‘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!…




2 responses

21 05 2013

Great post. I also need “more” – usually more leg, but sometimes just more.

21 05 2013

For me I call my need “mindless riding”, in terms of just doing it and, yes, letting the seat work. HAH! If only. But I definitely need more, too.

Really liked this entry. It’s great to have some others who have similar issues.

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