It’s my birthday! (sort of)

30 04 2013

According to WordPress, today is my blog’s first anniversary!

I’m not sure how to mark this momentous occasion. On review, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up what I set out to do with this, which was to document my experiences riding as part of the university team in Japan while at the same time keeping my enthusiastic, obsessed witterings about my riding endeavours confined for the benefit of my friends who weren’t interested. I didn’t really think ahead to where I’d be at the same time this year, but here I am, still keeping up with it.

Because I miss him and still think of him often, here is a picture of Hokon, the belligerent stallion who, for some reason, stole my heart:

Sometimes, he was a real sweetheart.

Sometimes, he was a real sweetheart.


The Grumpiest Princess

29 04 2013

I had a really useful lesson today on Bramble, who I have decided is the Grumpiest Princess, just as Tara is the Prettiest Princess. Heh. She really tested me, right from the moment I tried to lead her away from her hay to her attempt to bite me (one of two, the first being while I was waiting for the mounting block) as I was dressing her in her rug. She didn’t get me with either, I stood my ground and verbally told her off, and she backed off each time.

We did walk and trot transitions with and without stirrups, the instructor’s rationale being that as beginners we were all far too content to just sit on a horse who was lolloping forwards at a pace they were happy with and not pushing them on to a pace we were happy with. Then we did a bit more canter work than we have done in previous sessions. She seems to be making us work hard on our trot now to really perfect it, but just giving us a chance to canter to the back of the ride so we can get used to it, offering us a bit of constructive criticism on our seat on each go. My problem seems to have been that I’ve been tensing up to try and maintain a position in canter, when the best thing I could have done would have been to relax. I have also been clinging onto the neck strap, almost as if for dear life. Heh. On my final attempt, though, I tried not to do both of these things, and had the nicest, longest and most controlled-feeling canter I can remember in a long while. Although Bramble’s canter is terribly shaky, her transition into it is very smooth. I like that.

I think the Pilates is helping. Rising in trot has become much easier and I feel better balanced in the saddle in general. On Wednesday I’m going to step this up to the Advancing workout, because for the last few days I’ve found myself doing the ten-minute basic workout twice a day just because I feel like it and not because I think I should.

I ordered The Hoody! It is bright orange and lovely and soft. I tried to take a picture, but it was too dark in my room.

Concise update

22 04 2013

It’s coming up to exam time now at school and I have other stresses in my personal life at present such as finding a place to live (I’ve found places that are perfect for my needs and within budget and then been let down by the landlords/letting agents after I’ve thought everything was sorted – but that’s not for moaning about on here), so for the next five weeks or so I’m going to keep on top of posts as I have been doing hitherto but keep them short and sweet, and probably without pictures. Sorry.

Anyway, this week was back to ‘normal’. I finally rode tall, elegant Symphony. She was lovely to ride in that her trot and her canter were lovely and smooth, but difficult to work with in so far as it was nigh on impossible to get her to do anything because she was so ‘lethargic’, as my riding instructor put it. Consequently, I felt my legs got a really good work-out from constantly pushing on.

It seems that from my fall last week I have lost a bit of confidence transitioning to canter, as both times I had a go I felt like I really needed to hold onto the neck strap. I’m back to the place I was in at the start of the year, where once I’m in canter I’m fine, but the strike into it makes me feel a bit nervous and unsteady at first. Unfortunately (considering this is the case), Symphony has a known habit of transitioning into the canter really smoothly and obligingly, but only cantering for a few strides before going back into trot because she’s – as I would prefer to put it – laid back. At least she was easy to keep on the track in all three gaits. My instructor picked up my loss of confidence, and said that as long as I have horses like Symphony for a few weeks I’ll be back to where I was in no time, which is encouraging.

I think on balance I would actually rather canter on Bramble, though. She’s resistant and her canter is really shaky, but I know where I am with her and while she might test me, she never flat-out ignores me!

After the lesson I led Symphony back to her stall and untacked her. She was totally obliging then, and demonstrated not only intelligence, but what appeared to have been consideration for the safety of the human. As I led her in she walked straight to her hay net and stood with her nose in it, hind-quarters to the door; when I went to close the door, I gently pushed her with my palm three times to ask her to step aside a bit so I wouldn’t end up between her hooves and the door, and she responded immediately; not by stepping aside into the direction I was pushing, but in the opposite direction so her backside was facing into the far corner and I had plenty of space to move around both her and the door!

No sign of Soapy anywhere tonight. I think she might be on holiday, which is a lovely thought.


15 04 2013

Today was my first day back at university after a four-week holiday and it turned out to be a pretty good day. To top it all off, I rode Soapy this evening!

I arrived early to see if they’d assigned her to me as per my request, and lo – they had! I had to contain myself from doing cartwheels down the stable, but I was completely unable to suppress a little, out-loud, ‘Yay!’ After paying up, I hurried over to her side to see her, where the nice lady who takes care of the horses on that side of the indoor school informed me that she was all ready for me but it was a bit too early to lead her out to the school. So I hung around like a groupie for a bit before disentangling her reins and leading her, reluctantly at first, away from her hay.

As we were walking to the outdoor school I was reminded of why I’d developed such a soft spot for her. As she walked – not really having to be led, just walking beside me – she was looking around at all the things that were going on, and I had to give her gentle tugs on the reins just to remind her we were going somewhere. She studied the open school gate for some time, but didn’t make any moves towards it. I sensed curiosity about what the outside world is like, but as I think they do run hacks into Middleton Park (there’s an entrance to it adjacent to the school gate) I could be wrong and it could just be that she likes the woods. Someone knows, but it’s not me.

As we arrived at the outdoor arena the previous lesson were just finishing up, so I called Soapy to a halt outside and held onto her as the previous group led their horses out. She stood still for a while, still looking all around her at what was going on, and then – just as she had done on a previous occasion – she tried to walk around in front of me and head back to the stables, with her ears pricked forwards, making a hopeful little chirruping sound as she did. Actually, she was making a bee-line for the other horses’ stables as though she wanted to go and say hello, but I suspect she probably really just wanted to steal their hay. Heh.

Eventually I led her in and waited for my cue to mount up. My instructor didn’t recognize me, because I had both a different colour hair than last time and I wasn’t wearing my glasses. She had been talking to a lady who is new prior to addressing me, and was very apologetic when I told her who I was. Heh. After I’d mounted Soapy and adjusted my stirrups, it was quite clear that she wanted to go as she kept fidgetting – initially stamping her back legs on the spot, and then trying to walk off she was having her girth put up!

Once we got going, though, she was fine. Better than fine, actually. For most of the lesson, she was very forward going – so much so that I had to pull her back continuously to keep her nose out of Maddie’s backside! She never stopped, she never slowed without being asked, and – thankfully – I had no reason to use the whip even once. There was some confusion while we were doing the usual walk and trot exercises (although with no work without stirrups this time) as initially Soapy was charging on ahead in spite of my best efforts to slow her, and so we switched her with Maddie, who then decided she wanted to charge on ahead of Soapy, and we switched again only to find the same was true as had been before. So instead I just rode her right into all of the corners to try and keep her a suitable distance behind. (Apparently Soapy is a bit like Bramble in that she doesn’t really like being too close to other horses.)

In fact, it was all fun and games until we came to the canter. I felt calm and confident, and like I might actually be quite a good rider. I felt all right about trying out the canter, too; I just thought, ‘Yeah, I can do this!’ This may have been over-confidence, however, as when it was my turn for the canter I just couldn’t – for no reason I can put my finger on as I wasn’t doing anything differently than I’d been doing for the whole of the rest of the lesson – keep Soapy on the track in trot. The consequence of this was that when I asked for the canter, she went bombing it down the centre line. Concerned at having limited control without the security of a wall on either side of me, I tried to apply my leg to ride her over to the right side of the arena, all the while pulsing on the reins for her to slow down (she basically felt like she’d got the ‘Yay, running!’ bug and wasn’t listening to me at all any more). As a result she turned suddenly, and, being unprepared for this, I slipped out of the saddle and over her right shoulder.

Soapy stopped pretty much as soon as she felt me come off. I landed on my feet with both arms around her neck. I had to laugh and give her a hug.

Of course, I got straight back on, mounting from the ground. I wasn’t hurt in any way, and my instructor was very good about it. She told me to take a deep breath, said that I would have another go tonight, but to relax and take it easy until it was my turn again. We had a fast but much better controlled canter to the back of the ride on the second go. One of the many things I like about Soapy is that she’s a pony who doesn’t have a bone-shaking gait, but by God, she can go!

After the lesson I led her back to her stall, untacked her and made several passers-by laugh with my doting on her. You’ll be pleased to know I have photos!

Easter Jousting at Royal Armouries Leeds

11 04 2013

I will update about the jousting the other weekend once I have photos to illustrate my own write-up with… in the meatime, here is someone else’s excellent post about it!

Judge-Tutor Semple

We’ve had Jousting in Leeds for quite some time now, the Royal Armouries opened in 1996. I started going on a regular basis to watch with my children in 1999. I made them look in the museum too, not sure they enjoyed that as much as I did. They did however love the jousting and the Falconry displays.

The joust in Leeds is very popular and I like to see the final, some years we would go to more than one joust of a Tournament. Now with the joust being less frequent it is essential to book ahead for the final, I was remiss and had to settle for booking for the last of the preliminary rounds.

Let me assure you the Royal Armouries put the welfare of the horses very high in its priorities and the horses appear to genuinely enjoy the sport.

All images in this article were…

View original post 1,510 more words

A Bit of a Soft Spot

10 04 2013

I called my riding school today to ask them if I could make, as I put it, a ‘one-off request’ to have Soapy for my lesson next week. The lady I spoke to insisted that it wouldn’t be possible for me to have her every week, but I reiterated that I was only asking this once because I have a bit of a soft spot for her and I haven’t ridden her in a while. That made her go, ‘Awww!’

The next thing she said amused me: ‘I’ll put her name next to yours and it should be okay, as long as she’s not lame or on holiday.’


That’s brilliant…

‘When you do get back in the saddle it will be twice as sweet!’

9 04 2013

Credit to the effervescent Mellchan for the post title. You were absolutely right! When I walked out of the riding school this evening, I felt like a smoker who’d been trying to give up, taking that first, long drag on their first cigarette in a while before the guilt and regret kicks in. Heh.

So, I returned for my scheduled weekly lesson. There were three of us this time, which I believe is what now constitutes a full house! I didn’t ride Soapy, but Bramble (I forgot to ask for her when I rescheduled), but that was okay by me; Bramble might be hard work, but I do like her. I like all of them, really, but having ridden her a number of times I feel like I know Bramble, at least a little.

This time, we had a different instructor as a one-off. I’ve actually had her before, but she didn’t recognize me – she gave me a private lesson on Soapy, that time I completely failed to get her to canter on the left rein. I don’t think she was any better or worse than our usual teacher, but the difference it made having someone ‘new’ with a different style of teaching who picked up on different faults in us as riders was both welcome and refreshing.

So, we did the usual walk and trot, transitions and 20 metre circles, all the while being reminded to check we were on the right diagonal. Bramble tested me by ignoring my leg, as usual, but unlike my usual instructor, today’s teacher put this down to her being ‘slow’ and ‘laid back’ as opposed to ‘grumpy’/’lazy’, which I thought was a nicer way of looking at it. I noticed as I was going around that she wouldn’t respond to kicks, but would to the whip; however, once she’d had the whip once, she’d respond to a nudge the next time around. We did a round of trotting and transitioning without stirrups, which was great, and I found straight away after we took the stirrups back that she was more responsive to my leg, which served as a helpful reminder that it’s me who needs to improve, not her – she knows what she’s doing.

Finally, we moved on to canter. When we halted to discuss this, I started getting butterflies in my tummy at the thought of doing it after four weeks and no practice; especially as one of the other ladies and the instructor had both said that Bramble, who I’d never cantered on before, was difficult to canter on because she’s reluctant to transition, and when she does her gait is really bumpy and she shakes you around all over the place (or words to that effect). Furthermore, unlike the other two, I wasn’t given a neck strap, because there weren’t enough to go around. It was actually fine, though. Thinking it might help, I backed up my ask for canter by shouting, ‘CANTER!’ really loud as I swept my foot back, and I could see – both times – from the way her ears flicked and she almost jumped a little bit that that jolted her into doing it right away. They were right about her shakiness, but I focussed on keeping my hands down and relaxed on her neck, and I felt okay. I even managed to take one hand off the reins and pat her on the neck to let her know that she was doing good on the second go!

Finally, we gave our horses a long rein and walked large to give them a cool down. Our stand-in instructor gave feedback to us individually, and asked us if we had any questions in turn. Her feedback to me was not to kick, but to squeeze on both reins to ask for trot, then nudge with the leg, and finally to use the whip if I was ignored; also, to relax my hands more. We dismounted on the centre line, and as I turned Bramble in the lady I often see in the stables was there, and she said that she looked ‘knackered.’ Heh. After dismounting and putting her stirrups up, I gave Bramble a nice neck rub, thanked her and told her what a good girl she’d been.

Leading her back to her stall was interesting; she was perfectly happy to go back, but she walked at a snail’s pace. I tried to tug gently on the reins to encourage her to go a bit faster, but she resisted, so I dropped my pace and walked beside her. She knew where she was going, anyway, and I wasn’t in any hurry. Once back, I untacked her faster than I think I’ve ever managed, and put her rug on, which wasn’t actually hers and thus needed some on-the-fly adjusting as I tried to put it on her. The last time I attempted to untack Bramble, she’d been in a less good mood and had threatened to bite and kick me a number of times, so I’d ended up leaving her rugs off and informing a member of staff of what I’d done so as not to cause her any further distress. This time, she was perfectly amenable, even pausing from her hay net so I could slip her bridle off (which most of the horses there fail to understand is a necessary part of the procedure – you’d think they’d want the bit out!), and even nuzzled me when I told her I was going to step under her head to fetch her rug. Heh.

Before leaving, I went and said hello to Soapy, as usual. She’d had her mane hogged, which was a shame, but she looked a bit like a baby foal for it. When I called her, she looked up from her hay, swung around, didn’t come all the way to the door but stuck her neck out just far enough to raise her nose to my face and exhale on me while sticking her top lip out, which I’ve decided is the horsey equivalent of a brofist. Then she turned straight back to her hay. Matti was in his stall next door as well, so I said hi to him while I was there; I don’t think he remembers me, because he just returned a puzzled look, and blinked. He’s still very beautiful, though.

As for the the Pilates, do I feel it’s helped? Well, I think it’s too soon to be able to tell, really; I have kept up the 10-minute basic workout every day (apart from Saturday this week, when I was away), and I have noticed that my posture seems to have improved in general, and that doing things with a straight back has become easier and feels more natural/comfortable. Specifically where riding is concerned, I’m conscious that sometimes when you come back to something after a break, you feel better able to do things without the same old mistakes, so I don’t want to conclude right away that too much of what I felt tonight was down to the Pilates and not that, but I noticed that rising in trot was much easier than I remembered, and I was not prompted once to roll my shoulders back nor to relax them. I also felt more secure in the seat during both the trotting without stirrups and in the canter, a rocky ride though that was. One thing I can point to and say for certain must have been the Pilates, however, is that when I put my jodhpurs on they were loose around the waist! And that can only be a good thing.

The one picture I took on my phone came out better than I at first thought (although it’s light in the evenings now it’s still a bit dark in the stables), although it’s a bit blurry. This is Bramble in her borrowed rug after I left her to it.


Incidentally, while I was typing this I found one of her mane hairs stuck to my fleece. N’awww.

I want one of these. I feel like I’ve earned it!