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.





The Fear is Gone

12 06 2014

I did it! I made it to two consecutive riding lessons! Go me 😀

This week was a bit of a funny one. It was fairly standard in that all three of us regulars were in attendance (a fourth woman’s name was on the roster, but she didn’t turn up, so I guess it remains to be seen  whether our group gets expanded), however at the start of the lesson we had a shuffle-round of horses. I’d been given Elvis, who I would have been more than happy to ride (obstreperous little sod that he is), but I’d remembered that in the previous week’s lesson our instructor had told the other lady that she’d been given Maddy for so many consecutive weeks that she’d try and get her a different horse for this week, and had suggested Elvis. The lady in question had been paired with Maddy again, so before I mounted Elvis I suggested to the instructor that we swap.

I had not yet noticed that the other lady had Bramble, so you can probably imagine the noise I had to suppress when my instructor said, ‘You get on quite well with Bramble, don’t you? Would you like to try her tonight?’ I’d have been happy with any of the three of them, to be honest, but another ride with Bramble! It felt like it’d been too long. (For anyone that didn’t know, she’s the horse coyly peering over the stable door in my user picture.) I greeted her with a lot of fuss, and she seemed initially not to be too grumpy.

That lasted about as long as it took me to ask her to walk on, but no surprises there. It was hot and she was bothered; that much was obvious. Right up until the very end of the lesson, any leg aid had to be backed up with a kick and a tap of the whip. Unbeknownst to me, she’d needed a wee since the beginning of the lesson an apparently sometimes it takes her a long time to have one, so I misinterpreted her occasional stops with refusal to move further as recalcitrance and was strict with her. When she finally did manage to go, and my instructor explained to me that this is often the case with her, I felt so bad that she got an almighty fuss. I was in lead file at that point, so I made everybody else wait while I apologised to her. Hah.

We warmed up in open order. I could feel that I wasn’t going to get a canter out of Bramble at that point, so I didn’t bother asking; instead I worked on walk-trot-walk-halt transitions in a bid to get her listening to me. The main exercise we did this week, without stirrups, was trotting between two pairs of cones on one long side of the school, to push on to a walk at the first pair and back into trot at the second. Bramble tried to give up several times but I just pushed her on. The one bit of input I got from our instructor was that Bramble was almost working in a nice outline, but she just needed a bit more energy coming from her back end. For once, in this lesson I was more or less left to get on with it while she gave feedback and instruction to the other two ladies. Partly, it seemed, because Elvis was being a little monster. I saw him stop dead in his tracks a couple of times, and on one of those he made what looked to me like a stroppy little bunny-hop with his back legs like a moody teenager stamping his feet. Bramble also pinned her ears and threatened to bite him when he got too close to her – thereafter in the lesson I tried hard to keep her away from the other horses, rather than us working as a ride.

At the end of the lesson our group only had five minutes left for canter, so we just had a couple of quick goes on each rein with Bramble as lead file. I don’t know what the logic was there, but I wasn’t complaining as it helped me keep her going forwards. We got our canter every time I asked, and I managed to sit to her tumultuous gait with some concentration. It felt weird; I had to activate and use my core muscles to synch the motion of my pelvis with that of Bramble’s back beneath me, while at the same time remaining supple. Not easy! But I managed it, and I was complimented on how ‘nice’ the canter had been. We came a bit unstuck when we got to the corner marked out by poles dividing the arena in two, which may or may not have been due to the absence of the boards. Knowing Bramble as well as I do, I don’t think it was eagerness on her part to get to the back of the ride and be reunited with the other horses!

The most positive thing I took from this lesson was that my fear of cantering would now appear to be all gone away. I wasn’t worried about it leading up to it; I didn’t hesitate to ask for the transition. I just went for it and it worked. I realise that being able to get a transition to canter and keep it going for more than a few strides is only the beginning and that I have so much more to learn and perfect going forwards, but this still feels like a major milestone in my riding.

I’d really like to go on a hack soon, in all three gaits. Hopefully soon we’ll get the opportunity to go out as a ride into the woods as had previously been suggested.





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!





★★★DAN THE MAN★★★

12 05 2014

Well, horse, but anyway.

 

I’ve had another three lessons I haven’t written about, I think, around the bank holidays. We haven’t done much beyond the usual, although with the weather getting warmer it seems that in a bid to get the horses moving (and keep them moving) we’ve reverted back to working the full lesson as a ride. Which is fine by me.

 

For all three lessons, I’ve been paired with Dan again. It really does seem as though someone up above has deemed that he should be the horse that I ride; previously, I’d thought that this would have been my instructor, but from the way she commented that she’d never known anyone get paired up with Dan as much as I have been, I suspect this not to be the case.

 

The thing is, Dan has actually been fine to ride. He responds to my leg. When he doesn’t, I flick my schooling whip inwards, probably not far or hard enough to strike much other than the cantle or his numnar, rather to flick him with the soft lash at the end, and he goes forwards. I still have to push hard with my inside leg and have my inside rein deliberately longer than my outside one to keep him out on the track in the walk, although I have no such trouble with him in the trot (the law of centrifuges applies equally to horses in a school, I have found). I can control his stride with my rise and with judicious use of half-halts. I nearly get that feeling of my pelvis molding to the saddle when we ride sitting trot. I can get him to bend like a banana around my inside leg in the corners or on (as yet imperfect) circles, I can turn him in tight spots if I need to ride a wonky, tight circle to create space between us and the horse in front. I can persuade him to slow down or speed up regardless of his tendency to speed up when another horse (i.e. the back of the ride) is in sight, and to go forwards when there isn’t.

 

In short, as my instructor observed today, I seem to have worked him out. And he doesn’t bemoan me for it; every time I have seen him lately, he has looked pleased to see me, walked on without difficulty when I led him into the school, and snuffled me for fusses at the end of each lesson before I’d had a chance to put his stirrups up. (The most adorable thing he did today was when I halted on the centreline to take away my stirrups; as I took the reins loosely in my left hand, he turned around, looked at me, and wiggled his top lip at me like Mister Ed.)

 

But cantering is still my nemesis.

 

I’ve thought really hard about this on the 90 minutes-plus walk back from the stables. Incidentally, I am really looking forward to moving in the next fortnight and those 90 minutes becoming 30; I’ve started running again, and been pleasantly surprised to learn that I can manage 8km, but when you have a whip and are carrying a bag with your boots, chaps and hat in it slung over one shoulder, it’s another matter. But I digress.

 

It feels like I haven’t made any progress at all. An observation that has been made is that since returning from my injury, I’ve gotten back into the bad habit of leaning forwards into a canter rather than sitting up and relaxing into the transition. But that aside, my attempts all seem to go along similar lines, week after week, and the pattern isn’t much different than it was before I had to stop going because of my ankle.

 

On my first attempt, I will generally get a smooth-ish transition into canter, which will last down one long side of the school and be lost to a fast trot in the next corner, and round to the back of the ride. The second attempt is usually a little better, but I’ll get something a bit wrong at the transition stage, most often holding the reins too tight or too short and in so doing physically hold Dan back from striking off naturally into canter. The attempts following that will be juddery and frequently result in my getting the feeling of the canter starting, but no complete first stride before we’re just trotting again.

 

In expressing my frustration that nothing seemed to be changing or improving in a text message to a long-suffering friend who expressed an interest, I realised something: There might not have been much of a progression in the end result of my efforts, but something has changed, and that is that I genuinely don’t think that it is because I get nervous that I hesitate.

 

I am certainly not denying that I used to. Very much so, in fact. But I don’t now. Rather, the hesitation now seems to stem from my attempting to think myself through all the things I have to do to get a successful trot-canter transition as I am doing them. It’s as though, instead of going, ‘Right, this is it, hold tight…’ like I used to, I am now going, ‘Right, here goes: Inside leg on the girth- check. Soft hands-  check. Sit upright- check. Now, I sweep my outside leg behind the girth, and-‘ by which time, Dan, the lackadaisical plodder, has registered my hesitation and taken it as an excuse just to keep running towards the back of the ride.

 

My instructor expressed concern in the part of the lesson where we were taking turns, in leading file and in succession, that the more advice she was offering, the more correction she was giving me, the more I had to think about rather than just going for it, and it was exacerbating the problem. I am inclined to agree with her. Her suggestion was that I ask for either Ben (the disciplined schoolmaster) or Elvis (the mischievous tearaway who just loves to run) for my next lesson, as they are both equids with whom I have gotten on well in the past who are a lot less lazy than Dan. We shall have to see whether this makes a difference to my canter.

 

She also said, as I was dismounting, that were I to take a walk and trot dressage test tomorrow I’d be absolutely fine, which, like other things she’s said to me as [what I imagine were mere] offhand remarks in the past, was well received as a compliment of quite some magnitude. She also said that she had never had anyone in a lesson before who had been able to get Dan to go forwards as well as I do. If true, that’s amazing, frankly.

 

Still, frustrations about my inability to demonstrably progress in my canter aside, it’s always an absolute joy to see all of my horsey friends. This time, because one of the ladies in the next lesson was meant to have Dan (but didn’t show up in the end), I ended up holding him in the school for some time while we waited for his designated rider to show up; when she didn’t, I put him to bed and untacked him. Most horses there just make a beeline for their haynet and ignore you as you fuss around them trying to untack them, but Dan is very helpful, lowering and turning his head so you can get the reins up over it, and turning his body so you can get his saddle off. Awww.

 

I also called in on Soapy. She was pushing her feed bucked around with her nose, and had managed to tip it over onto a pile of her own pooh. Of course, being a horse, she was eating it anyway. Horses 





I Return

31 03 2014

I’m back! I had my first lesson after my misfortune, having been cleared by the orthopaedic surgeon. His professional opinion was that if I can walk normally on a broken ankle without feeling any pain, it’s not worth putting me through the bother of surgery to put it back together, and said three weeks ago that I could begin ‘weaning [myself] off’ the walker-boot. Much to my amusement, he suggested that I continue to wear the Doctor Martens boots I had on at the time for a while before I started to wear my ‘dainty ladies’ shoes’ again. I made the medical students who were observing our consultation laugh when I chuckled and told him I didn’t have any of those. Heh.

Anyway, I made my way to the stables from work, sporting a purple suit jacket with my jodhpurs and boots, making me look like some sort of crazed goth hunt rider. This was really an attempt to get away with wearing said jodhpurs to work while looking passably smart at the same time in the interests of not having to faff getting changed on the way from the office to the stables via public transport, and I daresay I got away with it! I didn’t get quite the rapturous reception from the horses I might have hoped for, but they seemed to remember who I was, looking up and pricking their ears forward towards me as I greeted them as though they recognised me (although Soapy left her hay net momentarily to come over and give me a gentle kiss on my knuckles). This was good enough for me; I had been worried that they’d all have forgotten who I was!

I rode Maddy, and rather than my usual instructor we had the same lady I saw last time I rode there. We were in the indoor school again, but this time we didn’t have the run of it because it had been divided into two with the other half being used for private lessons. The other two ladies had Duke and Bramble. I’d asked ahead of time for a forward-going horse to help me with my confidence after such a long break from riding. Maddy isn’t really terribly forward-going, but she’s a sweetie and isn’t absolutely bone idle or stubborn like some of the other horses I am accustomed to riding and she is a very trustworthy ride, so she was an ideal choice, really.

When I went to fetch her, the groom who works on her yard told me that she should be tacked up already. I found her untacked without even so much as a rug on, and said I would be quite happy to tack her up myself, which I did. Maddy looked pleased to see me, and was beautifully well behaved and even obliging as I fitted her with saddle and bridle and led her out into the arena.

After some fumbling with stirrups and girth, I set off for a typical flatwork session in open order. At first I had the usual difficulties with keeping Maddy on the track and preventing her from cutting corners into hypotenuse triangles, but the instructor told me just to let her amble about at her own pace for a bit to put her mind at rest a bit. Her main criticisms of my position were that I needed to keep my heels down and my lower leg on the girth, not letting it swing too far back when I tried to use my leg aid. This was absolutely fine by me, as focussing on keeping my heels down and my toes in was giving my bad ankle the loveliest stretch and making it feel really good. I even wondered if injuring it was going to make me a better rider in the long run!

The most helpful pearl of wisdom today’s instructor imparted to me throughout the whole lesson, however, was nothing to do with anything I was physically doing, but a constructive criticism of the way I was thinking – she told me, every time I lost my thread and Maddy stopped being wonderfully responsive to my asks, the problem was I was wondering what I was doing wrong and trying to correct, when I needed to just take control and believe in my own ability to take control of the situation. My self-confidence (or rather lack thereof) came under fire again, so I tried addressing that instead of Maddy. I was amazed that when I stopped trying to fight her with all of my aids and just relaxed and thought what I wanted her to do, it happened effortlessly. I even got a lovely, controlled canter towards the end, not by concentrating on getting all the steps leading up to my ask absolutely correct and psyching myself up to it as I normally would, but by just easing into the trot and thinking ‘canter now’ to myself. A shame that, as usual, I was so pleased and surprised by the transition that I relaxed a bit too much and only kept it going down one side of the school, but it was quite a nice change to get a canter and let out an enthusiastic ‘Whoop!’ (which I did, quite literally) than to tense up in case of sudden death, even though I know that really, I’m not going to die just because my horse is going a bit fast. Moreover, when Maddy began to act up and tried to drift across the centre line, ignoring my asks completely, rather than fight her I gave her a single authoritative (not hard) kick with my inside leg and she went back out to the track. I didn’t even panic once when she lost her footing momentarily or tried to skip into trot without me asking!

In summary, today’s lesson was that if you believe in yourself first and foremost, there is a markedly better chance that your horse will listen to you and do as you ask. I’m not saying that this has been a major epiphany that will change my relationship with horses forever or anything (that remains to be seen, in any case), but I think it’s the first baby step on a road to bigger and better things, and is possibly more important that anything else I have learned to do using various parts of my body, implements or bits of tack.

I’m extremely happy with that. Sadly I won’t be going next Monday, but I’m not away this weekend so I might ask for a cheeky private lesson. I feel really good for having had the lesson, and I can’t wait to go back again, whether it’s to volunteer or to ride 😀





e-Petition for Equine Welfare

17 02 2014

Healing continues apace. My ankle was already broken as it turned out, and the real issue was the subluxation of my peroneal tendon, which now seems to have relocated. The swelling and bruises have certainly dissipated. I am still having to wear a ‘walker-boot‘ daily and taking a crutch outside with me wherever I go since the joint is still very weak and tires quickly, but for the most part I am not in any pain. Which is nice.

I very much doubt that at this rate I shall see a (riding) horse before my follow-up appointment with the orthopaedic consultant on 6th March. However, I did want to bring this petition to the attention of readers in the UK. It’ll probably take you less than two minutes to complete, won’t cost you anything, and concerns something I hope you’ll all agree is very close to all of our hearts.

Thank you, and happy riding!