Monday, January 9, 2012


I did not, in fact, fall off the horse on Saturday.  Showed up for my last Groupon lesson, and was given Oso again.  (Oso.  The shorter horse.  Yay!)

The classes were advertised as including "horsemanship," which basically meant learning a bit more about saddling/unsaddling and basically caring for your horse each time out.  So, my teacher goes off to get a saddle and tells me to brush the horse.  I pick up the one brush I'd been taught to use.  This brush loosens the dust on the horse, but does not, in fact, remove said dust from said equine.  When she returns with the saddle, I asked if there wasn't some other brush I should be using at this point.  She asked if I hadn't already been taught about it.  "No," I pointed out, "you'd just asked the other student to show me, and he'd only shown me this one."  I think, at this point, my teacher had a moment of realization that I'd been somewhat overlooked in the instruction department on my earlier lessons.  

The result was that I actually got a lot of instruction.  First, I learned how about both brushes and the hoof pick.  (And I learned probably the most important thing about cleaning your horse's hooves:  do not put your feet underneath where the horse might want to put his hoof down.)  Then, I actually got a lot of detail going when I rode the horse around the ring.  There was lots of walking and making turns (and standing up in the stirrups!)  But, without my teacher paying attention to other students at the same time, she made lots of minute adjustments to everything I was doing, and answered all of my questions.  (I'm a pretty asky student, when you get right down to it.)  

I also found that my relationship with my teacher vastly improved if I said out loud everything I was trying to make the horse do.  (Not that I expected the horse to understand, mind, but if I said, "gentle turn to the left," while I tried to do it, it cut down dramatically on miscommunications with the teacher.)  On occasion, the horse wouldn't do what I wanted (teacher said I got a lot of lessons on what to do when my horse was being "naughty"), but the difference between Oso and the taller horse of the other day (Sterling) was that Oso just stopped when being naughty, whereas Sterling would try to canter off (ideally, I expect, out from under me).  Besides Oso being rather safer with this whole stopping thing, this rather matched my own way of dealing with things.  So, teacher is giving me all these commands (generally, "kick him; kick him again") and I start just narrating what I'm doing:  "stop; regroup; heels down; lean back in the saddle; reins steady; upper body to the left; kick on the right,"  (At which point, the teacher will add whatever I'm missing, like, "eyes up," and I growl at myself and say, "Shit!  Eyes up," but then I try it again, and am rewarded with horse motion in the right direction.)  But once she understood that I was intentionally stopping and regrouping when things weren't going my way -- rather than just being frozen with confusion -- she both approved of the practice and started giving me more appropriate instruction.

A bit unfortunate that it actually took until the final lesson for me to figure out how to relate to the teacher, but I ultimately DID get out of the lessons what I wanted:  an increase in my comfort factor on an English saddle; and a much better understanding of how to control the horse (beyond "reins to the left or right"). 

Indeed, my most surprising breakthrough in understanding came when she said that it isn't really the reins at all; it's the shifting of your weight on the horse.  Turn your upper body, and the horse feels it and moves with you.  And I said, "Hey!  That's just like skiing!"  (Like I'm some expert skier or something.  But in my introductory skiing lesson, I learned the fairly magical fact that if you turn your upper body in the direction you want to go, the rest of you goes with it.)  Teacher agreed that it was just like skiing.  I hadn't expected to make a connection like that at all, but once I made it, I aimed for another cross-training one -- and set my feet in the stirrups on exactly that "ball of your foot" point that you're supposed to balance on in figure skating.  I think it was right -- I didn't mention it, but teacher didn't correct my foot placement again.

So, yeah, I think the most interesting thing I walked away from this experience with is that I can actually take my limited experience from one sport into another -- none of this stuff is completely new.  How cool is that?

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