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!

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2 responses

3 06 2014
theInelegantHorseRider

That sounds like a great lesson. Loads of stuff to focus on. So pleased that your nerves have gone from cantering, that’s cracking news. Definitely cantering like a boss.
Looking forward to another post about the Historic Equitation place, sounds like so much fun!

4 06 2014
Sparrowgrass

Wow this sounds awesome! The work on the canter seat sounds really good but also quite challenging, well done!

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