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!


New Boots!

15 02 2013


As promised, here presented by Arthur! I did expect to receive my new chaps today as well, but they didn’t come. Never mind, though; I have new boots, so even if they will look rubbish with my jodhpurs I still have suitable riding footwear and that means I can ride come Monday without restriction, in the literal/physical sense!

Black and White Horses Everywhere

11 02 2013

I realise that I have not yet updated about last week’s lesson in Leeds, but it was not especially worthy of note, so I shall include the particulars of it in this week’s update instead. Heh. I barely arrived on time due to having fallen asleep before setting off; the rain was lashing it down and it was blowing a gale outside, so dressed up though I was in all my waterproof gear, I called a taxi to make sure I got there on time, which I did… only to discover on arriving at the stables and taking out my phone that that taxi hadn’t been for me. Oh well!

I rode grumpy Bramble this week. It’s a shame she’s so grumpy, she’s beautiful; imagine a stockier cob with the same markings as Tara and a fluffier mane, and you’ve got Bramble. She was industriously chomping at her hay net when I arrived at her stall to lead her out to the school, and didn’t give me any trouble when I went in to disentangle her reins from the chin strap on her bridle and remove her rug. She was characteristically lazy in the school, but when I was firm with her she eventually (and begrudgingly) became more forward going. We practised transitioning from walk to trot and trotting in a 20m circle; I was disappointed that we didn’t do any work without stirrups, as our instructor said we would be doing plenty of that and I really enjoy it, but I felt I’d had a good, productive lesson at the end of it… and a good workout. I lead Bramble back, untacked her and began to put her rug on her, but she got noticeably agitated and had her back hooves to the door, so I left her be after fastening it at the front and went and told one of the staff what I’d done and why. She thanked me, and told me not to worry.

Interestingly, for the first time since I’d joined the group lesson Soapy was included in our lesson. It was strange to see someone else riding around on her at the same time as me after having had all of my private lessons on her previously. Our instructor told her rider at the very beginning that Soapy is grumpy and doesn’t like other horses, so to keep her at two horses’ distance at all times. This surprised me; as the only horse I can remember ever having taken a shine to who seemed to reciprocate to at least some extent, I’d never had her down as grumpy. When I thought about it, though, it made sense; she’s a horse who doesn’t really like horses, and I’m a person who doesn’t really like people. That’s why we’re friends!

Then on to this week. The weather was better – drier, if rather cold, and I made it to the stables a whole quarter of an hour early on foot! This meant that I had time to change into my riding boots get molested by a fluffy black cat I’ve not met before. Heh. I had significantly more trouble zipping up my riding boots this evening… more on that later. When I had eventually got them on, I went into the office to pay and book my next lesson, and then went around to the other side of the indoor school to collect my ride for the evening, who was Paddy.

Paddy is another piebald gelding cob (or is it piebald cob gelding?…) who looked like a male double of Soapy, like Elvis, if a little taller and skinnier. I later learned that he is both very young and new to schooling. He regarded me with wide-eyed suspicion when I approached the door to his stall, and I was quite early so rather than go straight in and start getting him ready I just stood by, not looking at him or talking to him, but just being close. He soon went back to ignoring me and hay-munching. I was set upon by another moggy I’d not met before; this one was tabby, and had dark lips and gums in spite of its white chin, which made it look like it had been eating Blackjacks.

When I heard the lessons in the main arena being called to a finish, I went in and started getting Paddy ready. He refused to walk on for me at first, and attempted to engage me in a barging match. I stood firm and didn’t back down and he stopped, but then attempted to remove my gloves. While I was holding onto the reins under his chin. It was clear this was playful mischief, and I felt bad for having to be a bit tough and forcefully push him to get him to move for me rather than just stay and let him play.

He wasn’t very easy to keep going forwards in the school, either. Well, that’s slightly inaccurate; when he was following Maddy (yet another piebald horse, but I’m not sure what breed; not a cob, I don’t think) he was too active, but when I overtook and led he was impossible, both ignoring my outside-leg-inside-rein asks and lolloping around at an uneven pace. By the end of the lesson he was responding to kicks without me having to back up my asks with a whip, but I would really prefer that whichever horse I ride would just respond to gentle, nudging asks.

Nevertheless, the lesson was good. We walked, we trotted, both sitting and rising. I’m pretty confident with my rising trot now, probably because we’ve done so much work on it now, but seemingly less so with my sitting trot; I used to be able to ride it smoothly, but it seems that I’ve lost the knack I had before of keeping my weight down in my heels while keeping my thighs and knees completely soft. It’ll come back to me, I’m sure; perhaps it was just because I didn’t adept quickly enough to Paddy’s gait, or because I was having to concentrate on keeping him moving forwards. Then we moved onto work without stirrups, and riding in 20m circles again.

I was excited at the beginning of the class, because our instructor said that if there was time we’d move on to cantering! I’m really looking forward to doing it under her instruction because she explains things so well and is so sharp when it comes to picking up on problems. Sadly she didn’t think we had time at the end of the lesson, but she did go through the aids for canter with us as we cooled down out horses and said that as long as our sitting trot was okay next week, we’d have a go then! One thing she said as she was explaining all of this that reassured me a lot was (whilst explaining about the ‘leading leg’), ‘Don’t worry whether it’s all right when you first start; to begin with, you’ll only be able to worry about whether you’re all right.’ Heh.

Then we dismounted along the centre line and put our horses stirrups up. Paddy had another lesson in the indoor school afterwards so I lead him through there, where I was annoyed that the woman who took him off me barely acknowledged me or even said thank you before leading him away!

Once again, I’d already checked the schedule to see whether Soapy would be free after the lesson or not, and as she wasn’t I decided not to hang around this time. I sat down on one of the benches to remove my boots, which had felt tight around the calves during the lesson; my left calf muscle seized up in pain as I unzipped the boot from it, and I cried out in pain before correcting myself for the sake of the horses that were within earshot. I expected the same from my right (the larger of the two), but found when I came to unzip it that it had already come unzipped of its own accord to about a third of the way down. I think this might be a sign that I need wider-fitting boots. I shall have to clean up the ones I have and sell them to (at least partially) finance this!

Finally… I really want one of these, although I’m disappointed that the the cover illustration isn’t the outline of a horse with a diagrammatic drawing of its skeleton inside it!

Oh Vick, I’ve Fallen

24 06 2012

It’s been another week again.  I have been riding in this time, however I’ve also been very busy outside of riding club with a lot of work being set by both my host university and my proper university. There have also been two important games for the sempai in the week, so having to stay at the club for longer hours to help out with those has been eating up my time and energy as well.

In riding terms, I haven’t progressed any further beyond practising my sitting and rising trot yet. At the moment it seems that on some days I can do this really well – one reminder to correct my posture is enough – and on others everything I do seems to be unacceptable. I accept, however, that I am having to contend with not only trying to concentrate on getting everything right, but also on having to interpret instructions that are being given to me in a language I have a fair but by no means complete grasp of at the same time, so perhaps once I return to the UK and start having lessons there again this will improve.

As regular readers will know, I do a lot of sweeping at the stables in the course of a normal day. We use traditional wooden besems for this purpose. Because they are made entirely of natural wood and twigs, no two of them are identical, and in my head I’ve started to give them stat ratings like weapons in an RPG-type video game that summarise their suitability for any given task. For example, the smaller, short ones with smaller broom heads are very hard to use for sweeping up large, flat areas, but highly effective to use for sweeping up a pile of collected debris into a dustpan. Conversely, the larger ones with longer handles are better for sweeping up dirt that’s spread out over a wide surface area. There’s one intermediate broom that can be used easily enough to do pretty much anything, but you have to be really lucky and get there first to get that one. Heh.

In other news, I had a fall from Kit earlier on today. He jumped while I was struggling to keep him trotting – he was being very difficult, and my sempai had to follow behind us with a large whip to spur him on for me as though he was on a lunge. I think it was being whacked from behind with that that caused him to jump, and I was effectively thrown off.

In the strangest of ways, there was a split second while I was thrust up into the air in which I realised I had a choice to either let myself fall or try and regain my seat, but I went with letting myself fall because I wasn’t convinced I knew *how* to recover my seat, and thought the fall from attempting that and messing it up might be worse.

I landed arse-first and bounced off the fence on the way down. It happened really fast, but in a strange way I remember it as though the fall itself happened in an instant but my thoughts happened in slow motion. On the way down I remember trying to concentrate on relaxing to reduce the impact of the fall but also trying to fall out of reach of Kit’s hooves. Landing really hurt. I was thankful of having had a helmet on as my head hit the ground hard and it absorbed all of the impact.

As soon as worst of the pain had subsided, I got back up and insisted I was still fit to ride. I re-mounted Kit and continued to practise without any difficulty, although I had some discomfort at the base of my right thigh. I think I was largely going on adrenaline, though; the impact of the fall has since left me with lingering pain in my right ischium and coccyx, and it now hurts when I bend or crouch down and walk (which made washing, drying and grooming Kit after riding him a bit uncomfortable). The discomfort became more pronounced over the course of the journey home.

Upon arriving back at home, I had something to eat, a delayed cry (like a real girl – heh) followed by a nap. When I woke up I followed this up with a hot bath and some painkillers, and they’ve helped. I can’t see any black bruising so I’m just going to hope there’s no serious damage and take it easy until Wednesday morning – when I have riding again!

I suspect that this will only have been the first of many more falls to come, anyway, on the road to becoming an accomplished rider. Especially as I’ve sort of got my heart set on continuing and trying to get into cross country when I return to the UK!

In other news, I think I’ve found a pair of leather riding boots for under £100 that will actually fit me! Rhinegold’s Olympic riding boots in a size 36 extra wide. I am never sure whether to buy a size 4 or a size 3 as I have pretty small feet and alternately find either size will fit me depending on the manufacturer, but from a customer review I found on Amazon it looks as though the foot sizes run on the large side, and the extra-wide calf width for the 36 is perfect for me. Buying some will have to wait until I return to the UK, however, as even if I could currently afford them it is inadvisable to ship leather goods to Japan because they place high import duty on them. I have no idea why.

On the Back of a Horse

9 05 2012

Today’s session was cut a little bit short for me today due to a misunderstanding. I don’t have any classes on Wednesday mornings, but the girl I was helping did, and thought I did too; since she and I both attend classes at then Women’s College rather than at the main campus (which is where the stables are), she womanhandled me into putting the brush I had in my hand down (I had been grooming Tifon) and into the girl’s changing room. It wasn’t until I got there that she asked me, in response to my objections of I don’t understand, what’s going on?, to confirm that I had a lesson starting at 10:40. By this point the sempai had already dismissed me, so I just got changed and left with her anyway. Next time something like that happens – if it does happen – I’ll be more forward about it. I was just really bemused this morning, and assumed I must have somehow missed the memo on something important!

I didn’t feel short changed about it, anyway, because I got to have a nice, long ride today. It couldn’t have been more than half an hour, but given than I usually don’t get more than fifteen minutes at a time, it was heavenly! I rode Tifon today – the horse who broke my foot last week. She was lovely to ride, actually; possibly the tallest horse I’ve ever mounted, very responsive and comfortable, so it wasn’t too much of a disappointment that this came about after I’d initially been told I’d be riding Hokon.

Today, I mounted her in the yard and rode her into the training area myself. They had cordoned off an area within it for me to practise in. The order of the day for me was walking practice, with practice at standing up and sitting down in the saddle on a moving horse with one-on-one instruction from a sempai. I’m still finding it really hard to do for more than a couple of minutes at a time, and I had trouble getting Tifon to walk close to the fence at the edge of the area, which has a narrow patch of trees on the other side of it. She really didn’t want to get close to it, and even spooked at one point while we were walking along it, so I suspect she might be afraid of what might be lurking in there (most commonly feral cats or raccoons, which are known to frighten the horses).

While her spooking did put the wind up me, she didn’t bolt, thankfully, and we continued walking along as we had been. It might have been exciting if she had done, though. Heh.

After we’d done a few laps in either direction of the little cordoned-off area and gone around the middle of it in circles a few times, I was called to bring Tifon to a stop in the centre to dismount and let the next rider have her turn. When we do this, the person who has just dismounted assists the other person in mounting up and whatnot, so I walked in front of Tifon and took the reins in my hands on either side. From this position, I can also check before the rider mounts that their stirrups are fixed at the same length. If a third person is available, they hold on to the stirrup on the opposite side while the rider mounts the horse, both so that they can get their foot it in easily and to make the saddle (and the horse!) hold still while they get into it. Then, if they used a crate as a step, you take that away with you as you leave the training ground. After she had finished her practices, we lead Tifon back to the stable, washed her legs, hooves and face, dried her and groomed her. Our abrupt exit meant that we left her tethered in front of the stables for someone else to pick up where we left off; I felt a wee bit bad about that.

Prior to all of that, chores I had participated in included bucket collecting and cleaning, sweeping and scrubbing all the trapped fur out of horse blankets before they went in with the other laundry, and immediately after riding practice I helped collect all the manure out of the training ground – all the glamorous jobs. Heh. Again, today I was beaten to mucking out any of the stalls; it’s a shame, because while I acknowledge that it’s perhaps not the most dignified of jobs I kind of really enjoy it. Heh.

I noticed a problem while I was riding, however; my boots being too big for me is causing me to experience difficulties whilst riding that I think a better-fitting pair would fix. It’s hard to describe how, but if affects my ability to stand and kick. The trouble is, I can’t really afford to get another pair for what they cost to buy in Japan. Given the problem I have with the width of my calves, I would have to buy short boots and chaps if I bought some purpose-made riding boots here in Japan, which, although it would be cheaper than buying a pair of tall boots, still wouldn’t leave me a lot to live on for the next three months. Another problem is that while I could hypothetically order some from the UK, the cost of postage would be high, there is hefty import duty to pay on leather goods coming into Japan, and I’m not convinced the authorities would know the difference between real leather and equileather. Dilemma!…

Boot Resolution

22 04 2012

Today I was allowed to ride a horse by myself (as in, independently and not on a lead)! It was Hokon. I had fun, although the sempai who oversaw this wasn’t entirely satisfied with my control of Hokon when she instructed me to trot around her in a circle. Because of this, I was instructed to walk Hokon from the main track into the circular pen, and once we were in there, she clipped a lead onto his bridle and walked alongside me giving me instruction as we trotted (and she ran) in a circle.

This way, I was able to practise getting into the trot again. I went around in a circle a few times in one direction on a slack lead, but when I turned him around and to go around again the other way, Hokon broke into a canter – twice, which, exciting as it was for me, was not meant to happen. After the second time this happened, I was asked to dismount. Another sempai who’d been watching said afterwards that it hadn’t been my fault and that a cat had scared him, but I think it might have been my posture or foot position again; I think that because I wasn’t concentrating on keeping my heels down I’d inadvertently kicked him into it. Nevertheless, it’s good having things to work on. If one knows everything, one can learn nothing, after all. Heh.

I was really tired afterwards, and upon returning home had to have a hour’s nap. That had been the longest time I’d had in the saddle since I started, and although I didn’t ache afterwards (and still don’t), I was/am nevertheless very aware of my muscles. For all the things I’m doing on an almost daily basis now that are proving to be quite strenuous (sweeping, scrubbing, brushing and mucking out included), I had better have a body like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 by the end of this semester!

Also, I have resolved my boot worries! I took a detour and called in at Horsy International (my local tack shop) on my way home to ask if I could try on the next foot-size up in an XL, but they still didn’t fit, and the man who served me said that he regretted that he didn’t know when they’d get any XXL-sized boots in. However, on my way home from there, I walked past a boutique that was selling discounted Hunter wellies. I have borrowed a pair of these from one of the managers to ride in before, and although they’re not purpose-made riding boots they are nonetheless very comfortable and renowned for being durable. So, I stopped to have a look at those, only to see a different pair of unbranded wellies for less than half the price again that were almost identical in appearance to a more expensive model of the pair of Aigle riding boots I’d wanted to buy (the differences being that these are slightly lower cut in the leg and without the characteristic curved top), and also featuring the recommended flat, treadless sole and slight heel. The smallest size they had them in was a size larger than I wear, but I tried them on anyway and they fit, so I bought them without hesitation. Maybe not exactly what I wanted, but a better-than-fair compromise that has saved me a lot of money!

My Kingdom for Some Riding Boots

21 04 2012

Yesterday I got to trot for the first time! I rode both Hokon and Max (warmed up on Hokon, was asked to dismount so someone who had to leave earlier due to having a lecture before me could ride, then I mounted Max, upon whom I trotted). It was SO much fun, and I was surprised by how well I remembered how to rise with the motion of the horse. The only thing I found difficult was recovering my left foot position after the stirrup slipped back from under the balls of that foot and stopped at the heel of the boot I was wearing.

I was also trusted to clean and groom Max afterwards unassisted and unsupervised. He was superbly well behaved for me this time, and gave me a head-hug afterwards.

Today started with boot woes. I allowed myself to rise an hour later than usual simply because I’d been so tired the previous night, and went up to the tack shop beside Baji Kouen, the amusingly named ‘Horsy International’, with the intention of buying myself a pair of Aigle riding boots. Sadly, they didn’t have any in my foot size and calf size. Thing is I have humongous calves; the very kind and helpful shop lady estimated I would need a size XXLS, to give you an idea – and I couldn’t even pull the boots on to check they fit my feet okay. She said they could order some in for me, but I didn’t really want to agree to that without first being able to try a pair on to make sure for definite they’d fit me. So I’m stumped for what to do now. I really don’t want to keep riding in borrowed wellies because they’re so cumbersome in comparison.

Anyway, riding today was awesome, because in spite of bit of a bad start (they set me to work measuring the hay for the horses’ lunch, and I’d completely forgotten to bring any antihistamines or masks, and what’s more I cut my finger whilst chopping up hay for the ponies) I got to trot again, this time without stirrups! I’ve never done this before, and I was surprised when the sempai who was instructing me told me to; each of the first years received one-on-one instruction in trotting today, and I was asked to do it without stirrups. It’s pretty hard on your thigh muscles, but it’s really good fun; it feels significantly more like riding and less like sitting on a moving horse. After my first attempt, the sempai stopped me and explained that my posture had been dangerous; I naturally gripped the horse (Hokon this time) with my knees and leaned forwards as this felt like the most natural thing to do, but apparently by doing so I was signalling to the horse to go faster. He made me go around the track again in the opposite direction, this time leaning backwards slightly with my legs straight out in front of me. This was harder, but afterwards he was complimented me on how I’d done. I’m trying not to let it get to my head.

Then I mostly helped with sweeping and cleaning until home-time. Immediately afterwards, I went to Ikebukuro to visit Aigle’s retail outletto see if they had any riding boots that would fit me, only to discover that they don’t stock riding boots at all there, only outdoor clothes and wellingtons. Oh well…