Two for the Price of One

19 08 2013

Please excuse my not having updated for a week. I’ve had other things on, and it fell by the wayside a little. However as I have had two contrasting weeks’ riding lessons on the same lazy, stubborn, awkward horse I think writing up both lessons in one entry will work well.

So last week I arrived at the stables to find that I had been assigned Dan and one of the other ladies had been given Duke. I was disappointed, but Dan is an absolute sweetheart (on the ground, anyway!) and I hadn’t seen him in a while, so I decided I would make the most of the chance to catch up with him. For those that don’t know/can’t remember, Dan was introduced to me the very first time I rode at my current riding school; I didn’t ride him, but was privileged to get to stand and fuss him while the groom who looks after his yard groomed him. She told me he was her favourite because he was very friendly, loved kisses and cuddles, and never bites or kicks. He certainly seemed very pleased to see me at the time, nuzzled my hand lovingly as soon as I offered it to him, and has subsequently always been politely affectionate towards me when I’ve gone to his stall to say hello to him.

He is an absolute NIGHTMARE to ride, however.

Nevertheless, I take the view with horses like him that, as a previous instructor once said, they are excellent teachers because they force you to ride properly, and to be firm and persistent. Complacent from my successes over the previous few weeks with Duke, I thought to myself that it would be fine because I’d improved so much as a rider since the last time I’d ridden him. I had a rough idea of the kinds of awkward he would be from memory, distant though it now seems.

I must not be complacent. Complacency is the ability-killer.

Trouble. Trouble all lesson. Trouble getting him to even walk on at the very beginning, trouble getting him to go forwards in the walk, trouble making upward transitions – even just trouble keeping him on the track, but not because he was a bit of a leaner like Duke, or trying to cut corners like Maddy; he just decided at random intervals to defy me completely, ignore the reins and my leg aids and just turn sharply into the middle of the school, and then resist as I fought to pull him back. He was so bad my instructor actually told me to do something she said she would never normally advocate anyone doing, and that was to hold my whip upright in my hand. This is basically a scare tactic: When you hold your whip like that, it means the horse can constantly see it out of the corner of their eye. That helped for one lap of the school in trot, but he was so badly behaved and I coped with it so poorly that she called me in to dismount and took over for a while. It was a pity, because during the lesson she had given us a really good explanation of impulsion, where it comes from, how to build it and what ‘riding on the forehand’ means, and then said that we could work in open order – including in canter. Not that I managed to get Dan to strike off into canter until the very end, and then only for a couple of strides.

At the end of my lesson, I felt a little dispirited. My instructor then told me that she thought I had been having it too easy for the past few weeks with horses like Duke, who need to be slowed rather than pushed on, and that she would try and get me the more difficult horses for a few weeks to enable me to work a bit harder. I took this in the spirit in which it was intended.

Tonight was far more successful. I arrived early and went to fetch Dan, who was untacked and obviously not bearing any grudges against me for my heavy-handedness with him the previous week, as when I called out to him he looked up from his hay, bright-eyed with his ears pricked forward, came over, raised his snout to my nose and gave me a sloppy wet kiss before turning to his water. I’m so glad he did that after he decided to kiss me. Although he didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm as I led him out to the outdoor school, I wasn’t dragging him along either, and I had a sense that he might be a bit more obliging this week, and all the positivity that went along with the hope I might be right.

In fact, Dan was no less difficult this week, but I came with my game face on, and I ‘came down on him like a tonne of bricks’ (to quote my instructor’s description of her tac with him from the previous week) the moment we started moving. (As she brought me the mounting block, my instructor actually jokingly said to me, ‘Are you ready to do battle?’) Now, of course I’d prefer that all horses responded to my leg without having to be kicked and whipped, but it certainly helps with the difficult ones if you adhere to a very strict pattern of leg, kick, whip when they ignore you at the very start of a lesson; Dan listened, and as the lesson wore on he became more obliging and more responsive. By the end of the lesson he was responding to all of my asks without having to be asked twice, and when we were practising the canter it was me who was holding him back and not the other way around, because something Dan is known for is looking everywhere apart from where he’s going, meaning he needs a firm contact on the outside rein at all times. My contact was… a bit too firm, and it was literally holding him back. As soon as I relaxed my hands he softened and struck into canter. And his canter is lovely, when you finally get it!

When we halted across the centre line to dismount, I couldn’t help myself but to lean right forwards and give him a big cuddle around the neck before dismounting for being so well behaved once I’d established that I wasn’t going to stand for any nonsense. As soon as my feet reached the ground, he turned his head and was nuzzling me and giving me head-hugs, and walked companionably by my side as I led him back to his stall. A pity his friend the groom came immediately shouting for me not to untack him and led him straight back out to another lesson, unexpectedly.

Another observation I made is that we’re being made to work in trot for longer at a time, and this wears you out like nobody’s business. I will admit that I haven’t done any running at all since I moved house at the beginning of last month, and being thirsty and breathless after a long trot with plenty of leg to keep Dan moving forwards reminded me that running and horse riding do complement each other, because the physical stamina you develop from one helps the other. My running shoes will be coming out again. Also, I feel like the Pilates is helping. That fell by the wayside for a few weeks after I moved house, too, but I’ve picked it back up again in the last two weeks, and in this lesson just gone I could feel myself applying muscles I work on in my Pilates lesson to ride Dan – mainly around my seat, to deepen it in sitting trot and canter, and to encourage bend without compromising balance, both in the corners and in circles. Every little helps!

Finally… the jodhpurs I bought to start riding at Gakushuin have finally given up the ghost, and I have ordered a new pair. What went on them? Well, the crotch split open, didn’t it? Needless to say, my new ones have a reinforced seat! RIP reasonably-priced black Rhinegold jodhpurs, you served me well.

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2 responses

20 08 2013
theInelegantHorseRider

Well done on the improvement from one week to the next with that horse. I agree about the running and Pilates helping with the riding, I have noticed a real difference after taking up Pilates properly in the strength of my back in particular. Enjoy the more difficult horses 😉

22 08 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Aye. As much as I would prefer not to have to use one at all, I have invested in a new (long) whip! And thank you 😀

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