Pole Position!

21 10 2013

… Have I done that gag before? I forget. It’s appropriate, anyway!

I apologise for the lack of post last week; I was quite unwell, and not in any fit state to ride. Thankfully I have responded to a course of antibiotics and am fighting fit again now (quite literally, as I have begun training with the intention of being able to do one full, unassisted chin-up by the 1st Januray). I do currently have a sore throat, but it takes more than that to keep me away from the stables.

I was quite angry when I reached my riding school this evening. I’d had to work later than I usually would on a Monday, and had thus booked a taxi to get me there on time. The taxi was fifteen minutes late, which I could accept if it wasn’t for the fact that I received the callback to tell me the vehicle was waiting outside my home ten minutes before it actually arrived. Unacceptable, especially if it holds me up from what is easily my favourite part of the week. Worse still, when the cab arrived, the driver was argumentative when I asked him if he had got stuck in traffic, and spent the duration of the journey chewing gum noisily with his mouth open. HATE HATE HATE.

I ordered him not to drive into the school when I asked him to let me out because I could see Elvis being led out of the outdoor school and back to his yard, and although I always tip taxi drivers as a rule of thumb, I sat and waited for this guy to count out my change from a ten pound note. I was ten minutes late and my lesson was already under way. Thankfully, I had had the good sense to call the school and tell them I was running late, and they’d assured me it would be okay.

Unfortunately, no-one had passed this on to the groom who was leading Elvis back as I arrived, and I arrived at his stall to find him happily chomping on his hay, fully untacked and very sweaty from the lesson before. I shouted down the yard to her as I saw her walking out with his tack slung over one shoulder, but she didn’t make out what I said and I was intercepted by the little girl who’d just finished riding him. Again, she drew me in and warned me that he had been naughty; I couldn’t make out very well what she was saying, but she seemed to want to warn me against using my whip, and she definitely said he had bitten her arm (upon which a bruise was already coming up; I was put in mind of that YouTube video of a cyclist getting bitten by a horse in the mountains). Flustered and impatient to get into my lesson, I thanked her somewhat abruptly, told her I’d be careful and bid her take care, before walking on towards Elvis’ stall.

The groom (who apologised to me for not waiting a few more minutes before untacking him) got him tacked up again very quickly for me, so quickly in fact that I was compelled to adjust his numnar myself as she’d slung it on his back with his saddle and it had gotten all creased, and I know first-hand what horses tend to do when you mount them with even just a slightly creased numnar. I’d have expected him to have been reluctant to go back out of the stable given what had happened, but he was perfectly compliant as I led him out, only stalling when we reached the gate to the outdoor school, at which point I had to tug a bit harder on the reins to get him to go back in.

I mounted up, adjusted my stirrups, my instructor did my girth and as soon as all that was done, without my even asking, Elvis went straight out onto the track and onto the right rein without my asking. This was, of course, what I was going to ask him to do anyway, but it’s still not great that I had no input, so to try and assert myself I worked on keeping the walk going forwards and pushing him as far into the corners as I could manage before asking for the trot. Getting the trot was difficult at first. He was happy with moving around and staying on the track, he wasn’t happy about having to exert himself again. When I resorted to giving him a tap with my whip, he leapt dramatically into trot and we maintained this down one long side of the school and for a few paces round the first corner before I felt him transitioning back to the walk. I went through the leg, kick, whip sequence with him, and when I tapped him, I couldn’t believe it, but he bucked. It didn’t feel like a very big buck, but I heard him growl and felt his hind legs kick out to the inside as he did it. Contrary to what anyone (myself included) might have expected, I sat it, remained calm even for knowing what was happening, and pushed on again when I felt that all of his feet were back in contact with the ground. He resumed a nice trot after that, and I didn’t have to use my whip again once for the remainder of the lesson. I don’t think my instructor saw as she was talking to one of the other ladies at the opposite end of the school at the time.

Once we were all warmed up (I had a lovely, energetic trot on both reins), we regrouped as a ride, this time at five or six horses’ distance because we were going to do a pole exercise! Our instructor had laid out two trot poles on the floor a good distance away from each other. The exercise she wanted us to do was to trot over the first pole, transition down to a walk and then back up to trot to go over the second pole. This took some doing; I could easily get Elvis to move over the pole without knocking it, it was pushing him into to the walk (rather than slowing and losing momentum) by riding a half-halt and then resuming the active trot again immediately afterwards that was the difficult part. We got it in the end, but I think this was more a result of Elvis figuring out for himself what I was asking him to do from the repetition each time rather than me necessarily asking for it correctly, but then I guess that in any kind of exercise like that, getting the horse to understand what you’re asking of it is an important part of its execution.

This took us right up to ten minutes to the end of the lesson, so rather than moving into our work in canter by halting at a letter as a ride and taking turns to have a go, she had us go large as a ride, and we cantered leading file and in succession without stopping moving. She was just as pumped and excited as we were at this stage, and was consequently shouting at us not to lose ‘all that lovely impulsion’ we’d built up in the pole exercise like an enthused sergeant major. She shouted out our names in turn, making the next one of us go after she’d seen the previous one’s canter transition come off successfully. Although I’d been having trouble throughout the lesson persuading Elvis to keep his head up nicely and not pull down on the bit, I felt well able to relax my hands at the corner in which I went sitting, and we not only managed the smoothest and most synergistic transition into canter I think I’ve ever ridden, but the canter itself was collected, smooth and really enjoyable. Rather than just feeling like I was staying on whilst mentally flapping to keep it going, I maintained the mental clarity to check myself as we rode on to ensure my heels were down, my shoulders were aligned with my hips and I was sitting up straight in the saddle and looking where I was going as we went in a straight line down the long side of the school, and turned my body appropriately in the corner. It felt really good! We even managed to repeat the exercise, on the same rein, before giving the horses all a long rein to finish.

Our instructor always asks us if we have any questions at the end of the class. I don’t usually have one, unless I’ve managed to do something in the lesson and not understood how, but this week, after a moment’s thought and with a grin, I asked, ‘Can we do more pole work, please? It’s fun!’ Heh. She said that we were all ‘like jumbo jets’; we take a long time to warm up, but we’re good when we eventually do get going.

As I dismounted, I gave Elvis a rub on the shoulder, and he turned around to face me with that bright-eyed, ‘baby horse’ look (I’m sure anyone who’s ever been given that look themselves will understand what I mean by it), gently nuzzling me and breathing on me. I was a little wary as I suspected he might be thinking of biting me, but it seemed playful rather than aggressive. He stood patiently while I put his stirrups up and loosened his girth, tracking me with his nose as I walked around him, and walked companionably by my side as I led him back to bed, the only incident along the way being my having to tell him off for trying to eat someone else’s hay, which had been left in a net on the floor outside one of the other stalls.

When I got him back into his stall he went straight for the hay net, as is to be expected. His fur was really quite soggy with sweat, but he was very obliging with the positioning of his head as I unfastened and removed his bridle. Once that was slung over my shoulder, I gave his shoulders a rub while hugging him, and although he didn’t stop nibbling at the hay net, I felt him lean into me and rest his brow on the back of my shoulder briefly. Awww.

I removed his saddle, returned his tack to the tack room and came back to try and take a couple of pictures of him. They didn’t really come out all that well, but I got a lovely one of Soapy in the stall next door, who it would seem is talking to be again, and who has always seemed to know exactly what a camera is for.

The other exciting bit of horsey news is that I have finally handed in my application form to work there as a volunteer! Fingers crossed…




10 responses

22 10 2013
Susan Friedland-Smith

I hope the person who reads your application will also read your blog. From that they will know you pay close attention to detail and really care about the horses. How could they refuse you this opportunity? Let us know how it goes. 🙂

22 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Awww, thank you! I like horses, they’re my friends etc.

22 10 2013

Oooh exciting. I am sure you will get to work there. I love some pole work too, just a bit different and it makes you work on things you don’t always remember. Sounds like a good canter, love it when it all comes together like that. Well done with the buck as well, great not to panic.

22 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Thank you! I think it just happened to fast for my brain to catch up to the idea of it being scary 🙂

22 10 2013

Fabulous! It’s strange how sometimes the times one arrives in a bit of a state, and it seems like having a good ride is unlikely, sometimes turn out to be the best rides against all the odds.

22 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Probably because having a blast on the back of an equine friend is a really good way to blow off steam! 😀

22 10 2013
The Dancing Rider

What a good ride for you two. Despite all the irritants and delays getting to it. Good luck with your application. You are so attentive, so attuned, I would think they would love to have someone like you. Nice in the canter as well!

22 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Thank you for your kind words! I hope my application gets accepted, too 😀

25 10 2013

Nice! Pole work is fun, although I haven’t done much at all recently because Mr. T has decided that the poles are giant jumps….and I am not anticipating that so I always barely stay in the saddle!
Glad to hear you seem to have found a good riding partner that understands you, Elvis sounds like a real gem and he’s cute as pie to boot!

25 10 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

We do seem to get along, that pony and I. *So far*. I am trying not to let myself be lulled into a false sense of security with him so I end up getting crushed if he is uncooperative during a future ride!

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