In the run up to the leeson (what a felicitous typo; I think I’ll keep it!) I was more nervous than I expected. After the last lesson with him went so well I had high expectations for this one. (Here’s a link back to the post about the first lesson.) As a natural pessimist it’s unsettling for me to have high expectations, so that contributed a lot to my nerves.
As things have been going so well for us lately I was reasonably confident we’d do OK but then on Thursday I started to feel the first signs that I was getting the cold that’s been tearing through the office at work; a plague of such virulence that its inexorable progress down the office has led to a plethora of absentees in the last week or so. This did not suit me. During Friday I worked swathed in scarves to keep warm, keeping my fluid intake high and avoiding exertion. I had hoped to ride Friday night, in order that he’d be obedient and moving well on Saturday, but that plan was cancelled to save my strength. Luckily the weather had not been quite so unpleasant that morning, so he did get some turnout.
After work I stopped by the stables long enough to check he’d been out and to grab the bridle. It would have been nice to take the saddle home to clean as well but just picking up the saddle felt too much like exertion, which I needed to avoid. Throughout Thursday and Friday I dumped zinc, vitamins, echinacea and any other immunostimulant cold-scarers that I could think of into my system. Wrapped up warm at home on Friday night I strip-cleaned my bridle in front of the television and went to bed at a reasonable time. On Saturday morning I woke up feeling like I might have convinced my body that we could achieve the lesson with Lee. Hurray!
I fear the cold may have only been postponed, but at least I was well enough to ride.
Filling my flask with a strong echinacea and rosehip tea (one of my trusty cold-deterrents) and grabbing the clean bridle, my plain white saddle pad that I usually only use for shows and the new lambskin girth cover that I hadn’t previously allowed myself to use on any occasion, I headed to the yard.
I was surprised to see I was obviously making a special effort with our appearance. I pretty him up for shows because I have to. Wrong colour saddle pad or loose mane and they could tell me I haven’t complied with the dress code and so can’t take part. But this was the first time I wanted to look the part for us, not because of external pressures. I didn’t go as far as wearing my cream jodhpurs or plaiting him, but I made an effort. I overheard one of the other liveries saying the other day that when they’d been out and about someone had commented on their good turnout. She went on to say that she always wants to look awesome even if they can’t do anything under saddle and come last. This couldn’t be further from my own feelings. I think I want our appearance to match our level. I’d hate to look totally glamoured up so people expect a lot from us and then ride dreadfully. It would be so much better to look a bit rough around the edges but go beautifully. Anyway, what I think I’m learning from this tangential paragraph, is that I think we should dress a little better now because we’re doing a little better. Like a knight earning his spurs, we’re earning the white saddle pad and the lambskin girth cover. Actual spurs, if I ever go there, are a very long way in the future.
So I groomed him until the beginnings of his summer coat shone and put black hoof-ointment on. The saddle got a quick lick and a promise and when I tacked up he wasn’t looking too shabby, for a cob with a clip growing out. As his copious mane blew about I sort of wished I’d plaited it, but I’d had neither the time nor the energy. There was space to warm up in another school, so we had a little bounce around before we went in to Lee.
I was expecting that Lee would be sitting in his red Landrover in the corner of the school, so was mildly surprised to see he was in a new white one instead. I put on the earpiece and battery pack and we began.
I have written recently about trying to keep my reins shorter; I have now officially achieved shortness! Lee suggested they were rather too short. What a pleasure it is to have achieved the skill of shortening reins such that I needed to lengthen them.
The main theme of the lesson from the horse point of view was to get him using his back end more. The big lesson for me was to stop shoving with my seat and do more with my legs.
Lee had me lean back more (or try to) in all gaits (how lucky that Russel Guire recently taught me what leaning back means on a horse!) and get him pushing energy through from the back legs, over his back and into the contact. At times we got it. It felt really strange trotting with that power coming though and me feeling almost left behind because I was not in my usual position.
Within the trot we played with speeding up and slowing down, keeping the energy from the back end, and trying to maintain the energy into walk. We do need to do serious work on our walk. Lee correctly assessed that we both use walk as a coffee break, not a working gait. That needs to change.
I’ve mentioned before that we have issues with free walk on a long rein. We worked on that too, which really pleased me because it’s one of those things I knew was weak but didn’t know how to improve.
On to the canter. It is in the canter that my shoving with my seat is most obvious. People have mentioned before that I need to be stiller in the seat, but never in a way that I understood. By getting me to lean back and … well I can’t really remember how he got me to do it, but eventually I got to a point where I was still but moving; following not shoving. And I lost it again. I gained it and lost and gained it again. When I had it, I could sort of see how much more use of my legs I will have when I get used to riding like that. I suspect once I’m used to it cantering will be a lot less tiring and I’ll have more control. Of course as far as Drifter was concerned the changes of rider style were a bit concerning, so we had unwanted transitions and a few moments where he was off without the brakes, but at no point did we come near to crashing into the walls or Lee’s car, so we had much more control than last time
When we changed to the right rein we both struggled. I could not find how to sit without shoving on that rein! I had a tiny flash of getting it at one point but it was much harder. I asked Lee whether it was harder because of me or because of Drifter and he said it was both of us. Drifter struggles on that rein and falls in and out; I overbend him because I’m (subconsciously?) worried we’ll crash into a wall if/when he falls out.
We went down to a walk to finish off, stopping near Lee’s car so I could talk to him better and then walking off to keep Drifter moving. As I did so he noticed that to walk I’d just shoved him on from my seat and not used my legs at all. After he showed me that I could see how to be stiller in my seat in the walk as well. When I manage it and it frees up my legs I can see how I can use my legs better, but the muscles aren’t used to working like that yet. It’s going to take some serious practice!
So the homework is to learn how to use my legs and not use my seat, to work in the walk, to get the energy coming from the back end, to get some reasonably different speeds within canter on the left rein and some small adjustments of speed in the unbalanced right canter. Is that it?
About two-thirds of the way through, when I was already feeling dazed from the learning and exhausted from the cantering, Lee asked did I mind the trainer/dealer who works out of our yard showing him a horse? I was glad to have a breather to be honest, so I didn’t mind. We had a walk and did our best to keep out of the way while the other horse’s paces were shown. I actually found it really interesting to hear Lee Pearson horse-shopping. Having only bought one horse in my life it was interesting to hear what someone more experienced asked. One of the questions I liked was “What’s the worst thing he’d do?” He asked about riding it with a whip and without spurs. He seemed interested and I’d like it if he ended up having it; it would be pretty cool if he ended up competing on a horse that used to live on our yard. He asked for videos and said he might come back to ride it at a later date.
We then resumed my lesson and ran over the end to make up the time. It was quite nice having had a break for things to sink in.
Once again, I finished with an extremely sweaty horse! As he’s fully clipped on the body now, unlike last time, and I have a better cooler rug, I didn’t feel that a bath was the only way to deal with him this time and although he took a long time to dry it was a lot more manageable.
If I can get a fraction as much out of my homework from this “Leeson” as I did from the last it will have been an absolute bargain again. So I’ll say again what I said before: if you ever get a chance to have or watch a lesson with him, you really should. Find the time, find the money and do it!
As for the cold… I’m feeling a bit off-colour and I suspect it will make a reappearance, but at least it let me have today the way I wanted. Hopefully it won’t be so bad that I can’t practice my new skills sooner rather than later.