I Return

31 03 2014

I’m back! I had my first lesson after my misfortune, having been cleared by the orthopaedic surgeon. His professional opinion was that if I can walk normally on a broken ankle without feeling any pain, it’s not worth putting me through the bother of surgery to put it back together, and said three weeks ago that I could begin ‘weaning [myself] off’ the walker-boot. Much to my amusement, he suggested that I continue to wear the Doctor Martens boots I had on at the time for a while before I started to wear my ‘dainty ladies’ shoes’ again. I made the medical students who were observing our consultation laugh when I chuckled and told him I didn’t have any of those. Heh.

Anyway, I made my way to the stables from work, sporting a purple suit jacket with my jodhpurs and boots, making me look like some sort of crazed goth hunt rider. This was really an attempt to get away with wearing said jodhpurs to work while looking passably smart at the same time in the interests of not having to faff getting changed on the way from the office to the stables via public transport, and I daresay I got away with it! I didn’t get quite the rapturous reception from the horses I might have hoped for, but they seemed to remember who I was, looking up and pricking their ears forward towards me as I greeted them as though they recognised me (although Soapy left her hay net momentarily to come over and give me a gentle kiss on my knuckles). This was good enough for me; I had been worried that they’d all have forgotten who I was!

I rode Maddy, and rather than my usual instructor we had the same lady I saw last time I rode there. We were in the indoor school again, but this time we didn’t have the run of it because it had been divided into two with the other half being used for private lessons. The other two ladies had Duke and Bramble. I’d asked ahead of time for a forward-going horse to help me with my confidence after such a long break from riding. Maddy isn’t really terribly forward-going, but she’s a sweetie and isn’t absolutely bone idle or stubborn like some of the other horses I am accustomed to riding and she is a very trustworthy ride, so she was an ideal choice, really.

When I went to fetch her, the groom who works on her yard told me that she should be tacked up already. I found her untacked without even so much as a rug on, and said I would be quite happy to tack her up myself, which I did. Maddy looked pleased to see me, and was beautifully well behaved and even obliging as I fitted her with saddle and bridle and led her out into the arena.

After some fumbling with stirrups and girth, I set off for a typical flatwork session in open order. At first I had the usual difficulties with keeping Maddy on the track and preventing her from cutting corners into hypotenuse triangles, but the instructor told me just to let her amble about at her own pace for a bit to put her mind at rest a bit. Her main criticisms of my position were that I needed to keep my heels down and my lower leg on the girth, not letting it swing too far back when I tried to use my leg aid. This was absolutely fine by me, as focussing on keeping my heels down and my toes in was giving my bad ankle the loveliest stretch and making it feel really good. I even wondered if injuring it was going to make me a better rider in the long run!

The most helpful pearl of wisdom today’s instructor imparted to me throughout the whole lesson, however, was nothing to do with anything I was physically doing, but a constructive criticism of the way I was thinking – she told me, every time I lost my thread and Maddy stopped being wonderfully responsive to my asks, the problem was I was wondering what I was doing wrong and trying to correct, when I needed to just take control and believe in my own ability to take control of the situation. My self-confidence (or rather lack thereof) came under fire again, so I tried addressing that instead of Maddy. I was amazed that when I stopped trying to fight her with all of my aids and just relaxed and thought what I wanted her to do, it happened effortlessly. I even got a lovely, controlled canter towards the end, not by concentrating on getting all the steps leading up to my ask absolutely correct and psyching myself up to it as I normally would, but by just easing into the trot and thinking ‘canter now’ to myself. A shame that, as usual, I was so pleased and surprised by the transition that I relaxed a bit too much and only kept it going down one side of the school, but it was quite a nice change to get a canter and let out an enthusiastic ‘Whoop!’ (which I did, quite literally) than to tense up in case of sudden death, even though I know that really, I’m not going to die just because my horse is going a bit fast. Moreover, when Maddy began to act up and tried to drift across the centre line, ignoring my asks completely, rather than fight her I gave her a single authoritative (not hard) kick with my inside leg and she went back out to the track. I didn’t even panic once when she lost her footing momentarily or tried to skip into trot without me asking!

In summary, today’s lesson was that if you believe in yourself first and foremost, there is a markedly better chance that your horse will listen to you and do as you ask. I’m not saying that this has been a major epiphany that will change my relationship with horses forever or anything (that remains to be seen, in any case), but I think it’s the first baby step on a road to bigger and better things, and is possibly more important that anything else I have learned to do using various parts of my body, implements or bits of tack.

I’m extremely happy with that. Sadly I won’t be going next Monday, but I’m not away this weekend so I might ask for a cheeky private lesson. I feel really good for having had the lesson, and I can’t wait to go back again, whether it’s to volunteer or to ride 😀