It Takes a Nation of Millions…

28 08 2013

Denizens of the United Kingdom reading this will be aware that we have just had a bank holiday. Because of this, my regular riding slot was cancelled and I made no other plans to have a catch-up lesson on a different day to compensate. However, my weekend plans wound up including riding at a different riding school and in another city. It seems that not even I can stop me.

This was because, in advance of our upcoming trip to Historic Equitation, my good friend Damian had wanted to get in as many riding lessons of his own in order to improve his confidence and capabilities somewhat in the saddle. A mutual friend had suggested a school she’d heard good things about while he was looking for a school with horses suitably built to carry his statuesque frame, and this was one of only two his research had led him to that did. So we went there for a 30 minute semi-private taster lesson. Mainly because they are a busy yard and couldn’t fit us in for any longer.

The day we attended ended up being fairly hectic as it began with a bus journey from the centre of Nottingham into Derbyshire to try on a jockey skull he had ordered from a tack shop set on a country lane, basically in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully it fit, so that was purchased, and then we waited in the store for an hour until the next bus came by, while the shopkeeper was very apologetic about not being able to offer us a cup of tea while we waited as it was raining. From there we went back to his to collect boots and whathaveyou, and alighted another two buses out of the city to the riding school.

On arrival, Damian immediately said that it felt like a far more professional establishment than he’d been to before. For a start, it had a bar, with a real old country pub feel to it, although it had no alcohol was being served there. The walls were decorated with framed pictures of horses and riders racing, doing dressage tests, showjumping and – most excitingly of all – jousting. It turns out a local group of jousters are based there, and they teach it. *gets ideas*

We paid and got hatted- and booted-up, only for Damian to be told that he wouldn’t be allowed to ride in the boots he’d brought with him and, after some deliberation, would be better off in the ones he’d arrived in. Once that was all sorted we moved on out to say hello to the horses. (At least that’s what I told the staff in the bar. To Damian I said, ‘Let’s go and bother the horses!’)

The first horse we encountered was, as it turned out, a full Arab, and although he regarded us with typical equine curiosity as we went over to say hi, he didn’t seem terribly impressed with us. We were impressed with the demeanor of all the horses, though; they were all friendly and curious, to varying degrees, but not a single one of them was rude or frisked us for treats. After giving one or two of them a neck rub, carefully establishing first whether each of the horses we interacted with minded us touching their necks, some of them got nibbly, but in that nice, soft way, not in the bullying or demanding way. They also had notably soft, silky manes and fur!

Anyway: The riding. I was assigned a small Dunn horse/pony called Dolly who can’t have been any taller than 14.2hh, and Damian had a larger bay horse called Mitten. (It later transpired that he had Mitten because another horse called Pocket was lame. Because I am juvenile and my mind resides in the gutter, I had to politely suppress my laughter when that came to light.) Mitten was the first mare Damian has ever ridden.

Myself and Dolly outside the school.

Dolly was very pretty, and she was as good as gold as I led her out to the indoor school. When I started adjusting stirrups and girths, she got grumpy and bitey,  but our instructor said that this was normal for her – but that she was ‘a dream to ride.’ I will freely admit that given her stature I expected her to be a lumpy jackhammer. I was wrong; she felt wonderfully smooth to ride, so much so that her smoothness combined with the shortness of her stride really threw me to begin with, and I didn’t really get into her rhythm until two thirds of the way into the lesson.

I didn’t really learn anything, as we just trotted on both reins, in succession and as a ride. The instructor told me that Dolly didn’t respond well to a firm contact on the bit, which was good for me as softening my hands is something I need to work on, but to ‘dominate her with [my] legs’ (also good practice). I didn’t take a whip, but I found that as long as I was firm when repeating my leg aids she would respond. I kept having trouble keeping my foot in the right stirrup and had to have it twisted to maintain my balance, which took up some time. She gave me some correction on the positioning of my leg and my rise in trot, which was very helpful; I think that possibly, having the same teacher all the time, certain faults in a person’s way of doing something are overlooked in the name of progressing on to the next thing, so it’s good to get criticism from a fresh set of eyes every now and again.

She was also the first riding instructor I have ever heard be honest and admit that a horse was simply refusing to listen, rather than claim that the rider was in any way at fault.

Waiting while Dolly had her hooves cleaned.

As we led the horses out, Mitten was taken by another rider for their lesson, and I halted with Dolly outside the school while a lady we’d seen previously who must have been a groom cleaned her hooves before leading me back to her stall to put her away. She had a half-hour reprieve before her next lesson, so she and I twisted her reins under her chin strap and loosened her girth two holes, but didn’t untack her. Damian and I hung by her stall for a little while. She was very companionable towards us as we stood either side of her stall door and she stuck her head out over the top, enjoying some neck rubs (which made her lips go adorably trembly) and shoving her face right in mine to breathe on my face.

Eventually, sad though it was to have to leave, we had to tear ourselves away from the horses and make our way back to civilisation. I was very impressed with the school, and if I lived in the area I would certainly be extremely interested in making regular use of it. However, I’m not, and I won’t. Thankfully I am very happy with the one I am attending now.

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