OWN A PONY DAY, YO (part two)

3 01 2013

Happy new year, readers! I hope yours was a good one. I’ve been quite busy between now and my last post, but here I am to get back on track with this!

Firstly, thanks are due to Damian for allowing me to use his photos from the Own a Pony Day to illustrate my further entries on this. Although all the pictures I originally used in my previous entry were mine, my digital camera started playing up and the phone on my camera is not sophisticated enough to use in dark conditions without a flash, so his pictures came out quite a lot better than mine, and there were more of them. However, I realised that I missed an opportunity to share his pictures of me leading Tara in from the paddock, which were quite amusing, so I’ve now gone back and included those in the correct narrative position.

So, then, once we had our ‘ponies’ fed, groomed and tacked up we led them out into the main school. There were so many of us it wasn’t possible for us all to stand in line along the centre line as we normally would, and so myself, a young girl with a horse named Domino who is similar in build to Tara (but always looks fed up, causing Damian and I to label her ‘Grumpy Horse’ until we knew what her name was) and Damian lined up in single file by the fence. Here, I had some difficulty with Tara when a blue van pulled up in the car park. In spite of her bravery when we encountered the tractor earlier in the day, she was clearly very distressed by the van; she started to make pathetic whimpering noises, and tried to turn on her hooves and make an exit. I held firmly onto her reins, but needed the assistance of one of the stableyard volunteers to restrain her from running away. She was obviously very frightened, however, and didn’t calm down until the vehicle had parked. I thought it was sweet when the young volunteer said, ‘It’s okay, Tara, it’s not going to kill you.’ Heh.

We were divided into three groups; one for a hack, one for a beginner’s lesson and one for a walk, trot and canter lesson. We were in the latter. The lesson was certainly brilliant fun, but it wasn’t really all that useful as a lesson. The sunshine favoured us in that hour, but the rain earlier that morning saw that the damage had already been done to the school; it was like a bog, and it was clear that none of the equines – apart from Saxon, who is so tough he didn’t seem to care even a little bit about getting his hooves wet – wanted to walk in the puddles, which were especially bad close to the gates. Another problem we encountered was that all the riders where of different skill levels, and thus differently able to push on or steer their mounts, which led to a lot of stopping and starting due to there being so many of us. We persevered and had a good time, however.

I managed to get Tara listening to me as we warmed the horses up, but even so found it a real struggle to override her reluctance to walk in the wet patches and get her to stay on the track. We managed to walk and trot okay and got some good impulsion going in the first half of the lesson, but at a few points I found myself wondering if I was inadvertently making dressage asks as we ended up making very graceful (but unintentional) half-passes a couple of times. However I think this was more likely to have been a result of my insistently pushing on with my inside leg when Tara tried to give the puddles a wide berth. Our attempts to do a 20-metre circle in working trot rising were also somewhat mangled.

It was when we moved onto canter that I began to realise just what an intelligent horse Tara is. She knows what’s going on around her, and she clearly understands key words and phrases particularly well. Unfortunately it was in this part of the lesson that I lost control of her almost completely. Basically, the group came to a halt and we each took turns to transition from rising trot to sitting to canter. Tara listened intently to the instructor and watched the horses go before us, and it became clear that she had decided she knew what she was doing. When it came to our turn, she went on the instructor’s word without any input from me, but she cut across the school from the letter before the corner to the one opposite and transitioned to canter as soon as she turned. I had no input into any of this, she did it all for herself. I managed to remain both calm and seated, but I think that was because it all happened much faster than my brain had time to catch up to. Tara had been described to me at the start of the day as ‘lively’, and it’s certainly clear that she loves running, with a passion. However she has a lovely, steady canter that I feel comfortable with.

On the second go I was better prepared for this, and so I tried to assert control over her. Unfortunately, this resulted once again in my wondering if we were unwittingly doing dressage. I pushed on hard with my leg in an attempt to keep her on the track, but the result was that we ended up in a very fast sitting trot going around in tiny circles, with an overall trajectory across the school in a horizontal line (and everyone laughing at us – which I can’t fault, it was funny). Consequently, the instructor came over, gave me a few pointers for controlling Tara – specifically, to have more confidence in myself, that she responds better to seat-bone instructions than to the rein or the legs, that when I want to pull her back to pulse on the reins rather than just pull continuously, explaining that she is stronger than me and so would ultimately win, finally reassuring me that Tara would only canter to the end of the ride and so not to worry – and told me to go around again. This time, she still cut the corners broadly and ignored my ask for canter at the second turn, but the instructor praised me for having more confidence and better control on this go. On our final go we went around in another bout of tiny circles across the school, but I managed to change reins and get it right going in the other direction, and enjoyed a nice, smooth canter down to the back of the ride. After that, the group trotted large together as best we could and we turned onto the centre line to dismount.

On dismounting, we put the stirrups up and loosened the girth straps before returning the horses to their stalls, where we left their saddles on but removed their bridles. Then it was time for us to break for lunch. Damian and I had a lovely picnic sat on the wall outside the front of the stables. I laughed at some children loudly objecting to one of the adults’ having said that one of the horses looked like a llama, and transformed into a ball of fluff when, on my walk back from the bathroom to wash my hands before eating past Saxon and Tara, I was mugged for attention by both horses simultaneously. As testament to that, here is a picture of me between the two equines feeling utterly overwhelmed by having both of them on me at once:

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