Because I grew up on a horse farm, I learned how to ride at home. I would ride in the group lessons my mom taught and, according to her, it worked well. Because I never wanted to be told that I was doing something wrong (and let's be honest, I probably wanted to appear to be the best), I would pay attention to what she told her students and I would adjust myself accordingly.
I never took lessons in the traditional sense, nor did I have the one-on-one instruction that seems to be common among students today. I never had outside instruction either. I never took a lesson nor did I have another instructor watch me, teach me, or give me advice.
My mother was an excellent teacher, and between her and the many horses I rode, I was made into a solid, fearless rider.
The Curiosity Sets in
Several years ago, I decided to take a lesson at a local barn to see what it was like. I was so unhappy with what I saw and experienced that I knew I would never step foot in that facility again. I became quite concerned. Was this the norm? If so, I would never find a tolerable place to ride! That experience put me off of trying another barn for quite some time.
Years after that dreadful experience, and through a rather short series of events, I ended up at my current barn. I now lease a horse there and am quite happy with how things worked out.
I love riding Dreamer (my leased horse) and I will continue to do so as long as I am able. However, I recently started getting curious about other stables again. I have ridden gaited horses for so long that when I did get on a non-gaited horse recently and had to post again, it was an “oh man, those muscles are out of shape” moment. I need to regain that strength.
That means riding as many non-gaited horses as I can. Thus began my internet search.
I came across a hunter/jumper stable that was reasonably close to me. Based on their website, they were extremely show-based, which usually isn't my cup of tea. However, my thought process was this:
They will have mostly thoroughbreds which is a breed I have little experience with. That is a bonus.
This is a different discipline, so I will have to adjust the way I ride, thereby working those long unused muscles.
They are very show-focused, and I’m extremely curious what that kind of instructor would have to say about my riding.
I was not into showing and our farm did not do any serious jumping, so I have never gone over anything higher than about 2 feet, so this will be something new.
Worst case scenario, I hate it and never go back.
I spoke to the instructor on the phone and we scheduled my lesson for February 18, 2023.
When I met the instructor, she asked these questions (not verbatim)
Her: You said you were experienced, right?
Her: With jumping?
Me: I haven’t done any jumping really, but I grew up on a horse farm.
Her: But you rode English?
Her: I just want to make sure I’m putting you on the right horse. This one (who was already brought in for me) isn’t for beginners.
She brought me his saddle and bridle and I went about grooming and tacking up. We chatted a bit and I told her it had been a long time since I had ridden in a regular English saddle since I ride in a treeless endurance saddle, so it should be interesting. After that, she left me to finish tacking up and said she would meet me in the indoor ring.
While my horse was warming up, we were chatting about my experience, her farm and experience and other horsey things. While at the walk, she had me get into jump position (two-point position) and hold it. I hadn’t done that in so long that it was hard to maintain for any length of time and I found myself bracing on his neck at times to keep my position. I would hold it as long as I could, then take a break, start up again, and then break. I did this for quite a while.
The Trot: This horse was not as butter smooth as my nitpicky self prefers, so I had to focus on keeping my posting controlled. (I apologized to him a few times when we started.) The longer we trotted around, the better it felt and the more comfortable I got with his gait. Then she had me get into jump position and hold it at the trot. I did that on and off for what my muscles thought was a lifetime.
The Canter: I think she had mentioned that I should stay up off his back or he would speed up. I honestly didn’t think much of it when she said that. Aka I wasn’t listening (I know, I know. Shame on me). He picked up the canter nicely but then something went wrong. It did not feel good, he started getting faster and faster, and I felt him grabbing the bit so he could run off. I brought him back to a walk to start over. She said that I was using a driving seat and to keep a steady pace on him, I needed to be up off the saddle and maintain light contact with the reins. So, I gathered my reins, asked for the canter again and got my butt off the saddle. It was an immediate difference! A relaxed, steady canter that was quite nice. It’s amazing what happens when you follow directions, isn’t it? We went around at the canter for a while, then it was cool down time.
Things I had to adjust and things that surprised me:
I generally ride with my shoulder directly over the hip or slightly behind the hip, depending on the horse. I do not ride forward. I knew that being on a non-gaited horse, and in a jumping discipline, I would have to change that. The instructor did have to remind me a couple times to lean more forward. When I lean a little forward, it feels like I’m leaning WAY forward, so I need to get used to that feeling.
I typically ride with a loose rein. That is also something she had to remind me of. I had to really think about keeping rein contact because I am so used to riding with loose reins. Frankly, it’s something I’m sure she’ll have to remind me of again. It’s a difficult habit for me to break.
She said my hip and leg position were good and my legs were quiet. This both pleased and surprised me. I know I have good posture, but I wasn’t sure someone in this discipline would agree. It was nice to have that confirmation!
I ride with a longer stirrup. It’s more comfortable and more practical. I fully expected to be told that my stirrups were too long and to hike them up. To my surprise, she said that I should have them where it’s comfortable.
Riding in a regular English saddle again wasn’t as unpleasant as I expected, but it’s still not comfortable. I will deal with it during these lessons, but I will forever be a treeless endurance saddle person. I find the comfort and close contact with the horse’s body to be far superior than that of a typical English saddle.
I think this was the tallest horse I have ever ridden. Then she says he is one of the smallest they have. I sure hope I don’t fall off one of those. It’s a long way down!
Keeping myself off of the saddle at the canter felt strange. I was taught to sort of scoop (my mom used to say "like you are scooping ice cream") in the seat at the canter. How much I pushed with my seat obviously depended on the horse. I had basically no seat contact with this horse in order to keep the canter steady. I wish I had it on video so I could see what I looked like because I think I was a bit higher off the saddle than I’d like. Next time I’m going to really focus on staying as close to the saddle as possible, without actually having any weight on it. Perhaps one day I will ask the instructor if she would record me.
When I woke up the next day, my calf muscles and my rear were very stiff and sore. Several days later I was still feeling the consequences of that ride. It’s going to take some time to build that strength back up, but I’m determined to do it!
Although there were things at this barn I didn’t care for and things I thought were strange, I did not see any “deal breakers”. In fact, I plan to go back to this barn at least once a month (unless/until I see anything that is a deal breaker). I’m hoping I will be able to ride a few different horses, build back lost muscles, and maybe even get into some jumping (nothing crazy though).
I thought sharing my experience and my thoughts on these lessons would be a good way to document my progress and perhaps interest anyone who may wonder what it's like.
Cover image from: https://images.fineartamerica.com/images/artworkimages/mediumlarge/3/1-english-riding-hunter-jumper-girl-riding-horse-alicia-cosper.jpg