“I’d like you to push him”

When I arrived for my riding lesson last week, I was met by the centre owner, who was in a bad mood.  Fortunately, she’s not my instructor and soon disappeared.  There had been some confusion about the day I was booked for – I had no idea about this, and the situation could’ve been easily resolved with one phone call on the centre’s part, but that would just be too easy – which was part of what caused the manager’s mood.  But it wasn’t a problem: my instructor was free, there were a few horses available as well as an arena so we were away.  Well, after this conversation:

Instructor: Who did you ride last time?

Me: G.

Instructor: I’m going to put you on another horse.

Me: [with a hopeful tone] One which doesn’t buck?

Instructor: [laughs nervously] Er.  You’ll enjoy him.  I’d like you to push him.

Me: [enjoying the sound of a challenge] As in, doing some more lateral work or…?

Instructor: Um.  No.  Just try and get something out of him.

Me: [sigh]

My instructor explained that my new mount has been on holiday, she’s used him for a couple of lessons, but he’s only just coming back into work.  I didn’t dare ask if this were due to injury, but I did ask if he’d been on loan or livery and got a no to both.  He’s another youngster, so my guess is that they didn’t have time to work with him previously, so he got put on ice.  Great.

The good news is there was minimal bucking (just two very small ones), possibly because this horse is a cob-type and isn’t very tall (I used to be able to guess height very accurately, and my radar puts him at about only 14.2hh) and, against my 5’8” and post-Christmas frame, he didn’t have much of a chance.

My instructor warned me that this horse/pony has “steering issues”, which I’m learning is her code for “he leans on your outside rein, tries to scrape you on the fence and naps”.  At first, he moved really nicely (that said, I only tried forwards, I made no attempts at any lateral movement!) off my leg, and almost lulled me into a false sense of security.  As with the other horse I’d been riding, we had him working on the inside track to try and prevent him from dragging me around the arena against the fence.

Getting used to a pony-ish trot stride again took some doing on my part, and I was holding him fairly well together (with my current main flaws rolling constantly through my mind, reminding myself to sit up better, keep my reins the same length and look further ahead) until we came onto a circle.  Then, he dragged me to the fence and tried to nap down the arena.  And that’s where I lost the flatwork slightly, because as well as putting my leg on afterwards and being more determined with my shoulders, I shortened my reins drastically, which produced a bit of resistance in him.

Better news came when he was much easier to get into canter than the previous two horses I’ve ridden, but I was floored when my instructor put a small jump up.  He’s not half as disorganised as G (who trots like he’s drunk), but I still couldn’t see how I was going to produce a jump from this animal.  My gut feeling was correct: he saw the jump, got excitedly distracted and wouldn’t hold a straight line into the fence (which meant that I spent the entire approach trying to keep him focused).  We got from one side to the other in a wonky trot, and I kicked myself afterwards because I knew I’d succumbed to one of my other current major mistakes – looking at the fence, not beyond it.

I approached again with my mind on the horizon rather than the rails and he hopped it better, gaining confidence.  By the third time around, he’d decided he knew what he was doing and tried to rush it, but I kept him ticking along and he cleared it nicely.  But now we had an audience: several of the centre’s staff had stopped to watch and I started feeling self-conscious (the rational side of me knows they were curious to see how my instructor’s “project” was coming along, but I still felt like I was under the microscope).

I was also starting to feel irrational about my jumping: as I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t done much in a long time, partly because I lost my nerve a bit.  My current problem is that I don’t trust the horses I’m riding enough – that, if I make a mistake, they’ll help out or not take advantage of that – and therefore I’m under pressure to do something perfectly when I’m all too aware that I’m rusty.  My instructor added another rail onto the fence to see how the horse and I would cope, and I completely bottled out of taking it in a canter, because of my own issues, the horse’s napping and keenness and the fact that I had an audience.  I’m disappointed in myself, but confidence isn’t something you can buy or force, which is what makes my situation all the more frustrating for me.

The horse actually hopped the larger fence nicely, and I was relieved to have it behind us.  The lesson ended there, and my instructor was actually really happy with how well the horse had gone.  I, too, am pleased with what I got out of him, but I’m still not over the moon about what I’m getting out of myself.  Maybe I’m expecting too much, and maybe I’m missing the point, but I really would like to ride a horse which falls into the “easy to do” category for a change.  Easy horses don’t really exist, and if we wanted an easy sport, we wouldn’t pick riding.  But whilst I was riding, I mused about this with my instructor and steered her towards what I want: I said that I feel like I’ve got a handle on my seat in walk and trot again (and that, if it does go awry, I spot it now and fix it quickly), but that riding these horses with difficulties in their way of going isn’t doing me any favours at the canter.  I knew what I thought I’d need to do to fix this, and she said it without me asking – that I need to ride a schoolmaster so that I can pick the rhythm up again and do some work without stirrups.

Here’s the rub: I don’t think they have such a horse.  This doesn’t really surprise me, but it is frustrating.  It’s not my only frustration either, but my other issues stem from my personal situation, the fact that I don’t have my own transport at the moment and I also don’t have an unlimited supply of money to spend on riding lessons, so it’s all too infrequent to be making a big difference in my technique anyway.  I think it’s come to the time to make a decision, and my options as I see them are these: do I stay where I am, enjoy the challenge of these dysfunctional horses and put my own issues and priorities to one side; or, do I try to find somewhere else?

The last thing I’ll say is that my posts on my riding lessons always feel very negative, but the truth is quite different.  I know I’m getting something out of them.  I’ve progressed, I’ve learned new exercises and I’ve gained exposure to certain situations.  I like my instructor a lot and I come away smiling, feeling like I’m in a better mood and I’ve enjoyed being on the horse.  That all matters a great deal to me.  Perhaps it’s just a case of the grass seeming greener?


15 thoughts on ““I’d like you to push him”

  1. I changed my dance school as I had to choose a class on a different night, went to school b for about a year, was good to see some different teaching and to have a different class, much more technique and back to basics as well as marginally less chat. But I missed the challenge of class a which I have returned to. I’m glad I’m back. Not that that helps you but didn’t want to read and run again.

    • Thanks for the input! It’s very typically negative of me but my main worry about switching is that I find somewhere even worse. Then I’ve trawled around, lost my slot at the current place, and only to be worse off. I think I’m leaning towards better the devil you know…

  2. Hi Becky,
    You know my opinion on learning on green horses so I won’t repeat myself but I think if I were you I would try to make it very clear with myself why am I having lessons. Correct me if I am wrong but I understand you would like the horses and teaching to become part of your career. If this is the case I would never ever be afraid to seek better standards and the correct way of learning to ride. In few years time it might be you being an instructor, would you want to replicate the lessons you are having?

    “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got” …Changes are not easy and can be scary, you can always go back to the “old” place if you wanted to. Yes you might lose your slot for a little bit but you would get it back I am sure, after all you seem to be put on horses that no one else rides much.

    If your goal for better riding are your real goals (not ones that you feel you should pursue or ones that make you unhappy) please fight for better education of riders out there and seek a different establishment.

    Yes, you can become a better rider by riding difficult or spoilt horses but only if you are working on them correctly not by putting them through a lesson format as you describe. I understand that I only have the knowledge of what you put in writing and perhaps don’t see other positive elements to your lessons but from you write it sounds like you are your riding schools’ horse exerciser and tester. Not a student who increases own skills, confidence and ability.

    You know what I would do, no other sport can be compared to horse riding because no other sport involves a living animal. We can enjoy a challenge and push ourselves in other sports and it’s our decision to make. Horses don’t have a say in our pursuits of “fun” and it’s our responsibility as riders to appraise the situation for them.

    I think deep down you know this and feel it’s not right by either you or the horses which is why you are in such a turmoil as otherwise you seem to be getting a positive experience out of the lessons.
    Life is damn hard when we want to change something, I get it, I understand your indecision. I think once the time is right you will know what to do.

    P.S. It is correct to look at the jump so go with your instinct, your eyes will learn to measure distance to the jump when you look at it on the approach (as long as you look at the top rail). The key is not to get fixated on it or look down at the bottom of the jump. I agree though that glances ahead a couple of strides in front of the jump are good for fluidity of motion.

    • Thanks for your honesty and taking the time to respond. I’ll be honest in return: I found this hard to read last night, because the truth can hurt. I know that at the moment, I’m not doing what’s best for my future, but what I’m trying (and having) to do is what’s best for my current situation.

      I dug myself into a hole a year ago: I gave up on my “real” career in a rush and decided to go back to my gut and work with horses, but I didn’t have a network to draw on for support or guidance, so I’m well and truly going it alone. In addition to that, I didn’t make the time to stop and save up some money, so I’m totally flying by the seat of my pants in order to make the change. I didn’t initially want to go and do my basic training as a working pupil, because I didn’t want to be tied down to a centre (rather than not wanting to do the hard work), but I’m starting to see it as the only option, given what I’ve just explained. I wanted to fund myself through to getting through Stages 1 and 2 and my PTT, but I’m now not sure if that’s so realistic.

      I woke up this morning thinking that the riding I’m doing could be better for me (you correctly point out that at the moment, I’m paying someone to let me school their horses, which is crazy), but it’s still better than doing none at all (which is where I was a year ago). So due to certain circumstances, I’m going to persist with what I’m doing. But, I would like to go somewhere to work on myself as a one off before I go away for the summer again. That’s (hopefully!) where you come in. Can we organise a weekend for sometime when you’re back in the UK? With a lunge lesson maybe? And a horse who knows how to respond to canter aids without bucking?

      • I wouldn’t see it as you digging yourself into a hole, you’ve taken a big step to start a new career in a different field. You’re very brave, and it is amazing to start over.

      • Well evaluated Wiola! and good decision Becky to have some lessons focusing on you 🙂 have you looked at doing your stage exams through a part time college course? Some places are also offering distance learning courses too – TOCES is the biggest – and if you’re dedicated there shouldn’t be a reason why you can’t succeed. For the practical side of things you could volunteer to help a friend or a local riding school to practice the stable management side of things. You never know they might offer you a free lesson in return for your help! 🙂

        P.s. Wiola – I have a few dream learn to canter horses 😛 they’re perfect for just sitting and practising your seat. One will do laps forever!

      • Thanks for the input 🙂 it’s not the actual learning or what I have to learn that puts me off/confuses me, the only thing well and truly holding me back at the moment is the financial side – I’m absolutely kicking myself for not sitting Stages 1 and 2 in my teens but there’s no way to turn the clock back and change that now, it’s a case of figuring out how to work with what I do have. And another part of my problem is there’s a massive lack of riding schools close to me, which is crazy given where I live. Around here it’s mostly racing (which my confidence is not right for at the moment), serious competition (lots of eventers and dressage riders – none of whom my skills are good enough for!) and small private livery yards (which may be the best bet).

        We had some really good canter teachers at camp – a couple were just like rocking horses but, of course, if I got asked to work with a horse in the evenings it’s because they WEREN’T cantering properly and we were trying to fix them (notice a theme, much?!).

      • Whereabouts are you living?

        You can ride the odd horse that is difficult to canter to show you the different types and problems, but it is down to the riding school to work on them and improve them so they are balanced! That’s what I spend my weeks doing anyway! 🙂

  3. Hello again 🙂
    First of all, of course you are more than welcome to come train with me over a weekend as well as come and audit any clinics I do so you can network further and surround yourself with more horsey people.

    I have started “from zero” myself too, when after meeting my British partner we decided to settle in the UK, I struggled to remember any equestrian English terms. At my Stage 1 I forgot what headcollar is called and how different markings are named. I felt like the biggest idiot and even though I had the knowledge I couldn’t communicate it.
    In 2011/12 I had a fabulous client base and a thriving little coaching programme when my bad business decision putting trust in another instructor cost me a year worth of income and a huge stress.
    What I am trying to say is that I fully agree with Sarah commenting above, you did not dig a hole for yourself, you are just trying to climb up from it…I believe that we all start from zero at many points of our lives if we follow our passions or brave goals; and there are many of those moments when everything seems impossible.

    I think that if you stick to your plans you would make a great instructor, you are thoughtful and analytical and having to go through your riding experiences the hard way – that’s what makes fantastic teachers…

    I hope to meet you in person soon and if I can help in anyway to push your horsey career onwards, just let me know 🙂


    • Thanks for being so kind – it definitely helps to have someone to ask for inspiration, and I look forward to meeting you properly soon! I’ll absolutely come as a proper student for the weekend on 22 and 23 March, and hopefully join you to shadow/carry stuff/scoop poo the weekend prior when you head north.

      Yes, saying I’m starting from scratch might be a little harsh – I do of course have transferable skills from my previous life, plus various other experiences to draw on – but those who know me well will tell you that I’m pretty hard on myself (my logic has always been that I’m demanding of others, so I have to demand the best from myself too!).

      I think my new theme for 2014 is going to be “making the most of it”.

      • That’s a great theme 🙂

        Your event manager skills sound really great for equestrian industry. Dare I say, business skills and professional, well organised approach are not something that is present in this industry in abundance…

        I really look forward to meeting you in person (and I always need a camera person for the videos I take so if you need something to do, you are welcome to be a film maker ).

      • Don’t get me started – I was just ranting an hour ago that horse people could probably take over the world if they were a bit more organised.

        Done: A Level Media Studies and years of photographing my favourite horses flying off the Derby Bank mean I’m well-trained for that role too!

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