Sitting on a chair is boring after you’ve been sitting on a horse

25 11 2012

I had my second ride at that lovely new riding school today! Why so long? Well, for the last couple of weekends I’ve been working (a job that wasn’t much fun that I have now thankfully escaped from!), I couldn’t get my class time for Monday evenings changed as I’d hoped and fitting in a riding lesson during the week around my university commitments proved tricky, especially since I started another new job during the week.

However, I got there in the end! This one was only another half-hour private lesson, as this was the only time they could fit me in this weekend since I only booked it on the Friday as a last-minute thing. I thought I was having my lesson at three o’clock, but I arrived to find I was half an hour early, which gave me an opportunity to have a wander around and say hello to all of the horses. Heh.

I rode Soapy again, and this time she was a bit of a handful because apparently it was feeding time while I was having my lesson. She was generally well behaved, but it was noticeable that at any time she thought she could get away with it she would make a move towards the exit! The instructor I had today was a lovely, warm and friendly woman who was even better than the young man who’d conducted my lesson last time. Her main criticisms of me where that I sit with my legs too far forwards, but she helped me to do some work on that so I was much better aligned by the end of the lesson, part of which was having a good, long trot around the (outdoor) school without stirrups, which I love doing! She also forced me to work on controlling Soapy with delicate motions from my legs rather than great kicks and yanking on the reins (which I had been actively encouraged to do at the previous school), which was amazing as it really felt like magic when I got it to work, and Soapy was much more responsive to gentle aids. I also learned what a half halt is, and how useful it is!

I told my instructor at the start of the lesson about my terrible canter, which she acknowledged and said we’d work on it today. In the end, I got a 45 minute lesson because the instructor was determined I was going to have a proper canter large around the school before we gave up. Heh. The problem seems to be that once I get the canter started I lean forwards, and my poor mount is confused into dropping back into a fast sitting trot. We did get there in the end, following what my instructor said was ‘a really nice transition’, but Soapy didn’t want to keep it up because she wanted to have her dinner, so I let her cool off and we finished there. She thinks it would be a good idea for me to do some cantering practice on a lunge; I remember this being useful before when I was in Japan, so I’d certainly be more than happy to give it another go.

I felt really happy afterwards. This is what it’s supposed to be like! I’ve booked myself in for another private lesson this coming Saturday, and from the following week I shall join the adult beginner’s class every week.



*Much* Better!

7 11 2012

So, I’m not long back from my assessment lesson at the other riding school. I haven’t even taken my ‘yard’ boots (they’re not really yard boots, just the boots I wear to and from the stables because they conveniently have a zip) or my jodhpurs off yet! I’m going to do that now while I’m thinking about it, actually…

… That’s better! I’d washed my hands and made a cup of tea, so clearly I had my priorities right. Heh. With it being winter, I’m not all sweaty, and this new school is largely indoors so I didn’t get especially mucky, either, so I’m not in a desperate rush to get showered.

Well, I have only good things to say about the new school. It’s wonderful! Entering from the road, you get the impression that you’re walking into a well-maintained establishment with several large barns. You enter through the offices which look as though they’re in their own little building, and then… this really surprised me: Just down the corridor from there is the indoor arena, with a row of horses’ stalls running down alongside it!

The indoor arena is HUGE – probably as big as the main arena at Gakushuin was, but with the dimensions of a dressage arena. My lesson took place at just one end of it, which had been cordoned off from the rest with trot poles and cones. Although I would say we were only using about a quarter of it, I still had plenty of space and a good track to keep to! I rode a beautiful piebald cob mare by the name of Soapy, who I would say, at a guess, was definitely taller than 14hh but not as tall as 15, I don’t think. She had a lovely mild temperament when I introduced myself to her, and was an absolute angel to ride; very responsive to all of my aids (I found that as long as I maintained a good, firm grip on the reins, I was able to direct her pretty much entirely using my legs, with just a light tap from the whip the couple of times she didn’t do as she was told) and felt really smooth and fairly forwards, although not as forwards as Tara. None of this bone-shaking you get with ponies and their poor suspension. Heh.

I had a young, male instructor who was fantastic. His teaching style was very positive in tone, and he only ever offered constructive criticisms. He started the lesson just by letting me ride around in walk and trot independently, then changing reins and doing it the other way, so he could get a feel for my riding style, and, as he put it, to enable me to ‘get a feel for what’s going on underneath [me].’ I could only afford a half-hour lesson, so we didn’t get to go into loads of detail on everything, but he directed me to trot around the school on both reins, first in rising trot and then in sitting trot (he raised a few points about improving my rising trot, but he said my sitting trot was excellent). We finished with a little bit of cantering practice, but I found that while I could start the canter okay, kept my balance and didn’t panic, I then had far too much difficulty keeping it onto the track without mistakenly fooling Soapy into thinking she was being asked to slow to a trot. So, this was highlighted in the post-lesson wrap-up and cool down as What I Need to Work On going forwards.

After I’d dismounted (I’m pleased to report that I don’t have any difficulty with this any more!), Soapy was lead off for another lesson outdoors. The instructor told me that she can be difficult to ride because she kicks out if she gets frustrated at noises or other horses and isn’t very good at keeping a consistent rhythm in trot and canter, but she was fine for me, and he went on to say that in general she is willing and responsive and for advanced riders she’s a brilliant jumper. She had some magnificent fetlocks, so I bet she looks amazing going over fences!

In typical style, I didn’t leave straight away after finishing my lesson. I saw a large, black horse who looked absolutely gorgeous being lead out to be groomed, so I wandered over to say hello. The lady grooming him said I was welcome to stick around for as long as I liked when I joked about finding it difficult to leave, and actively encouraged me to sign up to be a volunteer there and help out with the horses, adding, ‘Then you could come whenever you like!’ Dan was an adorable big softie, who immediately and gently nuzzled my fist with his lips as I put it up for him to inspect, no pushing or frisking. The lady explained that he is her favourite, because he loves cuddles, never bites and enjoys kissing people.

It’s a beautiful place and I can’t wait to go back there again. There is an adult group class starting from a week on Monday, and I have booked myself in to participate in that; this actually works out cheaper than paying for lessons at and travelling to the other place. I will have to ask one of my tutors if I can move into the earlier Japanese speaking class on Monday evening to facilitate getting there on time, but it shouldn’t be a problem if I ask nicely. They have woods with bridle paths for hacking as well, they said, and were happy to provide me with a volunteer application pack when I asked. Even on the way in, an older gentleman who’d just finished his lesson and wanted to go in and pay helped me zip up my riding boots, as the zip had stuck on the right leg!

I got a much better feeling from that place than from the other one. The lady in the office told me that the place had been founded as part of an initiative by Leeds City Council and the Riding for the Disabled Association (they do classes for disabled riders there) and they had built the school up from that, which probably explains why it seems (at first glance, anyway) to have a much more easygoing, non-judgemental atmosphere. I’m still amazed that they can have such shiny, well-maintained facilities, though – they must be making money from being a great school that people want to keep going back to. I know I certainly do!

Episode IV: A New Hope (?)

5 11 2012

I’ve decided to bite the bullet and call another riding school. I have a private lesson booked for 2pm on Wednesday. When I go there I shall discuss cost-saving measures for attending more regularly, if I like it.

I am also on the look out for affordable rental horses to loan for one day a week, as that would be great in terms of getting to ride and to care for the animal as well. I thought I’d found one, but he was too small for me, sadly. The only trouble with this option is that I would have to pay for riding lessons on top of this (and I do need them), but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. A common problem here seems to be that horse owners will only lease their horses to people who are absolutely perfect in their eyes, because their horses are their babies.

Will keep you all posted!

Disgruntled and demotivated

2 11 2012

I really wanted to keep the overall tone of this blog positive, but I don’t think I can at the moment. The sad fact is that I’m really just not enjoying my riding, at least not here in Leeds. I’m going to be completely honest about it all.

The problem, chiefly, is the school. Although I found the first lesson I went to there to be excellent in terms of learning new things and improving existing skills – the instructor who took that lesson was fantastic, even if I found her teaching style of highlighting mistakes and asking you to explain why you were doing whatever it was you were doing wrong in front of everyone else a bit difficult to deal with at the time – it was very dry. The horses are brought out to us and taken off us immediately again after the lessons; the feeling is very much that we’re there for a riding lesson, and the horses themselves are, while necessary, otherwise inconsequential. I haven’t gotten that feeling from any of the other places where I’ve had lessons to date.

For my other lessons I’ve had a different instructor, who is impatient, condescending, loses her temper/shouts and spends a significant proportion of her lessons sitting in the corner of the school playing with her phone, giving the distinct impression that she is not only disinterested in teaching the lessons, but that she actively doesn’t want to be there. This is really not helpful, and she sets me on edge so I’m more nervous about making mistakes and what she’s going to pull me up on next, resulting in my making more stupid mistakes – and appearing as though I’m not listening to her because I was trying to concentrate on getting so many things right I forgot to do whatever it was I was supposed to. None of my other teachers to date have given me this impression.

Then, the horses. The ones we novices get are all lazy and uncooperative from what I can tell, and the instructor let on during my last lesson that they use those horses with the novices for pretty much that reason. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can see the merit of teaching someone to ride a difficult horse first so that once their skills improve they’ll be proficient on easier horses, but I think that only works to a point – if something’s frustratingly difficult from the outset, how are you supposed to maintain the motivation to stick at it?

Based on all of the above, I’m now more inclined to think that it wasn’t a mistake that I was given a pony to ride for my first lesson in spite of my having said I’d rather ride a horse when asked if I had a preference. And I’m not sure that I’m comfortable learning from people who do that sort of thing on purpose. Incidentally, I was given the pony again today.

By contrast, last time I went there I arrived early, and I saw the end of the advanced classes’ lesson, which the first instructor was taking. She wasn’t giving the girls much direction, just letting them merrily canter around the outdoor school and take jumps in turn, occasionally calling one over to the fence where she was stood to give them pointers, but she was watching everything they were doing intently and showed clear affection for them when she spoke to them both individually and as a group. Now, I know some of that will have been a rapport she’d had time to build up with those riders and I can appreciate that as an old hand at something it’s probably both boring and frustrating having to teach the basics over and over again… but again, I guess it would be nice to see a bit of acknowledgement of the fact that everyone has to start somewhere and learns at different paces?…

Finally, the logistics of attending lessons there. I hate talking about money, especially in specific amounts, but I’m going to do it here for clarity’s sake. Taking lessons through the university riding club costs £16 per person, irrespective of how many people there are. That’s very reasonable for a riding school in the UK. However, the school itself is actually located closer to the next city along than it is to Leeds itself. Consequently, the prescribed method for getting out there requires you to be grouped with someone who can drive and is willing to, but there don’t seem to be any driver-novices, so it’s a train journey to the nearest town with a railway station and then about 15 minutes by taxi. A return train ticket costs £4.10, and the taxi costs £7.50 in either direction. So, even in the best-case scenario – travelling up in a group of five – I’d still effectively be paying £23 per lesson. As a full-time student I am certainly not rich, and that’s quite a lot of money, really. Furthermore, the closest riding school to me – which Google Maps tells me I could walk to in just over 50 minutes (meaning I could probably clear it in less than that) – offers 30-minute private adult lessons for £2 less than that.

I’ve booked myself a place on two more lessons. I’m toying with the idea of having a private lesson at my nearest riding school to see if it’s any better, but even if that turns out to be fantastic I’m not sure I can afford to do that every single week.

I feel very disheartened over all of this. I will openly admit that I wasn’t feeling especially enthused about going to my lesson beforehand and it’s possible that my having started out with a shitty attitude set the tone for the lesson I ended up having and how I felt about it afterwards, but at the same time I think it’s notable that the other girls I went with – while they were talking in the back of the taxi on the way home – seemed to have picked up on a lot of the same things as I did, and weren’t very happy about it either.

But… horses!… 😦