Friday, January 8, 2010

equine wisdom

I went out to see Girlfriend this morning and wasn't feeling terribly inspired to ride. I was really going out there because I knew that it was what a horse-crazy girl does and even if I didn't feel like myself I should act like myself. I woke up and my right ear is so plugged I can barely hear out of it and it's annoying me. I had three ear infections last year and I'm trying to avoid that happening again. I couldn't help saying this morning that being in my body can be very cumbersome. It's true, living in a body with a nasty autoimmune disorder gets really tiring and is a huge test on one's patience and ability to roll with the punches.

So, I went out to the stable and asked my instructor, Sheryl some advice on English saddles and bits that I'm looking at purchasing for Girlfriend so we can ride English. She asked how Girlfriend's been and I said she'd been a bit pissy the last couple times we'd ridden. A lot like what she saw last Saturday when Ilana rode her for the first time. Ilana is sharing Girlfriend with me now - she's 14 and been riding for six years and doesn't have a horse of her own. She's very responsible and I think she and Girlfriend would be good for each other so I said if she's comfortable riding her that we could share her. Unfortunately for Ilana, the first day she rode her Girlfriend was all amped up and dancing and jigging everywhere.

I said I needed a lesson because I haven't had one for about two months and lucky for me Sheryl wasn't doing anything so I got to have an impromtu one. Every lesson I have even though it's only a half hour (technically - today's was a full hour) packs so much information into it. But the thing I dread about my lessons - which speaks volumes about me emotionally - is that I have to do stuff that makes me uncomfortable. I like my lessons because I learn so much but I am always having to do stuff that makes me nervous. Today it was mounting, dismounting and mounting again.

A couple weeks ago I was feeling the pressure to have a horse that doesn't walk away when you mount her (even though I've actually gotten good at mounting her with her starting to walk away as I'm swinging my leg over her. So, as soon as I mounted her I was giving her a hard pull as a correction and telling her to whoa. But then she'd throw her head and jump and if I did another hard pull back she'd throw her head and jig a little and try to bolt. Apparently, I was not giving her the right cues to stop and then freaking her out with too hard of a correction.

It just goes to show there is so much to learn. I was mounting her with her facing the wall assuming that would discourage her from walking forward as I got on her. Instead, I should mount her parallel to the wall because it is calming for her and give her a little pull on the reins and say "whoa" right before I mount, not right after. I only had to mount her four times before I got it perfect and she actually did stand still until I was in the saddle. The minute my butt was in the saddle though she started to walk, but she started to walk in a straight line very slowly and Sheryl said just to let her because she's too hot to stand still when someone gets on her back.

Then we were working on trotting which is always a challenge because Girlfriend does not like to trot. We were doing circles in half the arena and I was doing ok so Sheryl said to try trotting the full arena (which always is more of challenge because riding in a circle in the half the arena tends to keep hot horses a little calmer). We went around the arena twice, the whole time trotting the best I could keep her, mostly trotting and breaking a canter and slowing down again, then breaking a canter, then doing some weird half trot-half canter gait. Then Sheryl said, "Can you go around the arena ten times? Well, I mean I know Girlfriend can but can you?" and I said, "I don't know ..." and she said, "Yes, you can. I want you to go around the arena ten times and alternate sitting trot and posting." I had this moment of thinking, "Oh crap - there is no way I can make it ten times around this huge arena while keeping her at a trot." But I ended up doing it.

Then we had to canter and Sheryl gave me some pointers on how to get her to start on the right lead and there was a moment where it all came together and my body remembered how to give the exact right cues to get a horse to start on the right lead on the canter. But then we had to change rein (go the opposite direction) and it all kind of fell apart, but I stuck with it and got it a little. By the time our lesson was over I was exhausted and Girlfriend was drenched in sweat. But she was sure happy. She gave me lots of horse-hugs and nuzzles after our ride.

I told Sheryl that I get freaked out when I push myself riding Girlfriend because I worry that "this time I'm going to push her too far and she's going to freak out and throw me". Sheryl said, "Is that because you've seen her throw your friends?" to which I had to correct her, "My friend. She's only thrown one of my friends." But we did talk about how it is highly unlikely that she is going to freak out and throw me unless I suddenly lose all my knowledge of riding that I have so far, tense up my whole body and freak out on her first.

Sheryl has said that Emma June can try taking some lessons on Doc - her easiest lesson horse - if she wants even though she's just about six years old - two years younger than most kids start at the stable. I'm not sure if she'll have the concentration to actually take lessons yet but she's excited to try.

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