Today quickly turned into one of those days I’d like to re-start… until I realised that very little of what fell apart was my fault, and all would’ve happened anyway. So I got over myself and ploughed on. My riding lesson was very delayed, as my instructor got stuck at an earlier appointment. She was very apologetic and knew I had other things to do (it’s typical – usually I don’t book myself anything else on a riding day, but today I did) and got to me as soon as possible. In the meantime, I did something I don’t normally get the chance to do at a busy but chaotic riding school and groomed my horse prior to riding him.
I think the horse was grateful for the attention – the horses are well-cared for, and he was actually very clean already, but I think he appreciated the time I took and he seemed more relaxed afterwards. I rode him during my previous lesson two weeks ago and got frustrated because, yet again, a new horse had decided to take the mickey and threw in a buck which was the final straw. I’m big enough and ugly enough to know that, on their day, any horse will test you with a bit of naughtiness, but it was starting to really get to me that it was every single time – I’d developed a complex.
I’d walked away pretty unhappy and feeling sorry for myself, but it’s amazing how quickly a solution can sometimes appear, because last week an incredible horse strolled into my life and picked my ego up off the floor. I tried to start this lesson fresh and reminded myself that what was being asked of me wasn’t beyond me, and that all I had to do was relax and persist.
I was intrigued to see how riding so differently for a couple of hours would impact upon my riding once I had a bridle in my hands again and apparently the answer is: not in the slightest. I wasn’t all that surprised by this, and got on with the job at hand. I managed to produce some pretty nice trot work, if I may say so. I made sure the horse was listening to me straight away and rode with a bit more determination than I did last time I was on him. The bend was still lacking, but I think that’s because I was distracted by having reins again. He was working better from behind than I’d managed to get him doing before, so I was pleased to have taken that step at least.
The first attempt at canter work was a disaster – his head went straight down, and I knew he was trying to con me into thinking I had him in my hands, but that his real intention was to shove his nose down and his quarters up. I wasn’t going to play his game. I knew that if I’d pushed it, I could write off the rest of the lesson mentally, so we took a break, and I went back to trot work to try and relax again. It didn’t work very well, because my brain had already gone down a different path and, to a certain extent, I’d lost focus.
There were also a lot of distractions today: my instructor doesn’t normally have a client after me but today she did and, because of how late she’d run for my lesson, her other client had arrived and was getting started. I didn’t mind sharing a lesson, but that didn’t work out either: I wasn’t paying full attention to what happened, but it seemed like the other client’s horse had been tacked up in the wrong saddle, but that it had got to the point where she’d mounted up before anyone realised! So whilst I was trying to work, another horse was brought into the arena, faffed around with, mounted up, parked up again, taken back out, brought in again a few minutes later, and the re-mounting procedure began. This pretty seriously impacted upon my ability to get on with what I wanted to do as I kept having to manoeuvre around the other animal – I’d never seen it before, so I didn’t know if he and my horse were friends or enemies, how they’d react and so on. If I’d considered this more deeply at the time, I really should’ve complained about it, but in actual fact, this would’ve gained me very little.
Once the other rider was sorted out, my instructor hit upon an idea to get me over myself with my attitude to the cantering. She suggested that we skip trot and try for walk to canter – something my horse apparently does quite well as long as you’re clear. My first two or three attempts didn’t work out – the first one in particular got me a very fast but inactive trot, but this time I knew I had to get what I wanted. Every time the horse gave me something I didn’t want, I quickly brought him back to the beginning and started again. Finally, I got the strikeoff, pulling up halfway around the arena and then making the upwards transition again, though out of trot this time.
I managed it on both reins and I think it’s safe to say that both my instructor and I were more relieved than anything else. I’ve felt pretty silly getting wound up over this during these two lessons – I’m experienced enough that it shouldn’t matter, but confidence is a fragile thing, particularly when you’re not getting close to as much practice as you’d like.
With the lesson over, I’m mostly pleased with what I’ve achieved, but I think it’s time to reflect on the experience at the riding school as a whole. It’s taught me a lot about what I don’t want, and what I don’t want to become. What I’m aiming for in my own future is probably a business which is on an unattainable utopian level, but I know now that I have to try. It might not be profitable, but it really is important to me that happiness and quality come first, and that both my horses and my clients are comfortable and content.
This was an important experience, but I think the time has come to leave the school which was an enormous part of my life behind and move on to the next stage.