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!

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4 responses

26 11 2013
theInelegantHorseRider

Cool! You got to love a good canter lesson, sounds brilliant. I need to get back into Pilates again as I agree it really helps with your riding position. It is great having mirrors isn’t it? Although one of the horses I was riding once walked up to the mirrors when they had just been hung and licked it – that’s kind of weird but hey! Oh and I hope you went ‘Wheee!’ as you went round 🙂

26 11 2013
Sparrowgrass

November is a month I’d rather skip too. Glad you’re back.

9 12 2013
mellchan

Nice job! Sounds like you are really getting a feel for riding that just can’t be taught it just takes time in the saddle! For some reason this didn’t appear in my reader and I had to go hunting for it when I realized I hadn’t read a post from you in awhile!
Looking forward to your next post, its always fun to read about what is going on in your brain/horsey life 🙂

10 12 2013
Soapy Photo Girl

Aye, I think I’m getting there. It does seem to depend on the horse to some extent, but it’s certainly coming along!

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