Monday, April 23, 2012

Making the most of lessons...trying, at least

So for my 22nd birthday this past March, my mother was kind enough to gift me with four riding lessons with the trainer I've been working with for the past six months. I spent the first lesson riding Stan, who is a bit of a Frankenhorse, and very spooky, but never genuinely does anything bad (although apparently I am the only person he is spooky for--which just makes me feel great). Since I do not take lessons very often, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to get my money's worth and it just adds to my tension when I don't do what I'm supposed to, either from fear or muscle memory, or both (for example, acting as if Stan is ALWAYS going to freak out in the scary corner of the ring).

Just because he is a Frankenhorse with a parrot mouth, crooked legs, and a roached back...

...doesn't mean he isn't handsome! This is why we call him Manly Stanley!

I love riding Stan because once we work through the spooky stuff, he is very responsive. However, I do want to make the most of my lessons and challenge myself so that I can actually grow.

Clyde is the first horse I rode at this trainer's farm until he threw me and then was lame for several weeks (related incidents, but I can't remember exactly what the injury was). He is ridiculously finicky about his canter transitions, and WILL NOT canter unless you:
  1. Sit deep and half-halt,
  2. switch your weight to the inside and bend with the inside leg and rein,
  3. then put on the outside leg at the EXACT RIGHT MOMENT of his stride. I am not good at this. At all. So he usually just ends up strung out in a super-fast trot and I usually end up out of breath from clucking and all hunched up from trying to do too many things at once.
Clyde says, "Check out my tattoo!"
So what with Clyde's being lame, Stan being an easier ride, and not having money for lessons until recently, I haven't ridden Clyde for several months. I have been reading the fantastically useful Build a Better Athlete!: 16 Gymnastic Exercises by Leslie Webb, though, and Webb recommends cueing for the canter (step 3 from above) by swinging your lower leg slightly behind the girth and sort of brushing the horse's side with your calf instead of squeezing. I've been doing that with Joey, who tends to rush into the canter and he responds immediately to it--maybe because he is a dressage pony and I guess they tend to do more swinging around with the lower leg for various cues.

Long story short--I wanted to ride Clyde for my lesson so I could try this magical new canter cue. In my first lesson, I went in totally confident and I was able to regain control and calmness after Stan spooked once at the Evil Demon Corner. I was feeling good, ready for a challenge. Even if Clyde didn't respond, at least I would get some practice feeling when the exact right moment of his stride would be to ask.

I didn't count on my trainer saying, "We'll probably just keep it to a walk and trot since you haven't ridden him for a while," immediately when I mounted up. I was disappointed, but I realized that Rome wasn't built in a day, and that maybe I could use my other lessons to work on cantering with Clyde.

Another thing I didn't count on was the wind.

And the fact that the wind would blow the jump filler flowers, making them look like they were up to no good.

Or that Clyde sees dead people in the bushes. Or something. I didn't see what it was that made him decide to suddenly turn tail along the straightaway, since I was concentrating on, "Forward. Straight. Straight, straight, straight," and looking forward rather than at Clyde. What I do know is that once we got about 15 feet away from the corner, I was hanging on his neck and wondering how I got there. There was no chance of me salvaging the situation since Clyde was still skittering away from the dead people in the bushes, so I just slid on down and landed on my butt, thanking my trainer for redoing her ring a couple months ago with wonderfully soft, even footing.
Clyde plots his next scheme.
 I hadn't even seen it coming, but that was it for me. After I mounted back up, my leg muscles were trembling from the shock of it, just like they do every time I fall, and I was frustrated that I couldn't make them stop. My trainer said to just hang out at the halt and take a few deep breaths. This just gave me more time to think about what a disappointment the lesson had turned out to be. No cantering, then I fell off at the trot, and now I couldn't stop my trembling body from telling Clyde, "Yes. Continue to freak out. Everything is scary today."

We picked up a walk, then a trot, on the other end of the ring, but of course that's where the suspicious jump filler was, so our circles were shaped more like kidney beans (sadly, not an exaggeration). Now it seems silly, but I was so disappointed in the difficulty I was having in just making a simple circle that I started tearing up when I asked my instructor what I was doing wrong. When the lesson was over, I seriously wondered whether I should even be riding horses like hers. What had I even learned? I felt that by asking me to retreat to the other side of the ring, my instructor was letting me back down from the problem instead of facing it. Maybe she thought that I wasn't capable of facing it. And maybe I wasn't.

In hindsight, she was crunched for time and probably just needed to wrap things up, but it was still a pretty confidence-crushing lesson for me. I mean, my entire blog is about me identifying as someone who rides whenever/whatever she can, and I fell off at the trot.

This past week, my instructor and I had more time to talk. I asked her whether she thought I should be riding school horses instead of her show horses, and she said that at a certain level, you just have to work through problems like the ones that Stan and Clyde tend to throw at me. And that's true. While I enjoy riding push-button ponies like Joey, I don't really have much to learn from a horse that does anything I ask.

For the rest of the lesson, we worked on my sitting trot and my canter departs, since that pre-canter running trot is where everything falls apart. It was never a problem with the drafts I've been riding through most of college since they are so comfy, but now I'm glad that I'm working on the things that will actually give me a good return on my investment.

Moral: Buck up and look forward to the next lesson, whenever that may be!


  1. I know that when I get super anxious and the pony has a big spook that my trainer makes sure we do enough *work* after that to get my adrenaline all out. Usually I'm super shaky and it's hard but we just keep trotting and working and flexing until we get it out of my system. It definitely helps so that your body doesn't hold on to all that adrenaline!

    1. I will have to tell her that for next time...note that I'm assuming there WILL be a next time!