I came, I saw, I cantered!

18 02 2013

Monday has come around again so quickly! I was prepared for it this time; as you know, I received my new jodhpur boots last week, and today – just in time – I received my new leather half-chaps as well. Half chaps and jodhpur boots are so comfortable! I’ve always been biased in favour of tall boots for reasons of pure vanity, but honestly, aside from the fact that my boots – being so new still – currently still pinch a little when I walk, but they’ll loosen up with regular wear. Images!

So, since my boots were new and therefore still rather sharp around the edges, and I hate the thought of causing unnecessary discomfort or pain to equines, I decided to walk to the stables in my new boots to try and wear them down a bit in advance. Aside from some mild pinching, they were fine to walk in. The sun was up for the whole walk, which was nice for me.

I arrived at the stables in good time again, and went into the office to pay for my lesson. I asked the lady in there about Own a Pony Days, and she happily told me all the information about how and when they run, including that there was one going ahead this week if I wanted to book someone on. Then I asked if adults were allowed to play, too, and this thoroughly confused her! She bashfully told me that really it’s for seven- and eight-year-olds, and added that this was a shame really and that they ought to run them for adults as well. I told her about the one I had attended in Nottingham, and said not to worry if they wouldn’t allow adults to join in on one, and that I’d just thought there wouldn’t be any harm in asking. She said she would check with someone else and let me know next week if they’d consider letting me! I really hope so, I’d love to spend a whole day playing with Soapy!

Speaking of Soapy, because I was early and she and Maddy (who I rode this week)’s stalls are close together, before I collected Maddy for my lesson I went to say hello. When I called her, Soapy came away from her hay net, walked over to the door, put her muzzle up to my nose, blew on it and then turned away again. This felt like it was done in the same manner as a passing bro-fist. Heh.

Anyway, as you probably remember, this was to be my first lesson cantering with the group, and canter I did! Maddy is yet another piebald horse, only she is what I class in my head as a ‘proper-sized horse’, standing at 15.3hh. She seems to have a very sweet and forward-going nature in general, although as the lesson began it was clear she couldn’t really be bothered and didn’t really want to do any work. Our instructor started me off without a whip as she didn’t think I’d really need one given how she usually knows Maddy to behave, so I lent my own to the lady who rode Bramble, but a whip was soon fetched for me as Maddy consistently refused to listen to me. For having said that, though, her behaviour improved right from the first tap across her girth, so I didn’t have to use it much, which was good.

We did no work without stirrups this week; we practised transitioning from walk to trot (rising), then walk to trot (sitting and in a 20m circle, with transitions mid-circle), and then in the final twenty minutes we moved straight onto canter.

Because I have cantered before and I know what the aids are, I was made to go first. We were talked through everything that you need to do so well that I didn’t feel at all nervous, and when I transitioned – for the first time I can remember since a comfortable canter in the school at Woodside on Tara last summer – I didn’t panic! In the trot leading up to it, I had some issues keeping Maddy to the track. This is a recent problem, and it’s making me wonder what I’m now doing wrong that I didn’t used to get wrong, but that’s something to think about another time. My instructor told me not to worry, though, and just to go into sitting trot from where I was and ask for canter in the next corner. Ask I did, and Maddy immediately obliged! Together, we went into a very calm canter at exactly the same pace we’d been trotting at before. At first I found myself bouncing in the saddle a little, which was probably why we only managed to get halfway to the back of the ride before she transitioned back to trot without any input from me, but I felt great for transitioning successfully and for holding it together. In fact, I was grinning like an idiot – so happy that it had just worked.

The other two riders each had their turn. Everyone was successful, so we all went around again on the same rein, then changed reins and repeated twice. My success in the first go around had really boosted my self-confidence and my determination to get on with it, and I got a little better each time, on my final go managing to do a better job of keeping Maddy to the track in canter – probably because I was so much more relaxed – and even managed to take the two corners in the C-end of the school at a canter before Maddy transitioned back to trot of her own accord. It was so much fun, and I want to go again and again and again! I want to canter every day!

After the lesson, I lead Maddy back and thanked her for cantering so nicely for me. A member of staff came and loosened her girth, took her bridle off and put a rug over her shoulders so she could relax a bit but would still be ready for her next rider. I hung about trying to take pictures of her, but I didn’t get any brilliant ones, I’m afraid.

After I was done with Maddy, I looked over to Soapy’s stall to see her looking over her stall door at me. I walked over and put my fist up to her muzzle. She gently ‘kissed’ it like she usually does. I gave her neck a bit of a pat, and her lips trembled. Then she moved over to her water bucket and I said goodbye.

A shout goes out to my mother, who, after reading last week’s entry, was kind enough to order me a copy of the Haynes Horse manual! Thankfully, they do not take a horse to pieces to demonstrate how it works, but it is nicely written with lots of pretty photographs and contains useful tidbits of information I didn’t already know. The best thing I have read in it so far is an old saying: ‘Tell a gelding, ask a mare, discuss it with a stallion.’ I rather enjoyed that!


OWN A PONY DAY, YO (part three)

10 01 2013

This is my second attempt to write up this entry! I did it last night, but WordPress seemed to be having some technical difficulties and ate my entire post. How rude!

Anyway, back to where we left off: On our return from lunch, we put the horses’ bridles back on them and lead them out into the main school again for mounting. Tara was much calmer and quieter this time. I felt all at once proud of myself (for getting something right) and sorry for all the little ponies when the chap who came to tighten my girth for me told me that Damian and I were the only people who had actually done this prior to going on lunch!

We were split up into groups again, but this time our little group was to go out into the woods for a hack. Just a steady hack in walk and trot this time. Tara, it seemed, could hardly wait to get out into the woods, and although she wasn’t as impossible as Barron had been on that previous occasion when I’d had a fight on my hands to keep him in the school and stop him following the others going out on the trail, we still ended up second in line for the entire ride as a result of her keenness to get out there, with Damian on Saxon somewhere near the rear at first. Again, she surprised me with her contrariness; whereas the idea of getting her hooves wet in the school before lunch had seemed like it was unthinkable to her, now she was marching through the puddles like it wasn’t an issue. Unlike Barron, who our leader was riding on this occasion; she cursed him mildly as he mounted a steep (and not entirely safe-looking) camber to avoid getting his hooves wet!

Once we were in the woods, I was impressed once again to see Tara demonstrating her intelligence. A fairly short distance into the woods there is a steep decline. Usually, when negotiating this, I’ve given whichever horse I had a long rein and just relaxed in the saddle while trying to keep my back straight, and let the horse handle the manoeuvring. Every other horse I have been on than Tara has dealt with this by blindly following the horse in front of them, but Tara pauses at the top, looks down and picks out the route she thinks looks the shortest, purposefully taking the inside corners, all the while taking her time and looking where she’s going. When we got to the bottom, I couldn’t help but pat her on the shoulder and tell her what a clever girl she was.

We took a slightly different route through the woods this time, in areas of the country park that were all familiar to me but that I’ve only been through/past once or twice before. We had a nice, long trot along the road, which took some getting used to because of the decrease in palpable shock absorption, and I lost my stirrup at one point but Tara, being forwards and just loving to run, kept a fast, steady pace up while I recovered it and resumed rising with it. We went past the other riding school situated in the country park (which was a bit strange, but nice to see the other horses looking curiously at us as we went past) and the old winding engine house from the days in which the area was a centre for coal and iron mining.

Sadly, it was after we passed this rather attractive piece of history an upset occurred. I’m not entirely clear on what actually happened, but it seems that one of the younger girls’ ponies kicked out at one of the others with both back legs, throwing her off and into the undergrowth at the side of the path. Of course, we all stopped, and our leader dismounted so she could go and check she was all right. I glanced over, not wanting to stare for knowing that it can make you feel uncomfortable if everyone’s looking at you in a situation like that, but I did see that she was sat upright on the ground clutching one of her hips with both hands, and I imagined she’d landed similarly to how I did when I fell from Kit that time in Japan. She agreed that she would continue, but she swapped ponies with a young lady who, if she wasn’t one of the volunteers, at least carried herself with the sort of confidence you’d expect of a regular at the stables and a proficient rider. Damian praised her for being brave.

In this time, I had permitted Tara to graze on the long grass and bramble leaves (which she seems to have a particular taste for) at the side of the path, and dismounted to try and grab a hold of the pony who’d kicked off and was now standing riderless, at Damian’s suggestion, as I hadn’t realised s/he had been left unattended. I was beaten to it by the young lady I mentioned previously, but this led to amusement when I tried to mount Tara again from the ground and she – obviously eager to get moving again – took this as a cue to start walking on, leaving me laughing and hanging onto the saddle with both hands, bent double over her. Heh. We got there in the end. Our leader led Barron to a bench and mounted him from that, which seemed rather like cheating after all of the rest of us did it from the ground!

We continued at a walk for the remainder of the ride, understandably; Damian came to the front behind me and the younger riders on their smaller mounts were allowed to trail behind in a group together. Every time we stopped to let them catch up, Tara forcefully lowered her head to any bramble leaves that were visible, and Damian remarked that she was like a supermodel; slender and beautiful, but completely obsessed with food. We could tell when we came up to a path where the horses would normally trot or canter, because both Saxon and Tara tried to just go for it, irrespective of what Barron was doing in front of them. I found that just sinking my weight into her back gave her the right message. Towards the end, I found the small of my back really hurting; I did a few things to correct my posture, but there was nothing wrong with it. I guess I’m just not used to riding for two hours in one day.

We returned to the school, dismounted and lead the horses back in. Unfortunately for me, Tara was booked for an evening lesson, so while I was able to remove her bridle and give her face a gentle brush, I couldn’t participate in the final activities of the day: Feeding and grooming your given pony, dressing them in their rug and returning them to the paddock. Tara could see the other horses being fed, and was distraught. She kept looking towards the direction the feed buckets usually come from and then giving me accusing looks, as though she thought I was being mean or stupid and neglectful. I felt bad. When her evening rider came for her lesson and took her, I said goodbye, and went over instead to watch as Damian groomed Saxon. The depth of the affection I saw displayed on both sides made my heart melt.

Once Saxon had been given a deep groom and had his rug put on him, I accompanied him, Damian and one of the stable volunteers out to the paddock to return him. The young lady opened the gate for Damian, and as he led Saxon in, called after him to lead Saxon back around so he finished up facing the gate, explaining that this was to ‘teach him some manners.’ Damian did exactly as instructed, and Saxon went obligingly where he was directed. When Damian removed his head collar and gave him a last pat and hug to say goodbye, Saxon just looked at him enquiringly at first, as if to say, What are we doing now, friend? As we walked away, I have no idea whether he wandered off to regroup with his herd or watched after us, because I couldn’t bear to look back. After that, Damian cleaned out Saxon’s stall. I offered to help, more for something to do with myself than anything else, but he insisted he wanted to do it for himself. In retrospect I’m kicking myself for not hanging back until Tara returned from her lesson.

It was a cold, damp, very mucky and tiring day, but I had a really lovely time and thinking about it is still making me feel happy. I had to go and find one of the staff members to thank them personally before I left. They smiled awkwardly and said I was welcome; I guess they must not get that much from 30-year-olds. Heh.

Since we didn’t get any ‘action shots’, obviously, due to having our hands very full, below is just a selection of photos from the day I particularly liked and wanted to share with you 😀

Now I just have my first lesson back in Leeds, which took place on Monday, and some other (potentially) exciting news to update you about! However, since I’ve raked up such a hefty word-count, they can wait for another day…

OWN A PONY DAY, YO (part two)

3 01 2013

Happy new year, readers! I hope yours was a good one. I’ve been quite busy between now and my last post, but here I am to get back on track with this!

Firstly, thanks are due to Damian for allowing me to use his photos from the Own a Pony Day to illustrate my further entries on this. Although all the pictures I originally used in my previous entry were mine, my digital camera started playing up and the phone on my camera is not sophisticated enough to use in dark conditions without a flash, so his pictures came out quite a lot better than mine, and there were more of them. However, I realised that I missed an opportunity to share his pictures of me leading Tara in from the paddock, which were quite amusing, so I’ve now gone back and included those in the correct narrative position.

So, then, once we had our ‘ponies’ fed, groomed and tacked up we led them out into the main school. There were so many of us it wasn’t possible for us all to stand in line along the centre line as we normally would, and so myself, a young girl with a horse named Domino who is similar in build to Tara (but always looks fed up, causing Damian and I to label her ‘Grumpy Horse’ until we knew what her name was) and Damian lined up in single file by the fence. Here, I had some difficulty with Tara when a blue van pulled up in the car park. In spite of her bravery when we encountered the tractor earlier in the day, she was clearly very distressed by the van; she started to make pathetic whimpering noises, and tried to turn on her hooves and make an exit. I held firmly onto her reins, but needed the assistance of one of the stableyard volunteers to restrain her from running away. She was obviously very frightened, however, and didn’t calm down until the vehicle had parked. I thought it was sweet when the young volunteer said, ‘It’s okay, Tara, it’s not going to kill you.’ Heh.

We were divided into three groups; one for a hack, one for a beginner’s lesson and one for a walk, trot and canter lesson. We were in the latter. The lesson was certainly brilliant fun, but it wasn’t really all that useful as a lesson. The sunshine favoured us in that hour, but the rain earlier that morning saw that the damage had already been done to the school; it was like a bog, and it was clear that none of the equines – apart from Saxon, who is so tough he didn’t seem to care even a little bit about getting his hooves wet – wanted to walk in the puddles, which were especially bad close to the gates. Another problem we encountered was that all the riders where of different skill levels, and thus differently able to push on or steer their mounts, which led to a lot of stopping and starting due to there being so many of us. We persevered and had a good time, however.

I managed to get Tara listening to me as we warmed the horses up, but even so found it a real struggle to override her reluctance to walk in the wet patches and get her to stay on the track. We managed to walk and trot okay and got some good impulsion going in the first half of the lesson, but at a few points I found myself wondering if I was inadvertently making dressage asks as we ended up making very graceful (but unintentional) half-passes a couple of times. However I think this was more likely to have been a result of my insistently pushing on with my inside leg when Tara tried to give the puddles a wide berth. Our attempts to do a 20-metre circle in working trot rising were also somewhat mangled.

It was when we moved onto canter that I began to realise just what an intelligent horse Tara is. She knows what’s going on around her, and she clearly understands key words and phrases particularly well. Unfortunately it was in this part of the lesson that I lost control of her almost completely. Basically, the group came to a halt and we each took turns to transition from rising trot to sitting to canter. Tara listened intently to the instructor and watched the horses go before us, and it became clear that she had decided she knew what she was doing. When it came to our turn, she went on the instructor’s word without any input from me, but she cut across the school from the letter before the corner to the one opposite and transitioned to canter as soon as she turned. I had no input into any of this, she did it all for herself. I managed to remain both calm and seated, but I think that was because it all happened much faster than my brain had time to catch up to. Tara had been described to me at the start of the day as ‘lively’, and it’s certainly clear that she loves running, with a passion. However she has a lovely, steady canter that I feel comfortable with.

On the second go I was better prepared for this, and so I tried to assert control over her. Unfortunately, this resulted once again in my wondering if we were unwittingly doing dressage. I pushed on hard with my leg in an attempt to keep her on the track, but the result was that we ended up in a very fast sitting trot going around in tiny circles, with an overall trajectory across the school in a horizontal line (and everyone laughing at us – which I can’t fault, it was funny). Consequently, the instructor came over, gave me a few pointers for controlling Tara – specifically, to have more confidence in myself, that she responds better to seat-bone instructions than to the rein or the legs, that when I want to pull her back to pulse on the reins rather than just pull continuously, explaining that she is stronger than me and so would ultimately win, finally reassuring me that Tara would only canter to the end of the ride and so not to worry – and told me to go around again. This time, she still cut the corners broadly and ignored my ask for canter at the second turn, but the instructor praised me for having more confidence and better control on this go. On our final go we went around in another bout of tiny circles across the school, but I managed to change reins and get it right going in the other direction, and enjoyed a nice, smooth canter down to the back of the ride. After that, the group trotted large together as best we could and we turned onto the centre line to dismount.

On dismounting, we put the stirrups up and loosened the girth straps before returning the horses to their stalls, where we left their saddles on but removed their bridles. Then it was time for us to break for lunch. Damian and I had a lovely picnic sat on the wall outside the front of the stables. I laughed at some children loudly objecting to one of the adults’ having said that one of the horses looked like a llama, and transformed into a ball of fluff when, on my walk back from the bathroom to wash my hands before eating past Saxon and Tara, I was mugged for attention by both horses simultaneously. As testament to that, here is a picture of me between the two equines feeling utterly overwhelmed by having both of them on me at once:

OWN A PONY DAY, YO (part one)

29 12 2012

So yesterday I got to own Tara for a day, and it was AMAZING! I’m aware of my own tendency to write 1,000 plus-word entries about one hour lessons/hacks, so I’m going to break this up into more than one entry. Here goes…

To be honest, I’m still feeling all a bit overwhelmed about what an awesome time I had. It was cold and dark and overcast all day, and it had rained really heavily early in the morning, so since both schools are outdoors and uncovered the place largely resembled a bog, but I didn’t care in the least. I really, really enjoyed myself.

Damian and I arrived promptly after a brisk walk the long way around the muddy country park, the only adults in a large group of young children. This turned out not to be nearly as weird as either of us expected and if anything it was the one or two parents who hung around for the day rather than going home and letting their kids get on with it who annoyed us. (Really annoyed us, in fact, but less on that.) The children were all perfectly pleasant and polite, and for the most part we had our hands too full with our horses to really interact with them much anyway.

The first tasks of the day were laying out the hay in our given horse’s stall into a bed, then stringing up a hay net for them, filling their bucket of water from the big steel trough, and finally getting a bucket or sinkful of feed ready for them. Standard, really, but it was nice to be doing work for horses again, and I was excited to see Tara again as it was. So excited, in fact, that when a particularly little girl excitedly shouted, ‘Are we going to get the horses now?’ to one of the staff after we’d all been issued with head collars and lead ropes and I laughed, Damian said, ‘You’re laughing because that’s your internal monologue, aren’t you?’ I couldn’t honestly contradict him.

When we approached the paddock, which I’ve never seen before, we were split up into two groups: Those assigned to ‘boy’ horses and those assigned to ‘girl’ horses. They had been segregated by gender into two sections; I understand that the riding school horses are all gelded so I have no idea whether or not this is common practice. I remember feeling giddy when I spied Tara up ahead through the trees (the paddock was wooded and had a steep incline immediately after the gate), wearing a fetching burgundy winter rug. She turned over, looked in my direction (probably just wondering why there was a group of people standing there), and my heart skipped a beat. Then, in typical Tara fashion, she turned her attention back to the cage of hay she’d previously been nibbling at.

I felt disappointed when it was explained to us that because the field was especially muddy, they were going to go into the paddock and fetch the horses for us. (It later came to light that this was not because of the mud at all, and was in fact because the staff didn’t want dozens of excitable children buzzing around the horses while they were outside.) So I watched as they went in and collected and lead the ponies, two at a time, to the gate, thereafter handing over the lead ropes and instructing them to take them back to their stalls.

I turned my attention to the other field with the boy horses. They didn’t need to be collected; from what I saw, Saxon lead the herd down to meet the party of individuals who’d gone in to fetch them (including Damian), and they all seemed quite eager to go out. Saxon was unbothered about having his head collar put on, and the only hitch for them seemed to be that his half-brother Harvey (who wasn’t participating) wanted to go with him and blocked their way out of the gate. Heh.

Finally, when all the little girls had their ponies, my former instructor asked me if I wanted to go in and collect Tara myself, so of course I said yes! It wasn’t too muddy going up the incline to where she was stood, but as I reached her and she turned to look at me, giving me that acknowledging look that horses you’ve met before do, I stepped in a particularly marshy bit of earth and my foot sank in ankle-deep, and I had trouble recovering it. It felt like one of those moments in an American teen movie where a nerdy boy embarrasses himself in front of the girl he likes. Tara didn’t move away or try to make a break for it as I had been worried she might, so I took my position under her chin and went to put her head collar on her. She was fine with this at first, but as I was going to fasten it over her head decided she wasn’t playing and backed out of it, then walking around the other side of the cage that had hay in it. My instructor exclaimed, ‘Oh, Tara,‘ and tried to herd her back to where I was standing, but I decided instead to walk towards her in the other direction around the cage and meet her head-on. This worked well, as by this point she was paying attention to what the instructor was doing and not me. She was no trouble as I led her back to her stall, not even – to my surprise – as we passed a large tractor driving past us through the yard. I had the biggest grin on my face as she walked along beside me. I walked her into her stall and to her feed. I barely had time to remove her head collar before her nose was in it.

We were instructed on how to groom the horses while they ate their feed. It’s interesting to note that although the basic principles are all the same, they do it ever so slightly differently from how I was taught to do it at Gakushuin; here, they do the main grooming to get all the dirt off prior to riding, as opposed to afterwards, and where I was previously taught to always have a hand on the horse when moving around them so they could tell where I was all the time, here I was told to talk to them continuously (which came naturally to me as I’m always chatting to horses anyway. Heh). When I returned to Tara’s stall she’d had her head collar and lead rope put back on and was tethered above the hay net, happily chomping away. I carefully took her rug off, showed her the curry comb and went about it. She was angelically well-behaved, but unlike Saxon (I was later told), didn’t lean bodily into the brushes as she was being groomed. She did, however, adorably stretch her face across my chest as I went to groom it, resting her chin against me. I melted.

One lovingly-groomed horse.

One lovingly-groomed horse.

Next, I cleaned her hooves. This confused me. I’d previously been taught to do all four stood on the horse’s left side, basically lifting the opposite-side’s hooves up and underneath the horse to do it. Tara wouldn’t give me her right hoof from her left side, and I initially mistook this for stubbornness. However, when I did her back-left hoof she gave it to me without any trouble, not trying to kick or anything like that. So I tried going around the other side, and what do you know? She gave me both hooves without any dramas. It felt really weird using the hoof pick with my left hand, though.

The next thing to do was tack her up! I made this much more difficult for myself than was really necessary. A young girl who I recognise as being one of the stable volunteers very kindly brought me her bridle, and I retrieved her saddle, girth strap and numnar with Damian’s assistance. However, the ensemble had already been put together, meaning that all that really needed doing was for the saddle and numnar to be lifted onto her back together and the girth strap secured on one side. I didn’t realise this as I’d been taught to tack up in stages, so instinctively I just took everything apart and placed each item on her back one after the other. I had more difficulty getting her bridle on her, but this was merely because she didn’t want to take the bit in her mouth. Thankfully, one of the instructors saw me struggling with this and came in and taught me a trick for getting the horse’s mouth open by pushing your finger into their mouth behind the teeth.

Then, she was finally ready to be lead out for our lesson…

Down a level…

24 12 2012

Last Monday, I had what I consider to have been one of the most useful lessons I have had since I restarted riding this April.

You may remember from my write-up of my previous lesson that I said I had chosen to drop down into the beginner’s class rather than stay in the slightly more advanced group. At the beginning of my lesson, my instructor asked me whether I’d been in her 7pm group the week before, and when I said I had, she said that she thought the level of the lesson would be too basic for me, based on what she’d seen of my capabilities the week before. As flattering as I found that, I explained to her my reasons for deciding to change classes. She advised me that I would be alongside people in this group that were all at different levels – the lowest being someone who’d only ever had two lessons prior to starting there – and that I might not find the lessons terribly useful. I said I would see how I felt after the class. Then the next rider came in with her mount. We were in the outdoor arena this time; although it is outside it still has a roof, and it was raining quite hard. It was very pleasant to be riding outdoors with the sound and smell of the rain all around us, but not actually be in it.

There are meant to be five in our group altogether, but three of the others had cancelled and so we were lucky enough to get a semi-private lesson for the price of a group lesson. This week I rode a seal brown mare called Bramble. (I rather think that the name Bramble is to horses what Willow is to cats, and if I’d been responsible for naming her I would have called her Thorn, but that’s by the by.) She seemed nice enough to me as I lead her out, but I was told to keep and eye on her and be firm with her, because she was ‘grumpy’ and could be aggressive towards other horses. The other lady in was told to try and keep her own mount at least two horses’ distance away from her at all times.

Bramble was perfectly pleasant towards me on the ground, but she was a bit of a pain once I was in the saddle. She just didn’t want to do anything I told her. Even getting her to walk on initially was difficult – but this was where the lesson came in useful. Our instructor told us, very clearly, what was wrong with the way in which we were sitting, pushing on with our legs and our conformation generally and just how it impacts on our ability to ask effectively and to control the horse.

We did nothing more advanced in the class than walking, trotting and changing reins, but all the while the instructor was keeping a close eye on our posture and telling us what to correct and how to do it. I learned that I’ve been using my legs incorrectly when I push on; I’ve always understood that you push onto the girth, but never realised that you have to extend the leg downwards so it curves around the horse’s sides and under as far as it can. I knew when I’d got it right, because I felt the stretch all the way down my legs right from my groin into my ankles. It was pretty strenuous, actually.

Although Bramble became noticeably more responsive to my asks as I listened to these pointers and tried as best I could to put them into practice, it was still very clear that she didn’t particularly want to listen to me. So, the instructor gave me a few tips on discipline that were really useful. I’ve been told at least half a dozen different ways to use a crop; she advised me to take the reins in my outside hand and strike firmly across the girth as I push on with my leg, both because the horse is sensitive there, and because by doing it simultaneously with the leg I’m sending a clear message to her that that’s what I want her to be listening to. However, she stressed that I should only use the whip if she was persistently refusing to respond to my asks. She encouraged me to be firm and make the horse work for me, because if I didn’t start off that way with every horse I rode it would be even harder for me to get them to listen to me and stop them trying to take liberties later on. She had me dismount and watch her pushing Bramble on around the school for a few minutes, calmly, confidently and without fear. When I mounted again Bramble was far more responsive to me; I’d like to think that this was at least in part because I had taken on board and put into practice what I’d been instructed, but I suspect it might have had more to do with the fact that having the instructor ride her for a few minutes made her realise that one way or the other she wasn’t going to get away with lazing around.

Following that, we did some work together without stirrups. Regular readers will be aware that I love riding without stirrups; it feels so much more natural. The purpose of this exercise was to help us get a feel for what our seat and leg position should feel like all the time. To begin with, she had us sit stationery on our horses and hook our legs up over the front of the saddle. This was so we could feel how our seat bones should feel against the saddle. After holding that position for a few moments, she had us keep that position while returning our legs to their natural relaxed position. Then she asked us to walk on, and then trot, changing reins in trot.

With ten minutes to go until the end of the lesson she had us return to the centre line and take the stirrups back. She said that after this exercise, we might feel like our stirrups were now too short and want to put them down a hole or two. I certainly did, and adjusted them accordingly. We went into rising trot together large, and it was so much easier and felt more natural. I felt disappointed when she told us to slow to a walk and turn into the centre line for dismount. Heh.

I lead Bramble back to her stall. I wanted to untack her, but I didn’t know if she was going out again, so I didn’t. Once back in her stall she went straight back to her hay net and started chomping away obliviously, completely ignoring my attempts to fuss her. I thought it best to leave her to it.

Before leaving, I wanted to call in and say hi to Soapy, whose stall is around on the other side of the indoor arena, so I walked around to the other side. On my way to her stall, a lady I often see around the stables asked me who I was having, and I explained that my lesson had finished but I’d just wanted to say hello to Soapy if I was in. She thought nothing of this and just said, ‘Yes, she’s there.’ I walked up to the door of Soapy’s stall and called out, ‘Hello, Soapy!’ She was standing at a right angle to the door of her stall, but was busy attending to her own net of hay on the wall opposite. When I called out to her she momentarily turned away from the hay and as our eyes met I saw that spark of recognition and acknowledgement, but she turned back to the hay almost immediately after. I remember saying something else to her – I can’t remember specifically what, but it would just have been something along the lines of, ‘How are you doing, Soapy?’, and she turned to look at me again, this time showing me the whites of her eyes (but without looking angry), and it seemed clear as day to me that what she was saying was, Go away, I’m eating! I think I apologised for disturbing her and left, chuckling. It had been an amusing exchange.

The school is now closed until the 7th January, but I am booked in for another lesson on that day. I have a feeling that restarting in the beginner’s group is actually going to be really good for me and correct a lot of minor things I’ve been doing ever so slightly wrong, and that instructor really is fantastic. I look forward to progressing with her help!

The next riding experience I shall have will be my Own a Pony Day with beautiful Princess Tara! I am so excited about that. I have decided that that is going to be my official Christmas day ❤


1 12 2012

I turned up to my one-hour private lesson today… to be told I was actually booked in for one o’clock tomorrow! Whoops.

On the flipside, I have been able to book myself in on an ‘Own a Pony Day’ at the other school in Nottingham for just after the winter bank holiday. I am looking forward to that immensely, and not least because they didn’t even have to ask which horse I would want!..