Muuuuch Better

7 10 2013

As the title suggests, I had a much better lesson today! 😀

I got to the school really early for reasons unknown, which gave me plenty of time to faff getting my boots and chaps on, pay, book my lesson for next week and then head out to harass  say hello to the horses. The roster said I would be riding Elvis today; I’ve ridden him once before. He’s another stocky, feathery, piebald pony, who really looks like Soapy’s gelding double. I’ve ridden him before, and he was very sweet towards me, with a nice, even gait in all paces, or at least as far as I could remember.

I asked the lady who took my money (who I’ve seen working in the cash office during the daytime, but isn’t usually in the out-of-hours stable office when I arrive for my lessons) which yard he was on, and she directed me to the one on the opposite side. I went over to look for him, and while I found Maddy, who was going to be in my lesson as well (and was already sporting her winter coat with an ‘undercut’ from being expertly clipped), Elvis was already out in the children’s lesson that normally takes place before ours. So I went and said hello to Quarry and Symphony. Quarry was very frisky with me today; he seemed convinced I had some manner of tasty treat for him. I didn’t. He did give me a kiss, though.

I went outside. I didn’t want to stand watching the children’s lesson, because I didn’t want to put them off by being the stranger watching what they were doing. Instead, I walked all the way past the outdoor school to the paddocks and outdoor stables. Blue (the new boy) and a horse I didn’t recognise were out in on paddock; Little Legs and Lily, the two tiny ponies with mad staring eyes, were in another. Two little girls were calling out to them, and Meg and Benno – the two ponies stalled in the outdoor stables – stuck their heads out to see what the noise was. I wandered over to say hello.

One of the little girls asked me, very politely, if I knew what the two ponies were called. I said that I knew Benno (who was frisking me for treats at this point), a Norwegian fjord pony who is so beautiful that I can’t visualise him without a red lipstick mark on his cheek and a beauty spot in the opposite corner of his mouth, but not the other, bay horse, and suggested that the three of us go around the other side of the stable to see what it said on her door. The bigger of the two little girls then asked me who I was riding, and I said ‘Elvis.’ Then they made me laugh as they both started trying to tell me different things at once, and I couldn’t make out what either of them was saying, until the older of the two told her younger sister to shut up and put her hand over her mouth, causing me to giggle when I perhaps shouldn’t have done. She told me, very earnestly, to be careful with Elvis, because he was, ‘really naughty.’ She went on to tell me all about how he would bite and kick other horses, and canter with his head down low when asked to trot. I told her I’d be careful, and thanked her for warning me.

Turning my back on the two girls, who had dashed off at this point to say hello to the horses in the paddock, I wheeled round to keep half an eye on the proceedings in the school without being obviously stood watching. The riders were too busy concentrating on what they were doing to clock me, but they were all stood across the centre line taking turns individually to practice dressage techniques, and Soapy noticed me. The whole time she was stood still, she was looking at me; whenever she passed the corner I was stood nearest to, her eyes fixed on me as she ran past. I’d like to think she was thinking, Oh look, it’s that human who likes me, but I suspect she was actually thinking, Oh no, it’s that weirdo who keeps bothering me. It was still nice to be acknowledged, as pathetic as that sounds.

The riders dismounted, and I walked in to take charge of Elvis before the young girl who was riding him put his stirrups up. She immediately warned me that he was ‘very bitey,’ lowering her voice to tell me as though issuing a solemn warning, and telling me to watch him. I thanked her for warning me, and said I would be careful.

As I took the reins, I asked him in That Voice that we women all seem to have for speaking to animals if he was going to be bitey with me, and couldn’t resist leaning into him to inhale his wonderful horsey scent as I did so. He lowered his head and craned his neck to greet me, seeming to be enjoying me speaking softly into his ear. I checked his stirrups and girth and mounted. Everything was fine as it was, for a change.

We started walking around, and worked for the first ten minutes in open order to warm up. This worked for me really well – much better than warming up as a ride, as I was free to get a feel for Elvis at my own pace. We worked on trotting large and in twenty metre circles. My circles were a bit wobbly, but I managed to keep them going. I worked on walk-trot transitions, both sitting and and rising. I managed to get Elvis responding to me really well, and I was satisfied. I even managed to push him out to the ‘inside track’ away from the wall to allow the rider in the faster gait behind me to pass and still keep him going in a straight line, but they transitioned to a walk instead of taking advantage of this. Still, progress!

Then we moved on to doing an exercise as a ride. This was the ‘shallow loop’, which we did on both reins without stirrups at both a walk and a trot to begin with. This really tested my ability to get Elvis to bend using my weight aids. At first he was just following Maddy, moving out to the required position and then back onto the track, but without actually bending from my seat and leg. Towards this point, he  started to pull on the reins with his head. I tried to maintain a firm contact without restricting him too much, but found that shortening up the reins was the best way to deal with it. I will come back to this shortly.

Once our instructor was satisfied with the work we’d done in that exercise, we took back our stirrups and repeated the whole exercise on both reins in rising trot. The thing about the shallow loop is that because you need to switch from right bend to left bend and back again down one side of the school, you also need to change your trot diagonal when you change your bend. Thinking about this was a challenge! At around this time the horses in the field started making some noise, as though there was a bit of a horsey drama happening out in the paddock, and I noticeably lost Elvis’ attention to what might have been going on outside. Every sliver of clear corrugated perspex in the school wall we passed, his ears pricked up in its direction and I had to pull on the reins to get his head straight in front of him again.

Finally, we worked in canter. As usual, my first canter was my best; Elvis seemed to sprint himself into it, the transition restricted by my contact on the bit being too firm, but once we’d struck off, in spite of the canter being fast and quite strong, I felt able to relax my hands and sit it almost all the way to the back of the ride. I came unstuck a bit in a subsequent attempt, when I lost control and Elvis just went careering off at a fast trot down the middle of the school as I tried in vain to ride a half-halt to bring him back to me, but I rode him around past the other horses and had another go, and got it the second time. My instructor was wonderful; calm, patient, not in the least bit shouty, addressing the balance between offering words of encouragement (‘I know you’re good enough to do this, you’ve just got to trust yourself’) while at the same time not backing down and insisting I must try again. The second time, the canter was a bit stronger than I was really comfortable with, and in my attempts to half halt I ended up standing up in the stirrups for most of it. It didn’t hit me until afterwards that the fact that I was able to even do that – whether it was intentional or not – was actually pretty awesome in itself. Heh.

In general, though, I was the only person who wasn’t surprised by how well-behaved Elvis was throughout the lesson. When I was winding up to my canter transition my instructor remarked that it was so unlike Elvis to be this obliging that I should just go with it and enjoy it while it lasted, and one of the other ladies in my group remarked that she was impressed he hadn’t ‘done a roundabout’. (I don’t know what she meant my that.) While I had to tap him with my whip a couple of times at the start of the lesson to get him going forwards a bit more positively, he was very responsive to my leg throughout, so I didn’t really need it at all beyond that, and it was just a nuisance having to swap it over when we changed reins. Even as I led him back to his stall (which is now beside Soapy’s, whose is the only one that never seems to move), he walked companionably beside me; he spooked and let out a frightened whimper as we skirted the car park and an idiot motorist revved their engine behind us as they accelerated to exit the school, and although he threw his head and tugged on the reins as though he was going to bolt, I managed to calm him down by reassuring him that it was okay, and we were nearly home now. He let me hug him when we got back to the stall. I felt rather privileged to have only ever experienced him on one of his good days.

So yes. I am feeling better about things now, and appropriately happy to have had such an enjoyable and productive lesson. Roll on the next one!

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6 responses

8 10 2013
theInelegantHorseRider

Brilliant! Sounds like a fun lesson, glad that you are feeling more positive again.

9 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Thank you 😀

8 10 2013
Sparrowgrass

Hurray! And great descriptions. I think you do very well to remember this much detail about your ride – I wish I could do that.

9 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

My memory has invariably been descibed as terrifying, yes. Heh. It has its uses! 😀

8 10 2013
The Dancing Rider

So glad to read about this lesson, and your fun experience with Elvis. I love your entries – every word!

9 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Aww, thank you! I’m glad it went better, too; now I can’t wait for the next one!

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