Like going back, but different.
Can you believe Kelly forgot about me today? I know. Me neither. It hurt to my core. But then what can you expect really. It’s not like I bake her cakes or anything…oh wait…
I joke. I didn’t mind really, it was a beautiful sunny day so not a lot was going to bring me down. I was slightly disappointed when I pulled into the carpark this afternoon to see Foxy being led off to the field, but I kinda shrugged and thought “ah well, must be riding someone different”. And that in itself I believe to be progress.
So although I then found out that Kelly had forgotten I was coming in for a lesson this afternoon, it still didn’t phase me much. She told me to put the spurs on again, and tack up Maguire this time.
Maguire. It’s been a very long time since I last rode that horse. The horse who taught me how to ride. Bless his dear old heart.
Throughout my lesson, I was struck by a number of thoughts. The most prominent being that I seemed to find it harder to do things on him that I used to find easy. At first, this made no sense to me at all because surely I’ve got better as a rider rather than worse. My seat has deepened, my legs have lengthened, my core is stronger, my hands are softer. The whole lot, it’s all just better. So why was I finding it harder?
The answer is simple. Because I was doing it properly. Because now I have the capability to ask for things properly, to sit things properly. To ride correctly. Whereas before I’d have asked for canter in a less effective but louder way which meant I got it mostly through sheer luck and the goodwill of the horse, these days I ask for it how it is meant to be asked for. There is no flapping of hands, hovering of bum and kick kick kicking of feet. It is a simple and correct request. Okay so sometimes I mess it up, but on the whole, I can ask for things properly.
Which, much to my dismay, takes a lot more effort and concentration than doing it in a slapdash manner. It is also to do with the fact that the simple bits were not what I was focusing on. My focus was on changing some of the way I ride. Altering when I squeeze with my leg, changing the way I hold my shoulders, that kind of thing. Kelly had me riding with a longer stirrup today. That along with the spurs, and dressage whip, meant that at first I was feeling a little precarious.
My instinct, when feeling slightly unbalanced, is to rotate at the knee to lock myself in place. Which results in my toes sticking out at odd angles, and my seat being compromised. My calf muscle ends up contracting, and I am unable to step down into the stirrup or do anything correctly. Trouble is, I can’t always tell it’s happened, because I’m so focused on other stuff. Which is where Kelly comes in and announces “You’ve pivoted at the knee. Again.” Oops. Pesky knees.
Today was the first time I’ve really felt how heavy Maguire can be on the hand. He leant on my hands like crazy at first, just tugging down and down with that big old head of his, because he didn’t want to work properly. So every time I took up more of a contact, he just pushed hard against me, shoving and leaning and killing my arm muscles trying to hold him. He lightened off eventually, but it was still a lot heavier than I remembered.
Until, once again, I came to realisation that of course I don’t remember him being heavy in the hand before, I never tried to ride him with a contact before. Although I spent a lot of the lesson feeling a bit weak and pathetic, like I was losing some of my ability to do things, I did achieve a few bits that I felt proud of.
Some of the trot work was nice, and I got some really good transitions. Which for Maguire, is pretty awesome as he’s so old and stiff that transitions are not his favourite thing. I also got some good canter work. A beautiful moment was leg yielding in canter, where for a few seconds I felt like I was floating. He really powered through with his back end, lifting in front. That was lovely. Some of the other bits of canter were fairly nice too, as he gradually started to lift in front and come off my hands.
I also got some fab canter transitions, despite them feeling like hard work, from walk and from halt. The best transition by far was the halt to canter on the right rein, through which he really gathered deep underneath himself with those hind legs and pushed off strong into the canter. Before he did that, I hadn’t been convinced that we were going to get halt to canter at all, but he proved that he could do it.
We also got some beautifully true turn on the forehand steps, where he really crossed over himself behind and brought himself round. Once again, the whole point of this lesson was to further develop my feel but giving me the chance to feel a variety of different things. Initially it was meant to be a jump lesson with Fox…but that obviously didn’t work out, and while I was a little disappointed, I am enjoying building up my understanding of feel and the different things to look out for. And I’m noticing changes where my actions have influenced the horse, or where the way the horse is moving tells me what to do next. It’s pretty cool.
On Monday I built up a feeling of consistency, of true bend and of correct transitions. On Tuesday I felt the different stages a horse goes through when learning to work on the bridle, the importance of outside aids and the effort it takes to teach a young horse how to work properly. Today I expanded on all of that, working on my feel in the transitions, lateral work and in working a horse towards roundness.
At some points I felt like I was all over the place, because Maguire is a slightly rickety soul. But Kelly assured me that I wasn’t at all, in fact she said I sat the canter very nicely. It’s a relief to know that I have managed to build myself up stronger from only a couple of months ago where I posted the picture of my wonky butt. Because Kelly said that crookedness isn’t there anymore. So that’s good at least. I’m feeling more confident with the longer stirrups now, like I’m really able to step down and stretch my calf muscle. And while sometimes I do still contract through the calf and pivot at the knee, on the whole my body is getting used to this more elongated position. Kelly said today that from a rider’s point of view, I have a good length from hip to knee, and from knee to ankle. I’m getting there with developing it, but I haven’t quite got it yet. The good thing though, is that having that length of leg means I’ve got the scope to further deepen my seat, and increase my feel a thousand times. Possibly an exaggeration, but that’s what I’ll aim for, for the time being.
At first I felt like riding Maguire again was going to be nostalgic, like I’d feel all “Oh what a wonderful boy and isn’t it nice to be riding him again”. And yes, maybe I might have had that, if I hadn’t been working so bloody hard. The nostalgia was half, but not quite there. Instead of picking up on all the bits that were the same as before, I was far more aware of the areas that were so totally different. Both in the way the horse went, and in myself as a rider. And of course, the two are very closely connected.
Initially I was a little disappointed in myself, because I didn’t really feel like I’d achieved much with Maguire today. Certainly not as much as I’d hoped I might. But then I came back to earth and realised that while I hadn’t done anything monumental, I had still achieved. If nothing else, that bit of canter leg yield was so god damn beautiful that I shall remember that feeling for a long time. Floaty fluffy light. Just glorious. And even better was that when I told Kelly how good it felt, she told me that I couldn’t have improved on it at all. So there’s a compliment to go with it.