I hadn’t been looking forward to lunging again. I did find it quite stressful before in itself and the added inconvenience of needing a free school to ourselves to lunge in (health and safety rules) adds to the stress a bit. It’s quite undesirable to check which schools are free, get all his lunging gear sorted and then get out to find a rider got to the school first so we have to wait for them to finish.
But I had no saddle and a horse that needed exercise, so lunging it had to be.
It was a cold Friday night and after a tiring week at work I got him groomed and into his boots, roller and bridle, picked his feet and took him out into the dark. Before getting his tack on I’d checked and both outdoor schools were free. Unfortunately by the time I got out there was a livery rider in one school and a lesson in the other. (This was particularly annoying as when I wanted to have lessons on Fridays I was told they didn’t teach on Fridays.) I sighed and prepared to turn round and go back to the stable when the livery rider called out that she was just finishing and I could have the school. Hurray!
I grabbed the lunging whip and started him walking round to warm up. It didn’t take him long to get into it and I remembered how lucky I am to have a horse who knows what he’s doing and is obedient and safe on the lunge. Others on my livery block wouldn’t feel comfortable lunging their own horses, even though they’ve had horses for years and years.
As I watched him move I was struck again by how beautiful he is. When you ride you don’t see much horse because you’re on top, but lunging lets you see all of that power and movement and beauty. The grace of a horse is never so apparent as when they move, and as a rider you miss out on the view.
The lesson in the school next door finished and we were left alone with the floodlights glinting off my dark horse. I’d been keeping it quite low-key, just a steady trot, but now there was no pony to upset in the next school (and no one watching and making me feel less confident) so I thought it was time to see if we could get a canter. I’d barely lunged him in canter before but I felt happy that he was listening and working well so it seemed like a good time to try.
I asked. He considered and trotted faster. I asked. He rearranged his legs and cantered. It was breathtakingly beautiful. He danced in the dark, black shining in the floodlights, all horse. I was laughing with joy. This! This is Horse! The platonic ideal of Horse was cantering around me; magic in the icy night. I had been visited by the horse gods.
Obviously he received much praise and many treats that night.
On a more practical level it was useful to see him go through the “rearrange legs and canter” stage. Riding him I have had the idea that I don’t always get a canter when I ask because he’s not worked out how to balance and get into canter immediately I ask and it was clearer to see that from the ground. It’s obviously something he could use more practice at.
I also witnessed a little buck or two, but I interpreted them as happy energy/release/feel good buck rather than anything less pleasant. This is a horse who’s had limited turn-out and, because of the saddle issue, hadn’t enjoyed ridden exercise for at least a week, if not longer. It must have felt good to work out and not have that saddle on.
On Sunday the saddle fitter came out to see us. It was a different lady from last time (although she works for the same company). She turned up 20 minutes early and immediately endeared herself to me by admiring Drifter; his gentle curiosity, his long eyelashes and his attitude to a stranger in his stable. She can come again! I felt more at ease with her than I had with her colleague, which was good because I was quite nervous, not knowing what to expect. I’d basically phoned them, told them the saddle didn’t fit, but then not had the experience to be able to communicate what I wanted them to do about it. I didn’t know (and to be honest still don’t) what they have in their repertoire to make a saddle fit a horse. I didn’t know whether it would be a simple on the spot job or a really challenging problem that would take considerable time and money.
We started with her re-measuring him on the withers and where the back of the saddle would sit. Then she put the saddle on him in the stable. She looked very doubtful, walked around, felt and looked from different angles and said, “To be honest it looks like a pretty good fit to me.” She then gently suggested that it might not be the saddle that was the problem, tactfully mentioning rider skill and horse attitude as other areas to consider. However, she needed to see the saddle with me on top before she could conclude, so out we went and up I got. We had only walked away from her for 2-3 meters before she said, “I’ve seen all I need. I see the problem.” It was a relief to find out I wasn’t going mad!
Apparently the flocking in the saddle had compacted. This can be common with new saddles from some manufacturers and should be easy to put right. She took the saddle away to work on and I’m hoping to hear back soon that it is finished and then we can make another appointment to check it fits properly after the work is done. She also took the nose-band from the bridle to shorten the long end and add an extra hole or two. I questioned whether it was OK to lunge without a nose-band and she assured me it would be fine.
So back to the lunge line we go.