Please be Temporary

On Wednesday night I had categorically the WORST lesson I have ever had. I would choose falling off over the pathetic events that transpired.

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I had high hopes despite having to cancel my lesson last week because over the weekend I had quite a pleasant ride with my friend on her two horses. Before my lesson, my instructor told me we’d be using a new bit on Lou and that his owner had had a fabulous lesson with this new bit. I was encouraged and excited to feel him become a little lighter as she described since he can get quite heavy.

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I could feel it the second we started. I have felt him like this before and I knew. He used his usual set of evasions- 10 bathroom breaks, mini tantrums, barging, and very occasionally he chooses to just stop to get out of hard work. Maybe he’s got my number- I have no idea if he ever does this to his owner but NOTHING makes me feel more inadequate than when a horse stops trying. How do you guys ride though this?! We tried to do an exercise on a 20m “square” and he was all over the place. If I caught his shoulders and made him stand up straight into the turns then he would just plant his feet and ignore me. My instructor kept asking me, telling me, begging me to use my stick and I just could not do it.   She kept saying I had to be consistent, I could not let him get away with ignoring my aids. I gave him a couple of really smart taps with the whip and we did some barely mediocre trot work.

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She had me canter him and work towards lengthening and shortening the canter on a big circle. This was next to impossible for me since cantering is already my biggest weakness. He was heavy, lazy, and on the forehand for every transition so then everytime I attempted to shorten the canter he just broke into a trot. She kept asking me to use my stick and reins at the same time and my tiny brain was just exploding. He kicked out once when I asked him to pick up the canter. I lost my right stirrup in the middle of the exercise. It was like a nightmare montage of “use your stick!” “you held him for too long there” “use the stick in a rhythm not just randomly” “half halt and then you have to give” “but don’t just throw your contact away like that” “I would have tapped him three times by now and you haven’t once” “your STICK, use the whip” on repeat for the entire 45min. She said other words, she tried to help, but I know she just wanted to come out there and beat me with my own stick that I could not for the life of me figure out how to use.

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FML so red. so out of shape. wut just happened??!

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We cantered, but I basically did all the work. I was exhausted, out of breath, out of ideas, waaaay past being out of patience, and straight into self loathing. The worst part about the whole thing is it didn’t even culminate into some kind of “come to jesus” moment- the lesson just ended. I accomplished nothing. I had the whole drive home to ponder how awesome that all was. I felt over-horsed on the easiest horse in the barn. I questioned if she’d let me continue taking lessons on him. I said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t F-up the horse I am about to lease, too. (spoiler) It was like an out of body experience where I sat back in the middle of the whole thing and thought “holy cow- this is really really BAD- I haven’t had a lesson this bad in a really long time, why I am riding so poorly?!?!”.

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tears? or eyeball sweat?

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Everyone has had rides like this. I’ll recover. Any other reluctant whip users out there with tips on how to not be a giant pushover in the saddle?

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Silence Speaking Volumes

My last three lessons have been much quieter than usual, in a really great way. I have admitted to indulging in autopilot lessons where my body is pretty much a processor and it is essentially my instructor riding from the ground and I turn my brain off to anything other than taking direction. I gave myself those lessons in good faith because I knew they would help me build muscle memory.

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This is me, judging you for taking my picture.

                                              This is me, judging you for taking my picture.

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There have been long periods of time during my lessons lately when my instructor just quietly observes. When she does talk, it is to assure me that I am correctly asking for the right thing and to encourage me that he is close to giving it to me. She told me last night that my timing is getting much better: for example if I ask for him to bend right, he wants to swing his haunches left so I am there with my lower left leg waiting to remind him to stay in the boundaries. When that doesn’t work, he’ll try to swap the bend in front and bulge his shoulder, but I am there with my upper right thigh and reins to flex him back right. We mostly drunken man walk around right now but I do get some really great moments where he bends correctly and stands up super tall and gets very light. Obviously I still desperately need my instructor, but before, I needed her to tell me how and when to do everything. I’m getting more self-sufficient and can better recognize the “when” and more correctly execute the “how” by myself.

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All of this success is at the walk and when we trot it all turns to shit so fast it makes my head spin, but she reminds me that he is just learning this too and will get better at it.

I’ve adjusted tried to adjust my expectations to reflect that I get, at most, one hour a week in the saddle but I have hit some frustrating lows along the way. This month I’ll ride a grand total of two hours… awesome. Sometimes I even feel like my trainer is frustrated about it too. Not frustrated at me but more like frustrated for me- I just cannot figure out how to get more time in the saddle. We both know I am patiently somewhat patiently waiting for the right situation to come along but it just isn’t happening. She wants to help, but can’t. I want to fix it, but can’t. I have more than enough desire, but not nearly enough means or time to fix my own problem.

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Gimme dat. I will eat your hand, don’t tempt me!!!

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Like everyone else I think in terms of “imagine how good you could be if you could ride everyday!!!” But, I have to try not to get greedy. It’s good to dream, but sometimes you just have to be grateful for what you have. And I am so grateful to still have lessons where I feel like I am making progress even if they are weeks apart.

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If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

I got an email from my trainer on Friday night asking if I wanted to come on Saturday to make-up the lesson we had to cancel on Wednesday due to storms. I hate missing my lesson for any reason and normally don’t get the opportunity to reschedule so I was definitely up for it. It also helped that the weather this weekend was gorgeous. When I got to the barn my trainer hit me with the big question: your choice, you can ride Louie or the red mare-rrari. I panicked!!! Inner monologue went something like this: “this is some kind of test…offer too good to be true…must choose safe reliable option…must keep pokerface-mare was way too much fun-must not let trainer know…” And before I knew it, I had asked to ride Louie. She said “okay,” with an ever-so-slightly puzzled tone, and off I went to pull the big man from the field. To recap, my trainer GAVE ME THE KEY TO THE FERARRI AND I TURNED IT DOWN. I don’t know what happened- my mind just couldn’t compute. I can’t believe I thought it was some kind of test. It was nothing more and nothing less than an opportunity.

Now I don’t want you guys to think that suddenly Louie has become Plan B or the worse option- he’s still my go-to guy and I am sooooo grateful I get to ride him. But, on my way out to the field, I couldn’t help but think “what did you just do?!” So in a not-so-subtle attempt to dig out of the hole I suddenly felt like I had placed myself in, I casually threw out to my trainer “not that I didn’t get a total kick out of riding red mare…she’s just…a lot!” There. Good. I felt better.

The lesson proceeded and we worked on stuff that I am especially terrible at- two point, half seat, ground poles, etc. and the entire lesson was a sad pathetic attempt to get Louie forward. I struggled so hard.

Then, as we were trotting so slowly around the arena we may as well have been walking, we heard a series of loud pops-like gunshots- followed by a huge CRACK and and then a loud WOMP. The horses that were turned out in the field ran away from the sound in terror. A giant tree had fallen in the wooded area adjacent to one of the small pastures.

Louie didn’t even flinch. 

My trainer looks at Louie and says “gosh, he’s so good,” and then, because I am a smartass, I immediately quip, “See!!! I totally picked the right horse today!” We had to laugh because I don’t think there would be any question that the red mare-rrari would have blown her drop-top and I would likely have had the opportunity to practice my falling skills.

It was a strange afternoon because the lesson was absolute crap. My trainer called me in to the middle at one point because she was (justifiably) losing patience with me and she very calmly, and in lots of pretty words, told me to DO BETTER! After the lesson she apologized for getting after me and I almost laughed…if she only knew that publicly ripping me a new one was one of my college rowing coach’s favorite pastimes! I’ve got thicker skin than that, and even though I find myself a bit more in need of reassurance in this sport in particular, I am far more accustomed to the adage “if your coach ISN’T yelling at you, then you have something to worry about…”

At the end of the lesson, my trainer told me that even if I felt a little over-horsed by the red mare, I actually looked quite good on her and it would be really good for me to ride a horse like that. She also asked if I had ever thought about jumping. HAAHHAAHA EquiNovice purposely in the air on a horse?!

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