★★★DAN THE MAN★★★

12 05 2014

Well, horse, but anyway.

 

I’ve had another three lessons I haven’t written about, I think, around the bank holidays. We haven’t done much beyond the usual, although with the weather getting warmer it seems that in a bid to get the horses moving (and keep them moving) we’ve reverted back to working the full lesson as a ride. Which is fine by me.

 

For all three lessons, I’ve been paired with Dan again. It really does seem as though someone up above has deemed that he should be the horse that I ride; previously, I’d thought that this would have been my instructor, but from the way she commented that she’d never known anyone get paired up with Dan as much as I have been, I suspect this not to be the case.

 

The thing is, Dan has actually been fine to ride. He responds to my leg. When he doesn’t, I flick my schooling whip inwards, probably not far or hard enough to strike much other than the cantle or his numnar, rather to flick him with the soft lash at the end, and he goes forwards. I still have to push hard with my inside leg and have my inside rein deliberately longer than my outside one to keep him out on the track in the walk, although I have no such trouble with him in the trot (the law of centrifuges applies equally to horses in a school, I have found). I can control his stride with my rise and with judicious use of half-halts. I nearly get that feeling of my pelvis molding to the saddle when we ride sitting trot. I can get him to bend like a banana around my inside leg in the corners or on (as yet imperfect) circles, I can turn him in tight spots if I need to ride a wonky, tight circle to create space between us and the horse in front. I can persuade him to slow down or speed up regardless of his tendency to speed up when another horse (i.e. the back of the ride) is in sight, and to go forwards when there isn’t.

 

In short, as my instructor observed today, I seem to have worked him out. And he doesn’t bemoan me for it; every time I have seen him lately, he has looked pleased to see me, walked on without difficulty when I led him into the school, and snuffled me for fusses at the end of each lesson before I’d had a chance to put his stirrups up. (The most adorable thing he did today was when I halted on the centreline to take away my stirrups; as I took the reins loosely in my left hand, he turned around, looked at me, and wiggled his top lip at me like Mister Ed.)

 

But cantering is still my nemesis.

 

I’ve thought really hard about this on the 90 minutes-plus walk back from the stables. Incidentally, I am really looking forward to moving in the next fortnight and those 90 minutes becoming 30; I’ve started running again, and been pleasantly surprised to learn that I can manage 8km, but when you have a whip and are carrying a bag with your boots, chaps and hat in it slung over one shoulder, it’s another matter. But I digress.

 

It feels like I haven’t made any progress at all. An observation that has been made is that since returning from my injury, I’ve gotten back into the bad habit of leaning forwards into a canter rather than sitting up and relaxing into the transition. But that aside, my attempts all seem to go along similar lines, week after week, and the pattern isn’t much different than it was before I had to stop going because of my ankle.

 

On my first attempt, I will generally get a smooth-ish transition into canter, which will last down one long side of the school and be lost to a fast trot in the next corner, and round to the back of the ride. The second attempt is usually a little better, but I’ll get something a bit wrong at the transition stage, most often holding the reins too tight or too short and in so doing physically hold Dan back from striking off naturally into canter. The attempts following that will be juddery and frequently result in my getting the feeling of the canter starting, but no complete first stride before we’re just trotting again.

 

In expressing my frustration that nothing seemed to be changing or improving in a text message to a long-suffering friend who expressed an interest, I realised something: There might not have been much of a progression in the end result of my efforts, but something has changed, and that is that I genuinely don’t think that it is because I get nervous that I hesitate.

 

I am certainly not denying that I used to. Very much so, in fact. But I don’t now. Rather, the hesitation now seems to stem from my attempting to think myself through all the things I have to do to get a successful trot-canter transition as I am doing them. It’s as though, instead of going, ‘Right, this is it, hold tight…’ like I used to, I am now going, ‘Right, here goes: Inside leg on the girth- check. Soft hands-  check. Sit upright- check. Now, I sweep my outside leg behind the girth, and-‘ by which time, Dan, the lackadaisical plodder, has registered my hesitation and taken it as an excuse just to keep running towards the back of the ride.

 

My instructor expressed concern in the part of the lesson where we were taking turns, in leading file and in succession, that the more advice she was offering, the more correction she was giving me, the more I had to think about rather than just going for it, and it was exacerbating the problem. I am inclined to agree with her. Her suggestion was that I ask for either Ben (the disciplined schoolmaster) or Elvis (the mischievous tearaway who just loves to run) for my next lesson, as they are both equids with whom I have gotten on well in the past who are a lot less lazy than Dan. We shall have to see whether this makes a difference to my canter.

 

She also said, as I was dismounting, that were I to take a walk and trot dressage test tomorrow I’d be absolutely fine, which, like other things she’s said to me as [what I imagine were mere] offhand remarks in the past, was well received as a compliment of quite some magnitude. She also said that she had never had anyone in a lesson before who had been able to get Dan to go forwards as well as I do. If true, that’s amazing, frankly.

 

Still, frustrations about my inability to demonstrably progress in my canter aside, it’s always an absolute joy to see all of my horsey friends. This time, because one of the ladies in the next lesson was meant to have Dan (but didn’t show up in the end), I ended up holding him in the school for some time while we waited for his designated rider to show up; when she didn’t, I put him to bed and untacked him. Most horses there just make a beeline for their haynet and ignore you as you fuss around them trying to untack them, but Dan is very helpful, lowering and turning his head so you can get the reins up over it, and turning his body so you can get his saddle off. Awww.

 

I also called in on Soapy. She was pushing her feed bucked around with her nose, and had managed to tip it over onto a pile of her own pooh. Of course, being a horse, she was eating it anyway. Horses