Friday, April 5, 2013

Riding lessons. ACK. Perpetual Newbie in-stinkin'-deed.

The last few rides on Tril have been difficult for me as I struggle to speak his language.  He's hard-mouthed, strong, and exhausting, and I felt like we just weren't communicating.  He knows so much and has so much to teach me, but I realized I had no clear idea how to listen to him.  I reached a point of frustration, and felt he shared the sentiment--we both want to please the other, but neither of us was understanding.

So, I buckled down and scheduled a riding lesson with a local professional Arabian trainer.  I figure this is someone familiar with how Tril is trained who can serve as translator for the two of us.  This had been the plan all along--to take lessons with her--but my busted ankle delayed that by about a year.  But, spring break arrived, and I had time and had, DAMMIT, I'm scheduling that lesson and getting out there.  With the help of a friend, I did exactly that.  Dammit.

And you know it's going to be one of those kinds of lessons when one of the first things the trainer says is, "Well, first I'm going to teach you how to wrap his legs correctly."  Awesome.  And then the recommend increasing his hay an extra flake a day as he's down about 100lbs and needs the groceries.  Crud.  And that my saddle pad was insufficient and he really should have something else as (poke poke poke) he's a little back sore.  Phooey.

But!  All of this was offered kindly and gently, and she was absolutely right.  I listened and absorbed, as she certainly knows her stuff and I certainly could learn from it.

She also told me, to my surprise, that her daughter showed Tril as a three year old over at a big Arab show in Santa Barbara, and that they were reserve champion something-something, and that her daughter loved this horse.  Well.  WHOA.  She also said Tril had suspensory injuries which is why he stopped showing when he did, and that he was always a hard keeper over at Cal Poly, which is why I am having so much fun keeping weight on him.  Made her feed adjustment suggestions all the more poignant.  (I think she's his favorite new friend, because thanks to her, he gets a FULL flake of alfalfa twice a day now instead of just half.)

So this is a trainer who really knows the horse, not just the way he was trained.  

With that, she saddled up and took him from a brief ride to get the feel of where all of his buttons and levers are.  

Ooh, purty
She also saw what we've been working on chiropractically with his hind end, and showed me various maneuvers to get him engaging both sides of his body evenly... 

Lots of bending
...and getting that atrophied butt of his working.

Work that butt.  WERK.
Then I got on him and it looked like this:

Laura, relax, you have elbows
It was an introduction to Arabian Hunter Pleasure Horse as a Second Language.  Vocabulary, basic sentence structure, greetings, and basic, useful phrases akin to "Where is the bathroom:"

"Hold frame on the bend."

"Whoa."  Yeah, we liked this one.  Even if my eq makes my eye twitch a little.

"Bend on the turn going the other way.  Engage the hindquarters."

Our communication is getting results--even if just at the walk.  I'm meh, but he looks awesome.  I think I had a Breyer horse that looked like this.
You'll notice not many trotting photos.  I did trot a good amount, but that's on video--which this blogger is annoyingly persnickety about.  Some videos upload no problem, and some get "We're sorry, but there was an error uploading this video."  All of my riding lesson videos are in this uncooperative latter category.  OH DARN.

I was stunned at the end of the listen to discover it was much, much less work to ride him the way she was teaching me versus how I'd been riding him on my own.  There was so much mental energy spent at that lesson, covering everything from his care up through the ride itself, that it's difficult to remember what she was saying.  (God bless video.)

But today, I went for lesson #2--just two days later, gotta make damn good use of my spring break!--and a few things went click!  One, I had been riding him like a dressage horse, trying to push him forward from my seat up into my hands to frame him up.  This did NOT make sense to him, at all, and would result in my legs and arms being drained and shaky in a hurry.  Instead, I just need to tap him with my legs while half halting him and, stunningly, he frames up.  That is not at all what I would have thought would happen.  I thought there was a lot more squeeze and hold--but again, this is an Arabian hunter pleasure horse, not a dressage horse...not that I have ever been much of a dressage rider.  Heh.

Two, I try to ride like an equitation rider and force myself into correct frame, so much so I become tense (which makes me crooked--frickin' irony!).  It's okay to bend my elbows and lift my arms--and I should!  What has happened is I have become stiff and tense and brace while trying to hold my wrists stiff.  The idea of bending my elbows was ludicrously unheard of until this second lesson.  My shoulders and forearms get wonky partially from the tension--just let go and go with the horse is actually okay, rather than try and stiffly hold my own frame.

Three, when I cue my horse with my leg, it goes back.  I need to work on keeping my lower leg at the girth--even though it feels like a chair seat, it's not.  She physically held it in place and hand me look down to prove it wasn't as far forward as it felt--it was, in fact, perfect.  Felt horribly awkward, but perfect.

Four, in the words of my trainer, "Shut up."  I told her while tacking up Tril that the photos were painful for me to look at because my shoulder is crooked, my arms are stiff, I collapse my left rib cage, blah blah blah, and she said with a warm smile, "I can tell you this because you're an adult: you need to shut up.  Don't criticize, don't overthink, just do.  Relax."  

Yes ma'am.


  1. Okay, I confess: this is the first of your blog posts that I've read. It just didn't apply to me before. But, I'll be a regular reader now. Thanks for posting!

  2. Awesome! (I think I know you, yes? But I don't recognize your screenname.)

    Happy reading and thank you!