Gosh it’s been such an age since I had a good long horsey post – let’s not mention the lack of posts at all which I’ve explained [see previous post, blah blah blah].  I feel ashamed to admit it but horse riding was not going well for me there, for a while, but I got through it.  I was frustrated and blue in the process though.

First up, I missed a couple of lessons here and there due to being totally banjaxed – my horsey time is precious and screaming pain is such a waste of time.  Talk about tedious.  Then I had a couple of bad lessons, for a variety of reasons …  After the second atrocious lesson in a row I dismounted, put the horse away in his stall and tried to hold back tears of sheer pissed-offedness – please let me add, at myself, not the horse.

The lessons were bad, went nowhere.  And the coach didn’t really help matters. I was all over the place, my stirrups were uneven and no matter how often the coach adjusted them they stayed uneven, and having uneven stirrups when your balance is up shit creek to begin with is not helpful.  She put toe clips on which made things worse for me, and refused to take them off even when I fucking begged.

I hesitate to pass blame on the coaches because they are mostly absolutely fantastic; this particular one is a trainee I think, and has a LOT to learn.  She shrieks “Trot! TROT!” instead of giving constructive criticism or advice as to get the horse going.  She has us going around and around and around the outside of the arena, no 20 metre circles or serpentines or bending that might, you know, get the horses listening to us …  And when I untacked the horse after the uneven-stirrups fiasco, I counted and they were still two holes different.  How can a coach not know the difference between one buckle at hole 9 and the other at hole 11?  SHEESH.

I gritted my teeth to go to the next lesson; prepared for the worst and determined to gut it out, but really hating the fact that my horsey time, which was supposed to be fun and good and happy, was getting awfully counter-productive. I didn’t even want to think about thinking about quitting so soon.  Then … Jackpot!!!!!

 . . . . . . . . . .

The first hint I had that things were going to be better, was one of the other coaches taking my class – let’s call her Sue.  The second thing was her counting up the holes of the stirrups and getting them both at no. 9 [or whatever] – no sign of toe clips either!  The third thing was her talking me through the position of my lower leg and explaining the whole “straight line through head, shoulders, hips, heel” thing.  

My lower leg was way forward [I had no idea and should have been corrected a lot sooner], which threw my balance way off and left me no contact with the horse.   Suddenly I had contact with the horse and could give aids [horse talk for signals] as well as grip and nudge with my calf and heels to get the horse going forward nicely and bending around my leg.  That was a good lesson, got through a lot and she really made me work, I was a sweaty mess.  But my lower leg stayed back and contact improved.  So, yay Sue!

The next lesson was even better.  Sue told me they wanted to “graduate” me to a feistier horse, that I was ready for a bit more work.   Whee!  The horse in question was a Connemara Pony Cross* [the other half being Thoroughbred and Clydesdale – his poor mum!], a compact bay with long thick mane and tail and the prettiest face.  So cute!  I’d seen him ridden previously and so knew he had a lot more “go” than the lummocky old ex-pacer I’d been riding – which isn’t to say I hate Standardbreds because I don’t, I think they’re gorgeous.  I do prefer ponies, though, maybe because they’re short and stocky and narky, just like me?

So up I got on L – I still have to get on at the ramp which suits me because even a pony is a LONG WAY UP for my short legs and shit balance – and it was all fantastic from there.  He was so much more responsive than I’m used to and ready to go.  I chatted away to him like a maniac which he seemed to like, along with legs and hands I’m sure it helps get him listening to me and focused on what I’m asking him.  Lots of free forward motion that day, lots of trotting, which I actually found hilarious as his short-legged pony trot is so fast I have to post about 5 times per second. That’s a lot of leg work!

I felt so, so good after that lesson, like I’d achieved a lot and had a few revelatory moments.  Like the week before, viz a viz the lower leg, these were small but significant, about contact and balance and angles.  I know how it feels when it all comes together and am gradually learning how to consciously make that happen.  I was asked if I wanted to canter, but really wasn’t ready, and surprisingly I didn’t feel like a wimp for copping out.  Sensible.  I mean, it’s been 20 years since I last cantered, I have a lot to re-learn, and after the disastrous lessons I had a bit of ground, confidence-wise, to make up.  But I did bargain with Sue, saying that if I could have L again the next week I’d definitely canter then.

And I did!  Last week’s lesson was all at the trot, 10- and 20 metre circles and serpentines and changing reins, trot trot trot so again my legs were a bit jellified!  Then came time to canter.  I felt so much happier, not to mention centred and steady on L, I had no reservations.  First time was up the long side of the arena – I did all the aids correctly and L just went, no messing about. Just “GO”, collect $2,000,000.  Sue called to pull him up because he would have kept going.  I couldn’t stop the cheesey grin and quiet “woo-hoo”!  It felt so good …   Second time I did a lap and a couple of 20 metre circles, which calls for more control but I did fine.  He didn’t want to stop, he was having fun too.  Wheeeee!  Fun fun FUN.

 . . . . . . . . . .

And would you believe it turns out I’m good at this riding lark?  The feedback I’ve had from Sue and Marie, the other head coach, has been astonishing, to put it mildly.  Mind-blowing.  The week before last, after my first ride on the pony, Marie told me that I’m really REALLY good, and could do a lot more, both standard of dressage / amount of riding and in the sport.  You could have knocked me down with a protozoa, forget feathers.  Sure, I love riding and being around horses, but really REALLY good?  After a few weeks’ re-learning?  Bloody hell!

Apparently I have a great seat [and to be sure I don’t bounce much when sitting to the trot, and my first canters didn’t shake me about at all], “lovely” straight back and shoulders, nice soft low hands, and while my legs need more work they’re basically okay.  I also look really balanced and stable [ha ha] in the saddle, which given my problems with unstable joints, pain, banjaxed musculoskeletal system and atrocious balance, is a bit of a surprise.  So yeah …  And then last week Sue reiterated all that, even said that L goes better for me than anyone; I asked her if she was shitting me**, she said no, hee, that we work really well together and he’s very happy.  Maybe it’s my mad chatter?  I have seen him ridden by other people and he was all pinned ears and refusing to go, then jigging sideways across the arena, so it looks like she’s right.  Wow, huh?  Oh, and would I consider changing to another lesson time which has “more advanced riders”?  Since when am I an advanced rider?  I’m 39 and re-learning and all over the place, I only just cantered for the first time!  For fuck’s sake, like …

I can’t stop grinning like a total lunatic.

 . . . . . . . . . .

* Wanna wanna Connemara Pony!!!!  I mean, they’re IRISH.  From Co. Galway in fact which is my absolute favourite-est part of Ireland.

** They may not be shitting me, but I’m sure they know that confidence [or lack thereof] is my Big Issue, so they’re giving me this feedback to make me feel a bit more secure in myself and my abilities.  As I progress I expect I’ll get the occasional “not bad”, which will be just as rewarding!

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