Sunday, 25 March 2007

Squaring the Serpentine - beginners on horses

Serpentines in the Riding School

Learning to ride is a bit like trying to get to grips with Zen Buddhism - the minute I think I've got it, that 'Ah!' moment, something happens to re-assure me that I am indeed a hapless novice. Make that beginner because in horsey circles, novices are really quite advanced of where I am currently at!

So I've been riding for almost 6 months now. I can stay on, in trot, without stirrups, and more recently without the accompanying chafing of the nether regions. I can get the horse to halt, walk, trot, and in the last two months, canter. I'm still quite crap at canter because I tend to curl up, foetus like, rather than sit up tall, so the horse trots again.

Anyway, yesterday I rode a different horse, a beautiful big thorough-bred type with a calm, friendly nature. After riding the other one each week, and getting to grips with all his little foibles, I stupidly thought that Harry would be 'easier'. But his sheer size presented me with a whole new set of problems, not to mention he's really sensitive to the leg. It was the first lesson where I've thought, "okay... I think that's enough for one day!"

Bumpy isn't the word! So I'm trying to get to grips with the increased bounce in rising trot, so that I don't come back down so late the saddle's on its way back up again. I see stars once or twice before I get into his stride. The horse I normally ride ignores me, so my legs appear to have learned how to squeeze each time I sit. It took bloody ages to be able to do this and ride a (rough) 20 metre circle, only on Harry I need to stop squeezing. My legs keep telling him to go faster and faster, and he's getting upset because we're running out of school. He trips up a couple of times (Note to Horsey people - yes, I know it's my fault!) and this is bit worrying. I can't feel my legs, so I can't seem to stop doing it. Oh dear.

I have the spatial awareness of a piece of coal. When my instructor says, "Change the rein at M and ride the long diagonal to K, picking up a 20m circle at A," my mind starts free-falling. Diagonal? K? Circle? A? I think "where am I?" but on the back of a fast moving horse, 'here' is but a brief moment in the greater scheme of things. I see A whiz past and I've no idea what rein I'm on. I'm now on the wrong diagonal no doubt, look down to see even though I'm still not sure what I'm looking for, and miss the circle completely, going large around the school. This is silly, I think, I can do this on Touchee! Good job my instructor is a patient young lady.

So we tried a serpentine (see pic above). Ha! What fun! Not. My unruly legs kept telling Harry to go faster, so he couldn't get his huge body to turn in time - and this may have been made all the harder because I was relying on him to know where we were going. After all, he has done this before, and I haven't. But he obediently did what I asked, and I erm... wasn't asking very clearly. My attempts are shown below.

I know you're impressed... I can tell!!! ;-) I'll do better next time.

Riding is a case of trying to get your body to ignore all its basic survival strategies, to become one with the animal. If patting your head and rubbing your tummy is difficult, try squeezing with the lower leg, keeping the upper leg still, tensing your tummy but keeping your hips fluid, holding your hands still while the rest of you is going up and down (quite violently at times), and on top of all of this, think "right then, where are we going?" in time to let the horse know. And this while ignoring the chafing and bruising that occured at the beginning of the lesson! I'm very, er, saddle sore today!

I will get there one day, but once a week makes for slow progress. I'll be in my seventies. I rather need a horse. But then I'd need all those hours to look after it, and feed, and somewhere to put it (I don't think the garden is big enough!)... It's an expensive pastime - I'd need to win the lottery.


JJ said...

This takes me back (to my teens and my twenties) and it made me laugh outloud too.

At three years older than you, I consider myself too old for riding now, and admire your courage.

I have too many memories of losing control of a variety of horses in a myriad situations to believe that I would still bounce in a youthful manner!

Keep enjoying it!

hesitant scribe said...

I only hope 'everything' has recovered in time for tomorrow's lesson! I'm going to give myself the goal of trying to feel when my legs are 'on' and when they're 'off'... and to get round the serpentine shape (should be easier on Touchee who is altogether more agile on the corners!) ;)

hesitant scribe said...


Have to admit it's all a bit scarier when you realise how much more everything hurts... not to mention how far down it is!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Ouch. I feel for you. I went ponytrekking for a couple of hours once, on holiday, which was fun but it took me days to recover.

hesitant scribe said...

Oh yes - I can imagine! I'm almost recovered but am riding again today so that'll be interesting! When I first started back in September I was sore until October!

Harriet said...

It's been many years since I was on a horse so I can't comment on this really but I also have the spacial awareness of a lump of coal and did enjoy this delightful image of our condition. I don't know my left from my right, which is very unhelpful when giving directions to a driver and has got me into trouble many times -- except with my son-in-law who has the same problem, so that when I say turn right he turns left, which is always what I meant anyway.

Anonymous said...

Keep on going because one day you will realise that it all comes together just right and you realise you can actually ride! Then you notice that you can actually do all of that whilst thinking about what to have for your tea and if your really clever you can itch your face with your hand! trust me I was a novice once and now I have my own horse who I have had for 4 1/2 years and he is my baby. Unfortunatly, once you start it is very hard to stop and what started as a hobby becomes a way of life. Keep riding though!

hesitant scribe said...

Thanks for your support anonymous. At the moment riding is a hobby - a once a week thing I struggle to fit in - but I dearly want it to be part of my life and ride everyday. That's my dream. I just hope it isn't too late at 37 to be thinking about getting a horse in 5 year's time! Life begins at 40 they say - I can't wait!