One of the first things you are ever taught when you get on a horse: keep your heels DOWN.
And it’s harder than you think at first.
A lot of riding is down to muscle memory, and take it from me, that takes some time to build up. When I first started to properly ride (after the run of lead rein/running assistant/let’s stay in walk for now lessons) I found it almost impossibly hard to find the strength to do some of it. “Leg On” the instructors shout “OOOOW” I shouted back. I suffered quite a lot in those first couple of months. Cramps, back pain, muscle aches, mental overdrive. It was tough.
It didn’t help that I was pushing myself incredibly hard. I know I had a long way to catch up, so I worked triply hard in order to try and get there. I also knew that when it came to riding, there was no fast lane. You had to learn at the right pace, forcing it would never work. On the yard, however, I could make myself learn things quickly by drilling it into my own head “this is how you hang up a haynet, don’t forget to check the banks, never leave a horse untied with tack on”
I made a glossary of horsey terms I would need to remember and studied it religiously. I practiced quick release knots with bits of string at home. I even sat astride the arm of my sofa and worked on getting my heels in line with hips and shoulders.
And still the instructors would shout “heels down, heels DOWN, HEELS DOWN!” at us as we trotted around. So, said my brain, you can’t keep your heels down, how are you going to fix that one?
Easy, I said back. I practiced every day, with my toes on a step lightly bouncing my heels over the edge. I knew it was to do with my calf muscles being too tight and needing to stretch. So I stretched them. It worked. “Good girl with those heels” I heard. Oh thank god for that, I thought.
And occasionally I still have to remind myself “where are your heels girl?” With every new thing I learn, I have to remind myself not to let go of the first lessons. Heels down, always heels down. Jumping position, keep your heels down. Oh crap, screams my brain, I can’t do both, that’s too hard. Nonsense, I force myself to think, just keep the heels down and the legs will do the rest. Of course, it doesn’t always work.
“MEGAN where were those heels”. Oh, woops. I forgot again. The stupid thing is, I can feel it happening but I don’t seem able to change it. What I do know, however, is that it is all down to practice. The more you practice a certain thing, the easier it is. It might kill you the first couple of times but then it gets easier and you realise it’s not so bad after all.
This week I had half a lesson (dizzy spells suck) on jumping position. I ended up cantering around, reins in one hand, heels down in jumping position. My ankles and knees were working like billy-o and my inner thighs were aching like an achey thing. But I did it, and I did it well. I was even able to use my legs to steer the horse at the same time. But, of course, the minute there are people watching or a line of jumps in front of me my brain goes into overdrive “ohgodthey’reallwatchingIcan’tdothistherearetoomanyjumpsandI’mnotgoodenough” and…
my bloody heels come up again.