Less than two days into the new year and I made it into the saddle. It felt like the horse gods were with me, as the day dawned bright, sunny and barely cold – pretty miraculous given that it feels like it’s been raining non-stop since my previous riding lesson! Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all of the good news I have.
I rode the same horse I was allocated last time – the very green youngster who can’t organise his legs – and it wasn’t a disaster but it also wasn’t easy. I can’t decide whether I’m frustrated that the horse is learning more than I am, or pleased to have the opportunity. Of the two outdoor arenas at the school, one is used as a turnout space in winter, and that’s where my mount had been prior to my lesson, as he and the other horses have been stabled due to the poor weather. So all at once he was reluctant to have to work and full of beans having not worked very much recently.
It’s a while since I’ve ridden such a green horse, one which I literally feel like I’m holding together with both hands and both legs. Once you get into the rhythm of an exercise, he does pick it up – he’s not hopeless by any means – but I’m finding it frustrating that in half an hour it’s only possible to get a basic level of organised movement out of him.
Using the larger outdoor arena this time instead of the small indoor I’d been in for my previous lesson meant that I could work on combating his falling-out issues but using the inside track constantly. We added an extra element to this by working with trotting poles to get the horse thinking and preventing him from leaning to the outside. This worked fairly well, but sometimes the poles still came a little quickly for him – and the exercise focused me on one of my current bad habits: that I look down a lot and don’t look far enough ahead. However, that was also a positive, because I needed reminding of this and threw myself into the exercise, constantly pushing myself to look up and think ahead. Once I started doing those things consistently, the horse and I were both more focused and successful.
We then attempted to move on to some canter work, and that’s where the wheels pretty much came off. Just as I’d got the horse settled and working a bit better, we of course had to push on. We started using the whole arena again and he instantly tried to nap – partly because there were horses in the neighbouring paddock/arena who were out enjoying themselves and he wanted to play too, rather than work. Twice I had to literally haul my horse around to get my own way and prevent him from picking up the stinking habit of getting his own way and going in the wrong direction. I managed it, not letting him get away with the naughty behaviour, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.
Then, of course, asking for a canter transition on a disorganised horse exposed another of my poor habits: leaning forward in the saddle (too many years of cantering on trails with a group behind me that I need to check on meaning it’s all far easier in a light seat). So when the horse began his own bad habit of bucking rather than picking up canter, my bad habit was even more exposed, making the situation worse. Achieving right canter was actually fairly easy, and we cruised around the arena successfully. Left canter was a different matter and, ultimately, impossible: after two or three false starts, the horse threw in his biggest buck of the morning and that was the end of that activity.
It was the only buck of about six in total which could’ve completely unseated me – he got as far as taking one of my stirrups away and throwing me off balance, but I managed to right myself – had I not been expecting him to put in a dirty one. I’m not calling this a stunning piece of riding: it was the kind of buck that I’ve fallen victim to in the past and probably will again in the future, it was partly chance and partly grim determination that made me sit it this time. And it’s a good job I did, because the horse hopefully learned a small lesson – that he can’t just unseat a rider when he wants to. Had I been a smaller person and paying less attention, he would’ve learned the opposite lesson – that he has the strength to throw a rider.
I’m sad to say that we gave up on the canter work, rather than persisting until we got it right, but at the same time it was important to end well. So I returned briefly to the trotting poles to get his mind back on the fact that I’m the one in charge, before popping over a small jump. Again, he’s easily distracted and disorganised, so it could have been prettier and more comfortable, but we got from A to B in one piece, which I’ll call a win.
At the moment, I’m riding with the aim of being aware of my major flaws and trying to prevent any new ones, rather than aiming for direct progression. This wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but I think I have to adjust my aims slightly: fix what’s wrong, then move forward.