30 June, 2012 18:00

30 06 2012

I love technology, and as testament to this today I am updating you from my mobile phone on the train coming home from riding club. (Which is also air conditioned, of which I am grateful since it’s 29゜C outside.) Heh.

Well, as suspected, my name is under the heading of ‘Bappu’ on the whiteboard with the number four written against it. I don’t know how that translates, but I know what it means: I have to clean out four stalls before the register is taken before I’m allowed to ride again. At a rate of one per day of attendance, which is what I can *realistically* achieve, that means four days to clear it. Hopefully I can do it in time for next Saturday (my birthday!); I tried to get there early today to do this, but I failed.

My reception back was a friendly and sympathetic one, however. Everyone asked me if I was all right, and seemed both genuinely concerned and happy to see me back. It seems a few first years have quit recently. I can understand, it is tough sometimes, but for me it’s about the horses and the fact I’ve only got a few more weeks left now.

Anyway, today for me consisted of mucking out Kit’s stall, sweeping up afterwards, then for a long while watching the others practice, during the course of which I performed the important tasks of opening and closing the gate, taking the horses by the reins while others mounted or dismounted, poop-collecting and serving the coaches tea. After everyone had finished, I went around the riding ground checking it was clean and all the wooden poles were resting on something in case it rained. Finally, I helped the others oil the saddles and bridles (my least favourite job), went round and checked all the horses had enough water, and that was it.

My hip has held up fine today. For the first time this week, I felt no discomfort on waking, was fine getting out of bed and had no difficulty standing on one leg to get my trousers on. Since I left the flat it felt a little bruised while I was walking, but not painful or anything. It did start to hurt a little bit after I’d finished mucking out Kit’s stall and it’s still uncomfortable when I bend over, but so much better than before. It’s probably a good thing I won’t be riding again straight away, it’ll give me a chance to get it moving comfortably before that happens…


*echo* *echo* *echo* *echo*

29 06 2012

Still out! Not that it looks like anyone’s reading. Ah well. I shall continue to keep a record for myself. Heh.

As I am now only in Japan for another five weeks and the stressors that were interfering with my ability to keep up regular posts to this blog are slowly dissolving, I will endeavour to write an update for every day that I attend riding club.

Which wasn’t today. The hip is still bothering me, but it is getting a little better and a little easier to walk on every day. I hope to return tomorrow – and I will be getting there early to muck out a stall in case I’ve been penalised for having time off again. Oh well, needs must!

The plus side is that when I ventured to my local 100-yen shop this afternoon to restock on tea I found they are selling glucosamine tablets there, so I bought some. I hope this aids my recovery!

Dem Bones

27 06 2012

So, today I should have gone back to riding club but I didn’t. I continued to be in pain and stiff after my fall on Sunday, so I decided to play it safe and have a few days’ rest. Today I felt more limber than I have done since the fall, but when I actually went outside was another story – and I most certainly wasn’t comfortable walking down stairs, let alone up them again (I got the lift back up to my apartment). A second attempt will be made tomorrow morning. The pain has progressed from being around my whole coccyx and right pelvic area to just concentrated around my right hip joint in the last few days, however, and over the course of today it’s felt as though it’s loosened up considerably, so fingers crossed. I wasn’t sleeping well before either as I had to wake up every time I wanted to turn over, but I got a solid night’s sleep last night.

I will no doubt be punished again for my absence by being made to go in early and clean out one of the horses’ stalls before the register is taken again, but so be it.

Oh Vick, I’ve Fallen

24 06 2012

It’s been another week again.  I have been riding in this time, however I’ve also been very busy outside of riding club with a lot of work being set by both my host university and my proper university. There have also been two important games for the sempai in the week, so having to stay at the club for longer hours to help out with those has been eating up my time and energy as well.

In riding terms, I haven’t progressed any further beyond practising my sitting and rising trot yet. At the moment it seems that on some days I can do this really well – one reminder to correct my posture is enough – and on others everything I do seems to be unacceptable. I accept, however, that I am having to contend with not only trying to concentrate on getting everything right, but also on having to interpret instructions that are being given to me in a language I have a fair but by no means complete grasp of at the same time, so perhaps once I return to the UK and start having lessons there again this will improve.

As regular readers will know, I do a lot of sweeping at the stables in the course of a normal day. We use traditional wooden besems for this purpose. Because they are made entirely of natural wood and twigs, no two of them are identical, and in my head I’ve started to give them stat ratings like weapons in an RPG-type video game that summarise their suitability for any given task. For example, the smaller, short ones with smaller broom heads are very hard to use for sweeping up large, flat areas, but highly effective to use for sweeping up a pile of collected debris into a dustpan. Conversely, the larger ones with longer handles are better for sweeping up dirt that’s spread out over a wide surface area. There’s one intermediate broom that can be used easily enough to do pretty much anything, but you have to be really lucky and get there first to get that one. Heh.

In other news, I had a fall from Kit earlier on today. He jumped while I was struggling to keep him trotting – he was being very difficult, and my sempai had to follow behind us with a large whip to spur him on for me as though he was on a lunge. I think it was being whacked from behind with that that caused him to jump, and I was effectively thrown off.

In the strangest of ways, there was a split second while I was thrust up into the air in which I realised I had a choice to either let myself fall or try and regain my seat, but I went with letting myself fall because I wasn’t convinced I knew *how* to recover my seat, and thought the fall from attempting that and messing it up might be worse.

I landed arse-first and bounced off the fence on the way down. It happened really fast, but in a strange way I remember it as though the fall itself happened in an instant but my thoughts happened in slow motion. On the way down I remember trying to concentrate on relaxing to reduce the impact of the fall but also trying to fall out of reach of Kit’s hooves. Landing really hurt. I was thankful of having had a helmet on as my head hit the ground hard and it absorbed all of the impact.

As soon as worst of the pain had subsided, I got back up and insisted I was still fit to ride. I re-mounted Kit and continued to practise without any difficulty, although I had some discomfort at the base of my right thigh. I think I was largely going on adrenaline, though; the impact of the fall has since left me with lingering pain in my right ischium and coccyx, and it now hurts when I bend or crouch down and walk (which made washing, drying and grooming Kit after riding him a bit uncomfortable). The discomfort became more pronounced over the course of the journey home.

Upon arriving back at home, I had something to eat, a delayed cry (like a real girl – heh) followed by a nap. When I woke up I followed this up with a hot bath and some painkillers, and they’ve helped. I can’t see any black bruising so I’m just going to hope there’s no serious damage and take it easy until Wednesday morning – when I have riding again!

I suspect that this will only have been the first of many more falls to come, anyway, on the road to becoming an accomplished rider. Especially as I’ve sort of got my heart set on continuing and trying to get into cross country when I return to the UK!

In other news, I think I’ve found a pair of leather riding boots for under £100 that will actually fit me! Rhinegold’s Olympic riding boots in a size 36 extra wide. I am never sure whether to buy a size 4 or a size 3 as I have pretty small feet and alternately find either size will fit me depending on the manufacturer, but from a customer review I found on Amazon it looks as though the foot sizes run on the large side, and the extra-wide calf width for the 36 is perfect for me. Buying some will have to wait until I return to the UK, however, as even if I could currently afford them it is inadvisable to ship leather goods to Japan because they place high import duty on them. I have no idea why.


17 06 2012

Yesterday they let me canter on a lunge (with Max) for the first time! Okay, okay, so the sempai who was instructing me kept telling me to stop and start again because I was doing it all wrong, but it was awesome fun. When you’re not used to it, it’s fairly terrifying going at that speed, especially round and round in a circle in a pen with a pronounced camber around the outside edge, but in an awesome and exhilarating way! And, I remembered to play Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ in my head – which made me smile, which in turn helped me to relax in the saddle. Heh.

I have six weeks left in Japan, in which time I hope to build my confidence at this!

Today, I got to ride Kit again. He’s still a nervy sack of springs and bones made entirely of knees who needs to be kept on a short rein, and I still find him fun to ride because of it. Heh. This time I wasn’t on a lunge, and we just did trotting practice, but I got a nice, long time at it. It took me a while to get into it properly, probably because my extended punishment caused me to forget a lot of the things you have to remember. I still need more practice, but the main thing I need to keep in mind at all times is that when you relax – both your legs and your body – it’s much easier. Much easier. The rest will come with practice.

Other than that I’ve just been trying to look busy and stay out of trouble! Heh.

‘Hisashiburi’, as they say in Japan

15 06 2012

Apologies for stating the obvious, but it’s been a long time since I posted, hasn’t it? I’m sorry. I’ve had a lot to deal with in my personal life on top of my riding commitments just recently, so I either haven’t had the time to update, or the energy, or both simultaneously. I remain safe and healthy, however, and the precise details have no place here.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I last rode a horse. The trotting practice I did on Kit that I wrote about a couple of entries ago was the last time. This has turned out to be a combination of things; firstly, it being a time of many competitions and therefore the riders who are actually competing getting priority, and secondly it turned out I was being punished for taking time off for being ill. This happens to everyone. For every day that you have off sick, you have to come in early and clean out one of the horses’ stalls before the register is taken – and then, when your name is called out, tell the team captain which horse’s stall you’ve done. I have now succeeded in clearing my name, but it took me a while as – due to being a bit obsessive-compulsive and wanting to take my time over this sort of thing to make sure I do it thoroughly, I think – I made several attempts but in many cases didn’t get the job finished by the time the register was taken.

So most of my days have been about mucking out, sweeping, watching others practice, cleaning up the horses’ waste material after the other riders had finished practising and hanging out/putting away laundry. I’ve had the odd chance to finish grooming horses when others have had to leave before they’d finished the job, but other than that and trying to shovel up soiled sawdust and hay around them my interactions with the horses have been mostly limited to petting them through the bars of their stalls after they’d been put back.

Apart from Hokon. I’ve been tested on my ability to tack him up three times now. The first time I wasn’t mentally prepared for it and I made a complete hash of it, and he was difficult with me all the while, which didn’t help. The second time he reduced me to tears. To begin with, he wouldn’t even let me near him, cornered me and tried to kick me with his hind legs, bit me twice and issued me a very nasty wound on my solar plexus where he lunged at me and bit me, which was very swollen for the rest of the day and still hurts now. His difficult behaviour continued throughout that test, and I failed it due to taking too long. Below is a picture of the mark I was left with:

It’s not very clear, but those are individual tooth marks you can see, and broken skin.

Now, I’ve thought about what I must have done wrong. He doesn’t behave that way towards other people, and I wasn’t handling him any differently than I do the other horses. The only thing I can think of to put it down to is that because he’s a hot-blood and a stallion and I’ve hitherto been soft and mushy around him, he has been acting to remind me that my position in the herd is below his, and that as his lunges and kicks have made me become more and more nervous, he sensed this and became more and more aggressive. It’s only a theory, though.

I received an email yesterday from the club telling me I would take the test again today. I emailed the sempai who’d sent it back, requesting that I be supervised throughout the test this time and explaining what had happened, and she came back to me saying that she would arrange this, but that horses can feel it if you’re afraid and I needed to be more confident and firm, and not worry. So that was the mindset I went into it with for the third time.

This time, Hokon was less belligerent with me, and I thought I did quite well. However, at the very end, I made a complete hash of getting his bridle on, and I was told afterwards that I’d fixed his saddle too far back on his back. So I failed the test again, and what happened next was completely unexpected: I was made to run uphill through the woodland to the side of the riding ground, into the main university campus, around one of the buildings there, then back down to the riding school, and repeat this circuit for three laps. As a punishment for making a couple of mistakes.

Initially, I felt resentful of being made to do something so degrading… until the very Japaneseness of the whole affair struck me, and I ended up laughing for most of the last two laps.

The thing about running is, even though you tire out quickly and think you can’t run any more after a while, if you just keep going anyway at a steady pace, that passes and you stop feeling yourself getting tired. When I returned to the stables, I went straight into the girl’s changing room to make a note of the mistakes I’d made in the test for next time, and the second-year who’d been tasked with showing me where to run tentatively made a comment about running being good exercise. I looked up at her; I could tell by the way she was looking at me that she expected me to be upset about it, and was trying to make light of the situation, but I returned a smile and cheerfully said, ‘Sou desu ne!'(It is, isn’t it?) She proceeded to tell me that she’d been made to do it before, too, and so did another first year who also happened to be there.

Joining the riding school hasn’t just been a wonderful opportunity to have a brush with horses in arguably the most urban metropolis in the world, it’s lent me a really clear insight into aspects of Japanese culture many Westerners only ever read about in books. Heh.

A Time to Relax

5 06 2012

Monday was a normal day off again this week. Today club practice resumed, but I didn’t attend this morning; technically, while I’ve been going every day purely out of love for the horses, everyone gets one pre-determined off-day in the week, and another at the weekend. My weekday-off is Tuesday, and a combination of schoolwork commitments and general exhaustion lead to my decision to pass on it today.

However, I received an email from one of the fourth-year sempai today with a list of horse names with first year names next to them, under weekday headings. It was unclear exactly what it meant, but I assume it’s either a tacking-up test again or a riding schedule.

My name was against Hokon’s. Might have punched the air a little. Heh.

Here’s hoping that his behaviour last time we were paired up was a blip, or he’s forgiven me for whatever I did wrong!…