The Stead Of The Week

Today, the question of what to wear to my lesson was simple; lots of clothes. The temperature for the day never reached above 40 degrees. I wore a thick sweater, a fleece jacket and a wind jacket on top. I went with the bleu breeches because, out of the few pairs I own, I think they’re the thickest. I assume its because they’re the least worn.

I arrived at the barn and was anxious to meet my stead of the week, since Striker went away to lead change boot camp. My ride for today was Parker. He’s a 4 year old, BIG Quarter Horse. They told me one more thing about Parker before I mounted up, he’s a western pleasure horse. I’ve never ridden a western trained horse, but for some reason I had it in my head that it was going to be an easy, quiet ride.

As soon as I got up in the saddle, I realized just how big Parker actually is! It felt like I was doing a split the entire lesson. While wd walked, my trainer set all the jumps to found poles and explained the exercise I’d be doing later. The point of the exercise was to work on learning distances. The object is to canter the ground poles and count, out loud, the last three strides to the pole. I was super excited about this exercise! Its so simple, yet it seemed so effective.

We began working at the trot, he was smooth but his gait felt odd. Not lame, just different than what I’m used to. We started trotting over cavaletti. It went smooth the first few times. Then the trainer decided to spread the cavaletti to make him reach more. Parker thought it’d be easier to canter and jump the poles, and I just wasn’t strong enough to convince him otherwise, even though we tried many times.

After the cavaletti disaster, we moved on to working at the canter. I set him up for the canter transition, but when I asked for the departure; he broke into a fast trot. I got this result for a while, I felt like the worst rider ever! All the barn girls were in the ring, watching my lesson, including Parker’s usual rider. We cooled off and walked a minute. I asked again, this time I was successful. He cantered heavy on his forehand, and even though I was in a half seat, he was pulling me out of the tack. At this point im freezing, shaking like crazy and I can’t feel my legs. He kept breaking gait, popping back into a canter, then breaking gait again. It was tough to keep my leg on him, especially with him pulling me down every stride. We cantered the opposite lead, he was pretty hot at this point. He wanted to gallop, he was so heavy in his front. His canter felt so downhill and he wouldn’t respond to my half halts. When I finally got him down to a walk I made it very clear I didn’t wanna canter again. The trainer told me to do a little more trot work, but he decided it was best if we called it a day. Parker was too worked up and hot, he kept trying to canter instead of trotting. I dismounted in the ring and walked Parker back to the barn with his rider.

She and I talked for a while. The girl (I feel bad that I’ve already forgot her name) explained that Parker does the same stuff with her that he tried in the lesson. She told me that it took her a long time to get used to the way he goes, and that she still has a hard time. I liked Parker, he was pretty, I just don’t think I’m suitable to ride a very young, green horse. I thought I had made that pretty clear in the times I had talked to the trainer before hand. When I walked back down to the ring to talk to the trainer, he assured me I would get a long better next time with Parker now that I had felt how he went. I assured him there wouldn’t be a next time. He seemed taken aback by my refusal to ride him again. I understand that the trainer calls the shots and knows best, but in this case I strongly believe I don’t need to be on a green horse. After my trainer realized I was serious, I believe he understood. He agreed to put me on someone else for the next lesson.

After this week, all I can think about is how much I can’t wait to ride Striker again!

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What’s Your Alternative?

The morning of our lesson, I woke up to a text from Taylor, explaining the excuses why riding isn’t in her best interest right now and that she wouldn’t be going to the lesson. Rather than try to reason with her I simply said “ok”. After that, I turned my attention to my wardrobe struggle. I still haven’t had time to go shopping for riding clothes, so for now I’m stuck wearing my children’s breeches and trying to find riding appropriate shirts in my closet. Don’t get me wrong, the clothes I own are conservative. However, its hard to ride in shirts that are excessively loose or long. Today, I settled for a fitted black sweater and the gray kids breeches. Its was a little warm for a sweater, but I couldn’t bring myself to wear a t-shirt again.

I got to the barn and was surprised to see how busy it was, its usually pretty empty in the morning when I’m out there. I remembered they were all going to a schooling show the next day, so I figured they must be getting ready. However, when I went in the ring for my lesson, I soon realized I had a rather large audience. While I walked Striker around, my trainer told me the girls texted him saying I had the “perfect eq body”. We both laughed and he said “See you’ve already got fans”.

For the first time, since I started riding again, it felt like I had my leg back! I know I’m still far from being back in riding shape, but it felt good not to have my legs all over the place. I also didn’t lose my stirrups at all while we warmed up, which happened frequently in the first two lessons. I can feel myself slowly getting back to where I used to be, as far as equitation goes.

We warmed up over a few fences, like usual, then my trainer had me ride a few lines. I’m still having issues riding Striker to the distance I see, or staying with him during the distances he takes. Though, there were a few times when I was able to sit up, get him to a good spot and stay with him over the jump. At the end of the lesson, my trainer had me do half a course. It was a two stride outside line, then down the diagonal to a scary rolltop, then another outside line. It sounded easy but, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never jumped a roll top and that was enough to throw me off what little game I had. Regardless of my nerves, I gave it my best shot. The first outside line went pretty smoothly, then we got an awkward spot to the roll top. I got jumped out of the tack and kind of fell on his neck. It felt like I knocked the wind out of my chest. I didn’t sit up quickly enough after the roll top, so we did a circle, then took the next outside line. After this, we called it a day.

Sadly, this was my last lesson on Striker for an entire month. His owner is sending him to a dressage barn to learn his flying lead changes. Hopefully I will have improved over fences, by the time he gets back, so I can ride him more effectively.

When I got home, Taylor asked if I was mad at her for her decision not to ride. I told her “of course not”, but after we discussed it a little while, I realized she had the same fears I had. She didn’t wanna find out how much she’s forgotten and how much she still has to learn. I felt it was kind of fitting to pass on the words of my trainer, so I asked “What’s your alternative? Never ride again?”. This simple question seemed to have the same wake up effect on her, as it did me. After we talked a while longer she seems to have it back in her heart again to wanna ride. She’s one of the few people I know who feels the same way about horses as I do, and I’d really hate to see her give up on something I know she loves so much. Plus, its a lot more fun having my best friend with me through all this, instead of doing it alone.

Time to Stop Living in the Past

Looking my best has always been a big deal to me. Every lesson I’ve ever taken, its always been the same; hairnet, tucked in polo, belt, gloves and shiny boots. Unfortunately, after so many years of not riding, most of my polos and breeches have gone missing. I’m left with 3 pairs of hand-me-down children’s Riding Sport breeches, that are too big, in lovely shades of bleu, brown and gray. Then I have one polo left, which is what I wore to my first lesson. I never remember dressing for lessons, in the past, being such a struggle. Since the weather was so warm, I had no choice but to wear…a T-SHIRT. Taylor was supposed to ride in the lesson with me this time, but she canceled last minute.

During my first lesson, my legs were weak and I had a hard time keeping my heels down, boots rubbed big sores behind my knees. For this reason, I had no choice but to leave the very tops of my boots unzipped. This is something I’ve never had to do in my life.
Warming up was a little easier today, with no more bad canter transitions. I felt like I could keep my leg at the girth better, but my hands are still always in the wrong position. I don’t follow with my hands and I have a bad habit of locking my elbows.

We warmed up over a few small fences, then my trainer had me start doing some gymnastics. At first he put up a crossrail-bounce-crossrail, then to a 3 stride to a small vertical. Everytime we went through, he added more jumps and made everything progressively higher. By the end it was a crossrail-bounce-crossrail, then a one stride to a vertical, then a two stride to a big, scary oxer. Striker was such a champ for taking me through everytime, flawlessly! I’m still getting jumped out of the tack over every fence. Sticker’s jump is so massive and it doesn’t help that I see the distance I want, but I’m too weak to ride him to it.

After the lesson, while I cooled Striker out, my trainer and I talked about me just starting back riding. I told him the pain from being sore and weak sucks, but the worst part is knowing this all used to come easy. It hurts to think I threw away what skill I had and now I’m back to square one. I hate thinking how much further along I’d be right now if I hadn’t had to stop riding. I think that’s one of the reasons it took me so long to get started again. After all, nobody wants to find out how bad they’ve gotten, its easier to relive old memories when you were good. Without missing a beat, my trainer looked up at me and said “What’s the alternative? Never ride again?”. This man is wise beyond his years. It may seem like a simple, obvious question to everyone else but to me it was exactly what I hadn’t thought of. Now its time to stop living in the past, and start focusing on the future.

The Beginnings of a Re-Rider

Growing up as a pony kid in a hunter barn, my biggest fear was one day becoming an adult re-rider. What’s a re-rider? There’s always one lady, at every barn, that rode when she was younger. For one reason or another, she stopped riding. Now that she’s weak, out of shape and forgotten how to ride; she’s decided its the perfect time to start taking lessons again.

Well, that’s me. I’ve been riding as long as I can remember and I could never imagine how normal people lived without horses. I always gave up everything to be able to ride. I even tried to sell my bed one time when my parents told me we couldn’t afford lessons. The only time I ever stopped riding was when I had to wait for broken bones to heal, but even then I was still at the barn everyday. All the effort I had put into being able to ride over the years couldn’t prepare me for the biggest change of my life; college. I started college in the fall semester of 2010, and stopped riding shortly after.

Its now the end of 2013 and I’ve just graduated from college. This year I had made it my New Years resolution to start taking lessons again. I put it off all year, until my best friend, Taylor, put the idea back in my head. We grew up riding together, but she stopped riding a couple years before me. It seems a lot less impossible to start back knowing I have someone that’s gonna be there with me through it all.

I found a new lesson barn a lot closer to where we live than the last barn I rode at. I talked to the trainer and he said he’d prefer to have us ride separately for the first lesson. We went that Wednesday and Taylor rode. She rode really well considering its been so long since her last lesson. Even though the trainer agreed that she looked great, I could tell she wasn’t happy with the way she rode.

I went out for my lesson today, the following Tuesday. I went alone since Taylor had school. In my lesson I rode Striker, a gray Oldenburg who is ridiculously tall. I never graduated from riding ponies before I quit riding, so he was the biggest horse I’ve ever ridden. While the trainer adjusted my stirrups at the mounting block, Striker reached around and bit my elbow. I thought; what a great way to get started.

I got up in the saddle and noticed I forgot to zip my boots up. I sat there for a few moments trying to get my right boot to zip without success. Finally the trainer walked over and we tackled it together. Its been so long since I’ve worn my boots, I didn’t realize how much weight I’ve put on. After that little humiliating moment, the riding struggle set in almost immediately. Things that came naturally before now seem like the toughest tasks. Even posting was rather difficult. After a really embarrassing canter transition, I realized just how terrible I’ve gotten.

Once we were finally warmed up, the trainer set up some small fences and said “I wanna see what you look like over some jumps”. Reluctantly, I agreed. We started by trotting the small verticals, but it was like going over ground poles on such a massive horse. The trainer told me to start cantering to get him to actually jump the fences. Once Striker started jumping with effort, it became apparent that I flat out suck. Then the trainer told me to jump a vertical and rollback to another fence that was on the diagonal. I looked at what our approach was going to be and tried to make a plan in my head. Unfortunately the plan didn’t for see Striker taking an awkward distance to the first fence and me getting jumped out of the tack, which is exactly what happened. After landing from the first jump I didn’t sit up and look in time and we got very lost in our approach to the second fence, nevermind the failed rollback. When we reached the second jump, Striker simply said “nope”. He refused/ducked out. I went forward and came out the saddle when he threw on the brakes and somehow managed to hit the inside of my thigh on the pommel of the saddle. I stayed on and circled him back around and we popped over the fence with no issues this time. The trainer told me it was a nice recovery and all I could think to say back was “that’s what I’m the best at”. After we went through it again without any major mishaps, we called it a day.

I rode Striker back to the barn without thinking, forgetting that I saw everyone else get off in the ring last week. I hopped right off in front of the barn without a second thought, and fell. My knees gave out when I hit the ground and my right knee went right into his his knee. I hadn’t really realized just how tall Striker was, and my legs had gone numb during the lesson. Talk about an embarrassing thing for the trainer to see in a first lesson.

Bruises and embarrassing moments aside, I made it through my first lesson and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if you tried.