Historic Equitation (part 2)

11 09 2013

Continued from Previous.

After all three of us had successfully cantered the length of the school a number of times, we assembled in a row facing Dom once more, and he brought out three wooden training lances – of the kind used for jousting. (The one he brought me was shorter, which must have been out of sympathy for my suffering right arm.) My heart skipped a beat when I saw this; I hadn’t dared to hope we’d get to cover anything similar to jousting in the time we were there, especially for my having never done anything like that before!

Dom carefully explained to us how to rest the lace, with the butt resting on the saddle just inside the thigh. As we walked around, he explained to us how to hold it (thumbs on top!) and how to lower it (cross-ways diagonally over the horse’s neck). We had a go of walking around and lowering and resting the lances. So far, so good. Then, gesturing at a quintain set up to the left side of the arena, he began to talk us through how to tilt against it; approaching at a fast trot, asking for the canter a few strides before reaching it, and then lowering the lance to hit it.

I honestly can’t clearly recall what happened next. My memory of it is hazy, which is unlike me and suggests to some extent that I may have blocked it out, but I will recount it as accurately and as honestly as I can. I remember Damian absolutely nailing it on his first attempt; he told me afterwards that his subsequent goes weren’t as successful, but I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t notice how it went for Amy, and she didn’t volunteer much afterwards other than that she’d had a fantastic time doing it. I had other problems: Marduk and I weren’t communicating any more, and all of a sudden I couldn’t seem to get him to listen to me. I had to keep passing on my goes while we went nowhere. Dom got off and got on; after tilting against the quintain himself a couple of times, he assured me that it wasn’t me, and that Marduk wasn’t responding even to his leg as keenly as he usually would. He gave me a leg up back into the saddle, and I got back on and had another go, thinking that, as usually tends to be the case when instructors have taken over the horses I’ve been riding in the past, that he’d have switched on again, but we seemed to keep going around in frustrated circles, and I became both nervous about completing the exercise on a horse who was not listening to me, and frustrated that everything had to come undone at the part that I’d been most excited about. Disheartened, I rode Marduk into the nearest corner well out of the paths of the other riders, put down my lance, dismounted and took his reins in my hands. In retrospect I am a little embarrassed about this, and concerned that it must have seemed terribly rude of me. I remember Damian riding past on Briar at a walk and asking me if I would like a hug. Wanting to appear strong, and simultaneously not wanting to spoil his fun just because I was having trouble, I put on a tough face, declined, and watched him ride off for another bash at it.

Dom came over and asked me if he was not working for me at all, and I sadly shook my head and said I was sorry. Again, he reassured me that it wasn’t me, and that Marduk had been being unhelpful. He suggested I swap with Amy and have Hawthorn; again the stirrups were too long for me and needed new holes, and by the time I was sorted and had warmed myself up to Hawthorn, who seemed a lot more responsive, it was time to break for lunch. We were treated extremely well, with a selection of meats, cheeses and crusty bread, and offered delicious carrot and coriander soup to go with it. Determined to focus on what a great time I’d been having up until things went a bit wrong, I did exactly that. I thought to myself I’d get another go after lunch, and I’d just take that as an opportunity to make up for the end of the previous lesson.

So, we went back out, into the small school again this time, and mounted up. I kept Hawthorn, and Amy took Marduk. She seemed to get on with him a lot better, but then she is a far more experienced rider. In this lesson, we were each given a lightly-weighted stick (I was going to type ‘light stick’, but then you’d all have imagined us riding around with lightsabers) not unlike thin wicket stumps, to rest against our shoulders when we weren’t using them. He directed myself and Amy to the bottom end of the school and Damian to the top, and told us all to ride past each other, one to attempt to strike the other on the head, and the other to block. We each had a go at striking and blocking, generally going at a walk or a trot. So far, so good.

Then, Dom had the three of us circle him in the middle of the school and explained the next exercise: we were each in turn going to try to tap another rider on their shoulder, and the other rider’s job was to avoid being tapped, as a warm up to a melee. I went first, chasing after Damian but not managing to catch him as he upwards-transitioned to a trot and spun out from the circle. Amy’s turn was to try and hit me, and she transitioned to a canter, waving her stick at me with a grin. The thought of a significantly more advanced rider charging at me at a canter made me nervous, but I evaded her simply by keeping Hawthorn going steadily in the circle at a walk while she struggled to bring Marduk in closer in the faster gait.

However, then my mind started to slip from the melee exercises as I found myself once again struggling with Hawthorn. Here was where the self-defeat really started to kick in. As Amy and Damian excitedly and confidently went at each other with their sticks, I started having real trouble steering Hawthorn. Again, my memory of the specifics is hazy, but after the difficulties of the previous lesson I started to get frustrated at myself and getting upset, which wasn’t helping me to fix it. Dom told me to just work on getting things back under control while Amy and Damian carried on with the melee exercises; I tried to work on getting Hawthorn out to the other end of the school to them to give myself some space, but found it difficult, and into the mix I started to get really nervous about being out of control on a horse in with two other riders charging about around me. As I became more frustrated and more nervous it got worse and worse. Dom brought me spurs to see if they helped and they didn’t. I was fighting back tears of frustration – both at my own inability to get Hawthorn listening to me, and that it had had to have happened during something I’d spent most of the year looking forward to, and I felt like I was letting the others down.

In the end, Dom called me out into the large school, and left Amy and Damian to continue enjoying themselves riding in a melee while he worked with me individually. Once in there, he asked me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to have a practice canter, and he said, ‘Off you go.’ And Hawthorn and I had a lovely, fast, charged canter around the large arena, free from distractions. That made me feel a lot better. I felt like Hawthorn listened to me a lot better in this faster gait, and suddenly the problem I was having was in slowing him, not in getting the response in the first place! Dom took the spurs back from me, noticing that a problem I was having seemed to be my attempts to ask him to slow being mistaken for an ask for more because I wasn’t aware of them. Then I went off for a bit more of a canter without them, with a new problem; I was having trouble getting the strike off into canter. We got a great, fast trot with loads of lovely impulsion and he listened to my asks for turns and to push him out to the track and to slow, but when I asked for the canter, no response. So I rode back to Dom and explained. I talked him through how I asked for canter; he said Hawthorn generally found it easier to strike off from the right lead. So I tried that a couple of times, giving a little stallion in a paddock next to the area a wide berth as I went (there had been a small drama involving him and Marduk in the previous lesson, so I was wary). Then, Dom offered me an opportunity to tilt against the quintain, and I gratefully accepted.

On none of my attempts did I succeed in getting the strike off into canter a few strides before the quintain. Spending a good ten minutes careering around whilst wearing the spurs had both helped me get my confidence back and seemed to have gotten Hawthorn listening to me again, but without the spurs he seemed not to ‘get’ my ask for canter at all, and unlike the feeling I’d had from Marduk when I’d lined him up to the row of tent pegs, he didn’t once identify the task and just effectively do the work for me. Thus, on my first, cautious go, we trotted slowly up to the quintain, I lowered my lance, and I hit it – but because we didn’t have the necessary speed, I had to drop the lance or I was going to get pushed backwards out of the saddle. On the second go I missed completely; on the third I hit it, but lowered my lance much too early, and on the fourth go – in spite of not getting the canter – we went passed fast enough in trot, I lowered just in time, and I hit it successfully, causing it to spin around.

Then Dom rounded me up to rejoin the others. I thanked him for his patience, and apologised. He told me not to worry, said that my confidence had taken a knock from what had happened earlier in the day, so he’d just built me back up again so that I could go out with a bang.  He also advised me not to take it personally if things didn’t go as expected, which I think I really need to take on board. He reassuringly explained that next up, we were all going to go for a gentle hack together to a museum with Karen, and I wouldn’t have to do anything fast or scary. As I rejoined the others in the smaller school, Damian told me with a grin that he’d seen me hit the quintain ‘dead on’, and praised me for it. Then Karen rode out to join us on Duke, a full Friesian, and we went for a steady hack to the Flag Fen Archaeological Museum.

The route took us past the McCain factory (the entire road smelled of baked potatoes!), which we passed in a two by two formation as there were occasionally lorries travelling down the road. A young girl in a car took photos of us on her iPhone, and we later remarked on the celebrity status being on horseback seems to bring and how awesome that feels. We travelled for about five minutes in single file down a moderately quiet road, and Hawthorn was so calm I trusted him completely around the cars. I noticed that he seemed much happier when I held the reins in one hand than in both, so I tried to do this as much as I could. We went over a ‘musical bridge’, designed to resonate with a pretty sound when pedestrians crossed it, so imagine how it sounded under hooves! Finally, as we neared the museum (which, of course, we were unable to enter due to being on horseback), we passed a field of tiny ponies who all galloped over to see the big horses and defend their paddock. That was very sweet. We saw other horses in the fields along the way, but those were the most entertaining.

On our arrival back at the farm, we each rode our horses into their yard, dismounted and untacked them. Then we helped out with the grooming and laying of the beds. Briar, as the sole gelding of the group, was taken out to the field for the night. Hawthorn and Marduk were stalled – after a misunderstanding in which Damian ended up laying Hawthorn’s bed, thinking it was for Briar. Oops.

Once all that was done, the horses put to bed and the tack all put away, we asked Karen if we could do any more to help with the other horses, basically because we wanted to spend more time around them. She explained that she had to take the feed out to the horses in the field, and bring the ponies in for the night, and we could help with this if we wanted. In actual fact, she did most of this while we stood around cooing and fawning. To our credit, we did each take a pony by the lead rope and lead them back to their stables. I took a wee chestnut mare called Blossom who had a very pretty face and a cheeky demeanor, who tried to eat every weed we passed along the way, holding her head up high as though she hadn’t been doing anything of the sort every time I gently tugged on the lead rope to prevent her. Heh.

So the day ended on a very high note. We stayed the night in their guest room, and were extremely well taken care of, with a sit-down meal at the dinner table and conversations around the fire in the evening. We were offered beer and wine, but alas none of us really drink. We all slept exceptionally well that night, to be awoken – curiously – by a confused-looking bluetit knocking determinedly on the window with its beak, to then open the window after it had flown off and hear the horses whinnying for their breakfast in the yard outside, with mists rolling out over the fens on the horizon. The exceptional hospitality continued with a cooked breakfast, after which Dom went out to oversee a showjumping competition in the large arena. We stayed and watched a little of it, and were amused to see the quintain post still stood firmly in position with brightly coloured jumps set up all around it. It seemed a world away from what we’d been doing the previous day. Once the winners for the first bout had been announced, we took advantage of the break in the proceedings to say goodbye to Dom properly, and made our way home.

To wrap up, the trip was a marvellous experience. It was a lot more of an emotional rollercoaster than I expected (or, to be honest, wanted) it to be, but I have not been put off by this, and I think it is a credit to Dom as a teacher that he had the kindness and patience to take the trouble to work with me to bring my confidence back from the difficulties I had. The horses are marvellous and are a pleasure to ride (as long as you don’t let yourself become your own worst enemy when things go not as planned like I did), and everyone at the farm really went well above and beyond the call of duty with their hospitality and efforts to make us feel welcome. I would recommend arranging to go and train with them to anyone with an interest in classical/historical riding, or in fact just anyone who loves horses and riding and wants to try something different. I am  now absolutely determined to work on my self-confidence (and the strength in my arms!) some more, and go back as soon as time, money and Dom’s schedule allow for it 😀



Credit for all photographs to Damian.




10 responses

12 09 2013

Great review, sounds fun although I have hopeless co-ordination so I can only imagine the danger I would pose doing this kind of thing. I am very impressed with the way you handled the knock to your confidence.

12 09 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

I think you might surprise yourself, but I understand your apprehension! I still feel a bit bad about how things played out after my confidence took a bit of a dive, but I’ve decided that that’s just more reason to go back and have another bash at it 😀

12 09 2013
The Dancing Rider

Again, enjoyed the blow-by-blow. I think I’d be too afraid to try this! Glad the day ended well, and that it was a great experience. Dom does sound fabulous.

12 09 2013

Sorry to hear it didn’t all go to plan, but really glad to hear about the good bits and that you plan to go back and do it again!

12 09 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Thanks! I don’t suppose you fancy Drifter as a destrier at all, do you? 😉

13 09 2013

I’m pretty sure he’s a pacifist, and suspect he’d declare himself a conscientious objector if I suggested jousting or getting on him in armor, but maybe it’s something to think about for the future 😉

13 09 2013

PS did you ever watch Full Metal Jousting? American reality TV does jousting – absolutely mental and more than enough to stop me wanting a go – I’m officially too much of a wuss.

15 09 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Ha, funny you mention that! I haven’t, but it was mentioned while we were there; the conversation went a bit like this as I recall:

‘Have you seen that Full Metal Jousting?’
‘No, what’s it like?’
*shakes head*

I would like to see it, though. I reckon it would be mindlessly entertaining in the same sort of way that Deadliest Warrior wars 😀

19 09 2013

Your honesty is nice in this post, makes me feel better for the very “human” moments I have on occasion. Sounds like you had a ton of fun, don’t be hard on yourself….sometimes (actually a lot of times) horses have a mind of their own.

21 09 2013

Thank you. I am learning this, slowly! (:

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