Naughty boy!

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This is Drifter trying on his new fly sheet. He’s allergic to many commercial fly sprays (I haven’t yet found one he can use), we have to use home-made stuff which isn’t as effective, and so I decided a better fly sheet was needed, especially as flies really like black horses and I think it’s going to be a really fly-y year for us. This is an Amigo bug-buster which is impregnated with a fly repellent he isn’t allergic to (I know this because he’s been happily using the fly mask with it for several years). It has generous coverage (as you can see!) and nice belly coverage. The fit is not perfect – it’s a little narrow in the chest for him, a little long in the back and the neck is massive. Because the fit wasn’t great on him I called a staff member over to check she thought it was OK. She agreed that getting another size wouldn’t really work for him, and expressed concern that he might get caught in the long leg covers and rip them. While I accept there is some risk there, I’m not going to worry too much because he’s not particularly accident prone and he’s not a horse that panics overly if he gets caught in things. He either waits for a human to rescue him or puts on his thinking cap and calmly works out how to free himself.

Anyway, the staff member continued, he’ll probably be fine – his stuff doesn’t usually get ripped because it’s always him ripping other horses’ gear. This was news to me, but apparently for a few days they trialed him and his regular turn-out companion going out with a new pony. D is subordinate to his regular companion but apparently dominant over the pony, and he is expressing this mostly by removing things from the pony. Apparently he took the pony’s fly mask off him each day. This pony is notoriously difficult to catch, and so is turned out in a head-collar. One day Drifter took his fly mask off him and then his head collar too. The horses are only going out for a few hours in the morning at the moment to save the fields, but that day the pony was out until evening because without the head-collar no one could catch him, so despite everyone’s best efforts he stayed out until he wanted to come in for evening feed time! When I heard this story I was really suprised by my usually polite horse, although I have noticed he is a bit full of himself at the moment. I felt a bit embarrassed but there’s really nothing I can do. I’m pleased in a way that finally D’s not at the bottom of the pecking order but I wish he was just expressing it with body language!

I was not surprised, a few days later, to see that Drifter and his companion are out together, with the pony in a small adjoining separately fenced area, so they can all see each other, but no head-collar removal can occur!

Taking a horse for a walk

l don’t really like hacking. I think it might be different if we had off-road hacking, or even slightly straighter roads so you could see a car before it was on top of you (although I suppose in that case most people would drive faster). But everyone (including Lee Pearson) tells me how beneficial it is and how I must make more effort to get out more often.

Yesterday we had a nice day when I happened to be off during the week (so the roads ought to be quiet during the day) and l thought I really ought to hack. To be honest I didn’t feel much like riding and suddenly it occurred to me that I could just walk him like a dog.

I realised there were lots of positives about that idea. He would get the mental stimulation of being out and about but with the added confidence giver of me being on the ground. I’d be more confident about traffic as a pedestrian because I feel like some drivers treat ridden horses like any other vehicle but give a dog walker more leeway. I’d also get a long bout of non-riding exercise, which seems useful for my recovery, without having to separately exercise D.

We got ready to go out. I wanted to lead from a bridle so I had the bit for control, and I added his red fly bonnet for practicality and visibility. My hi-vis jacket and his hi-vis leg bands completed the look from a visibility angle and l decided to use my helmet and his knee boots just in case. (With the knee boots I thought he’s probably far less likely to damage his knees without weight on his back, but the road is still as hard.) A good squirting of home-made fly spray for each of us, I grabbed my purple schooling whip with the yellow baling-twine on the business end and we set off.

An aside about my schooling whip: The original stringy bit on the business end fell off and got lost the first day I used it. lt had been the last whip of that kind in the shop and I didn’t like the balance of the others in my price-range. So I improvised a new end from the materials available and sewed it on. Scornful onlookers said it wouldn’t last the week. One year on, it’s still doing an excellent job. On the roads I love that this whip is eye-catching. I love that the lemon-yellow baling-twine contrasts with the stick and is similar to our yellow hi-vis, so I like to think if I waved it at a driver it might have more psychological impact than a black one. I love that, unlike a crop, it is long enough to employ to find a go button without taking a hand off the reins. If we are hacking and he is getting upset about something, this is a very valuable thing!

Anyway, off we went. We started off with me leading him from his left, as is conventional, but I soon decided l wanted to be between him and any traffic, so I swapped sides. I do occasionally try to lead him from the wrong side so I knew he’d do it grudgingly. He snorted about it for a bit but walked nicely even as he snorted. With the schooling whip in my outside hand I could reach behind me to tap his quarters over to the hedge if necessary and leading off the bit I had control of the front. I felt I had really good control of him and I was pleased. Before we saw any traffic we practiced going into passing spaces and stopping there, and when we did see cars it all worked just as smoothly. In fact there was one passing place that we used about 4 times: l stopped him in it for practice, and then heard an actual car, so we waited. Once it passed we walked on three paces and another car came around the corner, so I turned him and went back to it. Then the next two times we tried exactly the same thing happened! Finally we carried on uninterrupted and with me feeling really confident about my ability to quickly get him out of the way.

We carried on happily. We were following the route that takes about an hour to hack, so when we set out I wasn’t sure whether I had the stamina to walk all the way around or if I’d turn back at some point to make it shorter, but I was feeling good. About 20 minutes in another hacker trotted up behind us, an elderly lady from another yard. l stopped D at the edge of the road so she could pass but she stopped to check on us, assuming I’d fallen off. She seemed quite incredulous that we were just going for a walk but, once reassured, she checked that D would be OK with her trotting again once she was past us. I told her that would be fine – the horse is very sensible; it’s just the rider who’s scared of hacking! And he was fine. He would have liked to follow her, but didn’t make any fuss.

In fact, everything was going so well I let him have a little trot too – yes that means I did some running! It was not unpleasant, considering. D was concentrating on me, so I had total control of the pace, so we had a few little trots with walking in between. I’d realised that there was a place ahead where we could get off the road enough for me to have a rest and for him to have a little graze. So after our little trots we did that. l toyed with sitting on the grass holding the reins while he grazed but we were only on a bit of grass next to the lane and I didn’t know how he’d be if something came past us in a hurry so I stood until something passed, and then as he wasn’t bothered by it I squatted on my heels as a compromise. Probably sitting would have been fine, as even when we were passed by a big repair van with flashing lights and a cherry-picker on the roof he just picked his head up to look. Good grass is far more important than monsters it seems.

After our rest we continued without incident past barking dogs and got to the (now parked) van with the cherry-picker, now extended and containing a man repairing the overhead wires. Happily D’s need to goggle at that coincided with my need to stop at the T junction and wait for a car to pass. Once I was ready, he was ready too. We passed the squealing children on the slide outside the children’s farm, passed a motorbike who, kindly and unasked, came to a complete stop to avoid any possible equine concern, got into passing places for numerous cars going to and from the farm, all with children in the back delighted to see another horse, and then we were home again.

I was so proud of us. I had no idea l could walk that far, let alone do little bits of running too. We’d been considerate road-users and neither of us freaked out at any point. I’d certainly do it again and I found it far more pleasurable than hacking.

Back scratches and making circles in the sandpit

wpid-20150406_113621.jpgDrifter has missed me. After my last holiday I told you that on my return he was interested in grooming me, which is not usual for him. After this one he groomed me a lot. I have never before been groomed by this horse unless I happened to be standing in a place where he could do so without making much effort, and never for more than a minute or so. Now he will maintain it for ages, and continue, twisting round so he can still reach me while I move down his body towards the tail. It’s nice to be appreciated! I dare say one I’ve been back a week or so he’ll stop bothering, but for now it’s rather nice.

He doesn’t seem girthy, which he always has after previous holidays, which was a pleasant surprise and although he refused to open his mouth for the bit the first time I tacked him up, since then he has been obliging. Obviously when he is ridden by staff they can’t observe all the little routines and rituals a horse and owner establish, but it’s good to see he hasn’t been as affected by them this time.

Under saddle he seems well. He feels ready to work. There’s a little edge of Spring energy giving him a slightly more questioning attitude, but it’s in no way detrimental to a good ride. And as for me, I feel ready for work too, albeit from a very different direction. He is physically strong and needs work to shed a little extra weight, direct the energy and develop his movement and skills.  I am physically weak, and need work to build strength and fitness and I wouldn’t mind shedding a little weight myself. His cardiac system has not been challenged much recently by anything. My cardiac system has recovered from the viral/post-viral symptoms, but is seriously unfit from lack of exercise. The positive side of my physical weakness is that I’ve shed a lot of bad riding habits which came from using strong muscles to let weak ones hide. When all the muscles are as proportionally weak as each other, it is far easier to use them all properly, and ride with less resistance and less one-sided-ness. Also, because nothing feels normal/automatic, it’s easier to evaluate the style and effectiveness of the way you ride.

So we had a lesson, making circles in the sandpit (i.e. dressage) which went as follows:

Once we had a reasonable walk established we worked on stopping. This is the instructor who pointed out that there is no point us trying to work on getting a pretty, square halt until we have a predictable ability to stop somewhere vaguely near where I’d like to stop, with no unasked for rein-backs, turns, ploughing on regardless, etc. So we worked on walk, ask him to stop, and the second he stops get him to walk on again so there is no time for him to start moving legs in unwanted patterns. This one is still a work in progress.

After that we worked on getting a nice trot, getting a nice rhythm and getting him working from his lazy back-end. We got some compliments, which was nice. Then we moved on to trot spiralling slowly between a 20 m and 7 m circle. I used to do trot spirals on lesson horses and when I first got Drifter I assumed I would work him on trot spirals, but they were so hard for him I had no chance of doing anything even roughly recognisable with. In this lesson, for the first time we had good, controlled spiralling, with the back-end leading the inward/outward movement, with good connection between all of him and all of me, on both reins! There was a moment on the right rein where I completely lost it but I got it all back. In fact there were lots of moments where we lost things a little and then got them back. This delights me because it suggests I will be able to repeat it on our own without the instructor because I am working by feel, not by what I am told to do.

Once I was completely exhausted by the trot spirals it was time to canter. And canter from a sitting trot. I know that’s a skill most riders pick up in their first 6 months of riding, but for me this is massive news. I cantered, several times in each direction, from a sitting trot. This means a) I now have a sitting trot that’s good enough a horse can cope with it without losing the plot b) I now can not only manage that sitting trot, but also maintain it while I engage brain and limbs to give the canter aids and c) I can do all of the above with someone watching and do it when asked. This suggests d) I may be over the mental block that meant when someone said, “Sitting trot” I used to hear, “Clench every muscle, panic, flail and consider stopping breathing.”

He said “Sit.” I sat. Not with any great style and flair, but well enough get the job done. He said “Canter.” I got over my surprise and, after a little mental delay, cantered. And then we did it a few more times, changed the rein and repeated. I cannot believe I got it right every time. Obviously some were better than others and there was one where I gave a massive leg aid by accident and got a correspondingly massive reaction, but every single time I was asked to sit and then canter, I sat and then cantered. I can’t really believe it. And while we were cantering we still had connection, most of the time. We still had steering from the outside rein, mostly, although I had to fight for it. We still had respect for my inside leg and a back-end that was doing at least its share of the work.

We did well. We did really unprecedentedly well. This instructor is quiet with his praise and with his criticism, but I can’t remember ever having heard him say “Good” so many times in one session with anyone. Perhaps he was in a generous mood, but I think in this lesson we laid down a new circle in the sand for the way we want to dressage.

The “feel” that I learnt when I could only ride in walk; the rude health of my spring beastie; the relaxed mind from my holiday; the pleasure of being back with my/his own horse/human; the readiness to work from both of us – it all came together and we dressaged like … like … like us, dammit, but better!

Marrakech

I am not a natural traveller, so you should not be surprised to read that this is Marrakech by package holiday, not an off-the-beaten-track tale of staying with a local family in their riad. Nor am I an experienced traveller, having been abroad fewer times than I have fingers, so to the more worldly this may all seem very banal.

I expected Morocco to be much like our honeymoon in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt – very hot, and with a choice of either a sanitized hotel culture or being terrified by desperately pushy salesmen if we stepped outside the hotel. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great honeymoon, but it didn’t leave me enamoured of northern Africa. And you must bear in mind that we went to Egypt only 8 weeks after their revolution and although the UK government was of the opinion Sharm was safe enough when we went, many other European governments had not yet lifted their travel bans on Egypt, so the desperately pushy salesmen were indeed desperate. People who managed a hand to mouth existence selling tat to tourists ordinarily now had so few tourists that they could not take no for an answer. If there was any chance of converting their stock to coins they were going to do everything they could to get it.

Also, Sharm el-Sheik is not a “real” place – it’s kind of a manufactured resort destination, so it doesn’t have any true native culture. Pretty much every “local” is there to serve the tourism industry. The sea and the sea-life are fantastic, but otherwise there’s not much there apart from shops, bars and manufactured excursions.

So I didn’t really expect much from Marrakech except for a pleasant climate and a hotel to relax in. I could not have been more wrong. Upon arrival it was … not warm. It was a little warmer than the UK but a little on the uncomfortably cool side. But that coach ride from the airport to the hotel already had me realising this was a lot more interesting than our Egypt coach rides. The roads were lined with orange trees, at least one every three meters, and almost all showed flowers or fruit. The roads were … interesting. Our holiday rep. warned us that here red traffic lights are seen more as being for decoration. And zebra crossings … purely for decoration. And donkey carts were a common mode of transportation. LOOK MR S IT’S A DONKEY!! DSCN1386

Yes I got quite over excited about the donkeys. In fact, donkeys are not just common in Marrakech, they are essential. In the medina, the old walled part of the town containing the souks, cars cannot fit down the narrow streets. Donkeys (or less commonly mules or ponies) are the best way of transporting anything from A to B. Outside of the towns, donkeys are the small farmer’s all terrain vehicle and then they can take you and your produce to market. Remove the donkeys from Marrakech and it would not function. There are also horse-drawn carriages – small carriages with pairs of little horses. These are for tourists, but the donkeys are a part of the local culture.DSCN1352

I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the horses. Once back in the UK with the power of the internet at my fingertips, I discovered that this is due to the good work of the charity SPANA, who ensure these horses have regular free health checks. We did see one pair of horses that were not in good condition, but all the others looked well. The donkeys showed more variety – some clean and beautiful, others bedraggled and thin. But the same can be said of the humans – in areas where human life is hard, equine life is hard. All things being equal, the donkey owned by someone doing comfortably in his business has got a better chance of good health than the donkey whose owner is struggling to meet his own needs.

I was delighted to see a few mules – I don’t think I’d ever seen a mule before. I’d always wondered what was the point of mules. Not a horse, yet not a donkey; sterile, so nature’s dead-end. But now, having seen a few mules, I now can imagine that something bigger and stronger than a donkey, yet hardier than a horse is a really useful working animal, and in a culture like this a good mule would be something to be prized.

Perhaps to many people the prevalence of equines would not naturally equal the exotic, but to me it was a real flavour of the culture. Perhaps those people would be more impressed with the fact that in one view you can see palm trees and snow-capped mountains.

DSCN5780 Although this is not the most picturesque view it does appear to be the only picture we took with both mountains and palm trees. If it helps to paint the picture, this was taken just near the local supermarket. For a more rural view …

DSCN1348 But if you think this looks rather European in a Von Trapp Family Singers kind of way, when you look in the next field you will be reminded you are in Africa because the sheep are “wrong” – long legs, long necks, long floppy ears and not much wool. I’m pretty sure these sheep have a lot more street smarts than the British wool-bales on legs. In fact all the animals in Morocco seemed to have more street smarts. I actually saw a street dog in the city walk to a zebra crossing, stop, look each way, check each way again, and then trot smartly across when it was safe to do so. I kid you not.

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Even when I try to tell you about the landscape my description seems to come back to animals against my will! Flora and fauna fascinate me. I was amused to see the local approach to barbed wire fencing – simply plant a “hedge” of prickly pear cactus. A cheap and extremely effective solution.

So I suppose I must make an effort to talk about people and people-things. The souks were large, full of lovely shiny things and people keen to sell them. DSCN1188They were fascinating, and should not be missed. Yes, you need to be very clear if you’re not interested in buying, and a stubborn haggler if you want to get a good deal, but after the intimidating shopping on our honeymoon, it was a piece of cake. Especially as Mr S is no slouch when it comes to haggling and I am always ready to walk away if the price is not right. It’s amazing how quickly the price drops if the seller really believes you are leaving. The leather goods are very nice, although it’s worth checking that the quality of stitching matches the quality of the leather, which is made within the medina, i.e. within a mile of so of where you are buying the finished article. One bag and scarf seller, wearing a Nike jacket, was very keen to get me to part with the Nike cap I was wearing. First he tried to give me a handbag for it, then a silk scarf, then a pashmina, but I held firm and retained my cap!DSCN1195

Marrakech is the tourist capital of Morocco and it far surpassed my expectations. Exotic without being too intimidating, a mix of African, Middle Eastern and European influences make it a place like no other. Travel had never really captured my imagination before this trip, but suddenly I can see the appeal. And although our first few days were inclement, with lots of unseasonal rain, by the end of the holiday the weather was absolutely beautiful.

 

Noisy neighbours

On our first morning in Marrakech we were woken, not by the call to prayer, but by the dawn chorus. We had noticed the night before that we could hear everything from the courtyard outside our door, and the birds were having a party out there. ”Cheep cheep! Whee ee! Rekki rekki! Warble warble!” So, being awakened, my camera and l went to shoot some birds.

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On our third day, we were in our room in the afternoon. Mr S was sat at the desk and l lounged on the bed listening to an audiobook. There was a funny sound which made me take out my headphones and ask Mr S, “Was that a bird?” He said the fridge had made the noise. He received an unconvinced look, but as my ears had been full of Stephen Fry and he was sat by the fridge with unplugged ears, I was in no position to argue.

It was a few hours later when the culprit was discovered, hopping out from behind the fridge. At first we thought he was a frog, but closer acquaintance revealed a toad. A large empty plastic water bottle was hurriedly squashed to form a toad herding paddle and we ushered him out of the French window. Being on the ground floor meant he could toddle off and we need worry about him no more. At that point he became a photo opportunity, during which he thoughtfully declaimed, “Rekki. Rekki.”

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We laughed about the “fridge” noise and realised the ants we had seen in the room on the first day had vanished, no doubt into our unexpected visitor. I reflected that this might be the closest I would ever come to having use for a certain Esperanto phrase used in Red Dwarf.*

Proud of our toad herding skills, we slept well. In the morning however, the dawn chorus had been going for some time before, clear as a bell, “Rekki, rekki, rekki! Crekki rekki! Rekki!” We agreed it was coming from inside our room, but where? Once we sat up in bed and spoke it was silent, but we are binaural for a reason and it is very hard to accurately pinpoint a small, camouflaged creature based on a sound heard when half asleep and buried in a pillow. Eventually we found the culprit; a stone colored toad still as a stone in the very corner of the stone colored tiles. Clearly a different creature from the one we evicted the night before, we can only assume they were a mating pair. What could be more fitting than that the young lovers should seek a hotel room in which to share some amorous time? Most romantic, so long as they were not in our room, which now they are not. Hopefully, following the eviction of toad number two, they are now reunited and sneaking, hand in damp, webbed hand, into someone else’s room. We shall henceforth be aware that leaving the French window open even while we are in residence during the day may invite unexpected visitors who, while otherwise undemanding roommates, are unnecessarily loud first thing in the mornings.

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*Red Dwarf. Season 2, Episode “Kryten”:

Rimmer: Holly, as the Esperantinos would say, “Bonvolu alsendi la pordiston, laushajne estas rano en mia bideo.” I think we all know what that means.

Holly: Yeah, it means, “Could you send for the hall porter? There appears to be a frog in my bidet.”

 

I’m back

Apologies for delays on responses to your comments, and absences in commenting on the blogs that I follow. I have been in Marrakech, Morocco with limited access to the internet. Yes it was lovely, thank you for asking :) I scheduled blog posts to cover my absence, but you wouldn’t believe how frustrating I’ve found it to be unable to keep up with my comments and with the blogs I read. I hadn’t realised how much web 2.0 is a part of my life! I’ve also struggled with not being able to google all the things all the time. If the internet ever breaks I am going to be one frustrated person. Although I have a feeling in that event we’d probably have bigger problems…

Anyway, I’m back, but a bit overspent on spoons. The journey back, while reasonably uneventful, was long and we arrived to find our hot water heater is no longer doing its job, so in addition to all the usual post holiday chores we need to get a plumber to sort us out, ideally before everyone stops working for Easter! The cats, newly retrieved from the cattery, are both energetic and needy. I haven’t managed to get down to the stables yet, but D had plenty of schooling and hacking booked to keep him going until I can get back there. Right now though I need another holiday!

There will of course be holiday blog posts in the offing, one of which I started drafting out there, but here’s a teaser photo to keep you going.

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Lee Pearson: the one where we took it gently

Unfortunately this lesson has been written up some time after the event, so I’m a bit blurry on some of it now. Sorry. Life got in the way. Nor is it particularly well written. My brain got in the way.

I have never yet managed to avoid being apprehensive on the morning of a lesson with Lee Pearson. This one was no exception. My energy levels were varying so much from day to day that I didn’t know what I would have to work with.

Much as I usually like being first lesson of the day, this time I was glad to go second; I would have plenty of time for the energy-saving version of getting ready for a lesson, which involves having a nice sit down between grooming and tacking up. And if necessary between stages of grooming. It was also an energy-saving groom, I have to admit. The horse-boy was not as shiny as I would have liked and he was well overdue for a mane pulling. But to make up for it I’d made an effort on the bits that didn’t cost me any energy, and we had our white-for-best saddle pad, best lambskin girth cover and my good boots. I did consider the white breeches but didn’t think I was physically capable of managing the pre lesson prep without either sitting on the ground or leaning against something dirty so I went with my smartest black breeches and a white polo shirt.  Also the saddle was not clean. While etiquette demanded I clean it, handling the weight of the saddle with limited energy has been so difficult for me that it just got a quick swipe over. So we were pretty dressed up for us, but not show standard.

We went in and I got hooked up with the earpiece to hear Lee before I mounted. We had a quick chat about my health and riding and we set to it.

After the initial warmup (during which Lee lets you do whatever you usually do and watches eagle-eyed) we went into a series of walk halt transitions. He suggested that they’re a great way to remind your horse whose in charge and especially useful when you have a horse who doesn’t want to listen but you don’t have the physical capacity to fight them. D was pretty good about it and wasn’t difficult to deter from trying his repertoire of halt evasions (rein-back, turn on the forehand, ploughing on regardless) which was pleasing and showed we’re getting better there. It felt good to be back in a Lee lesson knowing how restricted my riding had been since I last saw him, but being able to show progress anyway. Also, he made a positive comment about my dressage whites, despite the absence of white breeches, which he did not mention. I was pleased to have the effort made recognised. As someone who really cares very little for appearances, I had made the effort for him and he had not only appreciated it but appreciated it aloud.*

Part of Lee’s mission for the session, I think, was to give me ways of working the horse that aren’t too taxing for the rider, and while we did trot work and had a little canter, the main focus of the lesson was in walk.

When Lee said we were going to look at lateral work I was delighted. For years I’ve been reading how lateral work is so important for the horse, and wondering when I was going to get a chance to get my teeth into it. One way or another we’ve never got to a place where I felt I could say to an instructor “I want to learn about lateral work.” We had so long where cantering was such a big focus for all of our lessons, then we had the brief jumping phase, then not long after that our respective health issues meant we didn’t really have any lessons for a very long time. Also as I’ve changed instructors there was a lot to learn from Mr Higher-Expectations-Dressage-Instructor in the most familiar territory without asking for anything new. So I hadn’t got round to lateral work but I was more than happy to get introduced to it by Lee, who has a way of making things simple.

I think part of his technique of making things simple comes from rephrasing things. For example when someone tells you to half halt, it’s pretty easy to over think it, if you’re that way inclined. Core, seat, hands, shoulders, leg, brain, breath can all come into the right half halt for the moment, but you don’t have time to think about them all. Lee might tell you to “Get his nose back towards you,” bypassing all the mental clutter around half halt. You might still do the half halt, but you won’t get hung up on the process. Well that’s how it works for me, anyway.

So what did we do? We did leg yielding, shoulder fore and turn on the haunches. I’m afraid I can’t remember if that was the order we worked them in, but those were the thing we learned. I got more pleasure from the second two, which suggests to me that we found them easier and were more successful at them, but obviously they’ll all need work!

It was not exactly a surprise to me that each movement was much easier in one direction than in the other (apart from leg yield which felt equally impossible from both sides) but it wasn’t always the way I expected. On the right rein Drifter prefers to overbend to the inside, so I expected shoulder fore to be easy on that rein, but somehow it was easier on the other rein.

I found turn on the haunches pretty taxing mentally and also in terms of trying to catch the difference in feel between when he did it correctly and when incorrectly. Quite why I found mentally taxing I don’t know. Left leg and left hand to bring him round to the right- what’s mentally tough about that? Maybe because turning from the outside rein is still newish to me. On a previous time when we saw Lee we were still at an “inside rein to turn” place, particularly in canter on the right rein where hauling his head round with the inside rein was at times the only way to avoid hitting the walls of the school! Despite the mental challenges in turn on the haunches I also found it the most fun.

After trying shoulder fore in walk we also had a go in trot. My main challenge there is that Drifter rushes to avoid hard things, so maintaining the collection needed is more difficult.

I was delighted to show off our canter to Lee. Two directions, correct legs, transitions when I asked for them, not looking like an out of control giraffe – I was a proud pony-mama. I gave much credit to the horse. Lee gave some of it back to me, which was nice. He also pointed out that I was asking for canter transitions from my seat not my leg and I need to stop doing that. That’s a work in progress.

We didn’t go to the full lesson length, but stopped before I ran out of energy. This was a good and positive thing, keeping spoons in the drawer for later use. Drifter on the other hand, had spent a lot of energy, and was extremely sweaty, not having been asked for so many challenging things on one day since early summer last year! So Lee had managed to wear out the horse without wearing out the rider. Nicely done!

It was a really good lesson and we came away with loads to work on and once more having had a great experience. There was a small and unexpected disappointment to realise that when you’re the one having the lesson you have less time to appreciate it compared to when you’re sitting out watching someone else. You can’t actually appreciate all the principles behind why he’s asking for what he’s asking for and when he asks for it when you’re the one trying to coordinate body parts, understand new ideas and pass the challenges on to the pony underneath you. So it would be best to either get someone to record your lessons** (difficult to get a person willing, equipped and skilled for the job) or to both have a lesson and watch others as well. So the target now is that next time Lee comes, I have to have practiced my lateral work, stopped getting canter with a seat aid, and develop my stamina to the point that I can not only have a full length, full on lesson of my own, but also manage to watch someone else’s lesson on the same day. Hmm. Maybe not feasible for next time. But maybe sometime after that, who knows.

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*Coming from a music background, it would never have occurred to me to dress up for a masterclass with a small audience, let alone a private lesson, whoever it was with. Anything more formal than jeans would count as dressy for a musician, but it seems that in the equestrian world doing the equivalent of turning up for your lesson in full concert dress is not weird. Interesting. I have had lessons from musicians no less world-renowned in their fields than Lee. Is it the horse people or the music people who are weird? Both I suspect, but in really different ways. Also, I paid the same price for my baroque violin and my horse which feels like it should have some bearing on the matter although I’m not sure what. Maintenance costs are not equivalent though!

** When I last had private music lessons I used to mini-disc them for later use. But then I was having 4-6 hours long lessons*** once every few months and it is much easier to audio record a lesson where you stay in one place compared to videoing horse and rider whizzing round while getting Lee’s directions on the audio as well.

***I had an unusual deal with my teacher. I’d travel to his for the day and he’d charge me full price for the first three hours of his time (at a rate close to Lee Pearson’s, coincidentally). Then he’d carry on for free for as long as I could manage to remain receptive and “fun to teach.” We did have a lunch break, but otherwise we worked solidly. And then when we finished I’d listen to the recording on the long train journey home again, able to analyse my own performance and understand his comments better from the external perspective.