannot get enough of it, I have never claimed to be any good at it and I thought I was picking it all up really slowly. Today made me feel as though my competence might actually be increasing, and that has done wonders for both my self-esteem and my motivation.

Reality Bites!

20 05 2012

Today was more or less an ordinary day for me. There were still three horses away today, but because I had an existing afternoon appointment I was excused from staying late to help out again this time.

Today started with bucket-cleaning and sweeping rather than stall-cleaning, followed by assisted tacking-up of Max. He was my mount today. Closely supervised, I did more trotting practice. My posture’s all wrong, apparently, so after watching how I did it myself just relaxing in the saddle and not rising with the trot, I was given some pointers, then told to do it again with my feet out of the stirrups, then again with my feet out of the stirrups again and one hand resting at my side while I held the reins and neck-strap in the other. I was told off again for gripping with my knees; I noted that just trusting the horse works just as well in keeping you in place, so I must keep this in mind at all times.

Max was lunged briefly after myself and another first year had taken turns on him, but sadly he tripped and fell onto his knees. It was horrid to see. Thankfully he wasn’t badly injured, but his right knee and nose got grazed. After he got up they stopped and lead him around the track to cool down, and then took him inside.

Myself and the other first year were left to remove his bandages while our sempai made up an isotonic drink for him. Understandably upset, he bit me hard on my shoulder as I reached for his injured leg. The attached image is of the mark it left. It doesn’t look too angry now.

After we gave him a gentle all-over wash, the fur was carefully cut away from his leg-wound and he was properly cleaned up and medicined. I was tasked with cleaning up his face – including the grazed area – which I undertook with the utmost care. Although he didn’t hide his discomfort, he was beautifully well-behaved for me as I did this.

Poor Max. Let’s hope he heals up quickly.