I finally got back in the saddle last Saturday and do you know what? It felt wonderful!
I was a little nervous going in for my lesson, not because I was unsure of the horse but because I was worried my back would hurt afterwards. To me that would have signaled a failed trial and I dreaded hearing that I would have to wait longer to take more lessons.
The worry started to ebb away while the manager, a super guy, helped me refresh my memory on using western tack. For the most part I remembered how to do the basic brushing, fitting the saddle, and putting on the bridle (though this time around he did that for me). The bit on the bridle was not one I was used to but I remembered reading about the effects of different bits in a western riding book. I could still lead on foot and the round pen didn’t feel like a trap. As soon as I was seated in the saddle I felt this strange calming sensation, as if I was being cradled in a warm hug. The shifting of the horse under me, the feel of the saddle, and the height were all caressing me with a big “welcome home” that is difficult to quantify into words. It just felt so good to be riding again, to be learning!
I had some difficulty getting the horse to go exactly where I looked at first and he didn’t like to stay on the rail. Apparently he was my instructor’s go-to horse but he’d been stiff in the shoulder recently with the cold weather when his arthritis flared up. As the lesson progressed I became more comfortable and I actually managed a seated trot! I remember having difficulties with the seated trot before – the same with keeping my heels down but I was either very stretched out beforehand or I was just more relaxed than I thought I was.
On the subject of a seated trot here are a few tips:
- sit deep in the saddle (usually this just means sitting a little further back than when you’re riding normally)
- try to feel the movement of the horse and let your hips drop and flex in tandem. It’s a bit easier to do this either bareback or with a bareback pad.
- my instructor actually had the perfect suggestion and this worked very well for me: keep your posture and imagine your weight pooling in your legs. Let it rest heavy and relaxed and just move with the rhythm.
- take belly dancing lessons, haha!
You can post in western riding if you like but after trying both I like the seated trot better.
There’s a rule of thumb when working with horses: you look where you want to go then Ask your mount to go. After that you Tell, then Command. Ask with your voice and body language. Be gentle and try to use nudges. If that does not work, Tell your mount with both your voice and a firmer command, perhaps a tap of your heels. Command is, of course as firm as you can be. For most of the lesson I was asking and perhaps that is why I had difficulty making the mount go where I was looking. I say this because towards the end of the lesson when he would not listen I immediately took a firmer tone. As soon as I started employing the firmer tone the more this horse listened to me. By the end, the cool down, he was close on the rail and only needed a slight touch of the reins to go just where I was looking. Granted, we had to move to the arena because he kept coming into the center of the ring of the round pen where the instructor was. Sometimes a horse will do this, thinking the instructor will be talking to the student, giving instruction, and therefore it means he could stand still and not work.
This coming Saturday I’ll be up in the saddle again! My instructor says we’ll probably use a different horse though I would not mind trying again with the same mount. I prefer learning on a stubborn horse – albeit with a little assistance.
Before I bore you to death with riding details (I could – I take notes after every lesson I’ve ever taken), I finished a lot of artwork this week. None of it is related to the Green Book but there is a short written piece that I’ve also put up for free on my art account which you can get to by clicking on any of the images below or via a link located on my “About” page.
Until next week, happy trails!