First Cold

Today was the first really cold day I’ve had for a lesson. I’ve lucked out with sunny days in the mid-to-upper 50s thus far. Today the sun is occasionally obscured by a gust-fueled bank of clouds and it’ll only top out in the low-to-mid 40s. Although yesterday was pretty similar weather, it always takes a couple days for the horses to adjust to a new season.  My guess is that we’ll keep riding outside for as long as possible; the stables have an indoor ring but it seems barely useable. It is a tiny area inside the barn that probably shouldn’t have more than two small horses in it at a time, if that.

So today was kind of harrowing. One of the strange things about the barn I ride at is that they don’t really seem to give private lessons. You show up and never really know who you’re going to be sharing the lesson with. It bothered me at first, but a) what choice do I have at the moment? and b) it can have its advantages. My trainer is pretty hands-off with me in general, trusting me to figure out what I need to do and then imparting helpful observations about my position or interaction with the horse. When I ride with someone else and her attention is turned to them for a bit, I get to basically instruct myself. I get to remember the things I learned years ago and put them to use again. I have time to adjust to and negotiate with my horse using my own instincts, and then implement suggestions my trainer has offered without having to incorporate new information right away.

Today, though, the number of cold-weather-giddy horses in the ring was unsustainable. We had three in our lesson, and another single lesson going on beside us. The ride out there was marked by conflict: my trainer’s horse crow-hopping and rearing at the cold wind and the construction equipment and my horse coming on too strong, getting up in the grill of the mare in our group, causing both of them to wheel and kick.

That’s really the one big fear I’ve always had around horses. It can be scary if they hop, or shy, or bolt, sure, but I know I can handle that. It’s when they start backing up into each other and the hooves start flying that I begin to panic. It doesn’t feel like there’s much I can do. The first impulse that comes to mind when your horse is moving and you don’t want him to is to pull back on the reins. That doesn’t work here, since in this case that just makes him back up futher. So then I overcompensate by giving him slack on the reins and try to squeeze him forward, but that only gives him room to wheel, giving him leeway to kick and bite. And that’s pretty much how the rest of the lesson went.

We all tried to maneuver around the ring, giving each other enough space to deal with our respective mount’s issues. The biggest and most forward horse circled on the oval in the bottom of the ring, while the pokey mare shared the rail with the somehow normal-acting school horse from the other lesson. That left no place for my gelding, who continued to back up and buck every time I asked him for anything. He was the loosest of the cannons in the bunch. I don’t even think he has that much of a problem with other horses, that was simply his excuse today for not wanting to work.

Since I’ve never ridden this horse before, I didn’t know what to expect. I was shaken by the earlier conflicts and my confidence was low. Eventually, my trainer orchestrated a game of musical chairs in which I ended up on the little mare, who I have ridden before and get along with. She, too, had been backing up and pawing when her rider asked her for a trot, probably having watched how successful my gelding was with that gambit.  But that didn’t work with me. I knew her and I knew her limits (as I didn’t for the gelding) and she wasn’t able to bully me the way he was. It helped that she’s smaller too, but most of it was just that I knew how far I could trust her. She’ll throw some bucks in protest but I doubted she’d truly try to dump me. After some more buck-filled theatrics, I had her moving at a nice trot on the rail. The more experienced of the other two girls had a go at my gelding without much success–horses just have bad days too, sometimes–and I was able to avoid conflict with him for the most part. Once going forward, my confidence returned and I got quickly in sync with my more responsive mount. After all that, my canters today were the best I’ve had since getting back to riding. My lower leg felt snug and the canter was very collected; it felt great and I know it looked great, too.

All in all, I got to ride less time than normal, but it was valuable experience nonetheless, dealing with the antics and interpersonal issues. I’m sure it’ll get real interesting when it finally gets cold enough to move into the tiny indoor ring. (Yikes.)

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