‘Let Your Seat Take Over! It Wants To!’

20 05 2013

HURRR. I love how easily horse riding can lead to juvenility.

Today was probably my last riding lesson for a couple of months, and it was far better than last week, so a good note to break up for a hiatus on. I had Maddy this time, who is generally a lot more responsive and forward-going than the other horses I’m familiar with (and is actually tall and horse-proportioned rather than technically being a pony like the others), although not so much so that she isn’t still challenging for a novice like me. I found her in her stall happily munching away on her hay net; like most horses, she was completely disinterested after clocking me to see who I was. It was overcast but muggy and hot, as though a storm was brewing (not that it’s broken yet), and I don’t think she was really interested in doing anything other than standing still and eating.

Still, she was nice and forward-going as I lead her out to the school. So forward going, in fact, that I had to keep stalling her to prevent her from walking up into Dan’s backside as he was being led out ahead of us, and I even made a remark to her about how I was liking the forward-goingness, and hoped she could keep it up in the school (HURRR). She stopped a couple of times inexplicably, but in each instance she raised and turned her head so her nose was level with mine. I blew into her nostril each time, and she turned her head around and resumed walking each time. Funny creature.

She was generally okay in the school during our lesson. I was amused at first when she seemed impatient and eager to keep going, putting her ears back, sighing and shifting her weight around while I was adjusting my stirrups (and taking a deep breath and then sighing emphatically while I was having my girth put up), but once we went out onto the right rein she was almost impossible to keep to the track. For most of the lesson, I thought this was something I was doing wrong, so I mentally checked myself constantly; squeeze the left rein, right leg on, relax your right hand, try stretching your leg back and down a bit, no, no, no – stop tensing your thighs – just use your lower leg… but in the end, I didn’t think I was doing anything differently than usual; she was just being difficult. I pushed on with my leg, and when she failed to respond gave her a flick with my whip; she misinterpreted this as a cue to start a trot, off the track. Which ended up being okay, because I was going to start by trotting first, leading file and in succession; but it wasn’t very well controlled in terms of steering and keeping to the track.

After everyone had done one lap of the school we changed reins. She was fine on the left rein; still a little stubborn and just recalcitrant enough to keep me on the ball, but not difficult to work with. What was I doing wrong on the right rein? I wondered. Has my left side gotten stronger than my right side? I remembered one of my private lessons with Soapy (who was right behind me throughout this lesson, incidentally), when the instructor had asked me if I played football, because to her I appeared stronger on the left rein, and it seemed an odd reversal. Anyway, I just went with it.

We turned onto the centre line, crossed our stirrups over the horses’ necks and practised bending through 20 metre circles on the left rein. Again, Maddy was hard to steer where she hadn’t been on the right rein. In hindsight, however, I am certain this was a technical issue on my part rather than down to any reluctance on hers, as it improved on each go around.

We took our stirrups back. I didn’t put mine down a hole like the others, heeding the advice of everyone on here (thanks – you were right!), but found my trot much better as we went around the school as a ride – you guessed it – on the right rein. Then, with plenty of time left to practice it, we moved onto canter.

I was feeling quite confident about this this week, for having a horse with good suspension who seemed a bit more forward-going than the likes of Bramble (and, it has to be said, Dan, who is hilarious when he’s being put to work hard because he makes all kinds of load, disgruntled sounds while begrudgingly doing as he’s told). But as I kicked her on for a more positive walk, and then for a trot, the problem with her veering off the track resumed and I asked her to halt before pushing her on for an active walk across the school (off the track) to the other side. I apologised to my instructor and explained that I was doing all the same things as normal and I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t stay on the track there. She told me not to worry, and said that the ponies had been doing the same in the previous lesson. Then, suddenly, it all made sense; it wasn’t me, and Maddy wasn’t being willfully disobedient – the place where she always started veering off the track was the point at which a horse box parked in the car park became visible on the way around the track. She must have been scared of getting too close to it, in case she was going in it! Poor silly mare.

Anyway, I got four attempts at canter, two on each rein, and they were all really nice, but far from perfect – I didn’t manage to keep the canter going all the way to the back of the ride on any of my goes, and I lost a stirrup on one go, but I managed not to let it faze me and just go with it. I kept my hands down and relaxed, only falling back on the neck strap when I felt that I’d lost my stirrup, and on the second two attempts felt so relaxed and secure in my seat that once the canter was going I felt comfortable having a go at applying my leg to see how it felt and if I could make it work. Maddy mistook this for an ask for a transition back to trot, possibly because I squeezed too firmly with my  outside hand, but it felt like tangible progress! My instructor’s criticisms of me were that I need to let my seat take over (as in the post title!), because it wants to, and that’s what should happen; she said that in my case it’s always hesitation that lets me down, and that I’m doing all the right things, I just need to do them… (she paused)… more.

I think that what I need to do is to stop thinking about what I have to do and just relax and do it.

When I led Maddy back to her stall to untack her, she couldn’t get back fast enough. She had me momentarily worried: I led her in and walked her around in a wide circle to finish up with her face in front of her hay net, then thanked her and gave her neck a bit of a rub as I usually do with the other horses. I then went to put the reins back over her head so I could remove her bridle, but they were all tangled up with the neck strap, which I’d removed accidentally before pulling the reins over her head to lead her out. With my whip still in my left hand, I started trying to disentangle the loose reins from the neck strap, when she suddenly lifted her head, turned it and looked me right in the eye. It didn’t look like an aggressive or distressed look, so I probably uttered some sweet-nothinglike assurance to her, as I am wont to do in equine company, and carried on what I was doing, but then she turned her front towards the door we’d just come in through and lurched forwards as though she was just going to walk right though me. Worried about the door still being unbolted first and foremost, I took a couple of steps backwards and reached out with my left hand, dropping the neck strap and my whip over the top of the door and reaching over it to latch it shut. As I did this, I had to switch my gaze from Maddy momentarily, and in the split second before I looked up again, the dawning realisation that I had just trapped myself in an enclosed space with an animal that was bigger and stronger than me and didn’t look entirely happy about sharing her space with me hit me – immediately followed by the realisation that horses are deeply empathic, and that if I didn’t want her to do anything dangerously unpredictable I’d have to keep calm and not panic…

… when I looked up to see that she was standing with her legs pushed out as if into the four corners of a rectangle around herself, poised to take a pee. I felt rather silly for getting so worried – of course she’d do this, who wants to pee in the spot they stand in while they eat? Heh.

Following that, untacking her was easy. The lady who rode Dan this week very kindly came in with the neck strap and my whip from outside. Then I went to say hi to Soapy, who didn’t look unhappy to see me but wasn’t interested in coming over to claim her pony-brofist. I think all the horses had had enough by this point, though. Compared to Maddy, who is much larger, she looked really little, especially without any tack or a rug on.

Although that was a nice note to finish on, it was also a bit gutting. I don’t want to be taking a two-month break from riding, but unfortunately I’m moving house soon and have all the associated costs to factor in with that as well, and I’m not sure I can justify the expense – it’s not a cheap hobby, after all, much as the lessons are reasonably priced at that school. I’ll have to see. I’ve scrimped and saved to keep up my habit in the past, maybe it’s time I try and do so again!

If I do do any riding in that time, you can bet you’ll be able to read all about it here!…

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Liebster Award

18 05 2013

I was nominated for the Liebster Award by The Casual Rider!

Liebster Award

HOW TO ACCEPT THE AWARD:

Re-posted from the above:  “Now to the specifics of the Liebster Blog Award.  This is directly from Habits to Healthy .  From what I’ve learned about The Liebster Award, it’s a way to recognize blogs who have less than 200 followers.  Liebster is a German word that means beloved and valued.

“Here are the rules for accepting the award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog.
  2. List 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  4. Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.
  5. Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or less followers to nominate and include links to their blogs.
  6. Go to each bloggers page and let them know you have nominated them.”

MY NOMINEES:

This list will fall short of 11, as I don’t think I actually follow that many blogs with fewer than 200 followers!

My 11 questions:

1.  Do you speak a foreign language?

Yes: Japanese. To be honest I’m really not very at it compared to my peers, but I have a fair grasp of polite and honorific speech patterns and basic grammar, and can make myself understood without offending anyone if I need to. The feedback from my Japanese friends about my speech is that I sound funny, because my pronunciation is extremely good but I make a lot of mistakes. Heh.

2.  Have you adopted any stray or rescue animals?

Not at the present time, but the first pet I ever had was a rescue hamster and I have fostered cats before. The last rescue animal I had was an odd one: A weather loach!

I have been an active supporter of Redwings Horse and Donkey Sanctuary since a friend who worked for them as a volunteer welfare officer sadly passed away, and I think that should I find myself in a position to care for a horse of my own in the future I would probably seek to adopt one of their rescue animals before considering buying one.

3.  Any arts/crafts you do?

I am known to draw and make things sporadically. I tend to go for long stretches of time doing absolutely nothing, and then get an idea in my head of something I want to make or sketch, which I’ll then sit and work tirelessly on until it’s finished to my satisfaction. My last such project was to make a tiny rug for my cuddly horse, Arthur, who now has a Facebook page! It took me three days of hand-sewing over Christmas. Now he wears it every time he goes outside. Heh.

Arthur showing off his finished rug

4.  Favorite junk food?

Ooh, that’s a difficult one – I like all junk food! Heh. Does bacon count? Bacon sandwiches. No butter, no spread, just a thin layer of ketchup and several rashers of bacon between two slices of white bread. I try to be vegetarian most of the time – not because I think there’s anything ethically wrong with eating meat, but because I dislike the practices involved in its production – however I  do like meat, so I frequently fall off the waggon. Bacon is my kryptonite; mmmm, bacon.

5.  Introvert or extrovert?

That really depends. I can be extremely extroverted around people I know well, but am usually introverted around people I don’t. I find it really hard to make friends in a new place, which people who’ve known me for years still find really surprising.

6.  Last movie seen, or watched at home?

The Cabin in the Woods, which I saw at a friend’s house. I didn’t really enjoy it, in spite of generally quite liking horror as a film genre and appreciating the nods to H.P. Lovecraft and The SCP Foundation. I think the American teen movie thing just grates on me. Or just mainstream-teen depictions generally.

7.  Book you are currently reading?

I’m not reading any books at the moment. It’s technically still the exam period at university and if studying full-time does anything to you, it’s diminish your desire to read books for pleasure. Which is really sad, since it tends to be bookish people who choose to pursue long courses of study!

8.  Why do you blog?

I’ve been blogging for over ten years now. I never kept a diary before, but I find writing about stuff cathartic, and I take a small amount of comfort from knowing that someone else might read it. My previous efforts were entirely personal, but I started this blog as a place into which to channel my enthusiasm for horses and riding so I didn’t bore my friends who weren’t really interested with it. Heh.

9.  How many countries have you lived in?

Two: Japan and the United Kingdom. I’d love to go back to Japan for another extended stay, but I couldn’t live there forever. The payoff for having a lovely, clean, pretty living environment in which you never have to walk too far for everything you could possibly wish for is a society with strict rules to be adhered to, and everyone who lives there is always tired.

10. What do you like most about blogging?

I’m not sure. Either connecting with like-minded people in a manner that the culture of social networking is slowly pushing us away from (see Facebook and its insistence that we all use our real names and only connect with people we actually know in person), or being able to see a finished product that came out of my brain through my fingertips.

11. Do you read blogs on subjects different than your primary blog subject?

Yes… I follow one about goats, too! Heh.

If – and only if – you should want to answer eleven questions set by me in a post of your own, here are some:

  1. Assuming anyone who reads this has an opinion on the matter (it’s a safe bet, I think!), what is your favourite thing about horses?
  2. How old were you when you had your first riding experience and what do you remember most clearly about it?
  3. Do you feel that your riding endeavours are building up to a pursuit of any particular discipline, and if so what?
  4. Do you currently have any pets at home? Please give details.
  5. Do you practice any other ‘sporting’ activities in your leisure time? Again, spill the beans, s’il vous plaît.
  6. What kind of music do you like to listen to?
  7. If you could visit any country in the world, where would it be and why?
  8. Describe your relationship with footwear.
  9. Do you have an opinion on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and, if so, which of the six core ponies is your favourite?
  10. Tacos or burritos?
  11. If we were marooned together on a desert island with only coconuts, lizards, doc leaves, sand and bits of driftwood for entertainment, how would you use these things to create an entertainment spectacle that would delight me and keep me distracted until the rescue boat arrived?




I Need New Legs

15 05 2013

I had a bit of a disheartening lesson on Monday, not helped by the fact that I was feeling tired and a little bit under the weather, it was a hot day and the horses were all palpably unmotivated and lethargic, and I sensed that our teacher wasn’t having the best of days either – although she managed it well, if indeed my assessment is correct.

The young blonde lady who had instructed me during my private lesson the previous week had been very critical of my leg position, saying that my lower leg was too far forward and I need to work on bringing it back. I’m conscious that I need to keep my thighs soft when I’m in the saddle and on the move, because tension in my lower body can be felt by the horse and is confusing for her (I’m speaking in general terms, but since I mostly seem to ride mares these days I’m going to make that my generic horse pronoun). But correcting something like your leg position when you’ve gotten comfortable doing it a bit wrong over the course of several months – without incorporating musculature in a directly connected body part – is really hard.

Anyway. I rode Bramble again. I’ve gotten to the point with Bramble now where I actively look forward to seeing her (when I booked my private lesson, they asked me who I usually rode, and after being told Soapy was on holiday, I asked for Bramble without thinking about it), and when I’m on the ground at least she has begun to show recognition towards me. Since I shouted at her for trying to bite me she hasn’t been grumpy with me, either, which I take to be positive. Soapy was in our lesson this week, too. Both of them were already in the arena having been used in the previous lesson. The lady who recently joined the group rode Soapy, and there was a moment while I was sitting on Bramble where she looked over at us quizzically as if to say, ‘Aren’t you riding me today?’ It was lovely to see her looking so cheerful, though – she must have appreciated her rest!

So, yeah – the lesson was all about improving leg position. Given its relevance to what I’d been taught in my private lesson the week before I wondered if there’d been collusion between instructors, but this seems unlikely. I’m getting better with my hands now – I think I’ve figured out the difference between having a good contact on the reins and squeezing or pulling unnecessarily, and for all my frustrations in trying to maintain the correct leg position without coming off my seat bones, I did enjoy the work we did in trot and without stirrups. We got onto canter well in time for all three of us to have a good, long practice each, but Bramble had had enough by this point and didn’t want to walk positively, let alone build up enough impulsion for a smooth transition to canter. Consequently, when she ignored my asks – even though, I am sure, I was doing them correctly first time on each attempt – in my frustration, I pushed on harder with my inside leg and kicked back with the outside instead of just sweeping – and got told that what I was doing was wrong, frustrating me even further.

When I finally did get a canter going, it was noticeably half-hearted and I could feel Bramble trying to slip back into trot. My instructor was yelling at me to push her on and keep it going. Now, I’ve not actually had all that much practice applying my leg while at the same time trying to sit the canter; it’s good that we’re being encouraged to improve and progress, but I’m reminded of how long it took me to be able to push on in trot. I can do it without too  much trouble now, but this is a recent enough development that having exasperated instructors shouting, ‘Leg! Leg! LEG!‘ at me while I thought to myself, ‘Yes, I heard you, but how?’ is still pretty fresh in my mind; I think I am undergoing the same process with the canter. I tried to explain this to my instructor at the time, interrupting her to tell her I knew what I was supposed to be doing but was finding it difficult, and she just looked… taken aback, is the best way I can describe it, and continued what she was going to say anyway.

The sad thing is that I’d been feeling a lot of pressure and a bit sad before going riding and was looking forward to my weekly dose of horse to cheer me up. As lovely as it was to see the horses, I didn’t leave the place feeling especially uplifted. I’ve had to take stock and remind myself that I’ve made loads of progress in my riding since I restarted last April, and that horse riding is hard, I still have a long way to go with it and you can’t have good days all the time.

Nevertheless, I am still very much looking forward to my next go, and since we have another bank holiday coming up I’ll probably still be booking in for another private lesson.

On a brighter note, I realised I never mentioned this, so I’m going to correct that right now: For my birthday this year (which has been put back two months to facilitate it), I am going here for a whole day of training. Now that is going to be amazing…





The Healing Power of Horses

9 05 2013

This is not a post about hollistic therapy – I’m far too cynical for that. I’m very definitely a modern thinker and not a post-modern thinker in that I like the things I give credence to to have their roots in HARD SCIENCE and/or REASON. It might seem contrary to this at times (for example, I meditate daily – usually after Pilates!), but this is nearly always because the thing in question was sold to me on the basis of having scientific merit (in the case of meditation, to use the breath to calm the heart rate and nervous system, and to ease muscle tension, thereby relieving stress and anxiety – which can be measured).

What I do find, however, is that spending any amount of time around horses makes me genuinely happy, in a lasting way. I don’t have a scientific explanation for that, beyond that I like horses. (No, really? I hear you say.) I have jokingly suggested in the past that maybe horse riding stimulates an oxytocin response in women, which would explain why so many girls I’ve known over the years have fallen in love with either the first horse they rode or the one they rode most frequently, but it was in jest, and besides it doesn’t explain why men are usually just as bad.

Today was no exception. With Monday being a bank holiday in the UK, the school wasn’t open, so not wanting to have another huge long break between lessons again I booked myself a half-hour private lesson for this morning. I forgot that I had an oral exam today, with a hefty weighting, but after a bit of umming and erring about whether to cancel the lesson for last minute cramming I decided that since it was fairly early in the morning the horse therapy would probably set me up well for the day.

I was right. I arrived to find Bramble all tacked up and ready for our lesson. It was interesting to see her at the start of the day as opposed to the end of it; she seemed much less lethargic, and I found her nibbling at her (empty) hay net. Standing at the door, I called out to her, and she looked nervously at me, so I lowered my head and she came over and gingerly snuffled my raised fist, from a distance with her neck stretched out. Then she seemed to relax a bit. While I’ve always read her as having a somewhat fed-up demeanor during our past encounters, she just seemed shy today. I didn’t fuss her or anything; I just waited by the door. She stood facing me but at arm’s length until today’s instructor – a young blonde lady I’d never met before – came to bring her out for me.

We covered a lot of ground for a 30-minute lesson, but I guess that must just be because I had all the attention on me. We did trot to halt and halt to trot transitions, and I practised standing in the stirrups in trot. I’m sure I used to be able to do this better than I apparently can now; perhaps this is the downside to having started myself again in the beginner’s group. Never mind – I mastered it by the time we moved onto canter.

I got to spend around ten minutes or maybe more practising canter, and it was *awesome*. We started with trot to canter, which is what I’ve been doing in the group lessons, and that was fine, but then moved onto walk to canter transitions, which was what I was taught last year at Gakushuin and, again, seem to have completely forgotten how to do. I’d got the hang of it by the end of the lesson, on a somewhat reluctant Bramble, who’d figured out it was the end of the lesson by this point and, in spite of being quite forward going (for Bramble) in the middle of the lesson was harder to push on. Still, I thought she deserved a fuss at the end. Not that it made her move any faster back in the direction of her stall; honestly, you’d think that given her unwillingness to do any work unless she absolutely must, she’d be glad to be getting things over with, but no; quite happy just to stand still in the middle of the arena. Weirdo.

Anyway, I got some pictures of her being adorably coy, for your viewing pleasure:

I walked out of the riding school feeling contented and pleased with myself. It did set me up well for my test, which went okay,  but I wasn’t really hoping for any better than that to be honest.

As for my bro (does that work for mares?…) Soapy, she is on holiday! And not only that, but it means she’s not even on site at the moment. I remember mentioning to Damian (remember him?) once that the horses at this school get holidays, and he remarked that this brought to mind a mental picture of Soapy in a straw hat with holes cut out for the ears with a bucket and spade. I’d sincerely like to hope that’s the reality of the situation!