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.




3 responses

5 03 2013

Thank you for sharing!
Chris Mobley

6 03 2013

Well now you know what riding my horse has been like! This is the best description! Like you I was accustomed to having to put energy in to speed up on other horses and had no appropriate skills/muscle for slowing him down (pulling on the reins made him stressed so he went faster in a “I’m-not-sure-what-you-want-so-I’m-trying-harder” sort of way). Like you said, it’s all about the core. My instructors weren’t that useful at explaining how to slow my rising to give him my rhythm but I googled it and the outcome was to hold yourself up a fraction longer in the rise using your core.

My sitting trot is appalling so I can’t even try to canter unless I can get a controlled trot first so I completely understand why you didn’t on the first go and think you are very brave and did very well to get through the first not-canter and ask again.

It was so good to read this!

6 03 2013

Oh wow, what a flattering comment! Thank you!

Also, that’s really useful to know about controlling the pace of the trot with one’s own rising. It would have helped me at the time if I’d known to go about it that way, although it is clear that I need more core strength in general. I am going to try and calibrate this with Pilates as I don’t have the ability to ride nearly every day any more, sadly.

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