Oh what a man!
Tall, dark and handsome with such gentlemanly manners. I know he’ll never be angry at me, because he has a permanently happy disposition, and although being with him is a bit of a work out, boy is it worth it.
I am speaking, of course, about the wonderful Steady Eddie. A marvellous mechanical machine of a horse. No, he really is a machine. The RDA and our yard now share time on this fab simulator, and I got to have my first go on him today. It was seriously hot today, and I really wanted to ride (as per) but was wondering whether I would actually manage to do more than ten minutes without melting into a puddle. So when Sonya asked whether I wanted a go on Eddie, I jumped at the chance. Indoors, in the cool. Oh yes. Plus, I’d been envious when the others had played with him earlier in the week and couldn’t wait to have a turn.
It was brilliant! Although some of the time it felt a bit weird, as some of the paces are not quite exactly the same as a real horse, it was a really useful experience. We started off with Sonya in charge of the controls so that I could get a feel for the movement. She was walking around me the whole time, looking at my position from all angles. I was quite pleased to hear that I was sitting very straight and even in the saddle. It confirmed to me that my actual position is good, it’s just the little bits and pieces that I need to nag myself on to improve.
Getting the rhythm for the rising trot was interesting, as it wasn’t particularly obvious at first. Once I sat it for a while and allowed my body to absorb the movement, however, I was soon able to start rising with no difficulty. We worked on my rise for a while, making sure my hips and stomach were moving up towards the sky rather than down into the pommel of the saddle. My legs stayed quite still, which I was pleased to see (there are mirrors around him). My left leg is definitely weaker though!
She then popped him into canter, which is the comfiest canter I have ever sat. She explained that all of his paces would be equivalent to those of a well-educated horse. Which explained why they didn’t feel like anything like most of the college horses. Although, I have had some nice trot and canter work out of Star and Maggie recently, so I could feel some similarities. This canter was seriously smooth though. Bliss.
A kind of gallop/canter is the top setting, and she switched him up into that to see how I sat to it. It wasn’t too uncomfortable, just a slightly joltier version of the canter really. She got me to go into light seat to make it more comfortable. We worked a bit on keeping my lower leg forward in light seat before coming back down through the paces and back to halt. Then she turned the sensors on!
“Right then Meg, now you’re in charge. Let’s see how strong your leg is.” I knew that several people had experienced him shooting off from the leg, halt to gallop, because their legs were too tight around the sides. Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me. I adjusted my legs a bit, staying in halt, and then pushed lightly to ask for walk. And we walked. We then went up into trot, as requested by my legs. “So far so good” I thought.
Sonya then dashed off to get a stick for me to hold across the tops of my hands. My right hand was being very naughty, she said, and kept dropping too low. What was really good was that I was able to really focus on exactly where my hands should be to keep the contact when a horse is working in a more elevated fashion. It also meant my elbows were staying in the right place, something Kelly keeps yelling at me about. I did focus very hard indeed on keeping my core nice and strong to control the rest of my body.
Once we were in canter, Sonya got me to focus on the rein contact to make sure that I wasn’t throwing it away the minute we struck off. It felt good to know that I was maintaining a consistent contact, as I knew that if I was pulling at the reins, Eddie would have stopped. We worked in the gallop as well, and Sonya got me to close my eyes and rise to it. At first I had some kind of mental block that was telling me I couldn’t do it. Once I’d closed my eyes and put myself in light seat, however, I was able to allow myself to sit and rise in time to the gallop/canter. Polo, here I come!
After a bit of that and working some more in the trot paces, sitting and keeping the lower leg still, Sonya told me to come back to walk and cross my stirrups over. We then did lots of sitting to both trot settings without stirrups. We shifted up into canter and I was pleased to see my leg remaining still against the side of the horse the whole time. I remembered to ‘lengthen and cuddle’ as Kelly puts it, wrapping my lower leg around the body lightly. “Let’s gallop then” Sonya looked at me and chuckled. So, gallop we did. And it wasn’t too bad to be honest. I’d warmed up sufficiently by now which meant that my hips and lower back were feeling quite loose and flexible so I was able to absorb the motion and keep my legs still and cuddling Eddie’s body. Lovely jubbly.
Obviously I then had to come back down through the paces, still without my stirrups. Sonya had already warned me that the hardest part about cantering without stirrups was actually the transition from canter to trot, as the trot is usually so big that people get bounced about an awful lot. I didn’t find it too bad though to be honest. I think I sat it all quite well, as I’ve done so much sitting trot work now that my lower back and hips are becoming increasingly accustomed to the motion. Sonya seemed pleased with what I’d achieved in keeping my legs nice and still, and even more so with the stillness of my hands and evenness of the contact throughout the paces. She said I remained sitting straight throughout and that my shoulders were pretty tidy the whole time. She even commented on my core, saying that I was controlling it well and not allowing myself to collapse at all.
I was relieved she mentioned those things, as I’d been focusing very hard on keeping everything in the right place with my body. I also worked very hard on my blasted feet, keeping my toes in and pointing forwards. I talked to Sonya about it who helped me make sense of why my toes come out so far. She said that most people, when they go to put their leg on, shift the leg back slightly and allow the heel to come up to nudge the horse’s side. I’m keeping my heels down, which is good, but am rolling the leg slightly to nudge with the back of my foot rather than the side which is why my feet angle. Apparently it is something that will change over time, as it is purely a consequence of taking the easy way out when it comes to putting the leg on. I was able to practice using the inside of my leg and ankle, rather than the back of my heel, against the sensors to get Eddie to respond. I found it harder to do, but I was able to do it which shows me I just need to remember and practice!
After all the no-stirrup work, Sonya then gave me back my stirrups but at true dressage length. Which is loooooong! In a weird way it almost felt longer than when I’d not had any stirrups at all, but I think that’s just because it changed the angle of my leg ever-so slightly. She then got me to work back up through all the paces with my ‘dressage legs’ as she called them. I was expecting to find the canter and the gallop harder with the dressage length stirrups but actually, oh my gosh they were comfortable. The collected canter of this machine made dressage stirrups feel like the most natural thing in the world. I wanted to sit there all day it felt that good! Even the faster gallop/canter was pretty easy to sit. The hardest part was actually trying to rise to the trot. I managed it though. I even practiced leaning back with my seat like dressage riders do for extended trot, to keep the hips open and supple. Which is an amazingly comfortable position.
We even did some walk to canter. Well, walk to gallop.
I think Eddie is a fantastic addition to the yards facilities. He will be absolutely fantastic for new or nervous riders, as you’re completely safe. The instructor can slow things down if you feel uncomfortable, and the horse sure isn’t going anywhere. It’s wonderful to be able to focus entirely on your own position and fine tune those little niggly things that get on your nerves. I really enjoyed riding him, and feel I learned quite a lot despite not being on a real horse. I also watched Vicky ride him, which got me looking more closely at how different riders do things. Sonya found it really interesting how riders have very unique strengths and weaknesses. For example, Vicky was able to put herself into a light seat, with long stirrups , which is something a lot of people would find quite difficult.
Apart from the fact that I feel a bit like a boiled potato at the moment; it was so so hot; it was a good day on the yard. I’m hoping to ride my lovely Starry boy tomorrow as I don’t think he’s being used in any lessons and it would be nice to ride him again. I feel good when I ride him, like we’re learning from each other. Which is a lovely feeling.
He’s the real man in my life. My true love. Eddie is just my bit on the side.