And I’m not generalising here.
I caught sight of my reflection today while I was riding Blossom around the block. And I don’t look as ridiculous on her as I’d expected I did. Which is a relief, because I had this image in my head of me looking totally out of proportion and making everyone laugh every time I got on. But while my legs look a little long, I don’t look too strange.
It’s reassuring, because I bloody love ponies. And I don’t mean ponies in the sense that all horse people sometimes use it, as an all encompassing and endearing term for horses and ponies alike. I literally mean ponies. The little ones. I realised how much fun they are last summer in Ireland when I rode Rosie, the 12hh Connemara who somehow brought out my bravery and made me feel I could do things I’d never attempted before. I guess part of it is down to my personality, in that I will always try something once, and I’ll usually go for it with gusto. When it comes to horses, maybe I’m a bit unhinged, because I like to chuck myself in deep and see what happens. So riding Rosie was amazing, because I was ready for anything, and something about her just made me want to have fun.
When we went back in October, I got to ride Sparky, and fell completely in love with him. At 11.2hh, he’s the smallest pony I’ve sat on, but I totally adored him and really enjoyed riding him. I don’t know what it is about ponies, I just think they’re great. They have bags of character, and they’re not afraid to tell you when they’re pissed off. Maybe I’m just lucky in that all the ponies I’ve ridden have been extremely genuine and willing to try. Or, perhaps I’m onto something.
I know sometimes they can be little buggers, trust me, I’ve had bruises in the most undignified places thanks to grumpy little ponies. And I know sometimes the kids who ride them get thrown about and taken advantage of. But horses do that too! I know it’s generally true that the bigger the horse, the more easy natured it is (although I can think of several exceptions) but just because they’re considered more laid-back doesn’t mean they can’t give us a shock now and then. 19.2hh Shire horses can buck too you know!
These sessions I’ve been doing with Blossom have really made me think, partly about my position (because I have to sit up and back, up and back) but also about what I enjoy. And I enjoy riding her and seeing her progress from day to day. I rode her again today, and she was even better than yesterday! Her feet didn’t leave the floor at all through the first canter transition, she just humped her back a bit thinking about bouncing. But I kept my leg on and pushed her forward, and she responded to that instead. Which is fantastic progress! I was delighted.
It’s so nice to see that the work I’ve been putting in is really paying off. And it shows so much more because I’ve been the only one to ride her the past few days. Which is the difficulty with the horses at college. It’s almost impossible to tell whether they’re getting better or worse as they’re being ridden by so many different people that you don’t know whether your hard work has been worth it or not. But with Blossom, because I’m one of only four people that she’s had on her, and it’s been predominantly me this past week, it’s easy to see where she’s improved. She’s learning really fast as well. Today we did some leg yield and some turn on the forehand. She leg yielded fairly well on the right rein, only needing a little bit of direction from my outside hand. The left rein was stickier, so she clearly finds it harder to step through with her left hind, but she still tried. And she was extremely responsive to my aids and trying to do what I asked. Kelly had to help us with turn on the forehand, backing up my leg and stick with her hand, pushing the bum round. But the little mare didn’t even try to step backwards, or forwards in fact. She just very slowly responded to where the pressure was, and moved around bit by bit. Honestly, she’s a cracker!
I also feel that riding her makes me focus more on what I’m doing. Because I know how adversely I could affect her if I do it wrong, or badly. For a baby, her natural balance is good. So I am painfully conscious of my own movements while I’m on her because the last thing I want to do is ruin that balance and cause her to need to drop onto a shoulder or become crooked on one rein or the other. Coupled with the fact that I am constantly aware of her age and size which means I’ve been trying to ride her as quietly as I can, I really do feel like I’m actually gaining a lot by riding her.
Kelly told me today that I was riding her nicely, because I wasn’t trying to interfere with her natural stride. I had my leg on to keep her going, but I was allowing her to establish the trot in which she felt comfortable and helping her to maintain that rhythm rather than push her forward as is the temptation with small ponies that don’t feel like they’re travelling anywhere. And the thing is, because she was trotting at her natural pace, it did feel like we were moving forward. Mostly because (shock horror) we were! And it felt like a nice trot, which is probably because she was comfortable. I also, according to Kelly, managed to keep my aids nice and clear so that she was moving in response to an obvious request rather than a jumble of different things accidentally getting the right result. Which again is because I don’t want to get it wrong.
And I think that’s the danger I’ve found myself in at times. Because I know some of the horses I ride at college are so well schooled that they’ll do it regardless, I (and many others) tend to take advantage of that. I get lazy, and just think “ah well, it doesn’t matter if my aids aren’t perfect, he’ll do it anyway”. Which is terrible! I know all riders do it at some point, and if you never have then you’re a bloody saint. Because it’s so easy to fall into that when you’re riding something genuine and well schooled.
Riding something like Blossom, or Foxy, is a different matter. Because they are not going to just do it for you. With Fox it’s because he’s a tricksy little blighter and requires either exactly correct aids, or encouragement. He’s lazy, mentally a little immature, and a bit of a spooky bugger. So he needs that consistent and clear communication from his rider. With Blossom it’s because she doesn’t know how. When I talk about riding her, I’m not calling it a lesson. But maybe I should be. Because it’s certainly a lesson for her. But I’m learning too! Riding a baby has been extremely good for me I feel. And I’ve really been enjoying it, and getting results at the same time. Excellent.
Please don’t think I’ve forgotten my lovely Foxy. Of course I haven’t. But, I will be honest here, I’ve been trying to keep things slightly less personal lately. Because I’m leaving in a week and I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. Which could make me extremely sad and leave this cloud of misery hanging over me. I don’t want that. I have loads going on in the coming months and I’m super excited about all of it. Yes, I will miss him a lot, but ultimately he is not mine and I have to let go. So I’m trying to, slowly and gently so it doesn’t hurt so bad. Don’t laugh at me. It’s harder than you think.
But I’m tougher than you think.
Even if I do love ponies!