‘When you do get back in the saddle it will be twice as sweet!’

9 04 2013

Credit to the effervescent Mellchan for the post title. You were absolutely right! When I walked out of the riding school this evening, I felt like a smoker who’d been trying to give up, taking that first, long drag on their first cigarette in a while before the guilt and regret kicks in. Heh.

So, I returned for my scheduled weekly lesson. There were three of us this time, which I believe is what now constitutes a full house! I didn’t ride Soapy, but Bramble (I forgot to ask for her when I rescheduled), but that was okay by me; Bramble might be hard work, but I do like her. I like all of them, really, but having ridden her a number of times I feel like I know Bramble, at least a little.

This time, we had a different instructor as a one-off. I’ve actually had her before, but she didn’t recognize me – she gave me a private lesson on Soapy, that time I completely failed to get her to canter on the left rein. I don’t think she was any better or worse than our usual teacher, but the difference it made having someone ‘new’ with a different style of teaching who picked up on different faults in us as riders was both welcome and refreshing.

So, we did the usual walk and trot, transitions and 20 metre circles, all the while being reminded to check we were on the right diagonal. Bramble tested me by ignoring my leg, as usual, but unlike my usual instructor, today’s teacher put this down to her being ‘slow’ and ‘laid back’ as opposed to ‘grumpy’/’lazy’, which I thought was a nicer way of looking at it. I noticed as I was going around that she wouldn’t respond to kicks, but would to the whip; however, once she’d had the whip once, she’d respond to a nudge the next time around. We did a round of trotting and transitioning without stirrups, which was great, and I found straight away after we took the stirrups back that she was more responsive to my leg, which served as a helpful reminder that it’s me who needs to improve, not her – she knows what she’s doing.

Finally, we moved on to canter. When we halted to discuss this, I started getting butterflies in my tummy at the thought of doing it after four weeks and no practice; especially as one of the other ladies and the instructor had both said that Bramble, who I’d never cantered on before, was difficult to canter on because she’s reluctant to transition, and when she does her gait is really bumpy and she shakes you around all over the place (or words to that effect). Furthermore, unlike the other two, I wasn’t given a neck strap, because there weren’t enough to go around. It was actually fine, though. Thinking it might help, I backed up my ask for canter by shouting, ‘CANTER!’ really loud as I swept my foot back, and I could see – both times – from the way her ears flicked and she almost jumped a little bit that that jolted her into doing it right away. They were right about her shakiness, but I focussed on keeping my hands down and relaxed on her neck, and I felt okay. I even managed to take one hand off the reins and pat her on the neck to let her know that she was doing good on the second go!

Finally, we gave our horses a long rein and walked large to give them a cool down. Our stand-in instructor gave feedback to us individually, and asked us if we had any questions in turn. Her feedback to me was not to kick, but to squeeze on both reins to ask for trot, then nudge with the leg, and finally to use the whip if I was ignored; also, to relax my hands more. We dismounted on the centre line, and as I turned Bramble in the lady I often see in the stables was there, and she said that she looked ‘knackered.’ Heh. After dismounting and putting her stirrups up, I gave Bramble a nice neck rub, thanked her and told her what a good girl she’d been.

Leading her back to her stall was interesting; she was perfectly happy to go back, but she walked at a snail’s pace. I tried to tug gently on the reins to encourage her to go a bit faster, but she resisted, so I dropped my pace and walked beside her. She knew where she was going, anyway, and I wasn’t in any hurry. Once back, I untacked her faster than I think I’ve ever managed, and put her rug on, which wasn’t actually hers and thus needed some on-the-fly adjusting as I tried to put it on her. The last time I attempted to untack Bramble, she’d been in a less good mood and had threatened to bite and kick me a number of times, so I’d ended up leaving her rugs off and informing a member of staff of what I’d done so as not to cause her any further distress. This time, she was perfectly amenable, even pausing from her hay net so I could slip her bridle off (which most of the horses there fail to understand is a necessary part of the procedure – you’d think they’d want the bit out!), and even nuzzled me when I told her I was going to step under her head to fetch her rug. Heh.

Before leaving, I went and said hello to Soapy, as usual. She’d had her mane hogged, which was a shame, but she looked a bit like a baby foal for it. When I called her, she looked up from her hay, swung around, didn’t come all the way to the door but stuck her neck out just far enough to raise her nose to my face and exhale on me while sticking her top lip out, which I’ve decided is the horsey equivalent of a brofist. Then she turned straight back to her hay. Matti was in his stall next door as well, so I said hi to him while I was there; I don’t think he remembers me, because he just returned a puzzled look, and blinked. He’s still very beautiful, though.

As for the the Pilates, do I feel it’s helped? Well, I think it’s too soon to be able to tell, really; I have kept up the 10-minute basic workout every day (apart from Saturday this week, when I was away), and I have noticed that my posture seems to have improved in general, and that doing things with a straight back has become easier and feels more natural/comfortable. Specifically where riding is concerned, I’m conscious that sometimes when you come back to something after a break, you feel better able to do things without the same old mistakes, so I don’t want to conclude right away that too much of what I felt tonight was down to the Pilates and not that, but I noticed that rising in trot was much easier than I remembered, and I was not prompted once to roll my shoulders back nor to relax them. I also felt more secure in the seat during both the trotting without stirrups and in the canter, a rocky ride though that was. One thing I can point to and say for certain must have been the Pilates, however, is that when I put my jodhpurs on they were loose around the waist! And that can only be a good thing.

The one picture I took on my phone came out better than I at first thought (although it’s light in the evenings now it’s still a bit dark in the stables), although it’s a bit blurry. This is Bramble in her borrowed rug after I left her to it.


Incidentally, while I was typing this I found one of her mane hairs stuck to my fleece. N’awww.

I want one of these. I feel like I’ve earned it!


Fleeting update…

2 04 2013

I still haven’t been horse riding again, although I’m down for a lesson this coming Monday! I just wanted to check in with a brief update about what I have been doing in horse-related things since my last update.

The Pilates is coming along. For all my criticisms of the price-to-production-quality ratio of the DVD, the instructions are really easy to follow, even when I’m not in a position to glance up at the screen, and I am beginning to feel it working. Especially starting up again today after the long bank holiday weekend we’ve just had here in the UK, for the duration of which I’ve not had an opportunity to practise! I did catch myself pulling my shoulders down and my stomach in unconsciously a few times over those four days, though. Heh. I wouldn’t say that the exercises themselves were getting easier, but I am feeling them more when I do them, which I think is a good sign…

What I have been doing, though is watching a jousting tournament at the Royal Armouries at my home in Leeds! This was absolutely fantastic, and it was made for me by being able to see that the horses who were used – who were supplied by a company by the name of Atkin’s Action Horses – were really enjoying themselves, particularly a young little horse by the name of Aramis whose tail was going around like a little propeller throughout the two days we were there watching, and a white horse called Benito they were struggling to hold back!

It’s late and I should be off to bed shortly so I’m going to sign off here, but I promise to write a proper report of this event soon – hopefully with pictures, if I can steal them in time!

Still no horse riding!

25 03 2013

It’s Monday again and I haven’t been riding… again! 😦 This is because I couldn’t afford the lesson fee this week, unfortunately.

I have been doing the Pilates DVD, however, and so far, so good. The most difficult thing about it is remembering to breathe while you’ve got your stomach pulled in and your thighs and glutes rolled firmly inwards, but I hope that by doing the exercises every day it’ll all get easier. I can’t comment on whether or not it’s had a positive impact on my riding at this stage, obviously, but I’m hoping that if it does anything during this downtime it’ll just be that I don’t return to riding after this unintentionally-extended break having forgotten how to do literally everything, which is my main concern as I won’t be  going next week either due to the Easter bank holiday. That’s almost a full month without horse-time! 😦

Anyway, more on the exercises, as promised. I’ve only been doing the basic Pilates exercises – well, that’s not true, actually; the first time I tried them out I accidentally started the advanced exercises, and got halfway through them before realizing my mistake (if it hadn’t been for the voice-over telling me to repeat an exercise x number of times and then jumping straight to the next one, I wouldn’t have noticed). They are clearly explained, and you observe three participants going through the motions for you to follow, one of whom bends their knees and keeps her head on a pillow at all times so you can see how to do it if you can’t quite manage anything or have neck or back problems. It’s all very clear and easy to follow, with sufficient pause between exercises to relax for a moment before moving onto the next one. After completing the exercises I felt warm but I wasn’t sweating and my back felt much looser, which has got to be a good sign, right?

I’ll stick with it and say if I feel like it’s making a difference as I go along…


17 03 2013

So, no horse riding for me last week. I did rearrange my lesson for Tuesday as I think I said in my previous update, but a guest lecture at university about the origins of Bushido came up that evening in the intervening period and I thought that ought to take priority as it’s within my specific area of interest.

No horse riding for me in the coming week, either. I shall be away doing family things.

I have no real intention of resting on my laurels in this time, however; following the realization that if I worked on building strength in my core, a better seat and greater control would follow, I splashed out with the money I made from some recent eBay sales and bought myself an equestrian Pilates exercise DVD!

The one I have bought myself is Janice Dulak’s Pilates for the Dressage Rider. Also available in the UK is Gemma Tattershall’s Equestrian Pilates, which is actually the cheaper of the two and has more positive reviews on Amazon, so I thought very hard about which one to go for before making a final purchase. I chose the former because I was put off by what some of the reviewers had written about the Gemma Tattershall DVD: specifically, that the production quality was poor and it was difficult to navigate. The one (out of a total of two) positive review about Dulak’s DVD said enough good things about it to assure me that I wasn’t making a bad choice. I ordered it from The Book Depository for almost a third less than Amazon were charging and free postage!

Initial thoughts: Given what I paid for the DVD, I was a bit disappointed that the slip cover isn’t more professional-looking; to be honest, it looks like it was knocked up on someone’s home PC and printed on an inkjet printer, and I was initially concerned that the product I’d purchased wasn’t genuine. An inspection of the disk itself, and it looked like it was the real thing, just with cheap packing materials. I was a bit disappointed by the picture quality when I went to play the DVD for the first time, too. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that that wasn’t what I’d bought it for and persevered with it.

In terms of actual content, so far, so good. The sound is nice and clear on it, and it’s well narrated. Although I haven’t actually done a workout yet I have watched through the introduction and some of the exercises, and I found it a good sign that I found it hard to watch the explanations/demonstrations without going through the motions of the exercises myself! The commentary is very easy to follow and understand, frequently referring back to the significance of muscle groups and their uses in dressage so that you understand the relevance of what you’re doing, and the editing of the actual exercise demonstrations is executed very nicely to give you a really good idea of what you should be doing.

I will update on this again when I’ve actually done a full workout, and I’ll keep a record on here of how well I think it’s going and whether I think it’s helping.

In other news, I am also currently reading and really enjoying Monty Roberts’ The Man who Listens to Horses and becoming very interested in ‘natural horsemanship’ as a consequence… and the discovery that YOU CAN GET BITLESS BRIDLES has made me inordinately happy. One day… *sigh*