Wednesday, 22 July 2009

School of Hard Knocks

About two months ago I was riding in one of the outdoor schools and doing my basic stuff, whilst at the other end was a horse and rider practicing some high jumps and tight turns. There was another rider and horse partnership like mine also doing their stuff. There were 3 instructors one for each horse/rider pairing and each of us was able to maintain awareness of ourselves and some sense of WHERE everyone else was and what they were doing and where they were going. An essential skill as the horses concerned were large.

One of the them was a stallion, not common in this situation and the Gelding I was riding was very aware of the presence of the stallion. The other horse was a mare.

The stallion was jumping out of his skin, and very very hyper, hardly controllable and sure enough the inevitable happened, the rider was dumped. I knew this had happened even though when it did happen, I actually had my back to the events and the horse knew too. The rider was soon on her feet and back on the horse. They continued rider picked up where they left off and 10 minutes later with lots of snorting they finished their practice and were off.

Again I knew they had left the school even though at the time they did I had my back to the events. I could sense a change in the horse I was riding, because the horse too knew that the stallion had departed.

I found this wider awareness fascinating. We all have this skill, we use it all the time walking through crowded places, and not crashing in to one another. We use it in the car when somehow despite watching the road ahead we can maintain awareness if we open out to the rear view mirror and the side mirrors. I can remember my father asking me the colour of the 3rd car behind me in traffic jams!! And sometimes I even knew the answer!?!

Yet on a horse I am still at the stage when this same skill is amazing to me because I am conscious of it, I am noticing it, even when I don' t need it. I will be really competent when I notice it Specifically when I need it, when it doesnt noticeably intrude on everything else I am doing. I suppose it will be part of being in flow.

I have decided that I am on the path to this competence because recent evidence is severly testing me and I have taken a few steps back and am in a relearning loop. Intriguing when I think about it, frustrating and upsetting when I experience it. I appear to have regressed. I suspect I am actually learning stuff now in a deeper way than I did before. I hope so.

It all started few weeks ago. It was a friday afternoon, hot and heavy and also monsoony. It was the afternoon of the company party and the day before an important family party too.

I was riding a horse, a mare who has difficulty with a particular move.

When a horse canters, depending on the direction in the school there is the Right leg to lead off with and the Wrong leg, and this changes with direction. There are a few reasons for this and when you are riding in a tight circle when a horse is on the "wrong" leg it can be an interesting experience!!! For both Horse and Rider

The horse I was riding can only canter off one leg, so in one direction its the right leg, and in the other direction its the wrong leg. She only canters on this one leg and always has done. When I ride her we slowly work on increasing her suppleness on this other side, so that we can coax out of her the ability to lead off the other leg - so that eventually more people will be able to ride her this way. She actually CAN canter off the other leg, she just doesn't believe she can. And because its rare for her to canter off it, obviously she isn't as good at it.
Nice self fulfilling prophecy at work.

So I spent about 35 mins doing various things to make her more limber and relaxed and aware of that side and remembering that both legs can lead. Then set her off nicely and we head round first corner, use pole to strike off from, ask her to canter. She responds nicely and balanced -- on the wrong leg.

We make several more attempts and each time its lovely and balanced -- on the wrong leg.

Afternoon was getting very hot and steamy, and both of us are generating A LOT of heat too.

Next time we try it slightly differently, and instantly though lovely and balanced I know its the wrong leg. I ask her to come back to trot and she does beautifully for about 5 steps. Then she trips over her feet. This happens in slow motion and really fast at the same time. She stumbles and from where I was sitting felt like she was a bit surprised with where her legs were, and considered " am I going to fall over" before actually decidng "yep I am going to fall over".

I flew about 10 feet over her shoulder forwards on to the floor on my right shoulder and hip and knee. Winded, air sucked out of lungs, pain to one side of back oh ho... pulled myself.. Horse on knees behind me. Roll over. I manage to get upright on knees and am terrifed she is hurt. Get towards her and she is getting up off her knees and snorting. Manage to stroke her nose a bit and talk to her, all the time she is looking down and watching and taking the strokes and listening.

She was shocked, more I think than I was.

I had been through that quick momentary elation of "I'm alive" followed by "quick do a total body check" followed by "must get to horse..." Thoughts so quick they overtook each other

Manage to get up and walk her around a bit. She seemed sound. Got back on and had a quiet 5 mins doing some gentle transitions but she felt stunned. Decided to dismount and walk her back up to the stable at end of lesson and the whole time I was talking to her she was leaning her head into my shoulder, almost leaning on me.

I should say this particular horse is quite a remarkable one. She is currently "on loan" to an adult who learned to ride on her and actually she has been the one that has done the teaching and the looking after of the rider. I too felt this nurturing instinct the first time I rode her, she was assessing me and helping me. When I had fallen and turned to look for her, she was looking at me. She was snorting with shock and fear, not with aggression.

Adrenalin is an efficient pain killer. Afterwards I drove on to the party and in a way was relieved. It was bound to happen some time and the longer it went on the more the thought of falling off would have festered in my head. Now it had happened and I still knew how to do it!

Bruising was the usual large technicolour postmodernist abstract body art.

Subsequent lessons though have been frustrating. The first one only a few days later I still hurt everywhere, my right arm reminded me of its presence regularly and as for breathing deeply, I've only actually been able to do that properly for the last week or so.

What I have noticed is that the sensory awareness I was describing at the top, is still there but its overwhelming me. Before the fall I was surprised at the amount of information I was consciously processing but was able to process it. After the fall I was hyper alert, but quickly reaching overload. Whereas before others working in the school with me presented no difficulty, now they sometimes do. Annoyingly for the last week and a half I haven't been able to continue as other obligations have kept me away. Very frustrating in so many ways.

My instructor pointed out that she thougth my pelvis had tightened up again so when I do resume its to a no stirrups lesson followed by a lunge lesson. Better eat Pasta the night before those lessons then!!

She also most wisely said that I should just go back to enjoying it rather than thinking about it

Sage Girl... look forward to following that advice.

Back to the lovely mare, two days after our fall, I went to see her in her stable and when she saw me she nickered at me. Felt like a nice recognition that we had been through something together.

:-) felt v happy with that.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


80 years ago she was born