July 31, 2012

Lessons learned from riding when not riding

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I went to the barn tonight to ride Kasane. It was a lovely evening: mild weather, light wind, bright sun. I brought out all of our tack to the outdoor ring, so she could eat and play while I got ready. At one point, she looked up from eating, and took off down the length of the ring at a gallop. She rounded the corner at the end and slowed to a bright canter. After a few minutes of letting her get the crazies out, she started grazing — and gave me an opportunity to put the lunge line on her so we could cool her off a little before riding.

We did about 10 minutes of lunging at a walk and trot both ways. She was perfect except for that first time when I asked her to whoa and she thought I really didn’t mean it. One gentle tug and we were back to working on a loose line. She doesn’t pull on the lunge line. If I raise my hand a little, she slows. Beautiful reaching trot without a hint of being off that she had earlier in the summer.

We had a riding lesson on Sunday with a series of four ground poles, with the last two stacked next to each other next to jump standards. Every time I go into a jumping lesson, I get anxious. Call it post-traumatic stress from too many rides on horses who tripped or shied or just didn’t know what they were doing (and I didn’t know enough to have confidence to guide the horse through the jump). Bad cycle. The goal now is to change that cycle.

Kasane is a good mare. She is an absolute sweetheart and so brave — far braver than I am. And she knows how to do ground poles and basic jumps. We’ve been through several classes, horse camp, and other events. The problem with jumping isn’t Kasane, it’s me.

We ended the lesson on Sunday on a good note after dealing with Kasane being up (from me being nervous) and my ankle hurting enough I had to put the brace on. My instructor kept saying to talk to her, to relax, inside-rein-to-outside-leg mantra. I was talking to her, but I wasn’t calming down. It was only when I started singing on the last circle that we got an even sitting trot and took the four ground poles and stopped beautifully. We ended the lesson there.

I shouldn’t have a problem with ground poles. Sheesh. I’ve been doing ground poles all my life and haven’t generally had a problem. Why did I go from having a problem with a straight bar on a jump, to cross rails, to any jump standard with ground poles?

That brings us back to tonight. I had gone out to the barn with the intention of riding quietly over the ground poles as many times as I could. Walking lots over them, trotting some, walking some more, until I was bored silly.

While I was lunging Kasane, I started thinking about the ground poles and her. She isn’t Isis. She isn’t going to trip and fall on me. She’s a good, sweet mare who knows what she is doing. And that was the big difference: she knows what she is doing with ground poles. I can trust her because she understands what we’re doing. If she does something silly, most of the time it’s because of something I did or something spooked her. We can deal with that. As I was getting ready to brush her all of the anxiety changed to a simple feeling of “this is possible and not an unsurmountable skeleton in the closet.”

When the curry comb touched her side she flinched away. She didn’t want me brushing or currying her side or back. Her spine, especially over her hips, was sore to the touch. She was coming into heat and I could relate to how she felt. No riding for her, just a spa day to help her back feel better with a gentle massage and some liniment.

Some times you learn the best lessons by not even riding.

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