photo of the day (part one, riding lessons)
I’m cheating here, you’ll have to excuse me. These days when I get to the barn I rarely have the time to take any pictures. This picture is of Oso, the horse I am riding now. I think I took it on the day of my first lesson when I was riding Texas, Oso’s paddock mate and the horse my daughter Clare now rides. Back then, I couldn’t even imagine getting to ride this lovely animal and now I have the priviledge of spending an hour a week with him. He is a lovely horse with a nose like velvet and a long, heavy waterfall of a mane.
Don’t get me wrong, he has his impertinent moments. He likes to put his head down and yank the reins every now and then when I’m riding. It used to catch me off guard but these days I’m usually ready for it and he doesn’t throw me off balance as badly as when I first started riding him. Now I just yank right back and tell him he’s a brat and I won’t stand for that. Come to think of it, he hasn’t pulled that on me in a long time.
Anyway, the reason I’m including this picture is because I had such a disappointing lesson last week and this week’s lesson was so much better that I’m crowing a bit and floating on air. I’m never sure what makes for such a marked difference in a lesson. There are so many factors involved, some of which include Oso himself and what he brings to the mix. Is it where my head is at? Probably. Is it the fact that we were riding in the sand arena and there’s so much more for me to have to think about there with it’s soft and hard spots and much more obvious hills and dips? Or the fact that there’s no fence and the horses are so tantalizingly close to the grass they love to munch on? Most likely it’s a mix of all of the above. I told my instructor, Adriane, that riding in the sand ring for me was like “ok, now I can walk and chew gum, but you want me to do that, too?”
Clare was a little off her game last week as well. She had her first fall in the sand arena and wasn’t so very happy about riding there again. Texas was being a brat and Clare wasn’t handling his obstinence well. Oso just wanted to make sure that Texas wasn’t getting to do anything he couldn’t do. So steering him was a huge pain in the butt because he just wanted to head on over to Tex and check out what he was doing. When Clare dismounted to use the potty, Oso was sure lessons were over and things really went south from there.
Anyway, when I have a lesson like that where everything I try seems to fall to pieces, I have to really psych myself up for the next lesson. I know that so much of riding is in your head. Really, it is and that in itself is an amazing thing. How do you steer a horse? Well, there are aids like your reins and your body but if you aren’t looking where you want the horse to go, the horse just won’t go there. I just got a book by a riding instructor, Susan McBane, called 100 Ways to Improve Your Riding: Common Faults and How to Cure Them. In one section she talks about steering a horse by using a passive body and no aids and just thinking about where you want the horse to go. I wasn’t sure about completely giving up my aids but I thought I’d give the thinking part a go. I focused on the letter I wanted to head towards(if you aren’t a rider, there are letters that divide the sections of a riding arena) and I held it in my mind as we rode. We made all our corners (ok, not the first couple of times around but after that) and stayed close to the fence.
I’m sure that part of the fact that steering was easier was that we weren’t riding in the sand arena, but my goodness, Oso was so much better behaved and responsive. I trotted him off the longe line and didn’t have to worry too much about him focusing on Texas and Clare in the other part of the ring. I know a lot of it is that I’m still such a noob at riding but, gosh, it’s good to come away from a lesson feeling like I can do something right. Adriane said not to think of last week’s lesson as a bad one, because as discombobulated as I felt, I still learned something. I know she’s right but it’s still much more fun if things fall into place just right.
I know that not every lesson will go as well as this one, but I’m taking steps in the right direction. Yay for me!