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?…




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