Three rides, three mounts (and none of them Soapy)

18 12 2012

I’ve let myself fall behind on this again, which means I now have three whole separate riding excursions to write about! Rather than write one long and tedious entry, I think I shall tackle this by catching up on myself one entry at a time, starting with last week’s group lesson, and spread them out over the next few days for your viewing pleasure.

So, the group lesson. This was my first time in a lesson since childhood with more than one other person, and it was an ‘open order’ lesson for the first half hour with group work in the second half hour. I was given a horse called Matti; if you’ll excuse his daft name (I still think horses should all have affected, badass-sounding names, not cutesy ones!), he was a beautiful chap of around 15hh, black all over and an Irish draught x thoroughbred cross. I was told before I went to fetch him that, ‘He pretends to be grumpy, but he’s not really.’ I found him in his stall, tacked up and ready for me, obliviously munching away at some hay strung up in a net on the far wall.

Matti’s stall is next to Soapy’s, meaning I had an opportunity to say hello to her before my lesson. When I called out her name, she came over and put her head over the door to her stall to say hello, looking genuinely pleased to see me, which I found really sweet and flattering. I chatted to her a bit while giving her neck a bit of a friendly rub when the lady who was riding her that evening came to collect her. She couldn’t get Soapy to back away from the door to go in and fetch her while I was stood there, so I went into Matti’s stall to sort him out and left them to it.

The lesson itself was not terribly useful to me, I’m afraid to say, but it was good fun. I enjoyed the open order half of the hour, because it was nice to be given the time and space to just do whatever I felt like at my own pace, and to get to know Matti and how he moved. Matti proved to be perfectly forwards and willing, but – and these were my instructor’s words, not mine – conformation-wise, he was ‘pretty shocking. There’s a technical term for what happens when a horse is moving in an unsteady rhythm, and so his back hooves bang into his front hooves, resulting in a clacking sound; Matti did this constantly, and no amount of pushing him on or slowing him down with half-halts seemed to fix it for any length of time. He was also really bouncy to trot on – very much like you might expect a pony to be in comparison to a full-sized horse – which meant it took me a few goes to get myself rising comfortably on him. I did get there in the end, though. Once I felt comfortable with Matti, I trotted large on both reins, and then decided to practice riding whilst standing in the stirrups on both reins and in a serpentine across the whole school. I find that being able to do this for a while helps me to keep my weight stretched down my legs and into my heels where it should be immediately afterwards.

In the group practice portion of the lesson, our instructor arranged some cones in two lines running down the length of the school. One set were placed quite far apart from one another, the others close together. The idea was for us to weave our way in and out of them as a test of our ability to turn and transition; trotting through the wide ones, walking through the narrow ones. On bouncy Matti, I found this much easier in sitting trot than in posting trot, but by the time she called the lesson to an end I felt pretty comfortable going around the school on both reins and in both gaits. She said that if we wanted to finish the lesson with a canter we could do, but none of the other riders did (there were four of us in total) and given how all over the place my canter has proved to be in recent lessons I thought better of going charging across the paths of more confident riders who were trying to take things more slowly.

At the end of the lesson, our instructor told me that she thought I’d be okay staying in that group for the time being, but that she thought I had some ‘catching up’ to do to get to the same level with my riding as the others in that group. She largely seemed to be saying that a few things about what I had been doing needed tweaking, but she wouldn’t know for sure whether or not I would need to drop down a level until she saw me cantering, and that she would tell me if she felt that my staying in the group would be holding the others back. After we had this conversation I initially agreed to stay in the group for now on the understanding that I’d transfer into a more basic one later if the need arose, but the more I thought about it the more dropping down into the next group down seemed to make sense; frankly, I didn’t want the humiliation of being told I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t want to run the risk of holding the others back in the first place. So when I left I booked myself into the beginner’s lesson for the following week (today, in fact!).

Matti, although perfectly mild-mannered and friendly with me, clearly didn’t like Murphy, one of the other horses (a screwbald gelding of a similar build to himself). While he behaved during the lesson, at the end as we went to dismount he tried to go for him – with me, feet out of stirrups about to dismount, hanging on and trying to pull his head away from the poor other horse, who seemed confused at this sudden onset of hostility. Following on from that I had to hold onto him while Murphy was lead out to stop him aggressively following. Once Murphy was out of sight he returned to his previous placid self, enabling me to lead him back to his stall – where I was granted the honour of untacking him, all by myself and without any supervision! I have to say that that was probably the highlight of that particular trip to the stables. I was pleased, not only because they had the confidence in me to let me do it, but also because I remembered how to do it all, and I am still strong enough to lift a saddle (which I could barely manage when I first joined the Equestrian Team at Gakushuin back in April). After securing his rug to him – which nearly ended disastrously as I narrowly avoided being urinated on as I ducked underneath him to grab the straps that fasten under his belly, heh – I gave him a last pat on the neck to thank him for his patience with me in the school, and left him studiously munching on his hay before embarking on my 50 minute walk home.

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3 responses

19 12 2012
Sparrowgrass

Wow, I love the idea of being allowed to do what you want at the beginning of the lesson and while you’re getting used to the horse. I think that’s a really good idea because everyone’s body (and everyhorse’s) warm up differently.

20 12 2012
onahorse

I agree, but given my skill level I think I’d prefer to be given more instruction for the time being. I can see me enjoying it as I become a more competent rider, though – something to look forward to!

22 12 2012
Sparrowgrass

Hmm. I see what you mean, but sometimes it would be heaven to be allowed to warm up before I’m yelled at for not riding my best! I guess everything has negatives and positives.

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