Tag: riding lessons

Writing the ride

One thing I’m considering right now is that I’m still figuring out how I want to write about my rides, because horses are such an experiential part of my life. There’s so many things my senses are taking in and then responding to before, during, and after time in the saddle. Fingers gauging the tension on leather reins, legs squeezing or brushing or tapping (or kicking) for turns, transitions up to another gait – and down. Adjusting your seat and shoulders and calves and hands to try and convince this animal who is many times bigger than you that moving sideways, in *this* way, is really a super cool idea (although it’s a heck of a lot harder than just going along from a to b). And finally getting that response, the certain bend or stride or jump or give – it feels like magic. Really complicated magic, and usually two strides later either horse will trip or rider will make some hairbrained pilot error, but you laugh and trot on.

How do I capture all that, and oh, maybe make it coherent enough to record what I’ve learned or where I’m at for future reference? I prefer writing in stories, and what’s tended to happen is that by the time I’ve set up my ride recap I’m a few hundred words deep and running out of steam – or I let it set a few days and the ride itself starts blurring… But if I start with my ride, it feels clunky and sterile (although I do get more of an accurate picture of the details that way). I’m just throwing this out there before talking about my lesson (from last week…) because as of late I’m having a lot of ideas swirling and desire to build and enjoy my space here.


Two weeks in a row with a lesson! *cheers* Last Wednesday the weather was fan.freaking.tastic. – low 70s and sunny when I got to the barn before 10:30.

I rode Divine, and had mentally prepared myself for a repeat of our last lesson (two weeks after my ride on Sam the fancy Arabian) where my feeble arms were no match for the G-force pull attached to the bit and all we wanted to do was canter, canter, canter (forever and ever).

Mercifully, this day was completely different! We were in the indoor due to rain turning the outdoor into a muddy mess, and she started off a bit looky at the big east door. First dropping the momentum and then trying to shuffle on past – but as soon as there were exercises for her brain to latch onto she was fine. We started with haunches in both directions. Sink the inside hip, outside hip opens and that leg moves back to direct, shoulders stay straight and don’t pull on the inside rein. — Well, that’s how I remember it at least. Both mare and I are still at pretty much the beginning stages of this, but I could tell she was trying and instructor seemed impressed too. We moved on to shoulder-in – outside leg back a touch, inside leg keeps momentum, and my shoulders shift to the angle we’re looking for. Inside rein stays soft because outside is the one keeping us from rolling right into a circle.

Once we’d done both of those exercises with success on the rail and solid attempts on the quarter lines at a trot, we took a break before moving on to leg yields. Turns out Divine thinks these are fun now and she didn’t blink when we switched around from rail to quarter line, quarter line to center, or the rail to center line. The more she did, the easier it seemed to be getting for her (and me). We took a break and instructor and I talked about what a good work ethic Divine has, but that she’s also to the point where more kids with less experience are able to ride her too.

Side note: I’ve been geeking out over Divine’s lines for a while. How often do you find an OTTB under 20 that’s a granddaughter (not great, or 4 or 5 generations back) of both Mr. Prospector AND Nijinsky?? For a relatively young horse, her family is decidedly ‘old,’ and what her dam line lacks in terms of success, I think is at least somewhat made up for by the number of war horse types I’ve found looking at progeny records on that side. ANYWAYSSS…

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After our break we worked on the canter, and tried doing essentially a shoulder-in and haunches-in at that gait on a circle to help Divine with her balance. I’d never really heard of doing this before, but when I was attempting to move her haunches in, there was a point where there was suddenly space under my outside seatbone and it felt like we were more upright than before – it was so cool! We got another short break, and then instructor asked me if I wanted to try and leg-yield at the canter. Why not? We were a bit discombobulated on our first attempt, but the second time around we got a few good steps!

The coolest part though of the whole lesson was right after when I brought her back down to a trot and she felt both feather light and super powerful – I was sitting and not posting, but it just felt like she was swinging me along (as long as I remembered to breathe and not get tense through my weak AF core lol) and I could ask her for a leg yield or transition at any moment and she’d be game for it. Instructor commented on how nice and relaxed she looked, which also was great to hear! We pretty much quit on that, which was plenty to have me grinning ear to ear and ready to stuff a handful of peppermints Divine’s way as soon as I got off.

Lunge Lessons

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the weather was weird the other day, even for Indiana. more backyard to follow…

The Thursday before the clinic- so, three weeks ago now – I had a lesson on Jillie and was discussing current goals with trainer. Recent instructors have focused on how the horse underneath me is going, so if I ride better –> horse goes better.  This is well and good, but I don’t know what I’m doing, body wise, when I get that result.  When I’m riding something where I don’t stumble upon what makes them happy/willing, this obviously creates issues. We’ll get through a ride, but I’ll get off wondering where my miscommunication was. General endurance? Hands? Legs or seat? Shoulders and back?

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it then started hailing…

What I really want is an independent seat – improving my position and using that to be more effective/efficient with the aids.  Following this, trainer asked if I wanted to do a lunge lesson, which I enthusiastically agreed to. Letting someone take control of your horse is great for getting an idea of where each of your parts are at, and of the few I’ve had, the last was 10 years ago now. One with my very first instructor, and then a handful during my Arabian days. While initially writing this, I wondered why that trainer hadn’t worked more on details with those sessions, but I’m realizing it’s not because we weren’t going to, it’s simply because I wasn’t there yet. And what better way to instill balance than putting a sheepskin bareback pad on a barely-broke squirrely Arab mare? Because if I slipped, that pad was going with me.

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That melts, sun comes out, sister and I run an errand and not long after getting home we have near-whiteout conditions. This was ten minutes or so after it stopped

For this lesson, trainer had me start off trotting with my arms out to the side, then at my hips. No problems there. Then I dropped my stirrups and continued to post, first with my arms out and then on my hips. Then she had me sit the trot, which really, did not go well at all. I know what it feels like when I get it right (or close to right?), but I’ve never been able to do it more than a few strides either because I don’t have the strength, or the stability (or both). After a walk break she had us canter a bit and then remarked that “no wonder you don’t fall off, your leg is solid!” which I was happy to hear. Except, I still lose my stirrups way more than I’d like. I can pick them up, but I’d rather not lose them in the first place. I told her this and asked if it was because I was pinching from my knee for stability.

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literally 6 minutes after the last picture. You’re drunk Indiana

She said it could be, and that after this next walk break we’d do an exercise that would help with a few things. It’d tell if I was relying on my legs to keep me in the saddle, help me get a better awareness of my seat bones, and also put me in the right position for the sitting trot. So I put both my legs in front of the saddle flaps, which was definitely a weird feeling at first, but once we got walking I quickly adjusted. Before we started trotting trainer told me I might want to start out holding the front of the saddle. I did so and once we were going I was immediately more aware of where my seat bones were and how I was (or wasn’t) absorbing the momentum. Trainer told me to think about my hips going side to side rather than up and down, and I was (again) able to get a few strides, but not much beyond that. She also had me try cantering with my legs ‘up front’, just to see and I ended up finding that more do-able, to where I was able to take my hands off the saddle. Trainer noted that where my back was in this exercise (which did feel like leaning way back) was more where I need to be on a regular basis. Overall, it seems like I have a decent awareness and center of balance, but I really like how I had this lesson, which exposed the weaknesses in my core and knee, and then had the clinic a few days later where I ended up getting more feedback on my upper-half.

Of course, now going on a week since last riding (and pretty much zero other exercise) doesn’t do much for setting this stuff in. I was going to try today but little sister, who is home from college for spring break this week, wanted to get lunch and make a day out of going to the fashion mall an hour away. Seeing as she’s a senior and her post-grad plans may have her moving away (although who am I kidding, ‘planning’ for her rarely goes farther than the next day), I’m trying to make the most of having her home.

 

No stirrups, no fears

I’ve never gotten to participate in the storied torture/tradition of No Stirrup November in my years of riding, so if being excited about it after my first lesson makes me crazy, I’ll gladly hold that title. After fretting over the microsleep at the show on Sunday, I had a great ride on Wednesday with M and then rode again on Friday with the pony club kids who were doing mounted games. In all reality, a few simple choices would have likely prevented the episode from occurring, and it does me no good to dwell on it.

On Wednesday Divine initially continued her lackadaisical demeanor from Sunday, but once she realized we were getting to do her favorite thing (canter), she was insistent on a trot speed that offered the best chance for falling into a canter. So that was slightly painful until after she had a good five minutes of trot-canter-trot transitions circling about the arena. M had an understandably more difficult time on Eli, who’s trot I would liken to a slow-motion, extra-springy pogo-stick that could quite literally bounce someone out of the tack should they start giggling (may or may not have happened in this lesson…).

Friday I was excited to do games like the egg and spoon race and whatever crazy relay they came up with, on Pretty, the 12 hand wonder/devil pony, but after my futile attempts to catch her, I was bequeathed with Rain instead. Rain is a WhoTheHellKnowsBred that most closely resembles a Dutch Harness horse. She came off the slaughter lot, learned a ton with trainer MS, was sold and then returned (but not before being almost completely soured) and has been worked intermittently since. I actually liked her a lot, but completely emphasize with M now – MS warned me that she has yet to sit her trot, and my measly attempts were met with some pinned ears from her and a quick return to posting on my part unless I wanted to eventually part ways with her. Even with a bucking fit (due to a loose girth, my fault) and a mini-meltdown from a hula-hoop (not totally unreasonable), I never felt afraid or like I was going to come off.

I mention that for two reasons. One is because when I started back riding in June after a over a year off, I was seriously questioning if I’d still have my nerve and “pick up the bike-ness” so to speak. Two is that it’s baffling to me that I can be so calm with a spooky or actively bucking horse and then terrified about some additional medical testing I’m having done this week. Objectively, I’d say that’s probably because I have a lot more experience with horses and a lot less with obscure diagnostics which I have no idea how my body will react to. And that seems… pretty obvious. But what am I trying to prove by admitting the later and building myself up with the former? Why’s that question important? I’ve got no answer to either question.

 

 

Consistent Riding

Instead of complaining about how I don’t have pictures or videos from my last lesson, I’m just appreciating how happy riding on a regular basis makes me.

It was the coldest lesson M and I have had so far this fall, but at least it wasn’t raining like the day before.  We went mudding jumping outside with M on Eli, her new love after all of two rides, and I was back on Divine for the first time since September. What I noticed was how much more attentive she was; when I first started on her in June there was much wiggling, lots of curling-into-a-ball-but-also-bracing-on-your-hands, and for extra fun, exuberant zoomies when she was feeling herself or alternatively, displeased/complaining about what was being asked.

None of that on Tuesday! Towards the end of the lesson we got to create our own course and I decided we needed redemption after a failed tight turn from earlier (my error, not hers). I think to both red-mare and I’s surprise, she nearly did a roll-back, which resulted in me completely forgetting the last jump I had in mind until after we had passed it.

Besides that, our entire lesson felt great and was a good confidence builder in preparation for the Halloween fun show on Sunday (more on that shortly).  As a bonus, once we were done with our lesson, trainer MS was gracious enough to offer me a ride on her 12.2hh Welsh gelding named River that she recently brought out to the stable from her parents farm. He’s fluffy, out of shape, and occasionally pops a back leg when he disagrees with his rider. That said, he did not feel 12.2 in the least – he’s quick and has a surprisingly large stride for a little fellow.

The jump class I’m planning on entering Sunday only goes up to 2’3″, but considering I’ve never competed over fences, I think that’s plenty to get my feet wet. Since the classes are so cheap, I’m also planning on doing an equitation class (throw back to college!) and a dressage class (never competed in this either) so we’ll see how this goes!

All of this is dependent on the weather… Today, when I went out to help clean up for the trick or treat/haunted woods event that’s going on tomorrow evening, the temperature was hovering just below 40. An hour in to de-cobwebbing stalls and there was both a steady rain and steady temp drop. As long as there’s no snow or freezing rain, I’ll hopefully keep the complaining to a minimum.

I’ve not written anything here in almost two months, and nothing devoted to riding in a whole lot longer. But here I am showing this weekend and I haven’t done that since 2015 so a little blog post ain’t no thang.

How it began…

It’s important for me to make this one of my first posts because horses have helped shape more than half of my life. In the words of M, “You know where we were at in our lives based on which barn we were (are) riding at.”

I didn’t know where that first ride was going to lead me.

I didn’t know just a week or two before that I had met one of my best friends. In all reality, I don’t remember a whole lot about this day. Had I known, maybe I wouldn’t have nearly fallen out of my chair in eagerness when the girl sitting next to me the first day of class asked if I’d like to go with her to her riding lesson.

Maybe I wouldn’t have, but if I’m being honest, I was already in deep by that point, and if it wasn’t then, I’m fairly certain it would have happened eventually.

Previous to this rendezvous, I had begun third grade and was now in the big elementary school. It was late August (none of this last week of July shit) during the first week of classes, and though it was debatable as to whether I was carrying a backpack or it was carrying me, I determinedly made my way to Miss B’s classroom and dropped myself front and center, ready for learning.

It’s a good thing I was ready for some learning, because I needed to make up for my baby alien endearingly-awkward-stunted looks. There’s a reason a girl, who 1) would later become one of my best friends and 2) wasn’t even in my class, therefore having little to no interaction with me, called me the weird gummyworm lady. I was rocking some serious goggle glasses that made my eyes look teensy due to the intense magnification needed for me find my way in the world (still basically blind as a bat without correction today, woohoo!), and I believe this was about the time that my infamous mullet was beginning to grow it’s ugly tail. While I don’t remember eating gummyworms frequently enough to warrant a nickname, it doesn’t entirely surprise me.

Lo and behold, however, on that first day (or at least during that first week), when another similarly spindly girl sat in the front row (literally against our teachers lecturing desk) next to me. I shyly looked over to say hi, and WHAT. I looked quickly back at whatever my 9 year old self was trying to appear busy with since I didn’t have an iPhone, and then glanced over again. Sure enough, she was wearing a shirt with a gorgeous dappled grey Andalusian on it, roses weaved into the mane and everything. Instead of a hi, I’m pretty sure I greeted this classmate with a “I really love your shirt. Do you like horses?” Derp derp.

Later we exchanged names, and M told me proudly that she was taking REAL RIDING LESSONS (!!!!), and then asked if I’d like to come along some time (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). I think it took a week or two before we got it coordinated, but I know that day I was about to bounce off the walls when M and her endearing mother came and picked me up. Despite the fact that it was overcast, us girls were giggling balls of sunshine in the backseat, and I was about on my knees trying to press my face against the window as we drove slowly up the drive towards the stable. Pastures lined either side and I couldn’t take in the variety of horse shapes, colors, and sizes fast enough. The barn itself seemed limitless; after my eyes adjusted the first thing I saw was the monstrous indoor which served as the center hub of the stable. On the side we entered was a row of stalls running the length of the barn, with a few on the other side of the arena along with an entrance to their tack shop, and yet another full length row which shared a back wall with the aisle we were currently walking. Though the structure was beginning to show it’s age slightly, having been constructed in the 70s hay-day, it was still clean and well taken care of with perky faces showing over the half-doors. We continued about halfway down and found M’s instructor, who she introduced to me as K, and who allowed me to help groom M’s trusty mount, Studly. Studly was your stereotypical lesson pony. Fat, grey coat faded to fleabitten white with age, and solid as a brick house. When the time came to tack Studly up, M disappeared into the tack room with K to get Studly’s things. I followed to the threshold and stood in amazement at the rows of saddles lining the walls, bits and bridles of every type hanging on countless hooks. There were groomboxes and saddle pads, girths and lungelines, boots, whips, extra stirrups, ointments and sprays that seemed to go on forever. With so much leather in one place, you couldn’t help wanting to smell it; maybe in reality it was a dusty 12′ x 12′ cluttered little room, but I remember it as a vast playground of well-oiled equipment organized just so.

When tacked up, our little train made it’s way to the outdoor arena. I sat up on the fence bench and watched in rapture as M walked and trotted around the arena, was able to turn Studly across the arena and change direction, make him halt and back up. I couldn’t get enough of it.

The real treat came at the end of the lesson however, when, as M was walking by us, instructor K asked me if I wanted to ride. Did I want to ride, ha ha. I quietly squealed with delight as someone handed me a helmet (adding this in because I hope I had a helmet, entirely probable I didn’t, and I actually don’t know if my mom had to sign a waiver for me either, but anyways), and then just had me slide from the fence over onto Studly’s back behind M. I held onto her while she explained that we were cooling Studly out after his “hard work” (combined, I don’t the two of us weighed 100 pounds), and for 5 blissful minutes I was riding. The air was crisp with oncoming fall as we trudged around, Studly dutifully carrying his babbling cargo with all the calmness, occasional stubbornness, and wisdom of an old-school lesson pony. I was taller than ever, on a real live horse, able to pet his fuzzy, speckled white hairs and feel the one-two-three-four of his hooves softly crunching the stone dust arena. Daydreams of galloping around in the expansive field immediately outside of the outdoor arena were dancing in my head. I don’t think I had ever been happier in my short life.

All too soon Studly was sufficiently cooled out, and we made our way back to the barn. I gushed that I would soon be signing up for lessons, and likely asked a million and one questions before we got back to the car, where M and I continued our serious evaluation of M’s lesson. I did get signed up for lessons later that fall, and I haven’t stopped talking about these damn creatures since.