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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back in the Saddle

Eye of Bear.
Astute observers of this blog will have noticed that after posting nearly every week about my Thursdays spent with Drifter and the horses of Sage Meadows, there has been a dearth of horse posts as of late. I'm still hanging out with Drifter on a weekly basis, but there has been one major change: since the start of July, I've been riding Drifter instead of grooming him! (Well, I groom him a little bit, but the bulk of my time with him is spent in the saddle.) It's much more fun to write about horses when you have pictures of horses, too, and since I can't take pictures of myself while riding, I haven't had a blogpost's worth of images. I also wanted to have a few lessons under my belt before I delivered an assessment of how things are going.

Syd in one of my previously unposted horse photos.

Well, I've had five lessons with my equine instructor Drifter and human instructor, Kaite, so I have learned enough to talk about what I'm doing, and the past two weeks, horse-loving friends have accompanied me to my lessons. Once you've been bitten by the horse bug, it's hard to let it go, so both friends, who rode when they were younger, leapt at the chance to come hang out with some beautiful horses and smell that wonderful horse aroma. They were welcome to do so as long as they stayed out of the way of the horses' hooves (Katie's stipulation) and took photos of me on Drifter during my lesson (my stipulation).

Drifter is saddled up and ready to go. In the background,
 Bear's tack is removed after his lesson.

Smiling atop Drifter during Lesson #2.

Working on the walk.
I'd say that so far my lessons have been going very well! Drifter is a wonderful lesson horse, miles and miles and miles better than Lacey, and I'm happy to report that I had very few bad habits to unlearn and I can tell I'm going to learn lots and lots of good ones. I'm sure that spending two months grooming Drifter has been so good for our rapport and of course I'm extremely comfortable around him. He'll be a little pokey from time to time, but unlike Lacey, there's no stubborn refusal to move at all! Katie's been teaching me how to ride and communicate with a horse primarily using my legs, so everything, except for the steering aspect, is accomplished by either squeezing with my legs or changing how I sit, though an occasional verbal command is used, too. It's a very intuitive way of riding and it's how I want to relate to a horse. We started working on riding at a trotting pace from the very first lesson and I've been working for several weeks now on learning to post: that is, to rise and fall in the saddle to the rhythm of the trot. You can "sit" the trot, but that makes for a very bouncy (some might even say bone-jarring!) ride, especially before you get a feel for moving with the horse. There are a million and one things related to form that you have to remember while posting, from the way your heels are oriented in the stirrups to how much bend you have in your wrist, so we've spent the last few lessons in the round corral, where Katie can control Drifter's speed and there's much less steering to be done! I'm starting to get the hang of it, at least for short stretches of time, and I realized that sometimes the best way to do it correctly is to not think about it at all. Things will become easier over time as my muscle memory takes over, but that takes a lot of riding.

Drifter with his tail caught mid-swish!

There's usually a grass-eating bunny observing my lessons.

Syd and the other horses like to watch, too.

Posting!

I'm starting to get a much better idea of what the information I'm getting from Drifter means. When I started, his movement beneath me was just a bunch of "noise;" now I'm starting to feel how that movement translates into the cadence of his walk or his trot. Of course, he can read me no problem! It's amazing: we can be in the middle of trotting and the moment my mind wanders to a thought like, "Oh no, my foot is starting to slip out of its position in the stirrup!" or, "Uh oh, my nose is running and any moment now it's going to get beyond where I can sniff it up and is going to start running down my face," he will come to a halt. He can't read my mind, of course, but he can read the slightest changes in my posture that reflect my loss of focus on moving forward, changes I'm not even aware I'm making, and he'll stop. It's a good lesson on focusing on being in the moment and pure in your intentions!

I am now capable of talking and riding at the same time!

Drifter is a great training horse (and a big sweetie, too), but I'd like to give a lot of credit to Katie. I was sure from the very first day that I showed up to groom Drifter that she'd be a good instructor and she has been. She's so good at imparting information and giving corrections in a positive way! She's also been very responsive to my needs, like making sure I had lots of breaks and didn't wear myself out on the day I showed up feeling queasy but decided to try riding anyway. I know I can ask questions and that I will always get an easy-to-understand explanation. It makes my task so much easier to know that I have a great human instructor and a great equine instructor!

Katie making sure everything is properly adjusted before the lesson begins.

Discussing the finer points of communicating with a horse via the legs.

Listening while Katie (not visible) offers an explanation.

I'm pleased to report that in addition to becoming good pals with Drifter, the two months of grooming helped me build up enough strength and stamina that riding has not been too hard. My legs were a bit jelly-like after my second lesson, but so far I've been able to keep up. I also think it's helped me be strong enough to handle the three-week stint looking after Sweetheart.

I tend to be all smiles when around the horses!

There's so much I still have to learn and I need to remember not to lean too far back when sitting in the saddle and to only move my arms at the elbow while posting and to make sure I squeeze my legs hard enough to give Drifter clear signals and not to pull back on the reins to make him stop unless he's ignored all my other directions, but I feel like things have gotten off to a fabulous start!

Drifter always gets a big snack after his lesson!

Another beautiful day at Sage Meadows.

The horses are happy and so am I!

And here's a little video of me riding at the walk, the trot, and then posting during Lesson #4!

video

3 comments:

  1. I love the pictures! Glad you could get some of you riding. Drifter looks like a sweety.

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  2. So great to read about your lessons! It sounds like you have a couple of really great teachers. I think a good lesson horse who teaches you instead of testing you must be worth his weight in gold. And glad you had some friends come along and take pictures!

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  3. If you're one of the people who loves horsemanship, then you might learn some lessons from them, lesson that is valuable.

    ReplyDelete