Thursday, December 22, 2011

So, this is a horse

Frequent readers know that I like going on trail rides when I'm on vacation.  I've been on various horses about a dozen times -- although, what with the rides being vacation trail rides, my horse was pretty much just following the horse in front, and I wasn't exactly controlling the animal.

After the unfortunate experience in the Czech Republic (when they wouldn't take my horse off the lead for half the damn trail ride), I stumbled upon a Groupon for 3 riding lessons at a nearby stable.  This seemed to be exactly the ticket -- I very much doubt I'm ultimately going to take riding lessons, but I wouldn't mind having a few beginner lessons under my belt the next time I'm in a foreign country and trying out the local equines.

First lesson was Tuesday night.  Did not go entirely well, in that my horse was on the lead for the whole damn thing.  But I didn't really mind being on the lead when I'm actually learning to do stuff with the horse, rather than having the horse just follow a set path like the boats in "It's a Small World."  So, I spent an hour on Tuesday in an English saddle, being regularly yelled at to keep my heels down, riding my horse in an ever-increasing circle around my teacher.

I was on a (relatively) small brown horse named "Oso."  There was another guy there taking his third Groupon lesson from the same teacher.  He was on a larger white horse.  While I'm going around in a circle, he's going around the whole ring, attempting to get the white horse to trot.  It isn't going well; the horse is just not in a trotting mood.  As soon as he gets a little bit of trot out of it, the horse goes back to walking.  Meantime, the teacher is trying to get him to post, and (in what I am certain was simply for her amusement) making me to stand up in the stirrups while my horse was walking.  (She claimed this was good for my balance, and I suppose the idea was that I'd eventually be trotting a horse and would need to be able to post, but I'm still thinking it was for the laughs.)

I was wiped out.  When I got home, I decided the horse was named Oso, because when I was finished riding him, I was Oso tired.

Took a hot bath and everything.  (Which was a good trick, as the little thingy that plugs the drain wasn't working, so I just jammed some plastic sandwich bags in there.  When the bags started floating to the surface, the bath was over.)

Felt fine yesterday -- until about ... well, until about 24 hours after the ride.  Apparently, feeling sore after a ride is a time-delayed sort of thing.  Realizing that I would be getting back on the horse again today, I sat with a heating pad across my, er, inner thighs last night. 

So, today, back off to the stables.  To my surprise, I did not get Oso -- one of the other riders got him.  I got ... the tall white horse the other guy couldn't make trot.  This:  (1) concerned me (on the issue of how far I'd have to slide off this thing to dismount); and (2) gave me a (false!) sense of security that the horse actually wanted to go slowly.  

(On the plus side, I got "the dressage saddle" today, which was way more comfortable than your standard English saddle of the lesson before.  Even though I had a great laugh over the idea that I'd be doing dressage today.  Because, yeah, controlling a horse through precise movements with pinpoint accuracy totally describes my riding style.)

My teacher had an assistant today, and two other students.  The other students walked their horses around the ring.  My horse was guided by the teacher's assistant.  For about 30 minutes, we all did the same things (walk horses, stand up a bit, sit back down), although my horse was being led and the other students' horses weren't.  I was getting a little annoyed by this, because I was pretty sure I could handle the horse at this point.  (I think the other students were getting a little annoyed by it, too, because the teacher would tell us all to stand up in the stirrups, and then compliment me on my standing, and I'm sure they were thinking, "uh, yeah, she has it easier, what with not simultaneously controlling her horse.")

Eventually, my teacher decided I'd graduated to actually Operating the Horse Solo.  (After an intermediate step of the assistant releasing the lead, but still walking next to me and the horse.)  And I did pretty well!  Walked the horse all by myself!  Turned left!  Turned right!  Go me! 

So, we're walking around the ring, turning between gates (they jump horses there) whenever I feel like it, and my mind momentarily wanders ...

... and the horse knows.  The horse is freakin' on it, and immediately starts trotting off.  So, here's me yelling "Whoa!" and pulling on the reins, all of ten minutes after they sent the assistant away (and I'm sure everyone is questioning whether that was the right call), but I'm actually more amused than anything.  Because, with all of those trail horses (and the mules in the Grand Canyon) I've ridden, you can pretty much daydream and the horse will still follow the butt of the horse in front of it.  But, now, I'm on a horse that is genuinely not going to fall for that crap, and I think it's pretty cool.

So, back to paying 100 percent complete and utter attention to the fact that I'm on top of an animal that has a different idea of how he would rather be spending his time.  We walk some more; we turn some more; I ask the teacher what I should be doing -- she suggests that I try standing up in the stirrups again, although I should go closer to the rail when I do it.  (I say to the horse, "Let's go over to the rail, so that when I fall off, I'll fall on metal!")  We're toddling along near the rail at the far end of the ring and ...

... honestly, I'll take the blame for the first one.  The first one was totally my fault.  But this time -- well, if this was my fault, there is cause for concern, as I have no damn idea what I did to set the horse off.  One second, we're walking along, and the next second, the horse starts something rather more akin to a gallop.  It happened pretty quickly, but I assume there may have been a buck involved too, as, all of a sudden, there's mane in my face, and I'm pretty sure that my head shouldn't be anywhere near the back of the horse's neck if we're all doing what we're supposed to be doing.  I yell "Whoa!" a few times and pull on the reins.  It doesn't seem like it's working, but eventually it does.  (I was moments away from yelling, "A little help here?") The teacher asked if the horse got spooked by something, and I went with "yes," as it seemed the best explanation (as well as the most face-saving one).  The assistant had mentioned there were sometimes coyotes in the trees near the far end of the ring (where we were) and the teacher confirmed that and suggested we stay in the near half of the ring for the rest of the lesson.  Good plan.  

Teacher said she was proud of me.  (I was all, "For what?  Not falling off the horse?"  Apparently, I got points for my attitude of not jumpng off the horse, saying, "Screw that," and walking away.)  I'm good with it, though.  I mean, I (eventually) did the horse back under control, so I should be less freaked out at the possibility it may happen again.

One more lesson, in January.  I'm staying away from the coyotes.

1 comment:

Wil said...

My hard hat is off to you. I've never met a horse who didn't throw me in the first 15 minutes of soloing. And. I have ridden dozens in my younger years. Now I would opt for being led by the lead ... these old bones are taking forever to heal.