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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reflective Mood

I read an article yesterday in the UK Horse and Rider magazine that I could really relate too regarding riding and nervousness around horses. As I was driving home, I was in a reflective mood so I switched the radio off and just let my thoughts flow (concentrating on my driving of course!) on the way home and further into the evening. Part of this has also come about because I have taken up riding again after many years with my youngest son who is thirteen. I thought it might be beneficial for me to reflect on where I have been and where I want to go with this. Sometimes by reflecting on the past and laying it bare, we can put it behind us and move on. For me, writing helps me do this.

So, starting from the beginning I guess.

My first experience with a real, live horse came at Wiseman’s Ferry near Sydney when I was aged 12. We were there with the family for my dad’s annual work picnic with National Panasonic. They had horses for hire there and mum and dad caved in to my pleading and hired a lead pony for me to have a ride. The reins were long and held by my dad and I was on a jockey pad type saddle with no stirrups (and in a tracksuit). Dad led me back to the picnic area and all was going well. Mum came to take a photo and I convinced dad to let the reins drop so that the photo would look good. The next thing I know the horse has spun around and bolted back to the coral (a good distance away). I managed to stay on until it went down a table drain to cross the dirt road – I vaguely remember hearing the thud as I hit the ground and then waking up feeling a bit numb and spitting several teeth out. The horse was almost back to the coral by this stage so I guess I was knocked out for at least ten to thirty seconds (I have no idea). I had a concussion, went into shock, cracked my elbow, broke all my bottom teeth and my balance has been pretty shot since. I spent a week in bed before I could even walk on my own again due to the balance issue/concussion. And that was my introduction to riding.

It took about 18 months before I got on a horse again (and I daresay it would have been very difficult for my parents to let me too) – we went for a trail ride at a different riding centre. Non eventful, just plodded and it was scary but okay.

I then went for a ride with my brother at a different riding centre – he is three years younger than me and turned out to be an absolute natural with no fear! We worked there weekends for a little pocket money and the ability to ride all day. They were nice people and meant well but looking back, not confidence building for me. The style of riding suited my brother – his horse knew two speeds; flat out and stop. Probably why he ended up riding track work, training race horses and playing Polocrosse! I was always a little nervy and walk/trot was and is my comfort zone. This one day they put me on a horse called ‘Honey’ and she was anything but ;-) She would get stubborn and not want to ride past the coral so I would have to get on and ride her out and back in – she would go so far and then spin really fast and of course I fell off (several times). Their motto was if you fall off enough, you will learn not to do it. Hmmmm. Towards the end I just did not feel like riding anymore and I started going less and less. I remember being so frustrated that I could not get this horse to do what I wanted that I was on the verge of tears many a time.

The first time I tried to canter, I was on a horse called Tiny and we were out in the back blocks rounding up cattle as all the livestock was being moved. (The place they were leasing had been sold.) They brought the wrong bridle so when I cantered up the hill; the bit fell completely out of the horse’s mouth! Thankfully Tiny was a quiet horse and just stopped! Very nerve wracking though for me! I did not attempt to canter again ;-)

I also remember clearly one day I had been reading some riding books and they explained the dismount as removing both feet from the stirrups and sliding down the horse’s left side. I did this one day at the riding centre and got yelled at for my efforts being told I would have my butt kicked if I did that again. I was told I should always use the stirrup to dismount. This did not make sense to me because you ran the risk of being caught and dragged if the horse got spooked or took off. I did as I was told however.

Once the riding centre moved to a new place (I was about 15 by now) I was riding Smokey this day and they decided I needed to canter – so they got me to ‘kick the horse up’ and canter. Problem was the horse had quite a choppy canter, I had no idea what I was doing and with me bouncing obviously upset the horse – he bucked me off and I hurt my back and hip. Not a pleasant experience. Not long after this I started part time work and the riding centre closed so my horse riding finished for a little bit. I then saved up and bought my first horse………

Princess was a flea bitten grey and because I was so nervous I brought my brother to ride her for me – ‘Do you think I can ride her?’ I said to him. ‘I can’t see why not’ was his reply. It was an interesting experience taking Princess home in the hired float – every time we pulled up at a set of lights or a turn off, she would start walking in the float which would make the car bounce! We got her to our leased paddock about a ten minute drive from where we lived. I let her settle before attempting to ride her. Princess had lovely manners on the ground and I was never concerned however when I got on her, all she seemed to want to do was take off. She was very toey and I had no idea what I was doing wrong (a lot of it probably had to do with nerves in hindsight). I decided to get ‘proper’ lessons to help me ride better. I went to a school in Mulgoa near Penrith for a group lesson and explained to the instructor my situation and nervousness etc. The first lesson was okay but the second one they gave me a crop and put me on a horse that pigrooted for the whole lesson! I decided I would not go back as they obviously were not the right ones to teach me. I persisted with Princess for some time longer as she was a lovely horse. I left school and got a full time job and then cars and boys came into the picture. I decided I was not doing Princess any justice so I sold her to a friend of my brother’s. I heard later on that Princess was doing well at shows so I know I did the right thing.

About 18 months after this I had a yearning to get another horse and was thinking about it. The people that we met through the riding school where we helped out knew someone that was selling an Anglo Arab that had been to the Sydney Royal Show and they thought she would be perfect for me! I went and took a look and had a ride but to be honest, I did not feel a connection with her. I did however let people talk me in to buying her. Again she was a lovely horse however it became very clear very quickly that because she was well trained and I had no idea what I was doing, the signals I was giving her were confusing her. I had no desire to wreck such a lovely horse so I sold her to a show home.

We left Penrith and moved west of the Blue Mountains to the Orange/Wellington area. There was so much other stuff going on that dreams of horses faded. When we moved further west to Nyngan and Dubbo for me, I met my husband who is not a horse lover :-) Marriage happened and then three kids so no horses.

When my youngest was about 6 months old, I had lessons once a fortnight with a wonderful local dressage instructor on a schoolmaster horse of hers – I really enjoyed it for a couple of months however having three young boys under 5 and with finances the way they were, I needed to put my dreams of riding on the back burner again.

Now my sons are 18, 16 and 13. I have had some health issues recently and other stuff going on so decided it was time for me to do something for me. My youngest has also been keen to ride for a long time (after having a couple of brief rides a number of years ago) so we decided we would get lessons together at the local riding centre.

So six weeks ago I rang the local centre and was told the only opening they had was at 3pm on Saturday. I had heard nothing but praise for Gary and his horses so I was looking forward to the adventure.

Saturday came about and we excitedly drove out (although my mum had to drive as I was very dizzy – only time I wasn’t was when I was riding). I completed the paperwork and had noted on there that I was nervous. Gary talked to me about my experiences and put me on a wonderful horse called Calibre. He is the cuddliest teddy bear of a horse and absolutely perfect for someone like me! The first two lessons we had were ½ hour private lessons so Gary could assess us and since then we have had 3 x 1 hour group lessons (myself, my son and another young girl aged 10 who started riding the same weekend we did). I rode Calibre the first two lessons, Mister the next one, Buffy after that and then back to Mister last week. I even managed a small canter when we were out in the field. The difference this time was that it was explained to me what to do and I was put on a horse with an easy canter.

I panicked and held my breath at first, Mister’s ears went back to me and Gary in a calm voice said, ‘just relax’. I did, and remembered to breath, I rode the canter and Mister put his ears forward and relaxed too. We then went back to a trot and continued the rest of our ride in a walk/trot and talked. By the time I got back, the enormity of what I had accomplished in such a short time with Gary’s help hit me and I felt on cloud nine. We will work more and more on the canter over the coming weeks. The thing I love about our lessons is that we do half in the arena (stretches, exercises and technique) and the remainder is a trail ride out in the paddocks.

My son is doing really well too and picking things up very quickly – it is a great time we have together doing something we both love. The goal is one day to have horses of our own – possibly in twelve months time as we need to fix the paddock up first with fencing and a shelter etc. Our lessons will continue regardless as they are so worthwhile!

I can’t wait for this Saturday!