Still Alive!

8 09 2014

Gosh, three months? Really? It’s flown by.

August holidays notwithstanding, I’ve managed to keep up my weekly lessons pretty well since I last posted. I’ve just been keeping very busy in life generally, and finding myself not having those long forgotten quiet days at work when I could get away with discreetly typing away about my recent experiences with horses into a Word document and copying and pasting what I’d written into WordPress when no-one was looking. Heh. Still, busy is good. It keeps the madness hamsters at bay, and with winter calling to say it’s on its way, that cannot be a bad thing.

Well, it’s been good. I’ve started going to the gym as well as riding, and it’s helped. I’m developing upper body strength I didn’t have before, and that’s really helping me stay upright in the saddle better with relaxed and lowered shoulders, which has helped my stability and balance, which in turn is helping my seat. I have developed an awareness of the difference between impulsion and going fast, and I understand how to push for one without the other. I can interpret how most of the horses and ponies I know respond to various aids and how to use it. I don’t get nerves any more.

I’m at that stage in my riding now where I’m mostly being paired with the same handful of horses because the staff understand my ability to work with them. Most often recently, that’s been wee Elvis. He and I understand each other; I carry a whip when I ride him, but I hardly use it, and when I do (and not lightly) he makes his displeasure known with a stroppy little buck. Every time. But I’ll sit to it, and then he does what I asked. Paddy and I are still friends, although I had a very unproductive lesson on him on my birthday, in which we really failed to do anything because we’re both stiff in our right side, and I could feel that both of us walked away from it feeling frustrated and glad it was over. Although it did make me laugh that he walks around in the school with his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth, like he’s concentrating *really* hard.

Tonight I rode my beloved Bramble. Last time I saw her, I was worried she was coming down with the horse equivalent of cystitis, because although I wasn’t riding her, she kept stopping, obviously for a wee, and then seeming not to be able to go; then I didn’t see her at all for a while. Having ridden her subsequently, I now rather think that she’s learned that she gets to stop and have a break if she pretends to need to go for a wee. She’s still adorably grumpy, but not at me. I remember a time when if I tried to untack her, she’d pin her ears and flick her tail. Nowadays, she just seems relaxed and happy with me in her stall with her (as long as I’m not making her do anything).

I’m still battling on to improve my canter. The nerves have completely gone I’m happy to report, and I am really starting to enjoy having a good charge around the school, when I can sustain it for that long. The main issues now are that I am still overthinking the transition when I come to ask, making the process a bit cumbersome, and – as the instructor I had on bank holiday Tuesday (we get those where I work, and since my regular lesson was cancelled I thought I’d make the most of it and get a private lesson) identified – my leg muscles and hip joints are very tight, and stiff.

In that lesson, I had been paired with Symphony. I won’t pretend I didn’t look at the roster and quietly think ‘Oh, no!…’, but actually, she was fine. She was like a completely different horse on her own, and we had the whole of the indoor school to ourselves. Such luxury! Anyway, I went along and explained to the vivacious, younger instructor the problems I’d been having, and that the lesson was a one-off to help me keep my hand in. she watched me warm up independently of any instruction from her, and right away she said she could see it; my leg muscles were tight, and it was making it physically difficult for me to extend my leg down Symphony’s side. If anyone’s ever picked up on that before, they didn’t tell me.

She stopped me and pulled my leg into the position she said she wanted me to try and hold, then let go, and asked me how it felt. I said it was hard to maintain, and I could really feel the stretch. She nodded in silent confirmation. She had me ride without stirrups, then she had me complete various leg-stretches in the saddle (while Symphony – in what seemed like a total personality change – refused to stand), and then she observed my canter. Symphony went forwards beautifully and we got the canter every time I asked, but then my feet would come out of the stirrups at the strike-off. This is apparently all related. Her advice to me was to not think of pushing my weight down into my heels, but bringing my legs back and down, so that my lower calf was more in contact with the horse’s side and I didn’t have to feel so much like I relied on my heel to ask with a leg. She also recommended I stretch, a lot. All the time. But especially before and after riding.

I’ve taken that on board. I am now stretching as much and as often as I can. I am trying to incorporate stretching into my daily routine; when I ascend a staircase, I am deliberately stretching my calf down off the step before pushing off again with every step. I know it won’t help overnight, but I am hoping it will improve over time. My regular instructor has praised me in the last two lessons I’ve had with her for keeping my stirrups through the transition into canter, but she says I still need to work on keeping my hips open and my heels down. (Which isn’t so easy when you have a horse who canters like a see-saw on a tsunami, such as Bramble.) We’ll get there.

In my not-riding-but-still-horsey life, I was scheduled to have my second annual stint at Historic Equitation this weekend just gone, however it was postponed last-minute as Dominic needed to fill-in for somebody else at Bolsover Castle. So, naturally, we went to Bolsover Castle, and saw him putting on the cavalier riding demonstration in the 17th century riding house. If you ever have the opportunity to go there, go; it’s a spectacular display of horsemanship, including an insight into the methods of William Cavendish in schooling horses to perform airs above the ground (which was especially interesting). The most pleasant surprise of all was that at the end of the show he came right over to us, all smiles (and horse in hand), and thanked us for coming. We have an alternative date now that works for everyone, so that worked out well!

I have also found a lovely little horse and pony sanctuary a not-too-distant bus ride from my place called Hope Pastures. I spent a pleasant day out there on the bank holiday Sunday. I met several lovely horses and donkeys there, but not least the two yearlings Scrumpy and Jack, who were so mischievous and friendly. I really hoped they’d get rehomed together, as their bond as friends was clear. So, since all posts are better with pictures…

Scrumpy and Jack!</center<

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2 responses

9 09 2014
The Lite Rider

So nice to hear from you here! I also weight train, and I believe it helps quite a bit with riding.

Lovely regarding Bramble (not her cystitis, but your riding her).

After almost one year of remedial exercises designed to improve my balance/seat, I am also back to cantering. It’s better this time around. Proof that even a rec rider can be helped.

Lovely photo at the end of your entry.

I am very familiar with riding sans stirrups, and sans stirrups and reins….. Quit WP for a while, deleted all my previous blogs, but am back now. (Changed my blog title to “The Lite Rider”, so that you know who I am. Do check out my entry “New Meaning to Long in the Tooth”…….for a laugh).

11 09 2014
theInelegantHorseRider

Great that you are back having some time to post and it sounds like you have been up to so much riding wise. I am so pleased that you are enjoying canter now, looking forward to hearing more about the horse equitation.

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