Historic Equitation 2014: Part 1

22 10 2014

So, this weekend, we returned to Historic Equitation – for my second visit, and Damian and Amy’s third.

I felt a bit sorry for Amy, actually. She was kind enough to drive us there and back again, she had to go to work on the following day, and aside from this, her riding is far above the level of my own and of Damian’s. She could probably do so much more with her time there given her advanced skill, but because she humours us goons – me with my bad habits and overthinking, Damian with his spot-on attitude to horse-handling, natural calmness and empathy but comparative lack of experience – she more or less has to go at the pace that we do, just better. Still, there don’t seem to be any hard feelings on that front, and Dom is good enough to let us all train in the same things. I suspect she enjoys having the company, too.

Still, we went, all very excited, and this time accompanied by my friend Stu as our photographer, since it’s difficult to get a picture when you’ve got a training lance in one hand and the reins in the other. We arrived dead on time, more or less, had a sit down and a cup of tea in the farmhouse (HE has moved to new premises, and while they haven’t finished all the work they’d like to do on the new place, it was easy to see how much more awesome it’ll be once they’ve finished everything they’ve got in the pipeline), and then went out to greet the horses, give them all a good groom and tack up. After some discussion it was decided that I would ride Briar this year, since of all the horses there, he’s the most even-tempered and predictable; Dom didn’t want me to be put off by a horse who was too strong for me, as I had been the previous year riding Marduk. I was grateful of the level of sensitivity with which he broached this.

So I took Briar, and Damian took my former mount, Marduk – the black warmblood stallion. I was informed that Briar had had a good jousting season, but that he had gotten a bit overweight since. He was very muddy when I found him tethered up in the barn beside his friend Duke, but I soon took care of that. Initially he refused to give me his hooves to be picked out, but after I’d gone over him with the brushes he obliged without question. I was very soon endeared to this towering, majestic warhorse, billed on the website as ‘a fierce jouster and excellent destrier,’ for his being caked in mud, obviously from rolling around in it, and for giving me baby horse looks at intervals and wobbling his bottom lip as I groomed his face and talked to him as I went around him. I could easily see how he’d gotten overweight; to his left was an unattended pile of haylage he’d clearly been helping himself to.

We had agreed upon starting the proceedings with a hack to the next village and back to warm ourselves and the horses up. Damian later said that he would have happily traded the time for extra time doing drills, but I for one was glad of the hack as it gave me a good chance to get accustomed to Briar and what he responded to (both Amy and I agreed at lunch that we’d had the same problem initially, in that our ask for a leg yield had been interpreted by our respective mount as a push to go forward) and to stretch my hip flexors over his barrel-like frame as he was easily the largest horse – in all dimensions – I have ever ridden. This was helped by the fact that the stirrup leathers the stock saddle I had been given were fitted with were faaar too long for me, meaning I was better off riding the whole way and back again without them. Giving instruction to Briar became easier when I put these up using the straps on the saddle to keep them out of the way, because of the lack of confusion from feeling something knocking against his side constantly, I think.

We had a lovely walk (with the odd trot to get back into two-by-two formation after adopting single file to allow a car to pass) along the country lanes, during the course of which Dom let slip to me that he could do with someone to come over and exercise Briar every day over winter, in reponse to his grumbling and wheezing as though he was either unimpressed at being made to work or needed a cough. (He did eventually have a good cough.) I might have said, ‘If only I lived closer!’ I would be more than happy to exercise Briar, for nothing more than the experience!

Once we’d passed some airborne kites, circling low enough that we were able to see their plumage, an array of thatched-roof cottages and a traditional British red telephone box, we returned to the farm, dismounted, tethered the horses and went inside for a hearty lunch. My legs were pretty nicely stretched at this point – so much so that while sitting down wasn’t an issue, standing up again might have been. Then, once we were nourished and refreshed, we returned to the barn to mount up again and head out for some drills. I was amused, if not surprised, to return to find Briar with his nose in the haylage. Heh.

During the hack, there was some discussion between myself and Dom about my swapping Briar for Duke in the afternoon. Duke is a pure-bred Friesian, and as Dom explained to me, he is perfectly well-behaved under saddle, but could ‘get a bit prancy’, which he didn’t want to put me off. Much as I would have loved to have ridden him, I elected to stay with Briar; I’d gotten used to him, I was reassured by Dom’s having said that you always know what you’re going to get from him, and above all else, while I was feeling confident that I wasn’t going to let any nerves get the better of me this time, I wanted to enjoy myself. So I decided to play it safe, knowing that lovely Briar would take care of me.

To be continued…


I aten’t dead

20 10 2014

This weekend, our rescheduled annual trip to ride with Historic Equitation took place. But that’s not what I want to write about this evening.

No; before I launch headlong into another ‘OMG THAT WAS BRILLIANT’-sounding (and possibly multi-installment) post, I’d like to make a concise update about how my weekly riding lessons have been going lately, since I did that awful thing of updating again as though I was back from a hiatus, and then failed to update again for a further six weeks or so. The thing is, in addition to my life outside of riding getting busier and free time becoming an ever more precious commodity, there is getting to be less and less to report in terms of my riding progress. That’s not because I’m not progressing, you understand; it’s more because I’ve come to understand pretty well what I’ve been doing wrong, what I need to get into the habit of doing differently, and how to go about it, and it’s now just a question of working on those things week-in and week-out to get it down so that it becomes natural. And we’re getting there, slowly but surely. Of course, if I could justify riding several times a week as opposed to just once for an hour it would be coming along faster, but sadly I can’t.

Anyway. At the point when I made my last post, things had been going pretty swimmingly with Elvis. Elvis is definitely one of the more forward-going horses I’ve become accustomed to riding, but he’s not so forward going that if he thinks he can get away with not doing something he won’t try it on, so he’s a good match for me in that I need the confidence boost that his responsiveness to my aids offers, but also to learn not to hesitate and just go with the way things pan out. Things were going so well that I finally started to feel as though I’d turned a corner with my riding, as opposed to making such incremental improvements from one week to the next that they were barely noticeable to me.

But then I had a run of being given Bramble every week, and as much as I love that mare for her personality, her stubbornness upset the applecart quite a bit, to the point that the focus of lessons with her became just getting her to go forwards and to respond, rather than learning anything new. I regret to say that having to contend with her see-saw-like canter set me back in the progress I’d made in that regard, too; in my attempts to sit to it, I slipped back into old, bad habits of clamping my legs around her sides and then not being able to use them effectively to give aids. I carried on regardless, determined I wasn’t going to let it get to me. Sadly, by the end of last week’s lesson it had. I just felt so frustrated that it seemed I’d been set back two months in my riding all over again.

Realising this, I think, my riding instructor sympathetically wrote on the booking sheet for this week for them to give me a different horse. I was allocated Jake, who I’ve not ridden before. That wasn’t a problem, only the other lady I ride with had been assigned Elvis, and our instructor suggested we swap as then we’d each have a horse we liked and got on with. I’d have been happy to have a go on a new horse, but I won’t deny I was very happy to be back on Elvis.

We did the usual warm-up in open order. I got a canter on both reins in the warm-up, which I was happy about. I had difficulty keeping him on the track on the right rein, but it got better when I stopped trying to correct it. Something I’ve been told a lot recently is that, as a rider, it’s natural to think you should be doing something – anything – to get a horse under control when it’s not doing what it’s supposed to, which usually results in you doing things like tightening your contact on the reins and giving all sorts of unnecessary leg aids, when probably what you really need to do is none of that, but to relax and check your position to make sure you’re sitting balanced on top of the horse and he’s got his head and neck in front of him. I think that was what was happening there.

We do a lot of work without stirrups on asking for bend from the horse in our lessons in general nowadays, which I see the value of. It teaches you the subtle differences in asking a horse to go forwards, asking it for a leg yield and asking it to soften to the inside of a bend, and the importance of keeping yourself upright and correctly aligned while doing all of those things (for example, I am terrible for letting one hand sit lower than the other; this actually messes up a good bend, so it’s really helping me keep a check on that). It also switches the horses onto you, so that they respond better to your asks, and I am finding it a helpful exercise. My circles are becoming neater as a result, even when I ride them at the start of a lesson in the warm-up. When we would normally take our stirrups back to move onto canter, however, I’m being asked not to.

Much as I’d like to pretend that I’m being allowed to canter without stirrups because I’m such a badass, it’s more a case of my instructor insisting that I canter without stirrups to help me shake out the problems I’m having with the transition, the tightness in my legs and hips, and my tendency to over-think all the things I need to do to get the transition and end up clamping my legs to the saddle without realising that this is what I’m doing, typically resulting in my losing one or both of the stirrups in the process. That isn’t to say it’s because I’m completely rubbish, either; after all, my seat must be okay for me to be trusted to do it. Anyway, it’s definitely helping. This week that was really very apparent, as I moved on from just doing my best to keep my weight down into the saddle and hoping the canter would keep moving forward and actually managed to just go, move my seat with it and – shock, horror – not only relax my legs, but apply the leg aid successfully when Elvis seemed to back off. Which is excellent, considering our instructor said this evening that she would like to move us onto applying some of the techniques we’ve used in walk and trot in canter in the coming months. The example she gave was shallow loops. Are we building up to dressage? Watch this space, I guess.

So that’s where I am with my regular riding at the time of writing. Words relating to the historic riding will follow, but to whet your appetite, here’s some GoPro footage shot from a ring gallows on the day. Please excuse the wind noise. The object of the exercise was to get the lance through the ring, which should then have come unhooked from the gallows as each rider rode on. Should.