Everybody’s Got to Start Somewhere

29 07 2013

It was not as hot today as it has been lately, although the weather has been very schizophrenic over the last few days where I am – dry, sunny spells one minute, crushing humidity the next, then torrential rain without warning, back to dry sunshine again at the drop of a hat. Nevertheless, it was sunny but not too hot when I arrived at the riding school.

I had taken the liberty of booking a taxi rather than walking to the school tonight as I was short of time, and thus I was able to arrive already dressed in my riding gear. I paid, listened in on a conversation between one of the stable managers and my stand-in instructor about a new horse who is on a two-week trial at the yard called Blue (apparently he had been a bit nervous on a hack that morning, and they were discussing his suitability for advanced riders and debating whether he was a dapple grey or a blue roan. Heh) before going off to check who I was riding. On the timetable, my name appeared in type next to Maddy’s, but had been crossed out with another rider’s name handwritten beside it. My disappointment lasted seconds before I saw that I’d been assigned Duke instead.

To say that the first time I rode Duke my usual instructor had praised me for my ability to get on with him as he is apparently not the easiest horse to ride, I wondered today if horses can sense that a rider is happy to be with them, because in spite of the slight struggle, steep learning curve and final relaxation into one another we experienced on our first lesson together, today Duke was very responsive to me. He listened to my leg, he was very responsive to my voice, he heeded my half-halts and he responded to my seat. It wasn’t a fight to keep him on the track at any point, and the times he didn’t do as I asked it was because I’d let something slip and confused him and not because he was defying me; mainly, I was holding the reins too tight and so pulling him back, not looking where I was going or not pushing him on enough with my leg when things didn’t go as intended. Perhaps he was just having a good day, and the cooler climate worked in my favour. I’d still like to think he picked up on my enthusiasm to be with him.

For about the first 30 minutes of the lesson,  we trotted large around the school on the right rein. Trotted and trotted and trotted. At least, myself and the lady on Maddy did; the other two riders had more difficult horses who were showing personality in the early part of the lesson, so the instructor focused her attention on them, occasionally glancing over and shouting a tidbit of advice for one of us; in my case, mainly, ‘Tuck your toes in! Keep your heel under your hip! That’s better!’ We changed reins and kept going after they’d managed to gain the upper hand over their horses. I was breathless and very thirsty when we stopped, even though I’d been careful to breathe in time with the rhythm of the trot as we went around so as not to pass out. The sensation soon subsided, though.

At around the time we slowed to a walk and gave the horses a long rein for a bit of a breather, the heavens opened. We were in the outdoor arena, but since we were sheltered above and on three sides there was no danger of getting wet. The intensity of the rainfall varied, and our instructor had to pause whenever it became too loud for her to shout over. There was thunder and lightning, too. She told us not to worry about the horses because they weren’t bothered by it, but advised us to pat them and offer a bit of reassurance after one particularly loud rumble of thunder.

I had noticed earlier as we’d gone in to mount up that she had set up a course of trot poles down one long side of the arena. It transpired that she wanted to do some pole work with us – ‘And,’ she added, with a look of delight on her face, ‘if that goes well I might set up a tiny jump for you all at the end.’

Now, I have done pole work before, in my semi-private lessons in Nottingham with Damian. Thus I had an idea of what to expect. I was not remotely fazed by this; I was on a horse who was much less obstreperous than Barron! Nobody else in the group had done it before, though, and admittedly, having only done it the once and then not again for nearly a year, I wasn’t expecting to be amazing.

Just as well, really. On my first attempt we flew over the poles in perfect synch, although I lost control after we came off the course (probably because in my surprise I hesitated), and Duke slowed to a walk and cut a huge corner to the back of the ride. I fudged my second and third attempts, but after some reminders from our instructor about looking where I was going, pushing on with my leg and relaxing my hands, I made a much better attempt on my final go. Finally, we trotted over the poles as a ride a couple of times. It went much better then, but then Duke wasn’t leading, which of course takes some of the pressure off me to ride him on.

Then, true to her earlier threat, our instructor set up a tiny jump.

When I say it was a tiny jump, I really mean it; she set up a low cross over two of those blue boxy-things with a dip in them for you to rest a pole in (anyone, technical term please!) The newest member of the group – a lady with some experience who has re-started riding after a pause, as I understand it – nervously asked if we were going to approach it at a trot or a canter. With a deadly serious face, she replied, ‘I want you to canter.’ Then she paused, and laughed, adding, ‘The look of terror on your face. Of course I don’t want you to canter, you’re going to trot.’ That made me giggle.

And so, leading file and in succession, we all had a bash at jumping.

I had four goes in total. My first go wasn’t so bad. We went over without me really thinking about what I was doing and looking straight ahead, which was probably the best thing I could have done. However, once we’d gone over, Duke immediately slowed to a walk. It was my hands gripping the reins too tightly that did that, I think – the feedback I got was to keep the reins short, but to relax my fingers on them. On the second attempt (which I didn’t think I was going to get, because time was pressing on), I felt Duke’s hooves hit the poles as we went over the jump and we lost balance for a moment, but I managed to ride him on past it and my instructor called me back to ride him around and back onto the track and have another go. Which I did, and which went better, but still not as smoothly. As with the trot poles before, Duke was getting confused when we were past the jump. I was advised that it was because I was trying to concentrate on doing too many things leading up to the jump, and that I should just relax, let go and let Duke’s legs do the work. My final attempt just felt like rising in trot; I didn’t even notice the jump. Unfortunately however, as we trotted back to the back of the ride, Duke stumbled and we got confused again! Still, not bad for a first go, I don’t think. And I would emphasise that for extra drama/badassery, the thunderstorm was still going on over our heads as we did all of this!

That concluded our lesson. I was surprised by how unfazed I was at the prospect of attempting my first jump, even though I still have a bit of a hang-up about cantering (although I don’t know why!), especially with a new horse or through an open space. It could have gone better, but of course there’s always room for improvement, and if you could just be an expert at something without ever having to try, it would take the fun out of learning. I’m just really stoked – not only that I got to jump for the first time, but that it was on a horse I’m so enamoured of. I want to do more! 😀

As I stepped off the bus that brought me back to town, rain was still pouring down but the sunshine had put in an appearance once more, which led to my completing the last leg of my journey home under the arch of a beautiful, storybook rainbow. A fitting end to this particular story, I feel. Heh.

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5 responses

30 07 2013
The Dancing Rider

Lovely entry, and good for you! Sounded so fun!

30 07 2013
mellchan

Haha, great job! I am glad you had fun jumping, its always a little nerve wracking the first few times but it sounds like you had a blast!

30 07 2013
gsug

How exciting! The weather provided an almost Wagnerian backdrop too. Here’s to more and ever higher jumping, onwards & upwards x

30 07 2013
Sparrowgrass

Hurray! Well done 🙂

30 07 2013
theInelegantHorseRider

Sounds like great fun! That’s some extreme weather to be riding in! Well done with the jumping.

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