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I got out of the car slowly and trudged up the stairs one step at a time until I reached the back door. Heaving a huge sigh, I slowly pushed the door open and entered the kitchen. As I close the door, I catch a glimpse of my husband at the stove preparing dinner. Characteristically, my dogs make a wild dash to greet me. Wanda, has grabbed the nearest shoe and proceeds to whip me with her tail, while she softly woofs a greeting. Bella, runs and hops around both of us, showing off her favorite bone. I pat both of them and en masse we move into the living room. Heaving another sigh, I put down my riding gear and work bag. Then I pry the shoe out of Wanda’s mouth and give Bella another pat. Only then do I return to the kitchen and properly greet my husband.

“How was your lesson?” He looks over his shoulder to find me leaning against the cabinets.

Sigh. “Hard. Really hard.” I’ve ducked my head to hide the tears welling up in my eyes. Then I move to the opposite side of the kitchen so he can access the trash.

“Kicked your butt, huh?” He’s plating our dinner while I grab our drinks and the silverware.

“Yeah.” I turn around to find him looking at me quizzically and sigh again. “I hate my body.” I look down at said body. “I hate my butt. I hate my legs and I hate my arms.” Don’t worry, he’s been around me long enough to know that this is the obligatory ‘my body sucks’ rant of his horse crazed wife. I notice that he’s struggling to hide a smile as I continue my rant. “Do you hear me butt?” I point at my butt to emphasize my point. Yes, the dreading finger pointing. “Legs? arms? I hate you!” I’ve pointed at each of them in turn.

My husband chuckles, “That bad, huh?”

“Yes! I can’t even sit right.” Sensing my anguish the dogs have returned. I pat them both and they follow me into the dining room where I set the items down on the table. I return to the kitchen and our conversation. “I keep tipping forward and even though I’m sitting, I’m NOT sitting. My legs are gripping and popping me out of the saddle and then my arms straighten and…and… Grr! I hate my body. I hate it.”

Dinner was a fairly silent affair as I wallowed in self pity and mentally reviewed my lesson again and again.

Later in the evening, Bella, offers me comfort. I’m sitting on the floor and she presses her head into my chest. In turn, I stroke her chest and place my head on top of her back. A mutual hug that we both enjoy. So comforting and nice.

Several days later, I’m still reviewing the lesson. It wasn’t all bad. It’s just that my perception at the time was focused on it. I had some wonderful cantering moments and trot/almost walk/trot transitions and shoulder in and… Well, you get the idea. All these wonderful moments because I, uh, because I sat correctly. Yes, that’s right. I sat correctly. See? I can sit. Sometimes.

Conclusion
Yesterday, I announced that I need more horse time. I must be crazy because this can’t be logical. Riding drove me to wallow in self pity and the cure? More riding of course! Yep, crazy.

My husband even suggested that I pick up another lesson or maybe some practice rides. Hmm, he’s encouraging my craziness, why? Because my angst has become a topic of conversation and laughter with his coworkers. Imagine that! It’s not bad enough that I blog about it, he talks about it. With his coworkers! Gasp.

God, I love him.

I finally got my grubby little hands on my lesson video! Rare photographic evidence that I actually ride. (Previous videos can be found here.) I had to edit it though. There’s no way anyone wants to watch a 45 minute lesson. I’m not even the star! I just have a teeny tiny bit role in the film. If you look closely you’ll see me drift in and out of a few scenes. Don’t blink!

Setting
It’s a beautiful, cold Thanksgiving morning.

Please take your motion sickness pills before viewing.
The woman behind the camera was not interested in me. Obviously. However, I was captured in two cantering segments that I spliced together here for your viewing pleasure. Now if only I could plant my butt in that saddle. Sigh.

I’m cool, uh-huh.
I think I finally have it! I’ve become an example of the following arm at the walk. It’s taken so long to get to this point.

Taking the good with the bad.
Did I mention that Savannah’s had a few days off? That means she’s strong. I mean really strong. As in NO whoa. She’s also heavy on the left rein (stiff side) and light on the right side (hollow side). I tried to transition to a halt and she wasn’t having any of it. This led to a rein back to get her to listen. I counter intuitively clung to her right side as she hung on the left rein. That allowed her to exit right. Exactly what she wanted to do and I told her it was okay. Stupid body! Stupid, stupid body!

To quote Jane Hannigan, “It’s training, not showing.”

So, remember that video I promised you? Yeah. Well, I don’t have one. Yet. I had everything planned out too. Everything. My non-horsey husband had even agreed to play videographer during my lesson. I think the last time he saw me ride was…hmm, a year ago? Can you believe that he was actually looking forward to standing around in the cold while I rode? Sigh, now that’s love. Unfortunately, at the last moment, he had to stay late at work. Not to worry though because I had the camera!

I pulled into the driveway, tossed on my helmet, grabbed my gloves, whip and camera and…wait a sec. The camera. Shoot! I didn’t charge it. Please, please, please let there be power. I flipped it open and hit the power button. Nothing. I hit it again because if at first you don’t succeed… Yeah, it didn’t help. No juice at all.

I doubt you missed much anyway, sigh. Just a lesson about the stiff and hollow sides of our horse and how to fill the hollow side up. The horse I ride, like most horses, is stiff left and hollow right. I know this because she hangs on the left rein. Then, I hang on the left rein and grip with the right leg. Before I know it my left ring finger is blistered (even with a glove) and I can’t feel my left arm! But like I said, you didn’t miss much.

Last week, I arrived fully prepared! I had a fully charged video camera in hand. Yeah! I was however missing a key component, the videographer, but someone could film a short clip. Right? Maybe. Please. Did I say fully prepared? Sigh.

As luck would have it, I was sharing my Thanksgiving Day morning lesson and her mother brought a camera too! Woo hoo, a videographer! I’ve been promised a copy of the lesson and after some editing I hope to have it posted here soon.

Now for the thankful part. I am blessed to have such a wonderful husband and son. Allowing me to ride on Thanksgiving morning was a wonderful gift of love and understanding. I’m equally blessed to have a trainer flexible enough to teach on a holiday morning, a friend willing to share the lesson and her mother who was willing to video it all.

Thank you all for sharing the holiday I’m truly grateful.

I had my first lesson in, um, let’s see…two months? What can I say? Life got in the way and sacrifices had to be made. But enough about that. I’m back! I’m back in the saddle again!

Welcome to the next leg of my journey – biomechanics!

Uh-huh, I found an instructor, who’s instructor trains with Mary Wanless. I’m thrilled! Tickled pink in fact. Wait. I hate that color. Huh? What was I saying? Oh, yeah…

So, without further ado…drum roll please…let me introduce Savannah. She’s a Clydesdale / TB cross, trained to First Level, steady but with enough go to make it fun! Definitely not a push button horse. I had to work to keep her straight!

So, how’d it go? Pretty well actually. Even though I was collapsing on the left and my arms were moving like I was jogging instead of riding. Oh, and my transitions were a little rough. By the end of the lesson though my transitions were smoother. My arms started following the bit too. That is as long as I thought about moving them together forward and back. Oh, and kept my elbows glued to my sides.

Let’s see what else? I had to overcome my natural tendency to look too far around the corner. Why? Because that causes my upper body to twist and in turn the horse jack knives. Look softly between the horse’s ears and indicate bend through the elbow. So simplistic, so logical, so darned hard for me to do! Going in the opposite direction I had to exaggerate the opening of my inside right rein. It’s her hollow side and without it she was more then happy to head toward the center of the ring.

I even did several 20-meter circles! gasp! OK, they weren’t exactly 20-meters but I felt good about it so I guess it’s time to ride again.

This is embarrassing. I mean really embarrassing. A grown woman is acting like a bratty two year old and her favorite word is “No!”  I can’t believe she’s talking to an instructor like that! She isn’t even doing anything difficult. Just some walk/trot work, mostly on a 20 meter circle. And the horse is gorgeous! A big, floaty trot when he’s truly engaged. <sigh> Most of us would kill to ride the dressage schoolmaster. She’s a good rider and can definitely handle it. What’s her problem?

Um, that bratty two year old? Uh, that’s me.
I know…I know… (hands patting the air)
Embarrassing, huh? A grown woman… (shaking my head)

My inner child was triggered by several things. I think…

  1. During warm up Thunder’s nose started to run. Green mucus, yuck! His owner took him to an isolated stall and placed a call to the vet. No fever though.
  2. This is my first lesson ever with my instructor’s replacement. Performance anxiety?
  3. A horse replacement scramble ensued and because the dressage schoolmaster had just been used… In the meantime, this is what I overheard: the rider complaining that he just wasn’t rounding. Not rounding = giraffe head. When his feet were done the other day an abscess was discovered. Amazing, that he never seemed to be in any pain. By the way, how was he? Bucking? (huh? bucking? gulp)
  4. Circles. Lots of circles. Nothing winds me up faster then circles. How can something so easy be so difficult?!

The lesson went something like this…

Pick up a trot on a 20 meter circle at A. Okay
Get your heels down. Sorry, bad habit. OK, down on the up…
Push him forward! More? No!
What?! He’s not even moving!
Not moving?! You’re crazy! Compared to Thunder…MOVING!
Don’t pull back on the reins. Aaarrrrgh!
Just in front of the vertical, on it, just in front…
He’s falling in on that circle push him off that inside leg. Tapping
Push him out with your whole leg. Pushing
Use your knee and thigh not just your lower leg. Thud
Don’t lose the outside rein connection and give with the inside rein. Aaarrrrgh!
Uh-oh, giraffe head. I don’t like this…I’m feeling really nervous.
Why? You’re doing fine. Pay no attention to his head and push him forward.
Oh my God! Butterflies. I’m actually starting to shake…
No! I’m not comfortable.
When was the last time you videoed yourself riding? Shrug
You’re a good rider and you can handle this. Uh, I can’t today.

Hmm, like I said, embarrassing. Get a grip on yourself woman! You’ve ridden this horse before. This lesson wasn’t any different from the others. Gee! Could someone please send the real Dressage Rider back?

I miss her.

Once again, I declare that 20 meter circles are evil!  Evil I say!  Especially on a lazy horse. Why? Well, for the obvious reason…since I’ve been riding Thunder I haven’t had to do them. (Yah! Happy dance!) That is until this past lesson. My instructor is heading to Florida for the season and I was royally tortured. Something to remember her by, huh? <Grrrrr!>

Oh, how I cursed those circles under my breath. I cursed them trotting. I cursed them cantering and still my instructor demanded more!

Get to your touching points!   *Bleeping* touching points.
Don’t let your circle get smaller!   *Bleeping* 20 meter circle.
Activate the hind end!   *Bleeping* circle.
More outside rein!   Aaaaargh!

Interesting how much I blamed a poor, innocent and harmless circle. Did I blame my instructor? No. The horse? No. Myself? A little. That was the Aaaaargh! However, it’s been decided. It’s all the circle’s fault. Nothing can escalate my frustration faster then a 20 meter circle. The thought of quitting flitted across my mind as tears glimmered in my eyes. Yet I continued to ride that circle. It will not beat me!

Finally, we moved on to riding the quarter line in rising trot and leg yielding back to the track. As I entered the corner I asked for canter. The pattern was repeated again and again with varying results. Remember, I’m riding a lazy horse. I have to keep him in front of my leg but at the same time regulate the sideways and straight motions with the outside rein. Too much outside rein and he starts to slow down. The upward transitions into canter weren’t the best. I usually lost the outside rein contact because he’d back off. <Sigh.>

The finale? Doing the pattern in sitting trot. Ow, ow, ow… The fronts of my thighs are killing me. I’ll be amazed if I can even walk tomorrow.

Amazingly enough my instructor thought I really had him in the outside rein. I just need to work more on the canter transition.

Then I surprised both of us by announcing that I wanted to show in the spring. (Who said that? Me? Was that really me?) That is if she thought I was good enough and wouldn’t get laughed out of the arena.

The verdict? YES!

So, look for me at Beland this spring and pray that I can ride a *bleeping* 20 meter circle.

I apologize for my absence but I’ve been away at Equestrian Charm School. Yes, you read that correctly. Charm school. It seems that riding a lazy horse, that’s behind my leg, has brought out the worst in me. I need to bring out my inner lady. (She’s around here somewhere.) The one that remembers to say “please” and “thank you.” A refresher course in good manners is in order. <Sigh>

The old me
In order to overcome my bad habit I must acknowledge it.

<Ahem>

Hello, my name is Lee, and I’m an impolite rider. You see it all started when I was riding a lazy horse and asked it to trot. I gave it a nice squeeze with my lower legs to no avail. Then a slightly stronger thunk…nada. Then a simultaneous kick and crack of the whip that resulted with my legs wrapped up around my ears. The horse shot forward only to be punished by the bit. <Sigh>

I admit it. I was unbalanced and used the reins to steady myself. (Hey, my legs were up around my ears remember?)

The same could be said about the transition into canter. <Cringe> I didn’t even bother to ask nicely. Straight into kick, legs wrapped around my ears, punishing bit. (Please don’t watch. This is embarrassing.) Something was wrong but I was in total denial. It’s the horse. It wasn’t me.

Yeah. Right.

The new nicer me
I’ve made a point of asking nicely. A light squeeze of my lower leg, pause. No reaction? Another light squeeze and simultaneous tickle of the whip. (He already knows I’ll use it.) Moving on out…quiet legs and hands…inside leg to outside rein…he’s coming down into my hands…so light…engaging his hind…rounding. “Good boy!”

Nice. We’ve both been rewarded. <Sigh>

Okay, now let’s try that canter. Half-halt…inside leg quietly at the girth…DO NOT MOVE…outside leg cues gently…slight forward give with reins. (I promise not to jab you in the mouth.) Moving on out…quiet legs and hands…inside leg to outside rein…he’s coming down!…rounding his back! Yeah! “Good boy!”

Looks like “please” and “thank you” do pay off. Excuse me but I’m off to practice more of my manners.

After a dressage lesson I’m usually pumped! When I get home I try to share with my husband. Ooops! Did I mention non-horsey husband? At the same time the dogs are running all around me. It’s the whole energy feeding off energy thing. Very similar to a sugar high and the crash is just as bad. Wait for it…

In the meantime…
I end up grabbing a dog, usually Bella, to demonstrate something like…canter.
No! I don’t sit on her! I’m way too big!

Ahem. I straddle her.

“Canter!” And away we go! 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 Across the kitchen and into the living room. Where she spooks at the orange sheep lying on the rug and scoots out from under me. I very gracefully land on my feet and take a bow as the crowd goes wild!

Huh, that crowd kinda resembles a blanket lump.
Blanket. Nap…

The crash…
This re-enactment has exhausted me. Yawn.
I think I’ll fill you in later…

Wanda and Bella my canine mounts.

Wanda and Bella my canine mounts.

Dressage can be brutal on adult amateur riders like me. You see, I’m a multitasker. Wait. Correct that. I’m a multitasking (cough) perfectionist. So, this whole horse ballet thing should be a cinch. Right? Ha! Sometimes, it’s a multitasking nightmare. No. That’s not quite it. It just seems like every week there’s a new task, err aid, to add in or refine. To make matters worse, I understand sooo much more than I can do and… Well, it can be so frustrating! Like learning a new language and becoming more fluent in it every day.

Hey. Wait a minute. I guess that is what I’m doing. I’m learning to speak dressage!

Well, I must say that my perseverance has started to pay off and I’ve made some fantastic strides in the canter. Slowly, I’m trying to apply the same aids in canter that I use in trot. You know, the half-halts and riding inside leg to outside rein. It’s amazing when things fall into place and you’re riding a horse that’s stretching over his back and accepting the bit! (Squealing in delight!) At a canter.

I’ve even found myself performing a leg yield in canter from the quarter line to the wall! I was only able to do this because he was straight and in the outside rein. Amazing! Did I mention this was done in canter? Just power at my fingertips and not once did I feel out of control. I have no idea where this falls on the difficulty scale but it’s a small taste of what’s to come. This is so addicting!

Thunder, you make me feel like dancing! Excuse me while I break into song…

Brrrrr! It’s cold in New England and as a dedicated dressage rider I wear layers. Lots and lots of layers. Just call me, Michelin Man!

It’s amazing that I can even move. I’m wearing four layers and that’s just the top half of me. Uh-oh. I need to use the bathroom. Sigh. You’d think I’d know by now.

I hide in the old barn in my quest to stay warm. It has sliding doors on either end but one has been sealed off with hay bales. Quite cozy and no wind. I just might shed a layer…nah. As I groom and tack, my body begins to thaw. I’ve discarded my coat and debate about the vest. Hmmm, I’ll keep it for now. You just never know.

We spend quite a bit of time warming up in a power walk. Then as we trot around I notice that the horse is stiffer on the left side. Just like me. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the cold. The alternative of course is that we’re more…mature. Yeah, that’s it. Mature.

I can’t quite get my aids coordinated on the left side. I pull it all together, then lose it. I’m lacking consistency. The horse is falling out to the left. How do I know? Well, I’m scraping my stirrup against the wall. I truly believe in riding on the rail but this isn’t exactly what I had planned. I’m not using my outside leg enough. Push that barrel over! Move! That’s better.

I lose the connection again through the corner. And the next corner. The short sides are going to be the death of me. I haven’t planned well enough or far enough in advanced for this horse. We pick up a 20 meter circle and my instructor is on me about the connection. She wants more! More rounding! I….can’t….do….it.

“I’m sorry but I suck today.” Huff, puff. Cold? What cold.

“No, you don’t. You’re doing great. I just want more. I’ve been after you, to keep you after him, so we can get more.”

Huh, imagine that. Another layer.

Contact Me

leecullen@comcast.net

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