Just like riding a bike?

Next Tuesday I have my first riding lesson for about twenty years;  I am very excited, and not at all nervous, despite the fact I haven’t ridden at all in the last ten.  The interim years I had the occasional mad ride on a clearly insane animal [of the equine kind, get your mind out of the gutter] [I know, I know, so mine rarely leaves it], and one memorable five day trek a la Man From Snowy River in the Shannon / D’Entrecasteaux National Park down in the south west.  Five days of riding 15 hours a day in sensational untouched wilderness that encompassed hills, heath, sand dunes and karri forest.  Amazing.  I didn’t do too badly, considering how sick and unfit I was, and had a fantastic time.

Long-time readers may remember [as well as deserving a medal for patient heroism] that back in December I was in a horrible blue-black mood.  I needed something to cheer me up, give me something to look forward to and enjoy, something fun that would be both physically and mentally / emotionally therapeutic.  I decided to go back to riding, not at a “normal” riding school but specifically with the RDA – the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia, whose motto is Riding Develops Ability.  I need me some of that!

My plans were to have a weekly lesson in a small adult group, and to volunteer my services in office / admin work, caring for the horses, schooling horses and helping out in the kids’ classes as a leader [many of the riders require one or two assistants to lead the horse and help them balance etc].  I went out to one of the RDA’s sites, met the coach and some of the volunteers and signed up.

At last the 2008 term has begun.  WHEEE !!!  This morning I went shopping and bought a pair of black riding pants which I will have to hem by about a foot, and a cross-country helmet.   I am very glad we don’t have a full length mirror in the house; I just hope the sight of me and my thighs squeezed into a pair of tight pants doesn’t terrify the horses.

 . . . . . . . . . .

So is riding a horse after a long break really just like riding a bike again?*  Does one’s muscle instincts kick in and recall how to let yourself sit and move with the horse? 

* This is somewhat worrisome, as when I did try to ride a bike again – last year during our holiday on Rottnest Island – I totally stacked it.  I fell off three times and the last time I got tangled up in the bike while trying to dismount, fell over, hit the back of my head on the hard road surface [fortunately I was wearing a helmet] and misaligned my pelvis.  There were multiple impressive bruises-on-bruises and scrapes too.  I haven’t been back on since.  I’d dearly love to, but my balance and stability aren’t up to the task.  The problem is not with actually riding along, I can do that fine and in a more or less straight line, but in getting on and off without – as aforementioned – getting tangled up in the bike.  Horses are actually a lot easier for me to get on and off, being large, four legged and pretty solid.  Viz a viz bicycles, most people can get on and off just fine; I have difficulties because at some point in the dismounting process you have to have all your balance and weight on one leg as you swing the other over.  I can’t do that, I fall over.  Quid est demonstratum …

Sue over at Flying Changes has been an inspiration in her writing about horses and the challenge of learning to ride as an adult.  Her recaps of lessons are fun and very interesting, as she twines realisations about the skills and mind-set involved in communicating and commanding a horse, and lessons learned about her inner self.  I wonder what I will discover?

I’m a lot stronger, physically, than when I was a teenager.  All that rehab therapy, yoga / Pilates and exercise programmes have developed a really strong pelvic core, abdominal muscles and inner thighs which are the key muscle groups used in horse-riding.  You sit straight, with relaxed hands and shoulders, your core holding you straight, light and balanced, legs and thighs and hands communicating your commands – and moods – to the horse.

Apart from physical strength, I’m mentally and emotionally stronger, less wobbly in my mind-set [those who know me will be thinking – jays, you mean she was even MORE of a mess than she is now?  Yes, I was].  I’m more confident, more mellow, less easily thrown by negativity, and when I do go *splat* I bounce back quickly.  You have to be pretty strong in your head to cope with the unrelenting nature of chronic illness and pain.  It’s so easy to give way, get into a dark place and make life even more miserable for yourself and those who love you.

I know there have been several occasions in the last year when I have given into the “black beast of doom” as I think of that swirling downward spiral of depression and lack of hope, but I know now that if I hang on long enough I will always bounce back.  I’m no Pollyanna [she’s totally retch-inducing, anyway] but I am tenacious and resilient, and basically an optimistic person.  It has taken me a long time to recognise that about myself: That I will always bounce back and keep on slogging on.  I never let The Bastards get me down [The Bastards being anyone from malicious kids, psychopathic bosses, and gloomy bullying mothers.]

This relatively new mental / emotional stability and confidence is going to make a big difference when it comes to the challenge of horse-riding … I think.  I won’t be as likely to be go *splat* or be got down if I’m not perfect and can’t get it right. Tenaciousness and resilience will keep me going and improving my skills and confidence.  As for what to work hard on regarding my head-space, my objective is to try harder to make myself immune to negativity.  I am not going to be beaten by the attitude of my mum and others that I’m going to fall off and kill myself, that I can’t do anything right or even anything challenging at all.  That kind of thinking is is contagious and spreads to me and makes me feel totally defeatist.   Horses sense moods and if one isn’t confident they will take advantage or just switch off, so I’ll have much more fun and be a better rider just by being a little stronger and a little more confident. 

I’m going to i] have fun; ii] get fitter and stronger, and iii] stay calm, relaxed and positive.  That’s easy, oh so easy-peasy … ha ha.  Just like riding a bike.

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  • flyingchanges  On Friday 22 February 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Great post! And the RDA sounds like an amazing place altogether.
    HAVE FUN ON TUESDAY! I know I’ve certainly been going down the road of perfectionism, into the cul-de-sac of self-castigation, but I’ve found my way out again.
    I was gonna say keep rocking with the waves, but— keep rockin’ with the gait!!!!
    Can’t wait to hear about your lesson.

  • k0rs0  On Friday 22 February 2008 at 8:37 pm

    “Just Like Riding a bike”

    Ok, where da wheels go?

  • jules  On Friday 22 February 2008 at 11:52 pm

    The wheels on the horse go ’round and ’round … No Aerobars, and there’s a distinct lack of carbon fibre too [tho’ some of the flash cross-country helmets are now made of CF, sweeeeeet]. And I admit in all honesty that the gears and brakes on Team Equus can be unreliable.

    Thanks for the comment Sue, I am VERY excited about the whole RDA thing, riding and volunteering. It’ll be great craic. I’m really glad to hear your lessons are going well again; we all have these peaks and troughs and plateaux.

    Trrrrrot on!

  • Joyce Lau  On Tuesday 26 February 2008 at 8:17 am

    The wonders of the Internet. I was looking for other horse-riding posts, after writing a bunch of my own, and found you. I love cats and cooking, too. And I hate yappy little dogs. In fact, I got to bully a yappy little dog while on a horse once, which has to be the best possibly combination.
    By coincidence, I have a friend with spinal cord injury. I’ll pass him the spinaluniverse.com link.
    I’ve read other blogs by people with serious medical problems, mostly SCI, since I was trying to do some reading up on that before. Yours has a perfect tone — funny & honest, not overly self-pitying and whiny, but not I’ve-found-the-light happy-jolly either.
    You know, I know people who have good (physical health), jobs, money in the bank, etc, and they’re depressed. And then there’s my friend with SCI, and he’s generally upbeat. It just does to show….
    Anyway, good luck getting better.
    P.S. Why isn’t the state paying for you meds? I thought Oz had socialised medicine?

  • Joyce Lau  On Tuesday 26 February 2008 at 8:18 am

    Sorry. I mean “goes to show.” Sigh. And I make my living as an editor!

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