Historic Equitation

10 09 2013

So the weekend came that it was my turn to visit Historic Equitation, and all I can say is wow. Quite unlike me, I can’t even think where to start – I sat down to write about this yesterday evening and found myself sat staring blankly at the ‘Add New Post’ page quite unable to focus enough to be able to put fingers to keyboard!

Anyway,  from the beginning, I guess: After a very early night and having had little difficulty in getting up for our early start (yay, horses!), we assembled somewhere in central Nottingham and embarked on the 90 minute car ride down to Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire where they are based. Props to our designated driver, Amy, who is a new-ish driver, had never gone on a motorway before and was slightly nervous about doing so; she proved to be an excellent, careful driver, and in spite of her understandable nerves, she was overtaking in the fast lane and complaining about other drivers going too slowly in no time. We arrived, and were herded into the kitchen, where we were offered tea and introduced to everybody; Dom asked us about our experience and told us which horses we’d be riding; Damian on the lovely, mild-tempered Briar, who he’d ridden on the previous year’s expedition with Amy, who was to ride Hawthorn this time (a stunning stallion thought to be a Friesian x Dales pony, billed on their website as being their most famous horse) and I was assigned a Belgian Warmblood stallion named Marduk, who I gathered is a relatively new addition. I presume he was named after the deity and not the black metal band, but I’ll admit that while I’m not massively keen on the latter I did, at the same time, think it was immensely cool I’d been paired with the horse with the metal name. Hee.

First of all, we went out to the yard and met the horses, and were then permitted to give them a good groom to get to know them, and then to tack them up ourselves. (Marduk had a different saddle than I’m used to – it was stiff with crests at the front and rear, like something between a Spanish saddle and the kind I’ve seen used in jousting displays, but with a soft fleecy cover). Marduk made a good first impression on me, regarding me quizzically but in a friendly manner; he seemed to enjoy my grooming him, but wriggled about on the end of the lead rope as I tried to tack him up. I like to see a bit of mischief in a horse 😀 A lovely lady called Karen, who is part of the team there, came over to ask me if I needed any help tacking up; I said I was fairly confident but wouldn’t mind her checking it for me, as the tack was a bit different than I was used to. The bits on the bridles were like a solid piece of metal with a curve at the centre, and the bridles fastened under the muzzle with a curb chain (Marduk’s had an extra leather chin strap), which I’m not used to seeing and which I’ll gladly admit I couldn’t get the hang of fastening on straight. At this point I will apologise in advance for the lack of action photographs – between three of us, we just had two phone cameras for taking pictures, and as the whole day was pretty hands-on it was hard to even think of getting a camera out to take pictures, let alone juggle it with all the various things that passed through our hands over the course of the day!

Once we were all tacked up and raring to go, we went through into the small school (there were two, both of which were classic outdoor types with sandy substrate, similar to the school at Gakushuin), mounted up and started walking around. Mounting up for me was a bit of a faff, because I think I must have shorter legs than anybody they’re used to training or riding with. They had to make new holes in the stirrup leathers for me! I later joked with Damian about aspiring to become the ‘littlest jouster’.

Once we’d all got the horses walking around and going forwards, we worked in an open order sort of set-up; not going around as a ride, concentrating on riding out on the track, into the corners and in circles; the usual sort of stuff you’d do to warm up on a horse in a lesson. Marduk was splendid to ride – I barely had to push him on to make him go forwards, rather having to work to keep him steady and going where I wanted him to, but he was obliging when – I think – he got the measure of me. Even at this early stage it was a real treat just to be riding a horse who had a spring in his step and palpable eagerness, rather than a stuffy riding school horse who had to be pushed on constantly!

From there, we began to ride leading file around the school. Dom called out to us to all turn 180 degrees on the spot along the long side of the school on his count of three… And we did. The horses just made the turn as I asked with my legs, defying everything I’d been taught about horses’ strides and their need, as beasts with four legs, to walk in a circle to turn around. We practised making on-the-spot turns (do forgive me for the lack of technical terminology here) as a ride in leading file for a while, until he was satisified that we could do that; then we moved in closer to one another, and began riding at a walk in formation. In so doing, we all had a turn at seeing for ourselves that communication and teamworking are vital in this; taking the corners in the school in formation, we had to co-ordinate so the horse and rider on the outside moved faster and the horse and rider on the inside slowed to allow the others to move around them. On Marduk, I was flanking (we were arranged so that Amy – ironically, but perhaps appropriately, the most advanced rider in the group – was in the middle), and I found wheeling around the others when I was on the outside of the corner much easier than slowing down when I was on the inside!

From that exercise, we lined up facing Dom on the short side of the school farthest from the gate, and took a breather. He gave us all words of encouragement and told us we’d done really well, and I was flattered when he remarked that I’d gotten Marduk nicely on the bit. Then, he told us all to put both reins into our left hands and rest the right hand on our thigh (‘… or on your hip if you’re feeling jaunty!’) Then we repeated all of that one-handed. We hadn’t even got the weapons out at this stage, and Damian was already shouting across to me about how badass riding one-handed and in formation feels. I am inclined to agree!

Once Dom was happy with our ability to work with that, he fetched three British Army sharp lances, two of which had flags on the ends (which were given to Damian and Amy, who were now either side of me, for no reason other than that he liked to see a flag on either end for symmetry). We were told to carry this in our right hand, and to balance it on our right foot while we weren’t using it. That was easy until I needed to use my leg as an aid! I don’t think it helps that I have size 3 feet, so there isn’t much surface area on my foot to rest a lance on. In the end I decided I would just hold it up without trying to rest it on my foot as I was having more trouble trying to replace it onto it while we were in motion. This was undoubtedly a mistake on my part, because I don’t have a lot of strength in my arms and following the weekend, my enduring ache was in my right arm.

Then we moved on into the large school, where, for a while, Dom had us pracising walking in formation with the lances. Again my big issue was with slowing Marduk down so the others could wheel around him! We practised this in walk and in trot, before Dom brought our attention to a row of three tent pegs that had been set up in the sand. It was hot and windy, and with the dust blowing up around us as we rode, Damian remarked that it felt like being cavalry in Afghanistan circa 1878. Again, I couldn’t contradict him. We practised riding in formation, but each passing a tent peg on our right. Then he asked us each to reach forwards and stroke the surface of the ground with the point of our lances, and talked us through the correct way to do this, and the correct height to hold our lance. Guess what we did next? We rode in formation (or at least tried to! There may have been… spacing issues) past the tent pegs, trying to knock them over with our lances as we went past. First at a walk, then a few times at a trot, and finally twice in ‘any gait you like’ – which, for me, ended up being an unintentional but very much enjoyed canter – I didn’t ask for the canter, but Marduk obviously knows his job very well, and I decided to just go with it! I think I only managed to hit the tent peg on one pass in trot, but it still felt immense. I regret that on at least one pass – it all seemed to happen so fast that I can’t remember exactly – I threw my lance down on the ground on the way past, just because my arm had gotten so tired I couldn’t carry it any more, and I didn’t want to hurt Marduk by just letting it fall. After the final go in any gait we wanted, Dom took the lances off us anyway, to give our arms a bit of a rest, and put them all away. I was feeling pretty pumped at this stage.

Then, he said he wanted to see how each of us cantered, and had each one of us canter the length of the arena to the horse and rider opposite. Still one-handed, but now with an empty right hand resting on my thigh, I gladly cantered as instructed. Marduk had a lovely canter, and I was feeling great from the day’s exercises so far. Unfortunately, I will freely admit that what followed caused my confidence to take quite a knock, which regrettably impacted on the rest of the day’s riding for me, I think, but full credit is due to Dom for bearing with me through it, and for his patience and attentiveness in helping me to recover and, as he put it himself, ‘go out with a bang.’ I think I’ll have to write about that crisis of self-defeat tomorrow now, though, because my word count is fast approaching the 2,000 mark already and I haven’t even got to lunchtime yet!

In recognition of what a lot of words this has been, I shall leave you (for now) with this picture of the lovely Briar to feast your eyes on, aptly described as being a ‘fierce jouster and an excellent destrier.’

To be continued…

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4 responses

11 09 2013
theInelegantHorseRider

Sounds ace! Looking forward to part 2 🙂

11 09 2013
The Dancing Rider

I felt like I was there! Very exciting and difficult. Briar is beautiful. Awaiting part duex. 🙂

12 09 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Aw, thanks! It’s always nice to receive comments like this, it’s good to know my ramblings make for entertaining reading 😀

11 09 2013
Sparrowgrass

More! More! 🙂

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