Friday, June 09, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Easy Squeezy

All tacked up and ready to ride.

"So, how do you feel about it?" my husband asked me shortly after I'd returned home from my third riding lesson today.

"It's hard to describe," I replied. "The whole lesson was riding. It's very exciting but you likely think I'm not very excited. I'm so thrilled, I'm calm. It's so amazing to me and it feels so good, I'm beyond being excited."

Or it could just be a result of my instructor telling me to relax for an hour.

"It's a big day," Dawn Helm, of Galloway Stables in Linden, announced as I was brushing Dakota prior to our lesson this morning.
I knew that meant I was getting up on him. And it didn't take long for her to make good on that promise.
While I watched, Dawn tacked him up -- saddle blanket, some kind of foamy thing to compensate for an angled back (I totally relate to that, buddy), saddle and girth.
"We put the girth on from the right," she said.
"Why?" (I'm like a four year old: Why? Why? Why?)
"Because we do," she shrugged. "Because you carry your sword on your left, I guess."
So we decided that was the answer to every horse-related question: Because you carry your sword on your left.

Dawn uses a mounting block, which might seem "wimpy" but actually is better for the horse and the saddle. If you're going to spend all that time putting the blanket, saddle and girth on, only to haul it sideways with your body weight, what's the point? And that's a lot of drag on one side of the horse, too. It's not like we ever mount from the right to compensate because...we carry our sword on the left.
For dismounting, however, it's a full-body vault off the horse. Having done it once last summer when my friend Gail let me ride her horse, Earli, for a bit, I didn't embarrass myself by tumbling instead of vaulting. Even remembered to bend at the knees when I hit the dirt!

In between,
On a horse. Not for ten minutes, not for one slow walk around the arena, but for 45 minutes.
No fear. No nervousness. Totally focused on keeping my legs loose and my feet turned out.
(Biggest learning moment today? That I have weak ankles. Skating should have been my first clue, but who wants to admit to having weak ankles? But I do. How does one discover this during horseback riding? When you hold your feet wrong.)

So there I was, up on a horse, for real, riding around the arena, with Dawn controlling Dakota through the lunge line. I was no longer asking Dawn, Why? but instead, What do you mean? We took a moment for a lesson in lingo: Riding the rail means riding right next to the wall. Going into the corner doesn't mean ride him right into the corner! It means don't let him cut the corner. Ride the quarter line corresponds with dividing the arena into quarters, which I understood, but she totally lost me when she started talking about the arena being 120 metres so a 20 metre circle, or was it 40? And that's when I said, "If I can't visualize it, I can't figure it out."

In her book, Year of the Horse, Marjorie Simmins writes about preventing the horse from drifting away from where you're heading. It echoes what Dawn told me about looking between the horse's ears to where you want to go:
"Your job is to focus straight ahead, on a point on the far wall or fence that you can aim for, and to keep your eyes on this point. The focus acts as a magnet."
Marjorie goes on to explain how to use the legs to control drift. Now this page makes a lot more sense to me! 
Right now, I tend to watch Dakota's head and the ground in front of us instead of looking ahead. I'm sure that will change as I become more confident of my control from the saddle. Right now, I feel like I'm thinking of every body part -- feet, legs, torso, hands, elbows, even head -- and what it's supposed to be doing, or not doing. Nothing is second nature yet.

In many ways, I just want to ride but there's a lot more to riding a horse than climbing on and heading out into a field. I'm a perfectionist so I want to do it right, and I also don't want to break my head or any other bones while doing it. I have weak ankles, remember.

The end result of riding around the arena for almost an hour? I have to learn to hold the reins tighter but at least I hold them properly and earned a point for adjusting my hands without letting go of the reins. I'm pretty good with using the rein and opposite leg to guide Dakota where I want him to go BUT I have a bad habit of squeezing my legs and leaning forward when I'm pulling back on the reins to make him stop. Squeezing the legs and/or leaning forward are Go actions, contrary to what the reins are telling him. The cartoons have it right: You need to lean back, pull back on the reins and say, "Whooaaa!"
"Well, don't lean so far back next time," Dawn said as she watched me figure this out.

And because I was trying to remember to stop him by engaging my core and pelvic muscles, I kept yelling, "Kegel!" instead of "Whoa!"

And yet, despite all that, I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be: In the saddle.

As I drove away from the stables afterwards, I thought to myself, "I wish I had a horse so that I could ride again tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that."

They warned me about this, those horse ladies I met last summer. They warned me. But now they have me right where they wanted me.
In the saddle.

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