Said my riding instructor, between fits of laughter.
I should begin by informing you that my riding has actually got better rather than worse which was a fear of mine. That it had got worse I mean. So I was much relieved to find that not only did I feel better, but that Sonya could see a visible improvement particularly when it came to the strength and conviction of my leg and seat. “Thank god for that,” I thought, “I can still ride!”
All of this, of course, comes to my knowledge because I went back to Holme Lacy for a riding lesson. Or, if we’re being up to date, two. And more to come. I decided it was time I got back in the saddle properly and had someone to yell at me while I pretended I knew how to ride a horse. Always fun… So back to Holme Lacy I went. They know me, I know them, it’s a good environment for me to be in and I trust those instructors. So it made sense.
When I went back last week, for my first actual lesson since the previous August before Ginny left Eclipse for Canada, I was given the gorgeous and lovely if rather stubborn and reluctant Foxy to ride. My boy. He’s still a darling albeit one that doesn’t always want to go anywhere. Our lesson consisted of me attempting to convince him to move forwards and him suggesting to me that perhaps we could stand still instead. A short crop was required in the end, and suddenly he found that by moving his legs we were able to cover ground a little swifter. He was, in all fairness to him, a very good boy. I was delighted to see and feel the changes in him that have come about since I last rode him, almost a year ago. My lovely friend Niz has been riding him a lot recently, and it is only too evident how much work she’s been putting in. It really shows, he’s working so much better than he ever has. I was very pleased to be able to achieve some nice work from him, and even happier when Sonya told me my riding was much better and that my seat and leg were stronger and more established.
On the Saturday just passed I returned for my next lesson, this time saddling up the young miss Tilly. The pony, not my dog nor my friend. She’s a young one who I’ve ridden before while at college. I remember her throwing tantrums and playing the resistant “I don’t want to” game almost every time I got on her. The thing is, she’s a super little pony and capable of lovely work, she just needs to be reminded that she actually should work. So we had a discussion for a little bit. Sonya was encouraging me not to be too nice, not to back off when the horse fought me, to be determined and firm with her. I listened and tried my best to stay quiet but assertive with the young madam and it paid off. After a bit of teddy throwing she relaxed and submitted, allowing me to direct her and take control of her head. She stopped pulling on the bit and yanking my arms out of their sockets and instead, worked beautifully soft and round. At first I would lose the roundness after a few strides due to my elation at achieving it and forgetting to maintain the aids to keep it going. After a few instances of that, however, I got myself together and remembered to keep applying myself and riding her forward so that we kept a nice soft round outline on both circles and going large around the arena.
It was easier on one rein than the other, but once she had started really throwing a fit about doing it on the right rein I became absolutely determined to achieve it before the lesson ended. We had an absolutely disasterous left lead canter during which Sonya laughed her head off before announcing “That was awful, try again…” prompting both the title of this post, and a second equally horrific left lead canter. Having successfully ridden a proper canter on the right rein which was deemed satisfactory by all parties, Tilly finally relaxed in the trot on the right rein and obliged in coming round. Hallelujah.
After dismount I found my legs were a little jelly like and realised just how much I’d been working. Tilly had evidence of sweat across her neck too, showing how much she’d been working. I was quietly thrilled with the lesson as I’d achieved above and beyond what I’d hoped for. Sonya seemed pleased with me again and the fact that my legs were going to be sore in the days to come was a good sign that I was riding properly once again.
It has felt remarkably good to be riding again, in a constructive and progressive way. It is all too easy to forget sometimes that riding is something you never stop learning. No-one knows everything there is to know, even people who have been riding for donkey’s years can still glean new tips and tricks from others. It is one of those sports that you build on continually and never cease to improve in. The emotional highs and lows you feel whilst achieving or not achieving are exceptional too. That pure unadulterated joy that sweeps over you when you and a horse are working in perfect harmony, listening to one another and looking for all purposes like the most beautifully put together team, is unlike anything else. Just little things like achieving a lateral movement for the first time, or a particular horse not bolting through a canter transition, or managing to sit an inelegant cat-leap of a jump, can send you soaring above the clouds emotionally. It can mean the difference between a good week and a bad week. Just one little thing. Equally, one tiny blip can skew things the opposite way. Not getting a true canter, fumbling a transition repeatedly, not managing to jump a single clear fence, falling off for no reason at all. You can find yourself replaying the event for weeks and months to come, throwing your confidence out of kilter and changing your relationship with the horse completely.
It may seem stupid, the way we allow these things to overtake the rest of our lives, but for those of you who ride I am sure you understand exactly what I mean when I say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because the good moments, those glimpses of perfection, those flashes of elation and joy and rushing adrenalin are worth a thousand blips. They are the reason we try and try and try again despite broken bones and bruised egos and battered confidence and dented helmets and scuffed boots and muddied breeches and scratched beliefs and shaken relationships and empty bank accounts. In spite of all of those things which we would well be forgiven for giving in to, we continue because we know that ultimately, it will be worth it.
As you may well know, I have been struggling lately. I have not been in a good space when it comes to anything. It has not been easy for me, nor for my family who have to put up with me. I have tried not to let this mental state affect the people who are supporting me and providing me with shelter and food and love, but I think perhaps sometimes it leaks through without me realising. As I have mentioned before, I am unsure as to the direction of my future at the moment. I have been applying for work for the sake of applying. Because I feel that if I don’t apply then I may never do so. But I do not even know if I want to do the work I am applying for. At the moment I know very little for sure. But one of those things is this:
I have never been gladder of my decision to go to college and study horses. Because even if I change my direction and choose not to work on a yard, it has brought something into my life that will never leave. I love horses, I have a natural passion and affinity for them to the point that I feel a peace with them otherwise absent from my life. It does not matter what else I do, I know I will ride for as long as I am able. It brings me joy and pain and a place where I feel completely comfortable and myself. So long as I have a way of riding, everything else will fall into place. Which is why I know that one day I will find a way of having my own noble steed. A horse I can build a trust with, a horse I can work with and develop and learn with. A horse I can ride and see my own hard work paying off. A horse to call my own. And if nothing else works out, at least I will have that.
And that, as they say, is that.