In the saddle

I have been back in the saddle on a regular-ish basis over the last 10 days and hope to see that continue. It’s weird how it’s so much easier and less tiring to sit in the saddle (at halt or walk!), with no back support, than on an ergonomic-ish office chair. I suppose it’s a sign that my weight and balance are holding me up more in the saddle than on the office chair – that I am truly sat on my seat bones with everything above them pushing down like a plumb-line.

Trotting is hard. Rising to the trot is hard. Lacking cardio fitness and core muscle tone that I used to take for granted, the theory of the energy of the horse creating the rise is all well and good, but it’s being proved to me that the rider has to do some work too – work I never noticed I was doing before! So I can rise, but badly. I’m forever getting left behind his rhythm or bumping him – not surprisingly his trot work is not what it used to be, because I’m hindering not helping. So what about sitting trot? There’s always sitting trot… except that I never really got the hang of that, which is a bit of a pain right now. I mentioned in a recent post that I’ve had minor breakthroughs on that of late, but they are pretty minor still. I can’t maintain a good sit for any decent distance at a time so it’s not that useful, although it does give me a break from rising. Also, because the sitting muscles were never worked like this before they get tired even quicker than the rising muscles! So we’re trotting less than I would like. I’ve tried introducing interval training (trot for 2 min, walk for 2 min, repeat 3 times) but it hampers the quality of the trot. I’m more focused on the clock than on getting a good trot out of him and for most of the trot time I’m too busy looking after myself to correct his bend or get him rounder. I’m not sure whether I’m going to continue with it or not. It might be better just to instigate the rule “when you feel like stopping trotting carry on for at least 30 seconds longer” or something. While it’s great that riding is exercise, a horse is not a gym machine.

The canter is of course exhausting too, but we’ve never been ones spend massive amounts of time in canter and we never found it that easy so I don’t feel the difference there so much. Also, I think we are actually making some progress with the quality of the canter, but he’s not used to working properly in canter so I’m trying to ask for very short high quality canters rather than asking for longer and losing the quality. So we have little canters usually followed by a walk-on-a-long-rein rest which we both appreciate. I’m aware I need to start increasing the duration at some point for both our sakes, but I feel like I’d rather put my effort towards trotting until my stamina increases. Some of the improvement in the canter is definitely down to me. Hurray! I’m making so many more constant little adjustments: inside leg for bend, outside hand to stop him falling flatter, outside leg to stop a drift, massaging the reins to remind him not to lean, core to stop him rushing… all of these are coming in time to do their job now. I am busy busy busy in the canter! But that’s what he needs. Naturally, left to his own devices, I don’t think he’d canter much*, so to improve that canter he needs constant reminding and supporting.

Another factor that I hadn’t considered is because I’ve been ill since the summer, now that I’m back at work full time it’s the first time I’ve had to ride in the dark. All of our schools are lit for night riding, but what a human considers suitable and what a horse who hasn’t been ridden outside in the dark for almost 12 months considers suitable may be different! He’s fine about the indoor school in the dark, and we have been in there without any huffing and puffing, but when I ride after work it’s peak time, so I might not always get in the indoor school. The first time we went out in the dark I didn’t think anything of it. It took me a little while to wonder why he was so twitchy while I took my stirrups down, etc. Then I worked it out. I managed the warm-up to avoid pushing him instantly into the spooky corners furthest from the gate – in walk we did a 30 m circle by the gate, then one in the middle and then went large before circling at the spooky end. We did hear a creature rustling in the bushes but it was obviously a small creature and D handled it well. We repeated on the other rein and he settled down nicely. At the end of the ride I usually give him the buckle**. Considering his nerves, the breeze and the darkness I thought about skipping this and cooling down on a long-ish rein, but he tugged at the reins to ask for more (I know, it’s rude, but I gave in … after making him wait a little). I gave him the buckle, but kept both hands through the reins and through the balance strap attached to the front of my saddle. If anything was going to happen I was going to be prepared! The thing that happened was almost certainly a bird, because nothing else makes a flapping sound like that. Quite what a sizable bird was doing flying out of the bushes after dark  I don’t know, but we were off! Feeling pretty smug about the two hands on the balance strap I just pulled myself deep into the saddle and waited for him to slow down, which he did quite quickly. As we bowled along away from the monster I realised we were travelling in a ridiculously fast trot – part of my reason for thinking that D doesn’t canter if he can avoid it! I took my reins back short and we went to investigate, proving that there were no monsters in the corner any more and that he is quite brave really.

The next time we rode we were again stuck outside, this time in the smaller outdoor school which is darker and spookier and boggier. Drifter was in a foul mood about being ridden at food-time and it was windy as well and the footing was pretty unappealing. Oh great. I got on and we started to warm up. He was not happy about going to the spooky end; not happy about one corner in particular. That corner is universally agreed to be the spookiest corner of the spookiest end of the spookiest school so I wasn’t that surprised, or that understanding to be honest. We survived 3 or 4 passes round that corner on each rein before an unexpected thing happened. The first my sluggish human reactions knew was that I was standing in the left stirrup with my left foot, with my right foot stepping down to the ground. Then I stood by his shoulder in perfect balance on the ground, facing his shoulder with my reins still in my hand as we stared at each other in utter incomprehension.

The only explanation I can imagine is as follows.

There was a monster. It attacked. In response D drew on hitherto unknown magical skills in order to teleport about 50 cm. to the right. Consequentially all of me was now to the left of the horse and gravity encouraged me downwards. So astonished was the horse by the unexpected behaviour of the rider that he stood stock still also.

Onlookers had no better explanation. One second I was riding a horse and we were both in motion. The next we were standing next to each other, perfectly still but totally confused. My first instinct, trained into me, was that I must instantly remount. I overruled it and took him back to investigate the spooky corner in-hand. After initial concerns he passed it again a few times on each side in-hand and I got on again. He did not at any point settle and after a very short ride I decided to call it quits because I felt that at any time I might part company with the horse again, but it was unlikely to be such a balanced dismount. Also, if he wasn’t going to work properly there wasn’t any point trying to achieve anything beyond staying on, so why bother?

Over the course of the second part of the ride I felt sure there was some problem in that corner. When I got off we went back to investigate again. This time my goal was not to march him back and forth and show him nothing would eat him, but to get him to show me what was the problem. Also to get him to be brave and, at his own speed, face his fear. The culprit turned out to be a substantial bit of polythene which had blown up against the fencing of the school. In itself it was almost invisible in the darkness but when the wind, which was gusty and frequent, moved the polythene the reflected flood-lights of the school ran back and forth across its surface, as if running at him out of the darkness. I gave him time to look at it and he eventually approached and sniffed it. Carefully I pulled it out. He was not sure about this, as I was moving it (!) but once I held it he gave it sniffs again and was calmer. Continuing to be careful and very much aware that I had a horse in one hand and a horse-eating monster in the other hand, I took both out of the school and got someone to dispose of the monster. It’s a shame that I didn’t manage to identify the monster the first time I had him in-hand, after the unexpected dismount, but I’d kind of assumed there had been some fleeing creature that triggered the reaction, so I wasn’t really expecting there to be anything to see at that point.

I have to say that this has left me somewhat nervous about riding outside in the evenings. This was the first time I have been detached from the horse (I can’t call that a fall!) outside of a lesson, which is also a confidence knock to my solo rides. It’s rather bad luck that these two sessions which D needed to be uneventful to build his confidence about the dark have both involved monster attacks.

Few of my posts are written in one go these days and this is no exception. Since writing the above we’ve had another little ride…

We had time for a quick ride before he saw the equine physio (she had 10 horses on our yard to do this time!) but only if I got on immediately. I wouldn’t be able to ride after he was treated so I needed to get on now or not at all.

I did a quick survey of the schools and found only the spookiest darkest outdoor was free. 😦 Do not want. 😦 But then someone pointed out that the lesson inside was about to finish and then that would be free 🙂 While I was tempted by the golden light of inside, I thought, no, we will go out in the dark and be brave for a few minutes knowing I can come in at any point. As we walked round to the school, me somewhat apprehensive, a wheelbarrow attempted to independently descend the muck-heap ramp at us as we walked past. This did not do good things of either of our nerves although Drifter was very brave considering. Other horses on the yard would have gone bonkers – he just bounced slightly and goggled at it.

So we continued round and I got on. I was really grateful that we could go indoors soon – we’d had snow (since melted), copious hail (ditto) and some rain since our previous ride out there and the surface was drowned. If I hadn’t been determined to walk around in the dark I’d have given up then, but knowing that we could do walking outside and then go in for other gaits helped. There was no way I would have wanted to trot him in that footing. Ironically the best drained corner was the spooky corner. We were absolutely fine. He was pretty calm about everything. Considering he hates standing water, he tolerated the water in and on the surface very well and he didn’t bother about what was in the bushes / outside the school at all. We squished around for a bit and I took him in. We did a very short ride inside and went back out to wait for the physio. It was just the confidence builder I’d been hoping for.

As for the physio, she was very pleased with him. We saw her a fortnight ago when he trotted up slightly high in the right hind-quarter and had stiffness in the right lower spine as well as the quarter itself. This time he trotted up beautifully and during treatment she found only a little stiffness near the spine. She declared that she doesn’t need to see him again for at least a few months – when/if I feel anything odd. Excellent. Previous times when he’s needed treatment it’s been regular sessions for months. These days I can spot things much quicker and get it nipped in the bud. If I’d been able to ride more over the last months maybe we’d have been able to avoid this, but who knows? Maybe it would have happened anyway.

It’s so nice to have the clean bill of health on his movement – now when we ride I won’t worry that any resistance in him comes from soreness and I can focus on getting us back to regular work as best I can.

Foolish it might be, but I’ve booked a lesson with Lee Pearson for a few weeks time. Am I in any shape for the lesson? Nope. But last time I saw him he said we could look at walk-only work if that’s what I needed. While I know he might push me and I need to be ready to say no to things if it’s too much I really wanted a lesson with him. If I can’t last the time in the saddle I’ll have to cut the lesson short. I’ve made sure to book the day after it off work to recover as well. I did think maybe I could ask if he’ll do me a shorter lesson than his standard 45 min., but somehow it felt disrespectful. He’s given me loads of free and valuable advice while I’ve been watching other people’s lessons when I was too ill to ride. If I pay for some lesson time I can’t use that’s all part of the cosmic balance.

 

—–

*I suspect a wild or feral D would consider that most objectives can be covered by either trotting really fast or breaking out the gallop, so why bother with that wonky three-legged weirdy gait?

**I.e. ride him so that he has the full length of the reins and no contact on them. Sometimes I keep a hand through the reins, often I just let them lie on his neck.

 

Differently abled

When I last saw Lee Pearson he told me this:

A disabled person looks at the world differently; sees different ways of doing things. If I want the tin of beans off a high shelf l put a cushion on the floor and knock it off the shelf with my crutch so it lands on the cushion; I have to work out ways of getting the result. I take that way of looking at things to horse riding. With each particular horse I look for how I can get the results I want quickly.

It is this skill that makes his clinics so valuable – he will look at your horse with its unique strengths and weaknesses and see a way to make it go better. He is a better teacher because he has a disability.

This got me thinking about the term “differently abled.” It might be a mealy-mouthed PC-ism but it holds a truth that the average person who got lucky in the body lottery might miss. When you’re a part of the herd there’s no reason to learn to think differently. When the world makes things easy for you, what incentive is there to look for new ways of doing things?

So I had all this floating around in my brain for a while. And then I went back to work.

It seems like I’ve changed. While I was at home l didn’t see it; only when I tried to fit back into the slot l left behind and it seemed subtly different from the way l remembered it.

The most tangible changes can be summed up in two contradictory statements: l care more. I care less.

l care more about the people. I was so glad to see everyone, even the ones who used to drive me up the wall and the ones who I’ve never had a conversation with, who I just know by sight when we pass in the corridor. For the first time ever in my working life I’m having to make an effort to stop talking and work – l used to find even an interesting conversation felt like time was being stolen from my productive time but now work robs my time from socialising with colleagues.

l care less about impressing. So I’m not volunteering for that extra responsibility? Who cares if that’s a missed opportunity to shine. So I’m not leaping to my feet to unjam the photocopier? You managed without me doing it for months – you’ll probably work it out. So I’m not as productive as I’ve been in the past? I’m still settling back in and trying not to overdo it.

Those are the changes anyone could spot. What they can’t see is the change in my thinking. Firstly l assess more before l act. This is often in terms of guaging effort versus reward and looking for lower energy ways of doing things. I am a lover of routine, but parts of my day that felt like sacred cows before are not as essential as I thought. I’m better at saying ‘no.’ I’m better at spotting the little things that drain energy needlessly and correcting them or avoiding them, better at paring things down to the essentials.

But the biggest change, the one I most hope is a permanent change, seems to be a newfound ability to take each day as it comes; to take each hour of the day as it comes. To know that tomorrow looks challenging but not let that drag me down today. That is massive. In the past if I knew Friday would be challenging I’d already be cowering away from it from Monday morning, if not on Sunday night, afraid to do anything all week for fear that it would drain me so I couldn’t manage Friday. That fear itself was draining me massively without me realising it. In a month with a few extra commitments l’d dread the whole month. But now I don’t think ahead like that. I think about what I’m doing, not about how much is left to do or how far I want to get. I used to say, “l can only do what I can do,” as an admission of failure to do everything. Now I see the wisdom and satisfaction of the phrase and the completeness of doing what I can do. I feel the simple beauty of knowing I can’t do all the things.

I have been through illness, through another section of my life that I wasn’t expecting and I truly feel that I have come out the other side differently abled. l am not as fit, as fast or as strong, but I have new strengths that I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed healthy.

I’m grateful to Lee Pearson that I already had the thoughts about him floating around in my head which helped me recognise how my own thought patterns have been changed for the better as a result of physical challenges.

Lee Pearson and the long-bodied mare

On Lee Pearson’s lesson day I’d said I wouldn’t hang around the yard hoping I’d get a chance to see him, and I didn’t. I didn’t have any reason to because not long after I’d arrived on the yard a friend who was about to go in for her ‘Leeson’ invited me to come and watch. So I did.

He was running slightly late and we came in to the tail end of the previous lesson. I lurked in the corner, keeping out of the way until Lee spotted me. ‘l don’t have you down for a lesson, do I?’ he called. I went over to his corner of the school where he was seated in his white Landrover to talk to him. l explained that I was having some health issues and couldn’t ride. He said that although ‘paras’ don’t usually let the able bodied turn in a sick note he’d let me off this time. I asked if it was OK to watch the lesson and he was very encouraging and welcoming. l retreated to my corner and sat on the mounting block out of the way.

As usual the atmosphere was distinctly jovial and nothing was taken too seriously. There was banter about drinking champagne from pint glasses and about an innuendo that had Lee laughing his head off at the WEG in the warm up area. He remembered and teased the riders about things they’d said in previous lessons.

Also seated in the car with Lee was another dressage paralympian: Ricky Balshaw. Seated beside Lee, anyone seems quiet; so too did he, but he has a smile like the sun coming out.

The friend having the lesson is a small lady with a big long-bodied event mare. The problem she asked to work on was that in tests with a lot of canter she can’t get the downwards transition to trot when she needs it. The main focus of the way Lee approached this was by working on the nature of their canter; taking it from a long strided cross-county type canter (that the mare likes) to a collected canter (which she doesn’t). He encouraged my friend to add more ‘hand’ to her leg-hand balance and to rebuke her mare for powering on rudely through downward transitions. He had them work in a much slower canter than they are used to.

Every horse and human works hard in a lesson with Lee. That is a given. Neither horse nor human are allowed to get away with the bad habits they may not even know they had. Consequently you get a lot of sweat from both species. What I had not realised before is that you also get a lot of shocked expressions from both as well!

My favorite part of the lesson was when the rider was getting to grips with not letting her horse get away with rudely ploughing through downwards transition. After a couple of transitions where she didn’t get away with it I saw the moment where the mare’s eye suddenly changed as she realised that things had changed and she wasn’t going to be allowed to do that any more. The next downwards transition was perfectly obedient.

lt was fascinating to see the vast improvement over the 45 minutes. By the end they looked so different; the long horse looked so much shorter and the outline was lovely. It’s a shame that even with mirrors a rider can’t see what eyes on the ground can. I wonder whether next time I have a lesson with Lee perhaps I could get my husband to video it, assuming Lee is OK with that.

The state of the onion

Drifter seems to be doing quite well. I say seems because I’m not really well enough to ride him. I’m having post-viral symptoms that, while I’ve had them before and I know they will pass, are going to be something I have to live carefully with over the next few weeks. I did ride on Sunday (before I’d realised what was going on with me) … and paid for it on Monday, so I won’t be trying again just yet.

Although I was a bit floppy and useless when I rode on Sunday, D was really rather good. The swelling had reduced and we had three gaits again. Each gait was not as good as it could be, but the improvement since Tuesday was astronomical.

I’m a bit hazy on what I did on what days, but I have been lungeing him. The first time I lunged him just in a headcollar to see how he’d move. The second time I lunged him over a trotting pole, which I was really pleased with because we hadn’t done that before and I imagined he might just go around it but he was very good. The third time I lunged in the (quite loose) pessoa in walk and trot, then took it off him to have a little canter. While he has cantered in the pessoa in the past he doesn’t have much experience at it yet and having barely cantered at all in the last couple of months he needs it to be easy and to be able to pick his own frame and balance. It’s hard enough that I have to keep him on the circle.

It was really interesting to see how much easier it was for him to be lunged naked compared to the pessoa, even in walk and trot. It is hard for him to work in an outline and it’s good for me to have that reminder. I expect it now when he’s ridden, but he’s still having to work to keep it for me although I might not always be mindful of that. Lungeing him in a headcollar was easy for both of us because the transitions were easy for him, so he obeyed my requests in a timely manner without me having to threaten or insist. Once the pessoa’s added everything’s harder for him, so the lunger needs to work harder to get him to change gaits.

Another unexpected lesson: next time I need to replace my lunge whip or my schooling whip I’ll make sure I get one in a different colour. I felt pretty stupid when I’d got out to the school with horse, lunge line and … oops that’s my purple schooling whip not my purple lungeing whip. Doh! Handily there was one I could borrow rather than traipsing back for mine.

It’s frustrating that when D’s back to a fitness level where he can work in three gaits, I’m not well enough to ride, but at the moment I’m too tired to care massively. Hopefully soon I’ll get back on soon if only in walk and trot at first.

On other matters, the tiny dot on his D’s sheath has not changed at all and I’ve seen similar little marks on other horses’ faces at least one of whom has had that dot on his face for years with no incident, so although I’ll continue to monitor it I’m a lot less concerned.

Sudocreming his sheath does seem to be cutting down the fly bites although some are still getting through. It also leads to an extremely greasy tail and I can see a lot of shampooing in my future!

I don’t have a Lee Pearson lesson this Saturday, which is just as well. I cancelled it some time ago because of D’s issues and I’m really glad I did now my health is like this. Much better to have cancelled with good warning than drop out at the last minute. On the other hand it would have been really nice to see him so soon after his triumphs at the World Equestrian Games (another 3 gold medals to add to his collection). Maybe I could drop in on him between his lessons but I’m not sure – at the moment I’m not feeling like hanging around the yard all day on the off-chance that I’ll get a chance to speak to him when I could be at home resting. He’s one of the few people who make me wish I was on Facebook – if I was I could send him a message instead. Currently top of his feed is that he has one lesson left on Saturday. Yep, that was mine originally!

I’m relieved that D’s doing so much better because I need to leave him for a few days to go on a conference for work and it is such a relief to know that he’s OK to be ridden normally now so I can just book him in for schooling. The staff member who’ll ride him knows all about his recent issues and not to expect him to be on his A game, especially in canter.

Apologies for the stream-of-consiousness style of this post. I don’t have enough energy for editing or clarity of thought! Also I’m aware that my sense of humour is doing wierd things – it’s not my fault, I’m sick. Normal service will be resumed … probably … at some point.

Lee Pearson and the inoffensive sandwich

The night before the Lee Pearson lesson we noticed that Nutmeg was washing his tummy with too much interest.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg

On inspection he had some really concerning open wounds. It looked to me like he’d gone over a fence with a nail in and got caught and one in particular looked deep. It didn’t justify an emergency vet call out, but it did need checking by a professional sooner rather than later. But of course it was Friday night and the vets was closed for the night. They do open 9-12 on a Saturday morning, but it is by appointment and obviously we  didn’t have one. The surgery opens at 9.00 and I needed to get to the stables in good time to prepare myself and Drifter for the lesson with Lee at 11.30.

Which is how I came to be dressed in my riding gear, with a cat in a crate, waiting on the doorstep for the vets to open, begging them to see me in the next hour because I had to get to a lesson with a paralympian! I was prepared to take Nutmeg with me to the stables if I had to, to let me wait a little longer for the vet.

The receptionist said that they were pretty much booked up, but that as the vet working was the quick one, there should be a chance at some point. I settled in for a wait, distracted by a boisterous labrador who was so excited by everything and his owners didn’t have any real control over him. Luckily, the second appointment of the day didn’t turn up and we were seen much quicker than I’d dared to hope.

The vet provided pain-killers, antibiotics and a cone collar, the latter to be used at our discretion! He didn’t seem too worried by the injuries themselves, but said that they were almost certainly bites from another cat. We were aware that there are new cats in the area and that there were serious tensions, but not that things were this bad. Hopefully now Nutmeg’s lost this round he’ll back off next time.

I had plenty of time to drop him back home and get out to the stables. Hurray!

As I walked onto the yard, two members of staff were discussing sandwiches. One demanded of me to tell them what an offensive sandwich would be. Thoughts swam through my head, and I almost said “Sardine and jam”, which I think would fit the bill, but taking the question seriously and thinking about what people are offended by, the answer I came up with was, “A penis sandwich would be offensive.”

One nearly fell in her muck wheelbarrow laughing.

Once they’d recovered they explained they were really trying to establish what would be an inoffensive sandwich, but they disagreed over what would constitute an offensive one, for comparison. They did agree that a penis sandwich would definitely not be inoffensive although they found my thought processes rather surprising.

I went to groom, hot cloth, swipe the saddle over (the time for a proper cleaning there was spent on a vet trip) and tack up.

The rain was torrential but it was boiling, so the grooming and tacking up was characterised by a great deal of putting my coat on to fetch something from the tack room and then taking it off again as soon as I stepped into the stable. Thank heaven they always give Lee the indoor school to teach in.

We were tacked up just in time. I put my raincoat back on and his big waterproof turnout over the saddle and we went round for the lesson. Lee was running to time so I went straight in, which was very welcome!

I got linked up with the earpiece so I would be able to hear Lee and hopped on. Drifter was in quite a cooperative mood and as we warmed up started going reasonably round, by our standards, which was handy. Lee asked for a quick update, and on hearing about my rejection of jumping shared that he doesn’t jump for pretty much the same reasons. It doesn’t appeal and, he said, “I can’t see a stride to save my life.” Well I take that with a pinch of salt 😉 But once again it’s really nice to be reminded that there are plenty of “real riders” who choose not to jump.

We showed our paces, and Lee said that once again we’d be focussing on canter, because that seemed to be our biggest problem.

The plan was to get from the fast scramble-canter with his head in the air to something softer and more manageable. The key to this? Transitions and lots of them. While I’ve got into the habit of doing lots of trot-walk, walk-trot transitions in quick successions I’ve never done quick canter transitions. Someone early on in our canter story told us he wasn’t the kind to be able to go quickly back into canter after he’d come into trot and I accepted that, and didn’t try canter – trot – canter very often, but with Lee quick transitions between canter and trot were exactly what we did. I realise now that if he finds a thing hard that’s exactly what we should work on, so that person wasn’t being helpful. I think it probably came from the riding school mentality of trying to improve just the rider rather than the horse or the partnership.

Anyway, we came onto a 20m circle and stayed on it while doing lots of quick transitions between canter and trot. At first every upward transition to canter took us from a submissive “dressage-pony” outline to a giraffe impression, but as we kept working we a few transitions where it was like we hardly changed between the two. That was amazing and I’ve never felt that on any horse before.

Lee explained that although Drifter’s physically much stronger than he was and so doing much better in canter, he’s still a bit weak and underconfident about it, so he goes really fast to keep going and drops back to trot if I don’t let him go really fast. Lee said that lots of horses are insecure about the transition but fine about the canter itself but D’s insecure about both. For this reason the more we practice the transition the more he learns that it’s not a big deal and he can do it, while strengthening the muscles to make it easier in future. I realise as l write this that I am also a little less confident than I would like about canter transitions so practicing loads will be good for me too.

As we were working on the transitions the door opened and in came one of the staff members from the sandwich conversation, bearing a plate. “I’ve bought you an inoffensive sandwich,” she declared and both she and I burst out laughing, which did little for the quality of my transitions, I have to say. I had no idea that the conversation earlier had been about what sandwich they should buy for Lee!

Of course unusual hilarity about a sandwich must be explained, so she filled him in as I cantered about still laughing. When he heard about the penis sandwich conversation he declared that he didn’t want the cheese and ham she offered, could she take it away and get him a penis sandwich instead!?

As she couldn’t actually fulfil this order he did accept the ham and cheese inoffensive sandwich instead, and we got back to work.

Towards the end of the lesson we even did some counter flexion in canter – something it would never have occurred to me to try and I wouldn’t have thought we could do. The purpose of this was to encourage D to let me have his head and neck in different positions that his usual “Oh **** I’m cantering!” giraffe position.

Another point he made was that I’ve got to stop letting D get away with tossing his head when he doesn’t like what I’ve asked him to do. He mentioned it last time as well but I’ve not really made much progress there. Must try harder.

By the time we finished we were dripping with sweat, but at least it had finished raining.

I’m delighted with the progress we made with the transitions. Like most (all?) of our previous lessons with Lee we came out and I realised I’d done things I didn’t know I/we could do. We had some stunning canter transitions that I just didn’t think we were capable of and some really nice bits of canter between them. We have loads to work on, but plenty achieved and plenty to be proud of. I certainly hope we’ll be having another Lee lesson in another couple of months and I can’t wait!

Lee Pearson Lesson

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.

A lesson with Lee Pearson

Following my last experience with having a lesson with “someone from outside,” I was somewhat worried about having a lesson with the holder of 10 gold Paralympic medals and a CBE, among other accoutrements. Had I not paid a deposit ahead of time I would not have gone through with it this close to the last one.

But I had paid, so we were doing it.

As quite a few people had had their lessons before me I was able to find out what to expect. Lee Pearson would be seated in his (beautifully shiny red 4×4) car in the corner of the school and would be speaking to me through a microphone/earpiece. I would wear the earpiece and battery pack. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed their lessons, but I wasn’t placing too much store in that as last time everyone but me enjoyed their lessons.

D being generally easy-going about such things I knew I wouldn’t have to worry too much about the car being in the school, so at least all I had to worry about in that regard was not crashing into it. That would be embarrassing, to say the least.

Owing to my little holiday, I hadn’t ridden for 3 days beforehand, which felt like a ridiculously long time, so I was keen to get on board for bit before the lesson. Luckily I managed a 15 min warm up before my slot and we pottered around. I’m glad I did as it helped me to go into the lesson more confident and I’m sure the warmup was good for woolly-boy.

The preceding rider was the eldest of the teens, with her immaculately groomed horse plaited and herself looking smart in white jodhs and a black jacket. She’s been riding her horse for 8 years so they’re a pretty “together” package. On the other hand my horse was a bit grubby, desperate for a mane pulling and I was head to toe in purple*, more by luck than judgement. Ah well. If I spent energy stressing about the way we looked I’d have little left for the lesson.

So my slot rolled around and we entered the school and introduced ourselves. I explained where we were with the canter (i.e. me barely cantering at all these days). If he’d have said he didn’t want us to canter I’d have been fine with that, but I was pleased to hear that he did want us to have a go.

And by Pegasus** we cantered!

But first a little trot work. In trot we did a delightfully fun exercise – within the trot we varied the speed to the min and the max. We tried to find (and sustain) the slowest trot he was capable of without it becoming a walk and the fastest trot without it becoming a canter. The slow trot fascinated me and focussed me; the fast delighted me.

Since I got this horse I have been told “steady the trot,” “slow the rhythm,” “stop him rushing,” “tick-tock, slow and steady.” A constant litany that I should be holding him back, slowing the rising, steady, steady, slower. And being obedient, so I have done. I have almost never urged him on in trot – always the constant insistence that he slows down. So to let him go and even ask for more speed was such a release. It was hard to find the balance of asking for more but staying in trot, but it was great fun trying.

The idea was then to ask for the canter from this trot, because horses, if left to their own devices, or on the lunge, run into canter. This was in complete contrast to anything that had been suggested before, but I’m always happy to try something new. The other big new concept for me was that if he went on the wrong leg we would keep cantering and come onto a circle. To let him feel that cantering that way on a circle is harder than doing it properly. To make the circle smaller if he didn’t seem to get it. To come back to trot for only a few strides, make sure I had inside bend and ask again for while the legs were really active under him, helping him to strike off right.

The first right canter was on the wrong leg, so we sailed around the school at great pace on the wrong leg. I won’t say I’ve never done this before, but it’s the first time I’ve done it without feeling bad about it! Yes we were unbalanced, but hey, we were both learning things!

The next time I asked for canter two amazing things happened.

1) He picked up the correct lead

2) It felt better than the wrong one

Point 1 proved that Lee’s method works for us. Point 2 probably also supports that, but also suggests that the weak leg is stronger than it was. Last time I cantered him on the right leg on that rein it felt just as wrong as being on the wrong leg. Progress has been made.

Of course all of this was a bit worrying for the woolly-boy. And when he worries he goes faster. Which is how we ended up flying round at great speed in little circles, not always on the right leg, with no brakes. Having a humorous and chilled out voice in my earpiece was rather helpful at these times and although there were hairy moments where I argued briefly with centrifugal and centripetal forces, there was only one moment where I felt the pull of gravity and knew all my weight was in one stirrup and wondered if it and the girth would hold me. There were also a few moments when we wondered if we would hit a wall (or worse – Lee’s beautiful shiny car), but every crisis was averted, one way or another.

So we didn’t have brakes or, at some points, steering. But we had speed, we had canter and we had fun. We also had a flying change at one point, apparently.

Was it a controlled, elegant ride? Nope!

Was it the first time I’ve ridden my horse like we’re both alive? Maybe.

Was it out of our comfort zones? Yes.

Are we going to ride like that again? Hell yes.

That was the canter exhilaration I’ve only had at Caeiago before. I didn’t know you could get that in a school. I didn’t know I could get that in a school. I didn’t know we could get that in a school. You may recall that in previous posts I’ve been pretty excited about cantering a single 20m circle? Well I had no idea I/we were capable of the canter circles we did with Lee.

We discussed lunging, briefly. Lee recommended, as under saddle, that if he goes on the wrong leg on the lunge, fine, let him canter on the wrong leg, but bring him into a smaller circle to help him learn that it would be easier to go correctly.

I feel that what I learnt from Lee (apart from that I can stick on better than I thought 😉 ) is a way of helping Drifter learn for himself rather than a way to teach him. This feels right to me. I can’t teach a horse how to canter. I am not a horse. I am not an experienced horse-woman. He is the horse, and the responsibility to learn is with him. Yes I will learn alongside him and give him all the support I can, but I can’t do his job as well as mine.

I realise that I have written little about Lee Pearson. This was not my intention, but on the other hand I don’t want to delete anything I have written and I don’t want this to turn into another epic post.

The most important thing I can write about Lee is that if you ever see an opportunity to have a lesson from him, seize it. Everyone I spoke to who had a lesson from him came out glowing and beaming and asking when we could get him back for another day of lessons (I believe February is a possibility). We were riders and horses of all different ability levels, personalities and experiences but every one of us had a positive experience.

What else should I say. That he was funny? Undoubtedly. That he kept me calm when others would have panicked me? Definitely. That he made me feel capable, positive and empowered*** regarding my riding and my horse? Certainly.

But these things do not capture the character of Lee Pearson, and he has a great deal of character. Instead I will try to quote a few of the things he said to me. It is inevitable that I will have remembered these in my own words, which is a shame, as I would rather offer you his, but I cannot do anything about that. I’ll do my best to capture the spirit. For the full experience read them to yourself with a grin.

“I want you to leave today as a canter-whore.”

“Your horse has energy a lot of warmbloods don’t have. It’s good to see in a native breed.”

“I don’t know you from Adam but I’m proud of you.”

“I’m so glad you didn’t end up hitting the wall because then you would have left with this being a negative experience.”

Readers, I think I might be a canter-whore.

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Lee Pearson links: http://www.leepearson.co.uk/id2.html

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lee-Pearson-CBE/182388078495516

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Pearson

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*Well not actually head to toe – hat, boots and half-chaps were black(ish), so actually I was knee to neck in purple if you want to be exact.

**Insert deity of choice.

***I tend to avoid this word or use it ironically because it’s so overused in certain circles. But in this sentence it’s here to do a job without irony.