Losing Heart

23 09 2013

I didn’t have the happiest of experiences at my riding lesson this evening. Before I recount it, I want to make a disclaimer of sorts. I imagine the overall tone of this post is going to be rather negative. Now, I know I have a tendency to take obstacles very hard, and I know that wallowing in self-pity is no way to overcome anything. At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s good to bottle up bad feelings, and it can be beneficial to let them out instead, however much of a crybaby it makes you sound like. So after careful internal deliberation, what I have decided I am going to do with regards to writing about this is write about what happened and how it’s made me feel while it’s still raw, with the intention of revisiting it in a couple of days when I’m feeling better able to be objective, reflect on it, attempt to extract some positives from the experience, and give myself a bit of a pep-talk about how I’m going to deal with things moving forwards.

The irony is, I arrived at the centre this evening full of beans, and really looking forward to my lesson. The success and enjoyment of the Exmoor pony trek the week before had given me a real boost, and I was eager to get back to horses and a setting that was familiar to me to crack on with the Learning and Progressing. I was even more pleased when, after a long spate of riding the slacker, safer beginner’s horses, I’d been assigned to Duke again. Although he didn’t look up from his hay when I went to fetch him, he wasn’t difficult to lead away from it, and walked companionably by my side as we made our way to the outdoor school. As we stood waiting for the lesson before to end, he even snuffled my hand companionably.

I really don’t know what went wrong from there. He was a nightmare throughout the lesson. We started off behind another horse and rider, but he was going forwards too eagerly in spite of my asks for him to slow, and when the instructor (who was not our usual instructor) saw this and asked me to ride him out into the lead, he wouldn’t go. I tried the usual routine of asking nicely, asking firmly and asking with a back-up from the whip, but he still refused. I had him on a long rein at this point as we were just warming up the horses, but I picked up a firm contact just in a bid to steer him. Once we were in front, he slowed considerably, and my attempts to push him on were frustrated and largely ignored. I was still undeterred at this point.

To begin with, we did a series of exercises continuing in the theme of bend, each of us taking a turn at lead file. They largely involved trotting 20 metre circles or figures of eight, or changing the rein down the length of the school. Duke was a real pain in the arse, to put not too fine a point on it. He wouldn’t go forwards, he stopped suddenly a couple of times, he suddenly and strongly cut corners and he tried to overtake the other horses. All the while, I was doing my utmost to be firm with him; outside leg, inside rein, half-halts, whip when appropriate. He didn’t soften at all, and I think we were lucky that Symphony – a horse so laid back she’s practically horizontal – didn’t buck and kick us at least a couple of times, as I saw ear-pinning and tail flicking to that tune a number of times as we encroached on her space.

The next exercise the instructor wanted us to do was trotting a 20 metre circle, transitioning to canter in the last corner and then maintaining the canter to the back of the ride. I went first. Where we’d managed to mostly get the circles in the previous exercises, albeit not especially consistent ones, this time Duke was throwing his head out to defy my asks and we were going careering uncontrolled towards the back of the ride. When I didn’t immediately get it the instructor shouted at me to keep going around past the other riders until I eventually called out frustratedly that I didn’t want to complete the exercise. By this point, I was frustrated, nervous, and on the verge of tears. Again. Even in the walk Duke was actively fighting me, pulling down on the contact to pull me forwards, trying to walk out into the centre of the school and trying to broadly cut the corners.

Seeing my difficulty, the instructor said that I could just canter to the back of the ride when it was my turn, to give me less to think about in the exercise, and suddenly Duke had oomph in his trot – way too much of it, in fact, and was ignoring my half-halts. The first couple of times, the transition to canter was a merciful release, as fast as it was it was consistent and felt controlled. Then we changed reins, and suddenly we were out of control in the trot and he refused to canter. I went around again, and this time he transitioned to canter, but went hell-for-leather, not only going fast but also running so close to the wall I took a physical battering. Finally, as if to rub salt into the wounds, when I gave him a long rein at the end of the lesson to cool down he went forwards with his head up into a nice, positive walk, and paced a full circuit of the school without trying to cut corners and without any input from me. I learned something about myself, though: It’s not really the canter that I have ‘hang-ups’ about at all. It’s going too fast in any gait when I don’t feel like I’m in control. I felt just as nervous in his too-fast trot as I did in the violent canter against the wall.

The instructor was quite understanding about all of this. I could have done without her matter-of-factly asking me (by shouting down the length of the school) how I was feeling at intervals when the honest answer was Tired, scared and frustrated with myself, but I do appreciate that her intentions were good, and she did offer me some words of reassurance and encouragement at the end of the lesson that were very positive, urging me not to just think that I was ‘shit’ (she used that word) at riding and ought to give up, saying that if I just keep trying I will get there in the end. She had said previously that sometimes when horses can sense that a rider isn’t feeling totally confident they’ll push them to see what they can get away with, and that she thought that that was what she was seeing Duke do this evening. Her advice to me was not to stand for it, but (forgive my defeatist tone here) that’s often easier said than done when the animal that happens to be testing you weighs a tonne and has more strength in his neck than you have in both of your arms put together.

She’s right, of course, and all the way home I could hear Dom of Historic Equitation’s voice in my head, telling me that I mustn’t take it personally if things don’t go how I expect. I was struck, however, by a feeling of how unfair it seemed that I’d taken some intense knocks to my riding confidence in such a short space of time, and each time being an occasion I was, for one reason or another and to varying extents, really looking forward to. It also feels like a regression; I’d been so pleased with my own progress, over the last few months in particular, and I am worried that these hard blows to my self-confidence will have a lasting impact that it’s going to be hard to claw my way back from.

Of course, I do understand that adopting a defeatist attitude isn’t going to help me in the long run. Nor is agonising over what I did wrong, or on the contrary blaming Duke. Nevertheless, I do feel very disheartened this evening.

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6 responses

24 09 2013
neilirving

Don’t take it personally, some days horses are just not in the mood for it, with riding school horses its hard to build up a bond with them and you don’t know what has gone on with previous lessons that day, next time you go it will be all different

24 09 2013
theInelegantHorseRider

I know exactly how you are feeling. I have often walked away from a lesson with my confidence at rock bottom, and do you know what it always happens that a couple of things will happen in quick succession to put your confidence even lower. I once had two falls in two weeks, the first one didn’t affect me but the second one did because it affected my confidence. What you have to remember is how far you have come and how much you enjoy it (normally). Accept that this experience wasn’t great but that you are learning still (my instructor always says that you continue to learn forever) and that you didn’t give up. And please don’t beat yourself up about taking a knock to your confidence we have all been there and if it helps to make you smile a bit when I fell off earlier this year I punched myself in the face – that was my only injury and I did it to myself. One of my friends nearly fell off her horse she was laughing so much 🙂

24 09 2013
Sparrowgrass

Two words: Emotional rollercoaster.

The highs are so high and the lows so indescribably low, particularly if you’re the kind of person that expects a lot of herself. Trust me, I know. 😉

In my last lesson I did have tears, and I also yelled (in a somewhat screamy tears tone) at my instructor “I just can’t keep him out of the f***ing fence” as he scraped my leg up it again. At least we didn’t take out the letter at B … because I already broke that off the day before when he scraped me into in and it got caught in my half-chap and it pulled off the fence ripping the half-chap and splitting the (new) letter sign. (Luckily staff v. understanding about this!)

And don’t even get me started on my feelings about runaway trotting!

But we’ve got to have the lows to get the highs. They’ll come back to us if we just keep going.

24 09 2013
The Dancing Rider

I read your entry with great interest. And both compassion and understanding. I ride a lesson horse or two also, and some days they simply will NOT have any of it. It can be so tiring, frustrating, and agonizing during lesson when this occurs. Not to mention scary. I have left sometimes, angry, then teary on the way home ( a 50- minute drive, so plenty of time to fume ).

In the end, I think that this sort of lesson (which I think are multi-layered “lessons”, well beyond what is being shown by an instructor) make us better riders. While I have not ridden very long, I have had the rock bottom, then bounce back, events.

I know you will, too. Please do stick with it. It is even more difficult when one expects a lot from onself. I think you do. And I know I do of myself. It can unbelievably dash your confidence when you just thought you’d gained skills, only to have none of them work in a specific situation. I give you a lot of credit, you tried it all. It is very good to write about it, all of it, right after it occurs. Next time out, I know you will feel better!

24 09 2013
The Dancing Rider

Oh, and I like that you don’t just choose “postive” things to write about in your entries.

27 09 2013
mellchan

Oh goodness, sounds like you are having a rough time of it. I think its important to remember that the horses have off days as well, which I am sure you are already aware of.
Next time you ride go in without any worries (or expectations) and I am sure you will do great. You are a good rider!

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