Gentle Ben

25 11 2013

Aaaaah my gluteals! They hurt… but in a nice way 🙂

In case you were wondering, the reason there have been no further updates on my horsey interactions is that I have had no further horsey interactions since I last updated about it. I know, I know, it’s been ages; the weekend immediately following my first volunteer experience I was out of town, and the two weekend following, I was feeling really under the weather and very much needed the two days off to quietly do nothing in particular to recover my energy reserves; without wanting to make too much of  a big thing of it, November is never the kindest of months to me, and in typical style it had rather knocked me for six. I’m adjusting to it now, though, and I hope to do lots more volunteering through December.

That also means I’ve skipped a lesson, though. Well, that couldn’t be helped, unfortunately. I faced some uncertainty with my work situation that I thought might mean I would have to stop riding until the New Year simply because I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but thankfully that turned out not to be the case – and I have no intention of missing another lesson between now and the midwinter break!

Anyway, tonight I made my way down, and arrived in plenty of time to enact the weekly palaver of changing into my boots and chaps from the ones I’d worn there in the warm before paying and going off to check the roster to see who my mount for the night was going to be. To my surprise, it was a horse I’ve never ridden before called Ben; he’s a skewbald sport horse of similar height to Maddy, who I have previously heard described as an ‘old school master’, although I’m not sure in what sense; one of the other ladies who rides in my lesson has ridden him a couple of times before. He was bundled up in his rug when I arrived, happily munching away at his hay, and regarded me with wide-eyed suspicion when I approached his stall to say hello.

I had fifteen minutes to wait before my lesson, and I found myself in one of those terribly British politeness quandries: Should I go and retrieve his tack and start tacking him up myself, or would it be better form to wait for one of the paid staff to come and do it? I didn’t mind doing it myself, but at the same time, I want to cause offence by seeming to forwards. In the end, I did tack up myself, but not before awkwardly hanging around for a bit, trying to catch someone’s eye to see if I could drawn a conclusion from their reaction. It would have saved time if I’d just taken the initiative as soon as I saw that he had no tack on; they obviously don’t mind me doing things for myself any more. Which is really nice.

After struggling a bit with Ben’s chin strap, I led him out to the outdoor arena, to be told by the instructor there that I was in the indoor arena this week. I was so surprised I had to be told this twice before it sank in, but I wasn’t complaining – the indoor arena is larger, and warmer (it was bitterly cold out tonight; to give you an idea, there was frost on the pavement outside my office at lunchtime, and it only got colder). Having been used to riding awkward cobs and cheeky little ponies recently, I remarked as I mounted Ben that his stirrups seemed rather short; it turned out that they were the perfect length, and I’m just not used to mounting tall horses any more.

What followed was a really good lesson. We were given ten minutes to warm up in open order; the last couple of times we’ve done this, our instructor has told us that we could have a go at cantering if we had enough room, but tonight she said we could feel free because we had so much space. So I did – and I’m happy to say that I managed to get the strike into canter and keep it going for a few paces without any nervousness or hesitation. Ben was really responsive, but he was initially quite reluctant to do anything. I also found that the more I thought about my position – particularly my legs and my shoulders – the better he listened to my asks. As out instructor was shouting out advice to us on how we should position ourselves, some of the exercises in the Pilates routine I’ve been diligently doing every day again for a while now started to make sense. I really do seem to have over-compensated for having been criticised for leaning too far forwards by leaning too far back, though – now I’m having difficulty bringing my shoulders in line with my hips without feeling like I’m tipping forwards! What was nice about being in the indoor school, though, was that it has mirrors, so I was able to check my position as I went fast and lo, the weird-tipping-forwards-feeling position did look a lot more ‘textbook’!

From open order, we went into working without stirrups to get us thinking about our position in general, which I’ve already pretty much covered above. I really like riding without stirrups, it does sort a lot of things out, and it feels so much more natural and together with the horse. I am starting to notice what feels right and what doesn’t in terms of how I sit and how the horse responds, too, rather than just trying what I think I should be doing and hoping the horse does what I want it to, and there’s a big difference. We were made to do rising trot without stirrups again, though. After a mere five strides my inner thighs were burning so I couldn’t keep it up, and weakened as they were I felt like my mons pubis was going to come crashing down painfully on the pommel and I decided to just sit the trot until we took our stirrups back. Heh.

Finally, we took our stirrups back and moved to working a canter exercise. This time, what she did was kept us all trotting a 20m circle, but asked us, one by one, to go large in a corner, transition to canter and canter large to the back of the ride, then resume trotting the 20m circle. When I broke off to do this, I got the canter for two strides on the corner but had to trot the long side of the school and ask for canter again in the next corner before I got it, but thereafter I didn’t have to do much to keep Ben cantering (he really seemed quite happy just to be running), and transitioned nicely back into trot when we returned to the circle. Unfortunately another rider was having a bit of difficulty controlling Duke (from what I saw, he was doing his usual thing of trying to run really fast, and he didn’t understand when he was asked to canter that he was meant to canter large and not continue to circle) so I had to halt on the centre line and wait for the two other, cantering horses to transition downwards. From there on, we each had a go at cantering large in succession, but we are going to revisit the trot-circle-canter exercise next week. Ben cantered fast, but I managed to keep it together and ride half-halts to bring him back to me, and I even had the wherewithal to push on with my leg when I felt the energy going from the canter and ask for bend in the corners. We made it all the way to the back of the ride, and it felt really good. Wheee!

I didn’t hang around afterwards this time (I will freely admit that this was because it was bitterly cold and I wanted to get moving off home), but I felt very good about how the lesson had gone. I’m especially proud of myself for the work I did in canter tonight – no fear, no hesitation, mostly smooth transitions, and all on a horse I’d never ridden before and even on my own initiative without Ben having time to suss out that that was what was going to be asked of him. It feels like real progress!


Business as Usual

13 11 2013

It is always dark now when I arrive at the stables for my Monday evening lesson, and there’s something very comforting about the intensifying smell of horses and the faint murmur of voices and hoof beats from the outdoor arena in the cold air as I approach the school gate. I didn’t arrive with loads of time to spare on this occasion, but there was enough time after I had paid up for me to have a quick chat with one of the regular staff members about my day volunteering, and hold Bramble for a few moments while the lady who was taking her for her lesson paid (it hadn’t seemed worth putting her back in her stall as it was far away). I joked about not needing any excuse to play with a pony. Bramble snuffled my hand in a friendly manner when I took the reins, but stood by my side eying me with the whites of her eyes showing. I detected that she wasn’t overly happy for some reason but I didn’t think it was specifically to do with me.

As I made my way into the school for my lesson, our instructor explained that there had been some horsey violence in the previous (children’s) lesson, apparently between Elvis and Bramble. Dan, with whom I was paired again this week, was already in the lesson, and although Bramble had already been taken out of the lesson by the time I arrived there and the little girl on Elvis had turned in to dismount, the girl riding Dan was guided around for a final trot large. She’d dismounted too and my instructor was walking him around by the reins by the time I walked in to take him, and said, ‘Here’s a lazy horse for you,’ so I assume the reason for the last go-around was that his previous rider hadn’t gotten much joy out of him. He was very sweaty when I mounted him, though, and she joked that this was unlike him, since ‘he never does anything.’ Obviously, Dan had differing opinions. And he’s fully clipped and hogged!

Actually, I have to say that while I expected to need my game face on as soon as I saw on the roster that I would be riding Dan, he was fairly keen and responsive towards me in this lesson – for Dan, anyway. Nothing to the likes of Duke or the Historic Equitation horses, of course, but still, he went forwards when I asked, didn’t make any strong attempts to veer off the track and more or less did what I asked when I asked for it. After warming up in open order (wherein I tried to get him to canter for me a few times following some successful walk-trot-walk transitions, but failed), we did another trot pole exercise that was really difficult; we began by trying to ride walk-halt-walk-halt-walk transitions over a row of three poles down each long side of the school, which wasn’t so hard, but then progressed from that to trot-walk-trot-walk-trot, which seemed impossible to me. I think I managed to get the walk-trot-walk over the middle pole a grand total of once, but while I failed to execute the exercise what I did find was that as we went around, Dan softened to me and became gradually and palpably more responsive and willing to work for me. That, if nothing else, felt good. I found myself wondering if he and I have come to an understanding. I noticed that he goes forwards far more easily if he’s on a more relaxed rein, but balancing that against maintaining a good contact to prevent him from looking around all over the place is a knife-edge job.

At a couple of points I did feel like my feet were flapping around again. I am very conscious of this now, having seen what it looks like on video, and whenever it happened I made sure to sink my weight into my heels and point my toes forwards. This is becoming less difficult now, slowly but surely, until I found my inside leg was so well on the girth that until I relaxed it I could feel Dan’s foreleg as it came back brushing my toes. Is that what it’s supposed to feel like, or are my legs too far forwards now? Either way, my instructor didn’t pull me up on it.

Finally, we had a canter on both reins. On both of my attempts on the right rein, Dan went straight into trot when I asked, skipped into canter beautifully at the first corner, and we even managed to keep it going right up until the back of the ride was in view. I rather enjoyed his canter, enough so that I was able to relax and think about my position and how I was sitting as we went around, even remembering to ask Dan to bend in the corners rather than merely trusting that he would do it himself. I even had the wherewithal to tap him with the whip when I felt him backing off. I had more trouble on the left rein, but my instructor did explain that he either finds it more difficult on that rein or has less willingness, and I did manage to get it going, even if the transition wasn’t as fluid and I couldn’t keep him in the canter for as long.

My instructor praised me for my efforts. She said that with me, she thinks cantering has nothing to do with my ability, it’s all to do with ‘what’s going on up here,’ as she put it, tapping at her head. I think she’d probably right. When I feel calm and up for it, it’s always fine, and I enjoy it. The very moment I have any cause for concern or hesitation, it all goes to pot.

After dismounting, I led Dan back to his hay (which he was more glad to see this time), untacked him and put his rug on him, then fussed him a bit, said goodbye and went to hang up his tack. I said hi to Soapy on the way out, but while she looked up from her hay she didn’t want to come and say hi today. I left with a feeling of satisfaction at a job well done, in spite of not having been able to do the pole exercise; after all, it’s all good practice, even if you don’t nail something on your first attempt. My thighs certainly still feel as though they had a good workout, and that’s always a good sign, right?…

Epyk Tale of Volunteering

12 11 2013

As threatened, here it is: The write-up of my first day of volunteering at the riding school! This post has been several days in the making, and I apologise both for its tardiness and its length. This has not been helped by the fact that yesterday evening, the draft I had saved to my WordPress dashboard and finished therein, failed to post to my blog, and I lost everything I’d been working on. Sigh! Still, here we go…

In spite of having been late to bed the night before on account of attending a metal festival that finished a little after 23:00 AND the darkness of the early morning, I managed to get up in time (the motivational power of horses!) to walk to the stables in the first of the morning light. I treated myself to a zero-calorie Monster along the way to pep myself up a bit and coasted for most of the journey there, but at intervals, when I remembered where I was going, I would impulsively exclaim aloud, ‘Yay ponies!’ with a spring in the correlating step.

Upon arrival I made my presence known to the first recognisable member of staff, who asked me to wait and said that she would fetch her colleague to give me my induction. While I was waiting I caught the eye of a curious mare with a very fluffy black winter coat, who had pretty white markings dotted around the edges of herself. Naturally, I went over to say hello. She lapped up my attention, nuzzling at my arms, inclining her neck for scratches and stamping her foot when I moved away to say hi to another horse, until I went back and fussed her some more. Her name was Misty, as it turned out.

My induction, taken by one of the full-time riding instructors I’d not met before, was brief, and involved a tour of the school, including all the bits I’d never seen before, a quick outline of the things I might be asked to do, fire assembly points and an explanation of their way of doing things as we went along. She didn’t bother talking to me about clothing because I was already suitably dressed with my hair tied back. Then we went into the office to complete and sign forms, and I was surprised when she asked me if I wanted to order any pizza from Domino’s for lunch with her. (I’d taken a sandwich, otherwise I might have done.)

Following that we went back out onto the yard immediately outside the office to prepare for a hack. I tacked up Chilli and had my inductor check what I had done, explaining that I had been shown how to do it, but that as it’s not something I often do I’d appreciate her supervision. She said I mostly did a good job, only correcting me on the placement of the saddle pad. Then I led Chilli out and held him for the client while she mounted up and adjusted her stirrups and girth, before going back to fetch Misty for the instructor, who was leading the hack, and then opening some mysterious doors I’d never noticed before from the inside arena to the outside to let them out on their way.

Once I’d done all that I moved on to helping the weekend staff – all largely indistinguishable girls in their late teens (Damian is fond of referring to the likes of them as ‘interchangeable Emmas’, a fitting term borrowed from Terry Pratchett) – prepare the horses’ night nets, which essentially amounted to finding a large net with big holes in it and stuffing into it as much hay as feasibly could be. The girls were pleasant and polite towards me while not asking me a lot of questions or making much effort to include me in their conversations, but that was fine by me. I was intrigued, from eavesdropping on their conversations without meaning to, that they were all basically from the same background; in sixth form college, from horsey families and each owners of their own horses. Theirs seemed a completely different world to mine.

Following that I was involved in various tasks throughout the day, mostly sweeping, picking up things that had been left on the floor and moving them somewhere more out of the way, keeping water buckets topped up, taking rubbish out and leading horses. I won’t dwell too much on the mundane things I did nor the order, as it was all pretty much the kind of run-of-the-mill stuff you’d expect.

I had some nice interactions with the horses as I went about my errands, however; there was a friendly wee chestnut mare called Leigh, who regarded me inquisitively whenever I was on her yard, and put her nose up to mine when I went to say hi to her, breathing down my nostrils so hard that I became breathless; there was little Jacko, a smaller pony who didn’t look dissimilar to Bramble, albeit smaller. Speaking of Bramble, I saw her in one of the outdoor stalls as I was being shown around in the morning; I cheerfully said, ‘Hello, Bramble!’ when I spotted her, and she looked up and made a funny nickering sound in response. Dylan, the largest horse at the school, was friendly and inquisitive towards me throughout the day, and I met a very handsome chap of comparable size to him on the other yard whose name I can’t remember, but who was watching me and the Interchangeable Emmas the whole time we were stuffing hay nets, and demanded fusses from anyone who passed. I had no direct interactions with Maddy this time, but I was amused to see what looked like some sort of girls’ riding group in matching uniforms all grooming her on the yard outside her stall, while she stood perfectly still for them with a seriously blissed-out expression on her face. Awww.

You’ll be totally unsurprised to hear that the real star of my day, however, was Soapy, and by cheerful coincidence rather than by design on my part, I ended up spending more time interacting with her than any other one of the horses.

I didn’t really see her until after lunch, when I went around to her yard to see what I could assist with since there were more staff on the opposite side. It was when I finished water-topping-up duties that she stuck her head out to watch what I was doing, and I went over to say hello. When I offered her my hand she would softly nuzzle it, but I noticed that she was less keen on being petted; at one stage, as I went to touch her neck, she withdrew her head and moved over to the opposite side of her stall away from me. I pretty much just left her alone after that, but when I looked up she would have her head out of the door and be watching what I was doing. At one point, I heard banging as she started stamping one of her back hooves. I went to see what was going on, and as what she was doing didn’t appear destructive, decided she must just have an itchy leg and left her be.

It transpired sometime around mid-afternoon that all of the horses, with the exception of Soapy and Dylan, were turned out to the grazing field for a couple of hours. (I was amused to note, as I observed Maddy being led out, that I’m not the only person who feels a compulsion to address mares as ‘Princess’ as a matter of course.) Apparently they do this every day, but the horses aren’t allowed to stay out any longer than that because there isn’t enough grass. I don’t know why Soapy and Dylan didn’t get to go out, but instead they were let into the large indoor school to stretch their legs, and I was amused to see that they were given a large pink Swiss ball to play with.

I was on the other yard at the time, but once I’d finished up there I wandered over to the other side to see if the outdoor thingy needed sweeping again. It did – the current time of year being autumn, I suppose – but, being at this point unaccustomed to doing hours of manual work, a tight spot on my back I’ve recently been seeing a physiotherapist about began to ache. Soapy had her head hanging over the door of her stall, having been watching what I was doing, so since we were effectively alone I decided to go and hang out with her for a few moments. Establishing quickly that she was glad of my company but didn’t want to be touched, I leaned my back on the door with her head resting by my side. She seemed pretty happy with this, her lips trembling, and it was nice for me to feel as though the two of us were just companionably sharing each other’s space.

Following that, I went back inside onto the yard, where I bumped into one of the regular staff members, who asked if I was okay. I said I was fine but I’d run out of things to do, so she suggested that I go and give Soapy and Elvis (who was back by this time) a brush. You can probably imagine my reaction. Soapy was surprised to see me entering her stall with the dandy brush and the body brush, but she obligingly stood still for me as I worked each brush over her, taking care only to use the dandy brush on the areas where she hadn’t been clipped. She carefully made it clear that she didn’t want either of her right legs to be touched as I worked down them, so I moved on to carefully brushing her face, which she didn’t appear to enjoy much but put up with. Elvis was another matter, raising his head haughtily when I showed him the brushes, and permitting me to brush one side of his body but then flicking his tail and swinging his hind end towards me when I tried to move around to do his other side. I decided I wasn’t going to stand for this as I dislike leaving a job half-done, but he wasn’t impressed about it at all. Still, there were no dramas, and he seemed to enjoy having his face brushed.

Then, knowing that the two of them had a lesson coming up, I went into the tack room to get their tack. I wasn’t 100% sure which was Elvis’s as it was unnamed, so I left his, figuring someone else would come to do them before the lesson began, and slung Soapy’s bridle over my shoulder and picked up her saddle and numnah. She was wiggly as I tacked her up, wanting to stick her head out of the front of her stall rather than have her bridle put on. She made funny, exaggerated chewing motions with her mouth open wide and her tongue out when I held it up to her face, and I was compelled to ask her out loud if that was how wearing a bit made her feel. Heh.

Once tacked up, I led her into the school behind Elvis for a semi-private lesson for two young sisters. This was probably the most interesting part of the day, although not entirely in a good way. The instructor taking the lesson was the one who had given me my induction earlier, but she wasn’t their regular one, and she decided that she would have the two girls swap ponies for this lesson. First drama: As the girls’ father came to lift the younger of the two off the ground to place her on Elvis’s back, she started screaming and bawling her eyes out that she wanted to ride Soapy. I quietly joked into Soapy’s ear, ‘See, Soapster? Everybody loves you.’ The parents tried to reassure the little girl and insist that she should have a go at riding Elvis, but she continued to wail and splutter for long enough that just letting her have her way seemed preferable to wasting half the lesson arguing about it.

Her father carried her around and placed her, now quiet again, on Soapy’s back as I held her. The possible reason Soapy hadn’t wanted me to touch her right legs while I groomed her then became apparent as she began to stamp her back right foot again as she had been earlier; not hard, but vigorously. The little girl started screaming her head off again. This time, both parents and the instructor had a hard time calming her down and reassuring her that Soapy was only doing that because she had an itchy foot, and that she wasn’t being bad or trying to throw her off or anything, explaining that she can’t scratch herself because she has hooves. I looked at Soapy’s face; she looked upset, her head lowered, ears drooping and little brow wrinkled. I couldn’t really blame her. It must be horrible having a screaming brat on your back.

As the instructor came around to adjust Soapy’s girth and stirrups, she asked me if she could have ‘a leader’. I replied, ‘Certainly,’ and went back to fetch a lead rope, then running over to one of the Interchangeable Emmas to inform them. She told me I could do it, so, surprised by this, I returned to the arena and clipped the lead rope onto Soapy’s bridle, and began to walk her around. The little girl clung onto the front of the saddle as I did so. Conversely, her elder sister was already walking around on Elvis by this stage, confidently and without assistance.

Not really sure what was expected of me, I walked silently beside Soapy, guiding her forwards and along. There was no point at this stage trying to give the girl a slack lead to enable her to do things for herself, I decided. Once we got walking, the girl seemed to calm down, and from her stillness and quietness I assumed she’d begun to enjoy herself. After all, she was sat on a lovely pony, and that’s awesome, right?

It was around the time I registered that thought that the instructor called us to a stop, and came over. She told the little girl that now, she was going to pick the reins up and ride for herself. I just stood still and said nothing. Then, disaster struck again when, in reaching down to pick up the reins, the girl’s wrist brushed Soapy’s mane and tickled her, causing her to shake like a dog. The little girl started screaming and bawling her eyes out again.

The instructor tried to reassure her, but she didn’t initially calm down. She tried tickling Soapy’s mane again to make her shake herself out again just to demonstrate that nothing terrible was happening, but that only made it worse. In a very professional, firm-but-fair manner, she handled this by assertively telling her that she was being silly now and needed to snap out of it. Initially this was met with intensified crying until, after a silent pause and some repeat instructions, the girl eventually picked up the reins and we went on forwards.

Before the end of the lesson, we managed to get her down each long side of the school in trot, with me either running or walking fast beside her, and minimal further dramas. I was impressed by how well the instructor handled the little girl and her tantrums, and I took my cues from her about when to let the rope slacken to give her a chance to try and ride for herself, and when to guide her. To be honest, though, not being the best with either small children or the sort of people who cry a lot, I found the whole affair rather awkward, and the enjoyment I did derive from it was, for the greater part, due to – silly as I know I am for this – feeling like I was somehow acting in support of Soapy, just by being a calm and sympathetic presence by her side. I found that frustrating in itself, though, because all I really wanted to do was give her neck a reassuring pat and tell her everything was alright, and that she was a good girl – which I realised was not appropriate in the circumstances.

Needless to say, when I got her back into her stall after that terrible ordeal, I untacked her and made an almighty fuss of her, cuddling her and telling her that she was a very good girl and that I was sorry children were so horrible. That insight into what riding school ponies have to routinely put up with left me feeling rather sorry for their lot, and with a somewhat pathetic desire to somehow make it up to them. I am also enduringly now in awe of what equids will put up with from us humans generally.

And that, really, was the end of my day, as the school closed shortly after that. I was thanked very graciously by everybody for my help as I left, and one of the ladies even gave me a lift to the bus stop. In spite of the mixed feelings I had about leading in the children’s lesson, I did thoroughly enjoy myself overall, and I am looking forward to going back there for more this coming weekend.

I’m getting so behind on my entries. Stay tuned for a write-up of my regular Monday evening lesson… eventually. ;P

Forwards, Backwards

4 11 2013

I’m bursting to write all about my experiences on my first volunteer shift at the riding school, which happened on Sunday, but I’m aware that I’ve got a lesson that happened in the week before that to write about first, and then another one from today as well, and given that life seems to be getting in the way of blogging lately (that’s a good thing in general – I am a much happier and more emotionally stable person when I am busy all the time) I’m conscious that if I try to limit my experiences to one post per horsey event and keep them in chronological order I’m going to wind up getting very behind very quickly!

So, instead, since it’s Monday evening and it’s traditional for me to write my lesson up in the evening after a lesson (assuming I’m not completely wiped out), I’m going to have a bash at summarising the last couple. This may go either of two ways; I’m aiming for succinct, but I know what I’m like once my writing starts to flow. Before I know it, 1,500 words…

Anyway, last week I rode the lovely, cheeky young Elvis again, and this time he showed me some of the personality I’d been warned about. We hard ear-pinning, pulling on the reins, actively trying to get the bit between his teeth and plain disobedience when I asked for bend in the exercises we worked on and whilst riding around corners. We persevered and managed to work together, however. As a consequence of the disharmony we’d experienced along the way, however, I will admit to having been nervous when we moved into the canter, especially when he broke free of the track and tried to cut a large corner around the school. I was more successful on my second go around.

What was especially interesting and, indeed, useful about this lesson, was that we didn’t have our regular teacher, but the jolly other lady who takes us from time to time who I really like – the one who is very strict about technical stuff and quite tough, but fun and encouraging with it, and after seeing us all in trot (around some cones she had lined up for a 20 metre circle) she decided to film us all on her phone so she could highlight the mistakes we were making, and show us what we need to work on as individuals.

To say I was mewling fairly recently about having hang-ups about going fast, I was pleasantly surprised when, where she hadn’t with the other riders on big horses, she had difficulty running to keep up with myself and Elvis, but to me it felt like a good, controlled trot. The circle could have gone better, but after we’d gone around and rejoined the back of the ride she caught up with us and showed me the video. Now, I’ve been taught that a good, balanced rider position is two things: Straight and supple. Well, I’ve got the suppleness down, but not so much the straightness! It wasn’t the position of my torso that proved such an issue, however, as my feet; not my legs (overall, my leg position looked okay to me), but very specifically my feet. In the trot, they flap around all over the place and I’ve never even realised! My toes point outwards, and as I kick on with the inside leg it flies right out to the side and rolls backwards and forwards, rather than remaining nicely in line with the girth, as it should. I quietly vowed that pointing my toes inwards and sinking the weight into my heels AT ALL TIMES would become the order of business from now on.

I won’t go into too much detail about the rest of that lesson (we did a bit of pole and transition work, transitioning between poles on one long side of the school and riding a shallow loop around cones down the other), but needless to say, it was fun and interesting, while at the same time being hard work. I came away from it with a lot to think about, and our stand-in instructor was very good in that she told us all that she knew riding could be dispiriting sometimes, and that it could seem like you’d progressed so far and then you’d have one bad lesson and you’d feel like you’d forgotten how to do everything, but she promised us that we’re all getting better all the time, and even offered to come and see us once a month or so, so she could tell us how much she thought we’d improved. I do like her.

For having said that, though, I also make no secret of the fact that I think extremely highly of my usual instructor, too, who was back this week. I rode Dan this time, who was his usual self; friendly and companionable from on the ground, lazy and all too easily distracted from in the saddle. That said, I was ready for it, knowing what to expect, and although there were a few… moments in the lesson (a decision by him to defy me and walk across the school, which I refused to stand for, dodging trot poles altogether at one point and spooking a little bit when we rode past the open end of the school, possibly due to fireworks), he was mostly uncharacteristically responsive to me, if a little slow with it. I discovered that it had been at my regular instructor’s thoughtful request that we’d got to do more pole work in the previous lesson (she’d mentioned that I’d requested it), and we did more this week; this time, riding over trot poles down one long side of the school, and transitioning from trot to walk and back between cones on the other long side.

What was interesting in this lesson was that I had my head full of all the advice the other lady had given me the week before and was trying to concentrate on incorporating all the improvements she’d suggested while I was working the exercise, but – and I think anyone who has ever ridden a horse will probably appreciate this – the very minute I tried to address anything my usual instructor critiqued on the spot, everything fell apart because I stopped thinking about all those things to try and work on the thing I’d been pulled up on! Heh.

Still, it seems I’ve picked up a bad habit for leaning too far back, particularly in riding trot. Almost all of the criticism this week was that my shoulders were too far back and that consequently – particularly when we were going over the trot poles – I was ‘behind the movement’. I could feel what she meant. She kept telling me that I needed to be much further forwards, and encouraging me to lean forwards into my rise as we went over the poles. This made me feel weird and unbalanced and like I might just go flying over Dan’s shoulder, and it wasn’t until my very last attempt that I felt like I’d got it right. I know I used to be really bad for leaning forwards, though, so it might be that I have over-compensated for this and gone too far backwards now!

Unfortunately, when we got to the canter, although Dan had woken up and was responding to me nicely by that point, I was a bit thrown by everything and I reverted to my usual position of having too firm a contact on the reins and not letting Dan have his head so he could just strike nicely into it. I did get it eventually on both attempts, but Dan being Dan, although he went into it nicely, he didn’t maintain it for very long. Oh well!

As soon as I dismounted he was back to being friendly, harmless, kissy Dan. He was so slow being led back to his stall I wondered if he didn’t actually want to go to bed at all, and when we got back there I was amused, as I was untacking him, by his tossing his own hay net (strung up on the wall) around with his nose, looking unimpressed as he did so, but then when one of the staff came in with Maddy’s half-eaten lunch net and emptied it on his stable floor he stuck his nose into it and chomped away with relish. It must just taste better if it’s someone else’s.