Some things can be learned only by doing them.
Just as every person you meet can teach you something different, so can every horse you ride. If you are willing to learn, that is. One of the most important things you can learn as a rider is ‘feel’. It is the kind of thing that you cannot learn in a theoretical way, you can only develop it by doing it. Which makes it exceedingly hard to work on until you are fortunate enough to realise that it’s there.
Riding through ‘feel’ is, in essence, a pretty simple concept. You ride what you feel. It’s as easy as that. Except, it’s not. Because the hard part comes with being able to understand what it is you are feeling. As students of riding, we are told to start off simple. Try to feel every stride the horse takes in your seat and hips. Can you tell if you are on the correct trot diagonal without looking? Now do some lateral work and feel the legs crossing underneath. What about canter leads, can you feel if you’ve got the right one? It’s a long process, and for the most part if feels (pun unintended) like you’re not really getting anywhere.
And then you get on a horse where feel is essential. There are some horses out there with more sensitive dispositions than the rest. Sometimes this is due to a natural characteristic and in other cases it can be a result of trauma or bad treatment. Whatever the reasons behind it, these edgier horses require a huge amount of feel in order to get anywhere. Hard aids and mechanical thinking will get you nowhere. It is horses like this that remind us to ride each and every horse as an individual rather than trying to apply a “this is how to ride” mentality.
Of course, riding in this way is made a lot easier if you are able to connect with the horse. Because if you have that emotional connection going on, you can communicate so much better. You’ll find it easier to listen as well, once you understand the horse. Most riders are able to establish this with their own horse(s). Which is one of the many reasons I cannot wait to have my own. To be able to develop that depth of connection and ride together as a unit rather than as “person sitting on animal” would be wonderful. I hope that one day I have the means to take on an animal with which I have such a bond.
The riding environment we find ourselves in at college does not often lend itself to making these kinds of relationships with the horses. We ride such a variety of different horses, and they are ridden by so many people of so many abilities and natures that forming any particular kind of bond is almost impossible. And in a way, it’s probably better for us. Because you don’t really want to end up with that kind of connection until you’re ready to have it, especially if you then have to go off away from college and not have the chance to ride that horse anymore.
One thing I know for sure though, is that you’ll find it when you least expect it and probably with a horse you would never have imagined as suiting you. When I was first put to ride Fox, I was pleased that Sonya thought I was ready to give him a try. I never imagined that I would find myself feeling so connected to him. I enjoyed riding him those first couple of times, and did recognise a certain kinship with him, but didn’t really think anything of it. The past couple of times, however, it’s felt like there’s something more to it. Somehow I’ve felt able to communicate with him on a more subtle level than with some of the other horses.
Today was one of the best riding experiences I’ve ever had. Somehow, everything just worked. It all came together and Fox was wonderful. I felt like we really worked together on everything we did and that between us we made a pretty fine team. Eileen gave me several comments that really confirmed what I was feeling, and boosted my confidence hugely. She suggested getting someone to video me next time I ride him so that I have it on record that I really can ride because she said that I was getting a really beautiful tune out of him.
He did work really hard for me today. But so did I!! At the end of the lesson, when I was sweating buckets with lead for legs, I turned to the others and announced “Jeeeeez, I am BOILING”. Sonya and Eileen both laughed and replied with “Good! That means you’ve been riding properly“. Which I suppose I had.
Today I felt like a rider, not just someone who rides horses now and again. And that, my friend, was a good feeling indeed. I like it.
After that brilliant boost of a day, I came back to Di-Di’s cottage and played with two very sweet kittens. They’re totally gorgeous. Three and a half months old, and super confident already. And utterly adorable.
That one is Topsy. And the one following is Harry.
Tomorrow I have to get up at 5.30am to go off to an equine event with the stables up the road. I might die. If I do, you should know, I love you. Well, I might. It depends who you are really. But sure, we’ll go with that. Feel the love.
Sweet dreams all.