I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I kinda like giraffes.
I’ve dreamt of riding them before. And of galloping alongside them on horseback. Ah, such wonderful dreams. On Saturday, it was almost like my dreams came true. For my riding lesson, I had Tarzan, a dear old boy who is definitely part giraffe. All those imagined giraffe riding scenarios were about to become reality.
And boy did they. He has a long neck and he likes to stick it right out there, his nose as far away from you as possible. “He can work into an outline, and I want you to try and get him soft and round if you can” Sonya announced. I glanced down at this giraffe/camel hybrid and snorted. Fat chance of that! I’d be lucky if I could still feel my arms afterwards. (Which I can but only just by the way)
As the lesson began, it was clear that Tarzan was not impressed with my attempts to gain some proper work from him. He fought me with every stride. Even Sonya seemed a little surprised at how much he was trying it on. But of course, I was told simply to ride through it and not back off. Which was hard as although he wasn’t doing anything typically ‘naughty’ he was yanking my arms around and ignoring my legs and my physical inclination was to give up and let him be a giraffe. Determination won out in the end though and I decided to fight him back. And I was going to win, obviously!
So Sonya chuckled away in the middle of the school as I struggled to maintain the image of a rider in control of her steed. He was beginning to listen, starting to soften a little when Sonya suggested an exercise that would change everything.
“Come across the diagonal and as you come onto it, bend him to the outside and push his quarters over so that you’re parallel with the long-side. Then try and leg yield him across.”
Right, sounds easy, okay, no problem. So we did exactly that and suddenly I found this horse was responding to my leg, softening in my hands and occasionally giving me a step of true leg yield. We repeated the exercise in both directions, riding a strange figure of eight pattern with almost completely sideways leg yields as Tarzan started to show off. He was much softer and rounder, and working better as a result.
“Now try it in trot”
Yeah, we were only doing it in walk. And you know what, I didn’t mind! I think I’ve come on to a point that I wasn’t sure I’d ever reach. The point where I stop panicking that I’m never going to make any progress because I’m not going bigger and faster. The point where the tiniest little thing getting better is worth celebrating. The point where spending half of my lesson in walk was not a disappointment but rather a really good riding lesson. I no longer have that impatience of “for gods sake walking is boring, I want to canter and do bigger and better things” Instead, I happily worked on Tarzan’s response in walk, and achieved some lovely bits of leg yield. I wasn’t frustrated in the slightest, just puffed out and ready to slide off sideways because my legs were giving up.
It was harder in trot, as you might expect what with going faster and having a little less time to do everything in. But we got there, and towards the end of the lesson I was managing to maintain a nice soft trot on circles and around the arena as well as on our leg yielding diagonals. It was when I was riding this nice quiet round trot that Sonya said “Come on Megan, be ambitious, push him on a bit more now he’s come soft.” My legs responded almost reflexively, urging him to give me a little bit more. He obliged, and we started building the trot up to something a little more workmanlike. And still Sonya called to me, “Don’t back off now, that’s it, keep pushing him on, be ambitious with him.” I was reluctant to ask him for too much despite not really knowing why. I knew the worst he would do was break into canter, but the trot was going so well and I didn’t want to lose it. Sonya kept telling me to be ambitious. I wasn’t really sure what she meant but I realised she wasn’t going to let me stop until I achieved what she wanted. So in the end I let go and pushed Tarzan on as much as I could.
“That’s more like it! Now there’s some extension” Sonya’s voice barely reached me over the rushing of the wind in my ears. Tarzan had responded to my leg-to-hand encouragement by stepping his trot up into something enormous. We were covering the long side in a matter of seconds and I felt almost as if I were about to be blown backwards out of the saddle. We were moving fast, but it was the power I suddenly felt in the horse below me. He was surging forwards with this strength I didn’t realise he had. Every time I sat I could feel his muscles working to push on another stride, and when I rose it was like I was hovering there for a moment, suspended in the air. He was stretching his neck out as we went, but not up in the air, he was stretching down in front of him, relishing the freedom of movement I was allowing him.
When we finally brought ourselves back down off that euphoric, adrenalin pumping high and cooled off walking in circles around the arena, Sonya was laughing as she talked to me about extension in the horse. She’d pushed me on because she wanted me to feel a real extended trot. From the ground, she could see the reach and flick of his legs as he lengthened his stride. She asked if I’d felt that moment of suspension that you can see in the horse when they move. I was too windswept to reply with real words so I nodded dumbly and garbled something about feeling like I was going to blow off backwards. We spoke about how it can be terrifying to have that build up of power in the horse if you don’t know how to use it, which is why it was so important to get the connection, the soft round outline, before attempting to extend the pace. Otherwise the horse will just say thank you very much, take the bit and charge on with or without you.
SO while I started the lesson on a giraffe, I ended it with wobbly legs, achey arms and a feeling of having really achieved something. It’s also a testament to how much stronger I have become, that I was able to achieve not only some beautiful leg yield, but also generate the power required to really extend the trot. My legs clearly work better these days. Although Niz did have to dash off and bring me some water part way through the lesson as I was getting just the tiniest bit warm…
Following said accomplishment, Tillie and I went to Warwick Castle for the day on Sunday. Having somehow navigated our way through Warwick (I’ve never driven there before and there are lots of confusing road layouts) and then walked a million miles from the carpark to the Castle, we found ourselves immersed in the history of the place. Now, I’m not a history nut or anything, but it was really interesting. I remember going before with my family, but I think at the time I was less interested in the information and more interested in ice-cream/walking around in the sunshine/enjoying the scenery. This time, however, I learned stuff!
We visited the Bear Tower, where they imprisoned the bears kept for bear baiting. And there I learned that the Bear and Ragged Staff is the emblem of Warwick. We climbed the ramparts to the top of Guy’s Tower, the highest part of the castle, and looked down across the entire castle (albeit with shaky legs and a hammering heart at being up so high. And then Tillie pointed out I was standing on a metal grate rather than solid stone. I nearly wee-ed)
We watched part of a Birds of Prey performance where a young Lamemergeier swooped over us with his incredible wingspan and finger like feathers. We went and saw the biggest trebuchet in the world up close, and later watched it launch a missile. Which broke a piece of temporary fencing. I’m not sure they meant to do that!
We wandered through the Castle state rooms and halls, learning about the various owners of the castle, discovering allegedly haunted rooms and catching the end of a tour which informed us that the tenth Earl of Warwick currently lives in Switzerland. We then visited the Time Tower which showed us the development of the castle including the various owners and how they used it.
And of course, we went to the Castle dungeons. Where, along with our group, we were entertained by various fantastic actors who in a slightly creepy way told us about the plague, witch trials and torture methods common in the Medieval period. I only jumped and screamed umm…twice? Not bad really.
So the weekend was mostly good. Hurrah.
Oh, and I’m a witch apparently. I was tried in a Medieval court and found guilty. I attempted to plead insanity but that involved being naked, so I accepted my fate with good grace. Until I was sent to open the next door on my own..
“Nothing will jump out at you, witchy, just go on in” said the judge. And of course…