Lost in Translation

28 08 2012

It’s a national holiday here in the UK! It’s not significant or anything; we just have one in late summer because there are loads in spring but none in autumn, so the next one isn’t until Christmas now. This has nothing to do with horse riding whatsoever besides, perhaps, that I’m a day later than I might otherwise have been with writing up what I got up to on Saturday: My friend Damian and I went for a yard lesson together at the school rather than a hack. We’d specified in advance that we were happy with whichever horses they wanted to give us.

Now, I was slightly nervous about this. I really wanted to organise lessons for myself over summer before I could find a more long-term riding solution back in West Yorkshire, where I attend university; partly to keep a hand in, partly because I was convinced that half of what I understood from what I’d been taught in Japan would be wrong, partly from the language barrier, partly from the horses being trained slightly differently. At the same time I was really looking forward to it!

We arrived early, and were amused by a horse who was wearing a hood over his eyes and ears. We didn’t know this at first, but this would have been to keep the flies and midges off him. He did look comical, though, inquisitively sticking his head out of a window and into the entrance-way  as he was. Heh.

I was then introduced to a horse I’ve never met before nor heard any of my friends talking about by the name of Tara. She was a pretty, very sweet dark brown mare, and I was immediately relieved to have been given a full-sized horse rather than a pony. Prior to leading her out, I did go over and say hi to Urby, but he had a face on him and didn’t come over to be petted. I get the impression he’s quite spoiled and doesn’t have time for people who haven’t come bearing treats for him.

Tara was marginally reluctant to be lead out into the yard, but she didn’t put up a struggle or flat out refuse as Billy and Urby had in the previous weeks. There was, however, a little bit of a drama when we got out into the yard – as I mounted her, Tara started bucking and broncking, as if she wanted to get me off her back. As with the previous instances on Kit and Shirika, I had That Moment when reality seemed to stop and give me the options of ‘Stay on’ or ‘Fall off’; this time, I managed to remain calm, and chose to stay on. And, to my astonishment, I did, and managed to pull her back to a halt eventually, at which point I was asked to dismount so that her saddle could be adjusted. Our instructor-to-be explained to us that Tara is quite ‘responsive in her back’, and had the girl who had tacked her up for me walk and trot her around the yard a few times to calm her down. He said he’d never seen Tara do that before, assuring me that she was ‘a lovely horse to ride’.

Damian caught us up with Harvey, a three-year-old Percheron (and Saxon’s younger brother), and once we were both mounted up we started doing circuits of the yard at walking pace to warm up the horses. I took the lead on Tara. I found the lesson was really helpful, actually; we were talked through using the legs and the reins in turning (which I had previously being doing wrong, but which I maintain is actually quite confusing because it seems as though you have a different leg on to turn in the same direction depending on which gait you’re in and where you are in relation to the fence), then the rising trot, in which I was given some really very helpful postural pointers. We did the 20 metre circle in both walk and trot in both directions, which I’d previously only known as ‘makinori’, so it was nice to finally find out what you call it in English, and I picked up the term ‘changing rein’, which I’d previously only understood as ‘temae’. (Later, I also learned the expression, ‘to lead a horse in hand’. I don’t know how they say that in Japanese, other than ‘Tadsuna o motte,’ which just means, ‘Holding the reins’. Heh.)

Finally, we worked up to a canter. This is really what I wanted to work on building confidence in. We were talked through what to do really well, and I was pleasantly surprised at one difference in practice between Japan and England that I felt was an improvement: You only need one kick to start the canter; thereafter, being correctly seated should be all you need to keep it going. I am much more comfortable with this than the Japanese approach of kicking them continuously to keep it going, which all seems a bit unnecesary to me. My first and third attempts to canter the length of the yard were a success (with the third being better than the first, obviously!), but I fluffed the middle one, instead going into a fast sitting trot. Heh. Actually, that was interesting in itself; in Japan we always went from a walk into a canter. This time, however, we went from walk to rising trot to sitting trot to canter, from a corner. I am pleased to report that on this occasion I did not fear for my life at any point, and after some extremely helpful input about how to sit better, my final canter felt awesome!

After the lesson was over, we were talked through a method of dismounting I wasn’t familiar with (no stirrups to push yourself off!) and we lead the horses back into the stables. I thanked Tara and gave her a big hug when I got back; she had been obedient and responsive throughout my lesson, and was lovely to ride. She did visibly lose interest a couple of times and stop listening to me, but I had my whip with me this time and I managed to get her attention back just by administering gentle but firm taps to her neck whenever I could feel that I was losing her. She is definitely my favourite so far.

Tara was sadly taken off almost immediately afterwards for another rider, so I didn’t get to ‘hang out’ with her as much after the lesson as I might have liked to, but because we are massive saps we were there for almost another full hour afterwards just fussing Harvey, and then another horse called Baron in the stall next to his stuck his head out to join in. Baron was a gorgeous horse, and much to my amusement had a moustache. We later found out that one of the instructors trims this, because he doesn’t like it. Heh.

With this having been a lesson rather than a hack I didn’t take my camera with me, and although a friend did come down to watch our lesson she didn’t bring a camera with her so there weren’t any pictures. However I do have the following one of beautiful Harvey, which I took on my camera phone:

Beautiful Harvey

And some more pictures here, taken by my friend Damian and subsequently mailed to me for the purposes of posting here:


‘Chaaarge your hooor-ses across the fiiields…’

20 08 2012

So, yesterday I went on another lovely hack through the woods at the same riding school as before. This week was a little more sedate than last week as we went later in the day in a smaller group of mainly people who usually just walk and trot, and consequently took a slightly different path through the woods. I didn’t have any less of a good time, however.

This week, I rode a gorgeous little Norwegian fjord pony by the name of Urby. He was absolutely beautiful to look at, although when I first arrived at the stables he really didn’t want to be taken out of his stall, and I couldn’t lead him out by myself. A young girl who obviously spends a lot of time around the stables did this for me instead, and I was quite taken with her purple jodhpurs. Heh. Nevertheless, once we had Urby out in the yard he very patiently waited while I fixed my stirrups and mounted, and when we started to walk out into the woods he responded immediately to all of my commands, unlike Billy the previous week. (This week another friend of mine, Lisa, was riding him, and I understand that he is her usual mount.)

Urby was, in the main, very fun to ride. It really makes a difference to how you think you’re doing and your enjoyment when you get good responses out of your mount, I think, and he responded to everything I did beautifully; when I clicked and nudged him with my legs to walk faster, he sped up on his little legs, but never misread me and broke into a run; every time I squeezed and then kicked for a trot, he trotted straight away, every slight squeeze for a turn and he turned, stopped and started every time I asked him to. All the while I was riding him, his ears were pointed backwards as though he was listening to me, occasionally swivelling forwards or to the side when he heard something interesting elsewhere.

He wasn’t perfect, though. Obviously no horse or pony is ever going to be, but while he was in the main very well behaved and I certainly enjoyed riding him, there were downsides as well. I shall begin with what was down to a deficiency on my part as his rider: I found it very difficult to rise with his trot, and at several points couldn’t help dropping my weight on him, which I felt dreadful about given his size. I did get more into it towards the end of the hack, but after several trots I felt compelled to apologise to him for my rubbish trot. I was comforted later when Amy told me she also finds ponies quite hard to ride. Then, to highlight Urby’s, uh, naughty point, I suppose, I had been forewarned kind of second-hand that he’s known to bolt when he thinks his rider’s not paying attention, and I did get to experience this firsthand; during our first trot out on the road, he was overtaken by Amy on Niv, and he put his head down like an undersized bull and really charged. This was actually quite amusing; although it certainly took me by surprise, I found that such a wee thing was trying to do this pretty endearing, and I was able to rein him in very quickly. A similar thing occurred when Saxon suddenly broke into a canter from behind us with Damian on his back; as they overtook us, Urby took this as a cue to break into a canter as well, but I managed to bring him to a stop quite quickly (even though really, part of me would have quite liked to have just gone with him. Heh).

Another thing that struck me about riding Urby was how short I felt on his back, having gotten used to riding full-sized horses. I have to confess that I feel a more comfortable higher off the ground, weird as that might sound. He obviously didn’t like being given instructions via the bit, so I tried to do this as little as possible and use my legs instead whenever I could.

After the hack I lead Urby back to his stall. He was very eager to go back, and I didn’t really have to lead him beyond taking hold of the reins. I’m grateful that he let me dismount and put his stirrups up before he started making his way back, however. Heh. Urby clearly has a fanclub as I was surrounded by young girls cooing his name as we entered the stables. I lead him back to his stall, and there I fished a packet of Polo mints out of my jodhpur pocket to give to him for being, on the whole, so well behaved. He clearly enjoyed these a lot (one of the girls even said to me that he likes his mints), but his behaviour changed dramatically after I fed him the first one, and he became pushy and slightly aggressive. The same thing happened with Saxon when I wandered opposite to his stall to give him one so he didn’t feel left out. Following this, I shall not be hand-feeding the horses again, at least not until I go back to university as a goodbye present, perhaps.

So, another thoroughly pleasant ride. The plan from here is to have a yard lesson once a week until I return to university in mid-September, and hopefully another hack before I go away if I can afford it/squeeze it in. I want to work on my walk, trot and canter, and I want to be given fresh instruction by a new set of teachers to reinforce what I already know and make sure I haven’t been making any mistakes (for having been taught in a foreign language) and hopefully pick up some new tricks as well! Also, to acclimatise myself to only seeing horses once a week. I don’t know what the future holds, after all, and lessons are expensive!


A Not-So-Steady Hack

12 08 2012

Yesterday was my first ride back in the UK. This meant being at the bus stop for 08:50 in order to make it to the stables in good time – a far cry from being up at 05:00 to leave the flat and catch a 06:19 train! Heh.

This time, rather than having a yard lesson, we went on a hack through some beautiful woodlands and out onto some roads within the picturesque setting of a country park. I have to say, it was wonderful. I went with my friend, Damian, who rode an 18hh Perchercon called Saxon, whilst I was assigned a 15hh cob by the name of Billy. We were joined right as we entered the woods by Damian’s friend Amy on her rental horse, Nirvana (Niv for short). We went out in a large group; this was all new to me, as I’m used to riding horses who are as tall as Saxon (who, in terms of bulk, is easily bigger than any of the horses I was familiar with at Gakushuin, but not taller, which came as a surprise as I wouldn’t have guessed the thoroughbreds at Gakushuin were quite that tall, and my Japanese wasn’t sophisticated enough to have asked), only ever on the levelled grounds of a yard, generally in a one-on-one lesson situation and rarely for much more than 20 minutes at a time. I was really impressed by the way the hack was organised; having a bit more experience than a complete beginner and for knowing that I can walk, trot and canter independently, they at times split the group into two so I could bomb it at a canter across the paths that were well suited to it (three in total over the whole course) with the more experienced riders.

Now, I love cantering, but I will openly admit that every time I do it I get an initial rush of fear that I’m going to be thrown off and die. However, I like that; I find it exhilarating. Heh. I’m sure you can imagine how much that was amplified by being on uneven ground for the first time on a horse I didn’t know with a bunch of other people I didn’t know either! I held it together, though, and through the whole hack I had a fantastic time. What was also a bit tricky for me at first was negotiating steep downhill slopes, but I got the hang of it quite quickly. Initially Billy wouldn’t listen to the signals I was giving him through my legs, but the instructor behind me called out to me to whack him one on the neck with the reins, so I did that and afterwards, sure enough, he obeyed me, but still tried to take liberties when he thought he could get away with it. Heh. I have to say I enjoyed his character, but found it a bit of a struggle making him walk faster. Instead I just broke into a trot to keep up whenever we fell behind. In my experience, horses are often lazy after an extended rest and I think I was Billy’s first rider of the day.

Other highlights included going out onto THE ROAD with CARS, which I’ve never done before and which made me feel rather badass (not least because it reminded me that I’m the only member of my family who can’t drive a car, but at the same time the only one who can ride a horse), and Billy charging at a fast trot from the back of the line to catch up with Saxon at the front towards the end – only for me to then be told off and have to pull him back behind a larger horse called Baron. Sadly with it being an early hack and the horses all being booked for other riders straight away afterwards, I didn’t get much time to interact with the horses ‘socially’ or take any pictures, but I was glad I was able to be introduced to Saxon finally after hearing so much about him from my friends. He was engaged in an epic shoving match with Damian when I wandered over to say hello, and attempted to flick me with his head on acknowledging my presence, but I wasn’t having any of it. Heh. He was absolutely beautiful, though; the photos I’d seen didn’t really do him justice.

Thereafter, I fed Nirvana a handful of apple slices I’d intended to give to Billy and Saxon but hadn’t had time to, and was amused when she gave me a hilariously filthy look when I put my hands up to show her I had none left. We said goodbye to Amy, I thanked her for putting a word in for me to ensure I got to do something a bit more exciting than just a steady hack and we left her to shower and change out of our horse-slobber covered clothes.

Again! Again! Again!

The Returner

12 08 2012

So, I’m back in the UK at last! I was bracing myself for reverse culture shock, but now I’m here everything has felt completely normal and natural straight off the bat; no having to adjust, even recovering from the jetlag was surprisingly painless.

Prior to that, though, my last week at riding club. Well, it was quite short, really. I ended up taking some of the days off just from the aftershock of exam stress and the ensuing sleep deprivation which, added to general heat exhaustion from the ranging mid-thirties heat and 86%+ humidity, made hiding indoors with the air conditioning on seem like the only sensible option. I went out at night time on both of the days I took off, and the heat/humidity combo was no less crushingly brutal then, either.

However, thankfully, with it being my last week there was no punishment for my absence. The team were all very understanding about it, and my last day involved usual stall-cleaning, followed by a cantering lesson on Max and then being left to wash and groom him. During assembly at the end of club practice, I was presented with a lovely card they had made with a drawing of me riding Hokon and lots of nice messages wishing me well on my return to the UK. The following day I went back for a social barbecue at Waseda University’s stables (which wasn’t actually all that social, although their horses were lovely and friendly; my teammates and I ended up watching the olympic cross country trials on a smartphone rather than interacting with the other students), and took the opportunity to try and have my picture taken with Hokon. He turned out to be quite camera shy, but we got one in the end (click the link to see my Facebook gallery of pictures from the whole semester):

Aw, Hokon.

He kicked me and he bit me and he made my tack-tests a misery, but through all that I still loved him for his haughty-to-the-point-of-being-funny manner, grace and elegance. And he was a real joy to ride. In a way I’m sorry this is me in my usual quasi-goth gear and not in my riding gear, but I still think this is a nice photo. Heh. I hope he enjoys the Effol Sweet Hearts I bought for him as a leaving gift!…

I have already started riding again in the UK, but I’m going to write that up in a separate entry for correctness!