A Wonky Donkey

25 06 2013

Yesterday’s lesson was with lovely Maddy again. I went along with the thought in the back of my mind that if I got to lead whichever horse I had back to the stalls and untack them, I would ask nicely if I could give them a bit of a go-over with a dandy brush, since little Chilli was shedding like a, uh, sheddy thing when I took his saddle off him last week, but while I had no such luck (another lady came to collect her after my lesson) I did get to stand with her for some time outside the outdoor school before we went to mount up, and she was far more cuddly than I’ve previously known her to be. As soon as I took the reins, she gave my hands and my face a friendly snuffle, and stood calmly looking contented with a slightly droopy and wobbling bottom lip while I rubbed her neck and stroked her chin. Once I’d lead her into the school and halted her on the centre line, before I went to put her stirrups down in readiness to mount, she nuzzled her snout into the crook of my left arm; I thought she might be frisking me at first, but once there, she just held her head in place, resting her brow against me. Head huuug! I wrapped my free hand around her and stroked her cheek. She didn’t pull away until the mounting block came along. It was very sweet.

Once again, it was just me and the other, newer lady, who had Chilli this time.  As sad as I am to think that the other ladies might have given up, I’m certainly not complaining about getting a semi-private lesson for the cost of a group lesson, for as long as that lasts. The extra focus on each of us tuition-wise and having to work harder due to effectively having more time can only be a good thing. She’s also the friendliest out of all of them, which is nice.

The key point of the lesson was straightness. We explored the idea that in order to keep a horse on track, you need to be straight and balanced on top of the horse yourself, but also mindful of whether the horse is aligned straightly. In order to check this, we rode transitions down the centre line from A to C without stirrups, between two trot poles that had been laid parallel on the ground. First of all we rode halt transitions, halting between the poles, and then we moved on to trot transitions, transitioning from walk to trot between the poles. At the start of each exercise I struggled with both, but got better on each attempt.

Something I’ve noticed about Maddy specifically is that she’s quite willing to go forwards positively, but she is a bit cheeky in that in spite of this she will try to do so by taking the shortest route possible; she’s difficult to keep to the track when you’re going large around the school, she cuts corners at either end of the school, and if she thinks she can get away with it she’ll turn and cross right over the centre line to get to the other side before you even get near a corner. I thought this was something I was doing wrong to begin with, but I am now convinced it really is just her trying to see what she can get away with, because yesterday when she ignored my leg, the outside rein and my seat-bone asks for her to move over or stay on track, I tentatively tapped the edge of her saddle with my whip (tentatively, because I thought she’d misinterpret it as a cue to go faster, and her saddle rather than her because I dislike having to use the whip as it is, and Maddy has a tendency to jump in the air like a Looney Toon when she’s tapped on her side, which is unpleasant on a number of levels; I’ve learned that the sound of the impact of the whip on the leather is enough to get her attention back without actually hitting her with it, and prevents this) and she got the message. This suggests to me that she knows exactly what she’s doing, and is trying it on. My instructor also referred to her as ‘a bit of a wonky donkey,’ which I thought was adorable. Maddy seemed to have a bit of a thing about her yesterday, actually; whenever she was close to her, Maddy would start to veer towards her, and she concluded that she must have thought she had some kind of treat for her, saying, ‘I seem to be a bit of a Maddy-magnet tonight.’ Heh.

My leg position continues to be a bug bear. The problem seems to stem from the fact that I have quite a pronounced curve to the small of my back, which works against me when I’m trying to keep my seat beneath me in the saddle, which in turn causes my knees to naturally clamp against the saddle rolls even when I’m totally relaxed. This seems to be what is causing my feet to slip out of the stirrups quite often when I ride transitions. I’m being assured that it’s getting better, and I’m trying to be mindful of – as crass as it sounds – keeping my legs as open as possible all the time that I’m riding to aid it. The main advantage of this mindfulness so far that I’ve noticed has been that I’m not thinking so much about what I’m doing with my hands on the reins… and so I’ve been relying on them less! That’s something, at least. Nevertheless, what my instructor said that was positive and very flattering was that in spite of this, the way that I sit and move with the horse is very nice. So that’s good!

From that exercise, we had plenty of time to work in canter. I managed to get Maddy to strike off into canter on every attempt. We had several goes on the left rein, which is my stronger rein. (There has got to be a reason for this – some other activity I partake in regularly that gives me more strength and flexibility in one side than the other – but I’ll be damned if I know what it is!) I even managed to go large around the school, and sit the canter nicely! I had less success on the right rein, but still managed to get the transition and keep the canter most of the way down the first long side of the school. So that was good.

When the lesson was over, I was told that Maddy was being used in another lesson, and I stood with her while the other rider came to collect her. Maddy looked contented and a bit tired when I came in front of her to hold the reins while her next rider made her way over, but you could see her understanding when she realised she wasn’t yet done for the day. It was quite sweet, really; she didn’t look distressed and she didn’t try to simply walk out as I have known other ponies do before, but an unmistakeable look of disappointment passed over her face and she breathed a deep sigh. Bless her.

As I left the school, I saw the other member of the next group’s lesson dragging a very reluctant Bramble in by the bit. I called out, ‘Hello, Princess!’ to her, having not seen her in a while, and she acknowledged me with her eyes but was too busy resisting being led out to do any more. To my right, I could see a tall piebald cob whose name I don’t know sticking his [since I don’t know the horse’s sex, and horses don’t do gender politics] head out of his stall looking at me. I wandered over to say hello, and he gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek, gently pinching my skin with his soft lips. I don’t know enough about horse body language to know whether that was friendliness or not, but I certainly enjoyed it, and my face still feels funny in the spot where he did it every time I think about it, a bit like when you get kissed by a boy you like as a teenager. I’m such a sap.

Finally, I went to say hi to Soapy, who had given me a good eyeballing on her way out of the lesson before mine. A more advanced rider was untacking her, and while she had her head out of her stall, it was obviously because she could see her feed bucket just out of reach and not to greet me or anyone else. Once her rider had managed to get herself out of the stall, Soapy started rudely frisking her as she fumbled for a packet of Polos. She must be in the habit of receiving treats from lots of different people, then, and yet she still doesn’t behave towards me like that ordinarily, which I like the thought of. I also discovered that Chilli, in spite of his youthful looks, is actually quite an old pony and is new to riding school life! That at least explains why he’s so willing and responsive. I wonder what his background is, then?…




5 responses

26 06 2013
The Dancing Rider

I have a similar technique with Starzz, such that even when trainer says “pop him”, I really just tap on the saddle, and he listens up quickly. Your class sounded good. Very sweet regarding Chilli….

26 06 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

It bothers me a lot when instructors say stuff like that. At the very least, my current teacher acknowledges that it’s not a nice thing to have to do; she advocates using the whip as soon on in the lesson as possible, on the grounds that if the horse knows from the start that you’re not going to just sit on top of them and let them do whatever they want to, they’ll be more obliging to normal asks, and it means you don’t have to keep doing it. I haven’t had many instructors like that, though, sadly.

I sincerely hope that I never get so blase about horses that I don’t hesitate before telling someone to do that in such brusque terms!

26 06 2013
The Dancing Rider

I hear you. My trainer does not mince words, nor does she allow the horse to get away with anything. She advocates correcting within the first three seconds of the horse not responding (assuming the cue is given correctly). Often, this is all (as you mention) that is needed, and things go fairly smoothly once they “know”.

21 07 2013

Your blog reminds me of all those years ago, learning to be a rider. I analyzed every word spoken by my trainer, researched all terms taught, read every book, and stayed after my lesson to glean more of an education by watching other lessons in progress. Your thirst for horses, is awesome, may you never lose your love. I really enjoy your blog and you write so well, that I feel what you do. Great job!
http://www.anythingforhorseandrider.com- put up your unused tack, riding clothes, encourage others- ALL proceeds help special needs children at Raise Your Dreams Farm.

23 07 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Wow, thank you for such an inspiring comment!

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