The Fear is Gone

12 06 2014

I did it! I made it to two consecutive riding lessons! Go me 😀

This week was a bit of a funny one. It was fairly standard in that all three of us regulars were in attendance (a fourth woman’s name was on the roster, but she didn’t turn up, so I guess it remains to be seen  whether our group gets expanded), however at the start of the lesson we had a shuffle-round of horses. I’d been given Elvis, who I would have been more than happy to ride (obstreperous little sod that he is), but I’d remembered that in the previous week’s lesson our instructor had told the other lady that she’d been given Maddy for so many consecutive weeks that she’d try and get her a different horse for this week, and had suggested Elvis. The lady in question had been paired with Maddy again, so before I mounted Elvis I suggested to the instructor that we swap.

I had not yet noticed that the other lady had Bramble, so you can probably imagine the noise I had to suppress when my instructor said, ‘You get on quite well with Bramble, don’t you? Would you like to try her tonight?’ I’d have been happy with any of the three of them, to be honest, but another ride with Bramble! It felt like it’d been too long. (For anyone that didn’t know, she’s the horse coyly peering over the stable door in my user picture.) I greeted her with a lot of fuss, and she seemed initially not to be too grumpy.

That lasted about as long as it took me to ask her to walk on, but no surprises there. It was hot and she was bothered; that much was obvious. Right up until the very end of the lesson, any leg aid had to be backed up with a kick and a tap of the whip. Unbeknownst to me, she’d needed a wee since the beginning of the lesson an apparently sometimes it takes her a long time to have one, so I misinterpreted her occasional stops with refusal to move further as recalcitrance and was strict with her. When she finally did manage to go, and my instructor explained to me that this is often the case with her, I felt so bad that she got an almighty fuss. I was in lead file at that point, so I made everybody else wait while I apologised to her. Hah.

We warmed up in open order. I could feel that I wasn’t going to get a canter out of Bramble at that point, so I didn’t bother asking; instead I worked on walk-trot-walk-halt transitions in a bid to get her listening to me. The main exercise we did this week, without stirrups, was trotting between two pairs of cones on one long side of the school, to push on to a walk at the first pair and back into trot at the second. Bramble tried to give up several times but I just pushed her on. The one bit of input I got from our instructor was that Bramble was almost working in a nice outline, but she just needed a bit more energy coming from her back end. For once, in this lesson I was more or less left to get on with it while she gave feedback and instruction to the other two ladies. Partly, it seemed, because Elvis was being a little monster. I saw him stop dead in his tracks a couple of times, and on one of those he made what looked to me like a stroppy little bunny-hop with his back legs like a moody teenager stamping his feet. Bramble also pinned her ears and threatened to bite him when he got too close to her – thereafter in the lesson I tried hard to keep her away from the other horses, rather than us working as a ride.

At the end of the lesson our group only had five minutes left for canter, so we just had a couple of quick goes on each rein with Bramble as lead file. I don’t know what the logic was there, but I wasn’t complaining as it helped me keep her going forwards. We got our canter every time I asked, and I managed to sit to her tumultuous gait with some concentration. It felt weird; I had to activate and use my core muscles to synch the motion of my pelvis with that of Bramble’s back beneath me, while at the same time remaining supple. Not easy! But I managed it, and I was complimented on how ‘nice’ the canter had been. We came a bit unstuck when we got to the corner marked out by poles dividing the arena in two, which may or may not have been due to the absence of the boards. Knowing Bramble as well as I do, I don’t think it was eagerness on her part to get to the back of the ride and be reunited with the other horses!

The most positive thing I took from this lesson was that my fear of cantering would now appear to be all gone away. I wasn’t worried about it leading up to it; I didn’t hesitate to ask for the transition. I just went for it and it worked. I realise that being able to get a transition to canter and keep it going for more than a few strides is only the beginning and that I have so much more to learn and perfect going forwards, but this still feels like a major milestone in my riding.

I’d really like to go on a hack soon, in all three gaits. Hopefully soon we’ll get the opportunity to go out as a ride into the woods as had previously been suggested.

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Like a Boss

3 06 2014

My attendance of riding lessons this year so far really has been extremely poor. Starting in January, this has been down to no more than two factors: Injury and lack of money. I hate that the latter had any hand in my having to cancel any of my scheduled lessons, because I blame nothing and no-one but myself for poor planning and a lack of discipline in my spending habits outside of riding. Now that moving (to a much nicer flat than I was in before, if I may say so) is out of the way, however, I am determined that I’m Back On It. Especially if I’m to have a more positive experience during my planned return to Historic Equitation this September.

So, starting as I mean to go on, I hurried along to my lesson after work yesterday evening and made it there in good time. I was paired with Ben this time, and we were one member down in our group, which was great as it meant we had a lot more time to work on some of the issues that the other remaining rider and I both have in common: Namely, loosening at the hip and lengthening the leg, which was what we spent the first half of the lesson working on, at first in open order and then as a ride without stirrups. I am delighted to say that I got a lovely canter out of Ben in our open order warm-up, in spite of his having been in another lesson immediately before ours, already sweating and thus not initially being so willing to go forwards – and the first time I asked, too, on both reins. I lost both stirrups on the left rein and ground to a walk before halting across the centre line to take them back, but that in itself was a good exercise for me as it showed me that nothing terrible would happen if I cantered without stirrups, and that it was just as great as walking or trotting without any stirrups. Having the stirrups flapping about my feet was unpleasant, though!

I learned, in the work without stirrups we did in trot that followed, that Ben’s canter is actually much less bouncy and bumpy than his trot. My instructor made a remark in the first instance about my being good at sitting a trot, and initially it felt as though she’d jinxed it as it took me some time to get myself synched enough with Ben’s rhythm! The work we did was all about lengthening the leg, however, and although gruelling (I had difficulty holding the reins because my hands were sweating, resulting in my bag being brought to the arena so I could get my gloves without dismounting, and when I apologised to the other lady for holding things up she reassured me that she was grateful of the break), it was helpful.

We finished those exercises half-way though the lesson and moved straight into working in canter. This was also great for me; usually, it is only in the final fifteen to twenty minutes that we get to do this, leading file and in succession with three of us, which means that if I have any problems I don’t have long to work on them, if at all. But oh, I cantered. I cantered and cantered and cantered. I cantered every time, no fear, no hesitation; I didn’t always manage to keep it right to the back of the ride, but I went around all the corners I hadn’t transitioned in before we stopped. I kept my hands light; I thought the transition more than I thought about all the steps to achieve it. I’d been right, and my instructor was right: It’s not nerves that are holding me up from it anymore, and the difficulty I had in getting Dan to even make the transition in previous weeks was down to him being a stubborn bugger and taking the first opportunity he was given to defy me, in this case a moment’s hesitation becoming just an excuse to keep merrily trotting to the back of the ride for another rest break.

To mix it up this week, rather than just doing the plain old going around leading file and in succession to practice getting a feel for it, she introduced a new element to the exercise, which actually proved to be extremely helpful: Lightening the seat. As she explained it to us, this essentially meant standing up out of the saddle a little bit; not so much that we stood straddling the pommel, but enough to lift ourselves a little off our seats; apparently this is called ‘half-seat’. She told us to get the canter, and then try maintaining this posture, the point of the exercise being to get us used to keeping the weight down in the heels and the leg lengthened. Actually, it felt really good, and it was helpful to do this exercise both for getting a feel for extending the leg in canter, and for getting more of a sense of balance. It was brilliant to have Ben for this exercise, as it felt like I just had to set him going and he’d stay in canter for me.

Moving on from that, we had a few turns of lifting up and sitting back down in the saddle to the rhythm of the canter, kind of like a rising trot but much milder. What struck me about this was that just that little bit of extra effort in moving with the horse’s movement felt a lot more natural and ‘together’ with the horse, and it seemed to help him as well in that we kept going forwards. Then we resumed cantering at ‘full-seat’ (when you just sit). My legs felt so much better for having done the exercises, which in turn made me feel like I had a better seat and gave me more confidence. The instructor moved on to giving us pointers for keeping our backs straight and our shoulders down. I felt like I had so much more control and balance and softness as soon as I consciously aligned my shoulders over my hips.

Her closing comment to me before we cooled down was, ‘Well done; I’ll make a dressage rider of you yet.’

I enjoyed the lesson so much, and felt I made so much progress that I wished someone could have filmed it so I could replay it to other people and to myself. A competing rider in any discipline would not have thought that my performance was anything special, but I certainly felt like I had been cantering like a boss (as the internet meme goes). Thank you Ben, and doubly thank you to my instructor!