One of the most frustrating feelings in the world is knowing what you need to do, and being physically unable to do it.
I’ve been back to riding for just about two years now. I rode for how many years when I was young–thirteen? The most basic piece of information–the first thing–you can tell someone about riding position is to put their heels down. And yet, for the last two times I rode, I just couldn’t do it.
I’ve been doing a standing desk at work for a while now. In many ways, it’s much better for me than sitting–my upper back hurts less, I have less mental fatigue, I walk around more. I’d probably be even more out of shape if I weren’t doing it. But I think it’s making my lower back really tight. And from my lower back, a straight line down through my hips, hamstrings, and calves. No amount of stretching seems to relieve this tightness throughout my lower body. Exercise would help, I think, but with that unfortunately we go right back to the first sentiment in this post: knowing it would help, being unable to do it. For the last couple of months, that has been the case. Worn down, I haven’t been as active as I like to, need to, be. I’m picking it up again now, having exercised every day for the last six days, and I’m starting to feel better.
Today, however, was a rest day. I intended to go to the gym but thought the better of it after yesterday’s lesson. The reason I’m bitching about my heels, seemingly such a little thing, is because without your heels down, other position problems arise: like not keeping your weight down in the saddle, like having a difficult time sitting up and back; all things that make you insecure in the saddle when the former racehorse you are jumping gallops away from the fence and stumbles on the turn. And when you’re insecure in the saddle under those circumstances, you go flying over that former racehorse’s lovely, sleekly muscular shoulder, and hit the hard-packed dirt of the indoor arena with plenty of force. And maybe your helmet, not of the most secure fit itself, despite protecting your brain from bashing itself on the ground with a good bounce, still manages to bang down onto the bridge of your nose and hurt like hell. I thought for a bit yesterday that the nose might actually be broken, but the lack of blood and minimal swelling have convinced me otherwise. But it’s not pleasant. My glasses resting on it and my boyfriend leaning in for a kiss are both making me wince a little today.
The fall wasn’t Sparkling Gal’s fault. She just tripped. And, according to my trainer, she did so after “the most beautiful jump” she’s ever seen me take. We were in the indoor, having gone out intending to do a “club ride”, wherein you take a horse out without an instructor, thinking that ours was going to be out of town and we could just work on our own. But when we were surprised to find she actually was there that day, we hurried onto our mares (me on Sparkle, and my riding buddy on her new favorite, Misfit) for a regular lesson.
I had already been slightly frustrated on the flat, especially at the canter, at my inability to get loose enough to really stretch down and sit deep in the saddle. Sparkle has a choppy canter, and makes me think that I’m looking quite sloppy on her, despite reassurances from the riding buddy and instructor both that it’s not as bad as I think it is. Knowing that she is a joy to jump, I looked forward to that part of the lesson, even though being in the indoor due to the high temperatures outside limited us from doing anything resembling a course. There were two jumps set up: a small cross-rail and, on the opposite side of the ring, the vertical after which I took my tumble. Since the vertical was big enough to require us to go at it at the canter and both of our mounts can get quite strong, our instructor only wanted us to do it by itself once before connecting it with the cross-rail, intending us to trot the smaller jump and then come around to the vertical at the canter.
I got up pretty quickly after the fall. It doesn’t take long to take stock and know there isn’t anything terribly injured, and I’m always anxious to put everyone else at ease that I’m fine. After a brief inspection of my nose, I knew I was well enough to get back on even if it was broken, and was ready to do so after a quick, steadying drink of water. My instructor was not going to push me–she said it was entirely up to me how much or how little I wanted to do. My first instinct was that I would just take the smaller jump at a trot and be satisfied with that. But I really knew that I needed to take that same vertical again in order to be pleased. So I said, “I’m going to take the cross-rail, and then we’ll see about the vertical.”
The first time, the cross-rail went fine; Sparking Gal went in very quiet and was manageable on the landing. But with the other horses in the ring, our approach to the vertical wasn’t great and I circled, deciding to forego it. At that point, again, I said, “Ok, I think that’s enough.”
But I watched my riding buddy go again through the jumps, taking them beautifully, and I felt the restlessness stirring inside me. “Ok,” I said. “I’m going to try it again. The vertical is still a ‘we’ll see'”.
This time, I did it. The sweet mare was good to me over the cross-rail and I sat up as best I could with my stupid heels and settled her back through the canter approach to the vertical. She ate up a little bit of ground on the approach, but we took off with good timing and had a nice jump on the vertical. My right foot jiggled a little bit in the stirrup, I felt my balance loosen through the turn as she was a little skittish going through the spot where she had stumbled, but I pulled myself together and held on, very pleased with myself for having done it. I knew that if I hadn’t, it would be an issue the next time around. This way, I won’t be–at least mentally–insecure the next time I jump.