A false start and a new challenge

This week, I was presented with a new mount.  When I took him out of his box, he seemed a little stiff, which I initially put down to it being a cold early morning.  A few minutes later when I worked him into a trot, I realised I was wrong – my horse was lame, and was promptly swapped for a non-lame horse.

I was warned that my second horse of the morning is young and it requires a fair amount of work to hold him together.  Oh, and by the way, he’s having issues striking off into canter.  The news regarding canter transitions made me groan, given that’s my own biggest issue at the moment, but my instructor assured me that she thought I’d enjoy this horse.

And I did.  It’s a long time since I’ve ridden a youngster, and this one has a few habits which range from bad to plain naughty.  He leans chronically on the outside shoulder, and either turns so quickly that he’s liable to topple over, or via falling out and overshooting corners.  Both of which meant that I found the whole thing a real challenge!

The good news is that he has a great trot… providing he concentrates long enough to organise all four legs correctly (which isn’t very often).  It turns out that straight lines are as much of a challenge for this horse as corners are.

As my instructor predicted, the cantering was tricky.  With it already taking a lot of energy to hold this horse together, moving up a gear made it even harder, particularly when he chose to buck rather than strike off!  Fortunately, they weren’t ejector-seat bucks designed to actually throw me off, more like “I don’t like what you’re asking me to do and I can’t be bothered to do it” toys out of the pram-type bucks.  We managed a canter on both reins eventually, before moving on to some pole work.

The first round of trotting poles – off the right rein, which appears to be his more difficult rein, though it’s my better one by far – was pretty disastrous.  He overshot the first couple of turns and couldn’t hold a line to save his life, despite me desperately trying to hold both back and front end together with my legs.  We managed one decent attempt, and I was pleased to end on a good note before switching to the left rein.

Turns and lines off the left rein came much easier, as the horse is more balanced in this direction, and by this time I’d figured out which classic mistake my rusty riding had decided to make on this occasion.  My instructor hadn’t pointed it out, although she has on a previous occasion, so I did a bit of self-analysis and tried to fix what I thought might be the problem: I realised that I’d been so focused on holding the horse together that I’d spent the entire approach looking at the first pole – as it’s what I was trying to get him to focus on – rather than the horizon.

So up I looked, reminding myself as I remind anyone that I teach that the pole/fence/obstacle isn’t going anywhere, and that I must look ahead.  We sailed over the poles every time once I realised what I was doing, the horse gaining confidence from my more assured position and the lesson ending well.

Sadly, that’s probably my final ride this year, due to my commitments with work and the festive break.  The next time I’m in the saddle will be 2014, and I’m as excited as ever.

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3 thoughts on “A false start and a new challenge

  1. It’s good to read you had a positive experience in gaining confidence although your post reinforces my drive for one day to see no young and unbalanced horses being forced to work in riding schools. It’s not fair on the rider (you had a semi-positive experience but it could have easily had gone the wrong way) but most of all, it’s not fair on the horse.
    All those issues he has with his own balance (leaning in, struggling to canter correctly) need to be worked on before he is able to teach anyone else. Otherwise he will be just labelled “naughty” or “difficult to canter” simply for his desperate attempts at staying balanced and in control of himself.
    I could probably write an essay on this here so I better go now 😉
    Sorry to hear it’s your last ride for a while but hopefully there will be plenty of opportunities for you in 2014!

    • I know, and I agree with you. One of the many problems riding schools face is the fact that they have to cater to such a wide range of abilities (and on a limited budget) that they can’t ever really win. I’ve thought for a long time that the way riding is taught can be pretty backwards (essentially, beginners are taught incorrectly, as they are mostly put on horses who are dead to the leg, because they need to be safe, but as a consequence, riders learn terrible leg aids and all sorts of other bad habits, before becoming “good enough” to ride a more responsive horse and then having to re-learn how to ride!), but how else do you give beginners confidence? Put them on a responsive horse when they’re new to it and they’re liable to become scared and develop bad habits in the horse. You can’t win!

      As a more experienced rider, it’s nice to be able to ride a horse who presents more of a challenge in this way (though it would also be nice to ride one who is a finished product – well-schooled and easier to achieve an outline with, so that I can remember what that feels like and work on different things for myself, rather than spending a whole lesson literally trying to hold a horse together and coax him through, rather than developing myself directly as a rider).

      That all got a bit incoherent, sorry! I appreciate the comment, thank you. And yes, 2014 will involve as much riding as possible, I’m ready for it!

      • 🙂
        I think the key here is that we need to train horses specifically to be school horses of different levels and riders to be taught well alongside the proper training of horses. It’s not easy to have many suitable horses for beginner riders like you said but it’s not impossible either…
        There are many level headed yet sensitive enough horses out there that can be schooled well and do a good job.

        I also agree re budget and finance restraints and it does worry me when I analyse how things go in other “animal industries” The way I see this is that equestrianism CAN’T AFFORD not to invest in better schooled horses…Sooner or later it will become a welfare issue. Actually, it slowly becomes one among many many non-horsey people. It’s worrying.

        But anyway! 🙂 Have a great last weekend before Christmas 🙂

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