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Lesson Journal - Second Session

When I pulled into the lot for my second lesson, I saw that I had a text from the instructor. It said, "Today maybe I'll have you ride "M" [name redacted]...He nips when you put the saddle on". I thanked her for the warning and headed off to find my ride.

Despite the apparent biting problem, I was actually pretty stoked to be on a different horse than last time. After all, the more horses you ride, the more you learn!

I greeted M at his stall and he was totally chill as I put the halter on and walked him to the grooming stall. (Of course it's a cross tie set up, which I dislike, but I'm still new at this place, so I'm doing as the people do.) As I did last time, I searched the grooming bin for the softest brush I could find.

"Nips when you put the saddle on"? I think that was a bit of an understatement. He tried biting me even while I was just running a hand over his back or barrel. It really seemed like he just didn't like being touched. His head, neck and legs were "safe zones", but anything else he was not keen on. Since he clearly hated being groomed, (which makes me very sad ) I powered through it as quickly as possible. Then when I saddled him, it was more of the same thing with the attempt to bite. Bridling him was uneventful though and we made our way up to the indoor ring.

When I got there, I saw that there were about four or five other people in the ring. I'm not really sure who was actually in the lesson and who was just riding, but I heard her giving instruction to maybe two other people, so I assume they were also in the lesson. Of course, when there is a full ring, you have to pay a lot more attention to where your horse is going. M was not a fan of any other horses being close. As soon as someone would get even remotely close by, his ears went back.

This lesson was very similar to the first in that I was working on the same things. Since this is mostly a "muscle building" lesson plan, I expect most of my lessons in the near future will be rather similar. Not only that, but I'm still working to mentally get over the discomfort of leaning more forward than I usually do. When I am in that position, my shoulders are automatically rounding. I feel it every time and I have to constantly tell myself to push my shoulders back. It's very annoying. The instructor would remind me to put my shoulders back, and multiple times I would roll my shoulders back to try and get them to stop rounding. It's a very difficult thing for me since my body is just automatically doing it. Perhaps because I equate leaning forward with falling off (it happened once or twice in my very young years), and so my body is going into "prepare for a landing" mode? I'm not sure, but it's proving to be a difficult adjustment.

Things that are proving difficult:

  1. A More Forward Position. I think I will struggle with this for some time. It feels very unnatural. When you ride gaited horses (as I have for many, many years), you don't sit forward. You keep yourself straight, or with shoulders slightly behind the hip. Also, when riding any "problem" or "spooky" horse, gaited or non-gaited, I keep that position as well. This is a practical thing and a safety thing for me. When seated that way, it's a much more solid position. It's easier to keep your seat in the event something happens because you are very centered and balanced. Being more forward and up off the saddle (in this instance especially while at the canter), as I am supposed to be during these lessons, is a much more precarious position to be in in the event something occurs that causes a reaction in the horse. Anything more forward than my typical position feels like I am leaning WAY forward. Although I know that is not the case, it still feels that way, and the adjustment is proving annoyingly difficult to get over.

  2. Stirrup Position. Another thing I struggle changing. The instructor has had to tell me several times to put my feet further into the stirrup. This is again something that feels very wrong to me. I do ride with the stirrup closer to my toes than I do to the balls of my feet. Despite that foot position, I have a very good grip. I ride with my weight in my feet, as one should, and I have never had slippage issues. When I moved my foot further into the stirrup as she instructed, my brain was telling me, "Don't do that. That's not safe." I believe this is because when I ride, I always ensure that I am in the best position to handle the unexpected. If something occurs and I know I am going to fall off, the quicker I can get my feet out of the stirrup the better. This is why it is important to practice emergency dismounts. It's that muscle memory that allows you to have safer falls. With my current foot position, it's very easy for me to get my feet away from the stirrups. With my feet further in, there is a higher chance that my foot could be pushed further in the stirrup during an emergency, rather than slipping right out. That's when you see the horrible instances of people being dragged by a horse because he/she could not get the foot out. So, her asking me to put my feet further in, feels like she is asking me to go against my own feelings of self-preservation. And my sense of self-preservation is quite strong when it comes to riding!

  3. Rein Length. "Gather your reins", "tighten your rein", "Your reins are too loose". Things that I am sure I will continue to hear from this instructor. This is the opposite of how I was taught. What I always heard my mom tell people was to "loosen your reins", "give the horse its head", "don't hold the rein so tight". Frankly, riding with a loose rein makes the most sense to me. This idea of riding with a loose rein and always having contact with the bit reads to me as micromanaging the horse. A horse should be responsible for its own body. I do not want to "control" a horse. A horse should be able to control itself. That is the ideal, and is a horse who has not been taught to only function via the micromanagement of the rider. I do think there are a few exceptions to this rule as far as breeds who have different gaits. For instance, I had to adjust to a shorter rein length when I was figuring out how to tölt on Dreamer. Although other than when at the tölt, I ride him with a loose rein. Perhaps my tölting experience with him will be another post since it was quite a learning experience!

Overall, the lesson was pretty good. It was interesting to be able to watch all of the other people riding around as well. Of course, since I was paying attention to my own riding, I couldn't be as nosy about other people's as I would have liked, but I was still watching when I could. One conversation I will have to have with the instructor is her volume. The ring is very large and she speaks rather quietly. I have a heck of a time trying to hear her, so I think I need to tell her she may need to yell a bit to make sure I can hear.

I was not sore after this lesson like I was after the first (thank goodness!). Although I think that's mostly because I did not spend as much time in jump position this time. I'm going to make it a point to do a lot more of that next time. No pain, no gain!

Do you think I'll get to ride a new horse next time? Can't wait to find out!

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