The Fence Master

We all have hidden talents…

Throughout life, each of us will discover new things about ourselves. In some cases, it is an affirmation of something we already know, but occasionally it can be an amazing revelation of new or hidden abilities. Very often these previously undiscovered talents are not what we might expect. For example, you might suddenly realise you can juggle carrots, or that your impression of a turkey is so good that other turkeys from all around come to mob you.

Today I learned something about myself, and while it is not as exciting as befriending farm fowl or doing circus tricks, it’s pretty handy. From now on, you may call me The Fence Master.

Armed with a wheelbarrow full of white plastic sticks and wire tape I thrashed my way through the undergrowth from Paddock One. Half an hour*, and several nettle stings later, I emerged from the jungle and fumbled my way into Cross Country.

Sticking the white sticks in between the wooden posts was easy. The hard part came when I had to try and work out the lengths of the different reels of tape and attach it in a way that would remain sturdy and yet easy to dismantle when necessary. I spent most of my time swearing at the nettles, thistles and brambles which kept jumping out and attacking me as I tried to loop the wire tape to the fence-line buried beneath the thicket at the edge of the field.

Once I had successfully untangled myself from all the tape and survived the endless onslaught of pricklies and sticklies, I stood back to survey my handiwork. It’s a fine looking fence if I do say so myself. I even managed to weave some tape in between the top and bottom layers to fill the gap a bit and give the horses more of a visual barrier in the hope that they will remember it’s there and not go barrelling into it.
So there you go. I am pretty epic at fence making. I should have taken a picture really, but I didn’t have my camera with me. Shame, because it would’ve made you gasp in wonder. Honestly truly.

The other notable aspect of my day was my riding lesson which consisted of Kelly basically torturing me for half an hour. She decided to give me a lunge lesson today so that I could focus on tweaking my position and do some work without stirrups. I quite enjoy lunge lessons, so I was more than happy with that. Until she got me started that was. Jeeez.

First of all she took away my reins. It felt weird at first, working without reins, as I’ve not done that in ages. I settled into it quite quickly though, and by the time I started trotting I almost forgot that I would normally have reins in my hands. Kelly then got me changing my diagonal every few strides. At first she kept telling me off, because I was allowing myself to collapse through my stomach when I sat for the two strides. I had to focus hard on controlling my core muscles in order to keep myself upright but soft with every change.

She then got me doing standing changes instead of sitting. At first, even though I knew how to do it, I couldn’t quite bring myself to stay risen. I think it’s probably because I was thinking it through too much rather than just working on instinct. I also had to work my core very hard in order to maintain control when sitting back down after the standing strides otherwise I found myself plopping back into the saddle rather than continuing the rising trot rhythm.

After doing that on both reins, Kelly gave me back my reins and took away my stirrups instead. “Hooray, let the agony ensue” hummed my brain. I knew she was going to work me hard, and I knew it would be good for me. So for the next while (and it felt like forever) I sat in trot, focusing on breathing from my stomach and keeping my legs long. Kelly told me to imagine “lengthening and cuddling” with my lower leg, to encourage me to wrap my legs around the body of the horse without the knee rising or locking. It was tough, but I started to get the feel of it after a while.

She then let me off the lunge to work on some canter transitions. We managed to get a nice trot straight away, but unfortunately I collapsed my core again halfway through the transition so Kelly made us do it again. The next time I remembered to stay tall with my shoulders back, my stomach forwards and my legs long. It was a good transition, and by tucking my elbows in to my sides I was able to steady up the canter and get the mare to come a bit more balanced before coming back to trot.

It was a good lesson, and my inner thighs are not killing me like I thought they would be. I suppose that shows how much stronger I have got physically. The things I expect to hurt never seem to anymore, whilst a few months back I’d have been in agony right now.

One thing we talked about while I was riding was feel. She said she’d been very impressed with how I rode Maggie on Thursday and that in general she felt my riding was good. What she wanted to take the time to do now, she said, was to help me improve the little technical details which don’t seem like much on their own but added together would help develop my riding technique. One of these things, which is hard to teach as its a subjective thing, is ‘feel’.

As a rider, one cannot be taught how to ‘feel’ the horse. What a good instructor will be able to do, however, is teach what to look for and how to understand what it is you are feeling. It is feel that will allow a rider to know whether or not the horse has struck off on the right canter lead (without looking) and it is feel that tells a good rider what work their horse needs.

I am gradually building up a sense of feel when I ride, but I know I have a long way to go before I am able to instantly know what to do with the horse. Some riders are able to get on and immediately understand what that horse needs to do. I cannot do that yet, but I think it would be asking a bit much to expect me to with only 10 months of riding experience. To be told by Kelly that she has been impressed with my level of riding recently is more of an accolade than I ever expected to receive. It is one thing to be told “good, nice work, well done” after a lesson because you have done what was asked of you and done better than the last time, but another thing altogether to be told that the instructor was impressed with what you did.

Always end on a high. Until next time then.

*Possibly an exaggeration.

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