‘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.

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