Still no horse riding!

25 03 2013

It’s Monday again and I haven’t been riding… again! 😦 This is because I couldn’t afford the lesson fee this week, unfortunately.

I have been doing the Pilates DVD, however, and so far, so good. The most difficult thing about it is remembering to breathe while you’ve got your stomach pulled in and your thighs and glutes rolled firmly inwards, but I hope that by doing the exercises every day it’ll all get easier. I can’t comment on whether or not it’s had a positive impact on my riding at this stage, obviously, but I’m hoping that if it does anything during this downtime it’ll just be that I don’t return to riding after this unintentionally-extended break having forgotten how to do literally everything, which is my main concern as I won’t be  going next week either due to the Easter bank holiday. That’s almost a full month without horse-time! 😦

Anyway, more on the exercises, as promised. I’ve only been doing the basic Pilates exercises – well, that’s not true, actually; the first time I tried them out I accidentally started the advanced exercises, and got halfway through them before realizing my mistake (if it hadn’t been for the voice-over telling me to repeat an exercise x number of times and then jumping straight to the next one, I wouldn’t have noticed). They are clearly explained, and you observe three participants going through the motions for you to follow, one of whom bends their knees and keeps her head on a pillow at all times so you can see how to do it if you can’t quite manage anything or have neck or back problems. It’s all very clear and easy to follow, with sufficient pause between exercises to relax for a moment before moving onto the next one. After completing the exercises I felt warm but I wasn’t sweating and my back felt much looser, which has got to be a good sign, right?

I’ll stick with it and say if I feel like it’s making a difference as I go along…



17 03 2013

So, no horse riding for me last week. I did rearrange my lesson for Tuesday as I think I said in my previous update, but a guest lecture at university about the origins of Bushido came up that evening in the intervening period and I thought that ought to take priority as it’s within my specific area of interest.

No horse riding for me in the coming week, either. I shall be away doing family things.

I have no real intention of resting on my laurels in this time, however; following the realization that if I worked on building strength in my core, a better seat and greater control would follow, I splashed out with the money I made from some recent eBay sales and bought myself an equestrian Pilates exercise DVD!

The one I have bought myself is Janice Dulak’s Pilates for the Dressage Rider. Also available in the UK is Gemma Tattershall’s Equestrian Pilates, which is actually the cheaper of the two and has more positive reviews on Amazon, so I thought very hard about which one to go for before making a final purchase. I chose the former because I was put off by what some of the reviewers had written about the Gemma Tattershall DVD: specifically, that the production quality was poor and it was difficult to navigate. The one (out of a total of two) positive review about Dulak’s DVD said enough good things about it to assure me that I wasn’t making a bad choice. I ordered it from The Book Depository for almost a third less than Amazon were charging and free postage!

Initial thoughts: Given what I paid for the DVD, I was a bit disappointed that the slip cover isn’t more professional-looking; to be honest, it looks like it was knocked up on someone’s home PC and printed on an inkjet printer, and I was initially concerned that the product I’d purchased wasn’t genuine. An inspection of the disk itself, and it looked like it was the real thing, just with cheap packing materials. I was a bit disappointed by the picture quality when I went to play the DVD for the first time, too. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that that wasn’t what I’d bought it for and persevered with it.

In terms of actual content, so far, so good. The sound is nice and clear on it, and it’s well narrated. Although I haven’t actually done a workout yet I have watched through the introduction and some of the exercises, and I found it a good sign that I found it hard to watch the explanations/demonstrations without going through the motions of the exercises myself! The commentary is very easy to follow and understand, frequently referring back to the significance of muscle groups and their uses in dressage so that you understand the relevance of what you’re doing, and the editing of the actual exercise demonstrations is executed very nicely to give you a really good idea of what you should be doing.

I will update on this again when I’ve actually done a full workout, and I’ll keep a record on here of how well I think it’s going and whether I think it’s helping.

In other news, I am also currently reading and really enjoying Monty Roberts’ The Man who Listens to Horses and becoming very interested in ‘natural horsemanship’ as a consequence… and the discovery that YOU CAN GET BITLESS BRIDLES has made me inordinately happy. One day… *sigh*

Keep Calm and Canter On

4 03 2013

It’s Monday night again. Before I skip ahead to updating about my lesson, I have some sad news and some happy news. I’ll begin with the sad: Felicity, my adoption donkey, has also now passed away. She had been sent to Hapton for ultrasound as she was off her food and losing weight, and they found tumours in her stomach, one of which was inoperable. So she was put to sleep. The most heartbreaking thing about this is that now poor Glasgow – her best friend, who has not been separated from her in nine years – is alone, but they are going to try and pair him up with another donkey called Brandy, who they said they knew would take good care of him. I hope he’ll be okay. I received a letter in the post today telling me that my adoption would be transferred to another donkey, and to email them if I had a preference.

The happy news concerns Will Scarlett, who, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, passed away last month. In addition to a letter updating me about Felicity, I received a separate letter about Will, handwritten by the communications officer and containing a disc with some footage of him from the adoption club website; specifically, him being led back to the paddock and his friends running to the fence to greet him. I had emailed them last month to ask whether I could obtain this from them, stating that I would be willing to pay a fee to download it. Such kindness! It’s a wonderful tribute to him and I shall treasure it.

And then onto today’s lesson! I had a different horse today who I’ve never had before; his name was Monty, and he was a big brown cob with a rather spectacular white Major-General’s ‘tache. Heh. He’d already been led out to the outdoor school when I went to collect him.

He was absolutely the most forward-going horse I have ever ridden. I mean, I remember the TBs at Gakushuin being very willing, but always waiting for your asks before moving onto different things; Tara (who, in spite of our recent falling-out, I have caught myself pining for recently) has been described as a horse who ‘GOES‘, and having had to rein her in from sudden bursts of energy and found myself doing unintentional dressage moves on her because of her reluctance to stop or slow I can attest to it, but none of them were like this guy. As soon as I was mounted and my girth had been tightened, he was off to the track without any input from me, and tried though I did to stop him so I could shorten my stirrups he didn’t listen, but kept going in such a nice, active walk that I didn’t want to stop him in case I couldn’t get it going again, so I just adjusted them while moving.

The lesson today was merely walk, trot and canter as before. We did most work in trot. Having such a responsive and forward-going horse reassured me that I do know what I’m doing with my legs now, but I need to work more on my use of the reins (remembering to relax the hand I’m not using to keep the horse on the track, mainly) and on my core. If I had more strength in my core, literally everything would be so much easier, and I can feel it now. Beware, core, for you will now be trained!

There were only two of us in the group tonight. Our instructor separated us out this time so we were trotting independently of each other, and made us separate ourselves out when we got too close by riding in 20-metre circles. She explained the rules of ‘open order’ to us as well, and said that this was something we’d work towards using in the future. She prompted us frequently to check we were on the right diagonals, and she noticed and praised me when I got it right. She instructed me to use my outside leg when taking corners in trot so I didn’t ride Monty right into the corners and lose momentum (which happened a few times). I did this without thinking and found it effective; it didn’t occur to me until afterwards that applying the outside leg in rising trot is actually pretty similar to asking for canter, and in retrospect I’m impressed (at him, not myself) that Monty didn’t misread it as an ask for canter.

However, Monty’s trot was difficult to work with. It was like he had no awareness of how powerful he was, and he didn’t either understand my asks for him to slow down or was ignoring them altogether (I tried half-halts, relaxing into my seat and pulsing on both reins simultaneously while shouting ‘Whoa!’), and the only way I could get him to slow down was by steering him into a 20-metre circle at the next corner – at which point I would have to kick him on to pick up a sensible speed again! My instructor praised me when she felt that we had gotten better in synch with each other and I was riding him around with better control, but this all went to pot when we moved onto sitting trot. As soon as I sat down and relaxed into the motions of the trot, he accelerated, and again, ignored my asks for him to slow down. I was advised to try rising again to slow him down a bit, and told that I should sit and stand at the pace I wanted him to move at. Monty, in addition to being so very eager and strong felt really heavy on the head, so I’m afraid that this was completely beyond me. I turned him out to the outside to get him to stop, and then continued in walk and transitioned to rising trot again after a last attempt at sitting drove him forwards at what felt like break-neck speed.

Finally, we moved onto canter. I was quite happy with this when I was told to go, but Monty seemed to be pumped at this stage and to just really want to fucking go for it (excuse my French). I asked him to go into trot for me, which he did without a second thought. We approached the corner, I sat down, and he accelerated sharply again, making me very nervous and try and get him to slow and, when that failed, stop. Actually terrified, I panicked and tensed up, and couldn’t get him to do anything. He veered off the track – still trotting faster than I was really comfortable with his head down, almost as though he was charging – and I tried to steer him into a circle again. This worked. My instructor called out for me to try and start another canter. I stalled, asked for him to slow, and this time he stopped.

Walking on, I apologised to my instructor, and said that he was going so fast I didn’t feel secure transitioning to canter, and I didn’t want to canter tonight. She was very kind, and said that she wouldn’t make me do it if I really didn’t want to, highlighting that even very capable riders do things they wouldn’t normally do when they’re nervous – but said that she thought I would be pleasantly surprised by Monty’s canter as it was much easier than his trot, and reassured me that she thought I was capable enough to do it. I thanked her for this; after the other rider had a go around on (a less willing) Elvis, I agreed to try once more. She suggested I start the trot just before the first corner so Monty wouldn’t have time to pick up too much speed. So that’s what I did.

Monty responded instantly to my ask for trot at the appropriate letter. He did speed up when I sat, but I decided to deal with this by asking for canter. The first time I asked he didn’t transition. I managed to remain calm and asked again, and he went straight into a lovely canter, that was certainly fast but felt controlled and steady, and lasted a circuit of the school!

I was so surprised that when he transitioned back to walk of his own accord I laughed and fell down over his neck in a floppy sort of hug. I had another go; he responded immediately this time, and once more we cantered large, fast but controlled. His canter was much easier and less terrifying than his trot!

Following the lesson, I led Monty back to his stall and fussed him a lot. He responded with what seemed to be affectionate nuzzles before turning his attention to the hay net on the wall. There wasn’t anyone around, so after locking his stall and removing his bridle I checked the timetable to make sure he didn’t have another lesson, and then untacked him myself. I also put his rug on him. This was funny; because of the angle he was stood to the door at, I had no choice to approach him from behind. I talked to him while I did this so he could hear where I was, but when I approached his shoulder with his first rug he turned around with his ears back as though he was going to bite me, but he didn’t – he just gave me a sort of warning look, as though he was saying, Don’t creep up on me like that, all right? I held out his rug for him to inspect and explained to him what I was doing, and he almost shrugged and went back to the hay net.

He was very patient with me while I fumbled with his two rugs. When I approached him with the second, he gave me that same ears-back look he’d given me before; this time I gave his forehead and his cheek a rub, and again he seemed to shrug and turn back to the hay. When I’d finished I gave him a pat on the neck; he turned his head into my chest, and I felt compelled to give him a little kiss on the brow. Then, when I exited the stall and locked the door shut behind me, he broke away from the hay net and came over to give me a sloppy kiss on my hands before I left.

I can’t make Monday’s class next week, so I’ve asked to go in Tuesday’s walk, trot and canter group instead, and I’ve requested Soapy as I’ve not ridden her in a while. I did see her tonight, before my lesson; she acknowledged me, but she didn’t come over and say hello this time. I think it was the first time I’ve seen her not wearing any ‘clothes’. Heh.