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.

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3 responses

22 10 2014
theInelegantHorseRider

Hey! Yeah I know what you mean that sometimes it feels like practice and that isn’t that much fun to write about. So chuffed to hear how well you have been getting on with the canter, that’s awesome! Love the video, I sooo want to try this.

22 10 2014
Soapy Photo Girl

You should! Heh. Maybe we ought to do a swap, where I go to Cumbrian Heavy Horses and you go to Historic Equitation?…

22 10 2014
theInelegantHorseRider

Lol! Yeah we should! 🙂

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