This week I rode the horse that I rode in my first lesson at this barn almost three months ago; a big, quiet, gelding named Lieutenant. I haven’t ridden him since then, and it was interesting to measure my progress by comparing how I felt on him this time around.

The main challenge with this horse is keeping him going. He’s much more chill than any of the other horses I’ve ridden there, seemingly unaffected by inter-schoolie politics, but he’s also a slow poke. This was a nice change, since I’ve been riding mostly mares and contending with their bitchy nonsense. As with my first lesson, my mind was free from worrying about my mount’s behavior and able to focus on my own.

The most obvious comparison to make was how strong my legs were feeling. On a horse that will pretty much just quit what he’s doing and walk if you don’t spend the entire time nudging him forward, leg strength is important. Every step of the trot, you have to squeeze your legs around the horse, using the little-used muscles along the inside of your calf and thigh, to encourage him to keep going. Some people have an idea that riding is easy because “the horse does all the work”. This is false. It’s friggin exhausting. On a particularly pokey animal, it can feel like I’m holding my horse up on his feet—all 1,000 or so pounds of him—using only my willpower to keep us moving and the strength of my legs. Given that I’m contending with not only a nine-year absence from this activity but also about the same length of office-atrophy time, my legs are not the steel-vise mechanism they used to be. During the first lesson, my horse quit on me time and time again. Every time, I clucked and nudged and he went forward, but it was frustratingly stop-and-go. I was pleased to see that this is no longer an issue; my legs are now strong enough to keep him going without trouble. It’s still a lot of energy to keep reminding him that we need to be at a working trot and not just dragging our hooves through the ring, but progress has definitely been made.

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