“Advanced” riding lessons

I recently changed to a more “advanced” group for my riding lesson.   It’s at 0900 hrs as opposed to 1300 hrs, and as the trip out is twenty minutes or so, and I need to be there at least forty-five minutes prior to the lesson to groom and tack up my own horse and maybe help out with another one or two, it means an early start.   I’m not at my best in the mornings, either, far more stiff and pain-y so I’ve taken to getting up even earlier – say 0600 – to fit cin a boiling hot shower and do some stretchies to get most of the creakiness out [and time for the morning dose of painkillers et al to kick in].

You may well ask, how “advanced” is advanced?   Well, not very, not exactly Grand Prix level!   Not at all, in fact … It means the class is made up of independent riders [ie, riders who don’t require leaders or side-walkers] who have ridden for a while and have a certain skill level, and can be challenged a bit further.   We do dressage-y stuff, lots of 10- and 20- metre circles, changing rein, serpentines, mostly at the trot so far. 

And gee, does our coach work us hard.   I love this, that even though we’re disabled riders with our personal challenges and limitations, physical and otherwise, we’re not let off the hook when it comes to correct position and riding style.   We’re made to really work at our back and leg positions, and in my case, given my sway back and core strength issues – “tilt your pelvis forward and suck in your gut tuck in your tummy!” ad infinitum.

There are three to four in the class – including me – which is a great number because we can space out around the arena and trot together as a ride and do our own 10 metre circles or whatever the coach calls.  “Ride … prepare to trot … and TROT” is grand fun as we can get a really fast yet collected trot going without running over the horse ahead of us, there being a third of the arena between us all.  At least, that’s the theory …

. . . . . . . . . .

All my lessons lately have been on my naughty Connemara cross, L.  He’s recently been changed into a new bit, a roller bit [which is like a pacifier, a dummy for horses] and he loves it.  It’s made a big difference but he’s still a bit spooky and very zippy.  His main problem is he needs more work with riders who challenge him and themselves with lots of different moves and speeds beyond being led around an arena.

I just love having access to a pony who wants to GO-GO-GO-GO-GO rather than exhausting myself getting a horse moving out of a feet-dragging walk.  It’s much more of a challenge for me and my strength increases weekly with holding him in and sitting deep to keep him slowed, balanced and relaxed.

A lot of my lesson is focused around working on riding with my body rather than just hands.  So in circling and changing diagonal my body – legs, torso, head – are curving and looking in the direction the pony is going.  This gets both of us nicely rounded and flexible.  

Some of the exercises are torture!  One of Sue’s latest favourites – and she’s targeting me in this one – is to have us go round in a 20-metre circle at a walk, with the reins knotted on the horses’ necks, whilst standing upright in the stirrups, guiding the horse with legs while trying to maintain balance.  This is hard work for me, as it involves hardening and strengthening the pelvic core and from there, up and out, strengthening and balancing the entire body. 

Apart from my aching lower abs and diaphragm, this sort of exercise also is a major challenge to proprioception, and works that mind-body feedback.  [And I need to work on it with the fitball at home . . . Ows.]

. . . . . . . . . .

I had real proof the other week that my strength and seat in the saddle has improved when I cantered without stirrups!  It wasn’t intentional mind you … We were trotting down the long side when L spooked at a bunch of school kids running [and screaming] in the park adjoining the centre.  It was enough to scare me!  Anyways L spooked, half rearing and leaping into the centre of the arena – which is when I lost stirrups – then broke into a mad canter, veered back to the outside with his nose in the air and eyes rolling.

But I stayed on wahey!  Even when I was riding regularly, twenty years ago, that sort of thing probably would have had me off as I had seriously crap balance and physically was much less stronger than I am now.  I also would have panicked and just dropped off in defeat.  Not this time … I sat deep in the saddle, kept my legs still against his sides, hands down, inside rein turning him into a circle and whoooaaaaa’d him in a low calm voice.  And he dropped his head, slowed and let me bring him to a halt. 

Silly boy shouldn’t have spooked at all – but hey I stayed on!  I was so proud of us both and so was Sue; for one, he had listened to me [apparently his listening skills aren’t too good] and that I had sat deep and stayed in control.  Yay! 

I’ve also had a few more on-purpose canters, and I just love it!  Sitting deep and body swinging along with the horse in waltz rhythm, heaven.  L transitions straight into a canter [and doesn’t want to stop] so I gather he enjoys a bit of speed too.  Another thing we’ve been working on is slowing and extending his fast pony trot, practicing collection and last week a new trick, slowing the rate of my posting.  I didn’t see how this would work, I thought I’d just be thumped around out of rhythm, but it really does work, how about that.

. . . . . . . . . .

I think this pony and I have a special relationship; it’s a real thing not just in my girly over-imaginative head.  Maybe part of the reason we get on so well is because we “talk” and listen to each other, have fun together, and also challenge each other.  I sweet-talk him and sing to him and he responds so positively.

He’s so funny in that when I first go into his stall to start grooming and tacking up he’s all head-tosses and pinned ears, like he is with everyone, but after about ten minutes of my silly chatter and lots of strokes and scritches he calms down and gets quite goofy – all soft-eyed and cute and affectionate.  He even lets me pick up his feet and has stopped raising his head higher and higher when I put his bridle on; other things he tries on with everyone.  When I untack and groom him post-lesson he half-shuts his eyes and lets his ears flop sideways. 

Even Sue and a few others at the centre have remarked on how well he behaves for me, on the ground and whilst riding, which is beyond cool.  Maybe there’s something about me and narky Irish blokes?

And guess what!  We’ll be spending more time together next term [the centre also takes a break during school holidays] as Sue has said I can now ride twice a week!  You can imagine the look of glee on my face when she asked if I’d be interested in more riding;  she said that as I’m doing so well and getting so much out of it, and also L needs more work, that it would be possible to put me in a second lesson.  So I’ll be riding in my former group [Tuesday afternoons] which is fine as we’ll work separately, as well as the Thursday morning lesson.  Hurrah!

Celebrations are called for – lashing of ginger beer anyone?  [well … maybe vodka tonics]

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  • jewel and abu  On Tuesday 8 July 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Ohhh we all have a sway back and core muscle issues, but I suppose if I rode 10 horses per day like my trainer I would have an amazing core as well. Love your Blog line at the top, I like eyeshadow but am a SHAMLESS Mascara whore. The blacker the thicker the longer the better, I have been know to wear fakes occasionally and even in a Dressage Show once, said Trainer was not impressed!! Right now the product of choice is BAD GIRL fron Benefit Cosmetics

  • otterkat  On Tuesday 8 July 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Hi Jewel, thanks for your comment! Yep, really have to work on that sway back & core – at least I know I won’t have peeing probs when I’m 85!

    Ooh I adore mascara too, won’t leave the house w/o my three coats. Will try the Benefit – love the name! – tho my current fave is Max Factor Masterpiece MAX [has a diff name in the US, I think]; it’s divine, massive black lashes. And what’s wrong with wearing faux lashes – don’t some of the horses have fake tails?

  • GreyHorseMatters  On Saturday 19 July 2008 at 2:06 am

    Glad to hear you are doing so well and the pony and you have a connection. That’s the greatest feeling in the world. I bet you will find he will do more things for you and take care of you than he will for others.

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