This morning, after the approximately sixty-third night of piss poor sleep that I have had since introducing a kitten into my studio apartment, I woke up in kind of a control freak mood. The cats will not let me sleep, I need to have sleep, nothing I have tried has made the cats stop not letting me sleep, so today I got out of bed and immediately began cleaning and tidying the apartment. It’s reliably an activity that can calm me and make me feel grounded when the world is spinning out of control. Like, for example, when the god damned subways will never run properly and in the few hours of sleep I have snatched from the batting paws of my feline tormentors over the past week I have dreamed of being on packed, delayed subway trains, sometimes with particular individuals that I dislike, sometimes simply afloat in the faceless, alienating multitudes. That’s the sort of thing that makes me need to eliminate all the clutter in my home that has accumulated during the days I’ve come home too tired to be perfect, the need to restore everything to its place so that my eye, at least, is untroubled during my continuing imprisonment in this madhouse while I wait for the weather to warm up enough that I can at least find the motivation to step outside for a change and interact with something other than these wild animals.
This was the frame of mind with which I attended my riding lesson today: that of a sleep-deprived, stir-crazy, desperate control freak. So when we arrived to find that not only were we not down in the scheduling book, but that our trainer wasn’t even there today, my mind pretty much short circuited. It was clearly a miscommunication and I wasn’t angry, just simply at a loss. We were offered the choice of taking a ride on the beach (an immediate ‘nope’ as it is sunny and in the 50s, but also frigidly windy), to hack without an instructor in the indoor, or to take a lesson with whoever was free at that time. I just kind of silently gawked at my riding buddy until she said, “I guess we’ll take the lesson with whoever’s available,” relieved that I didn’t have to pull it together to make a decision and could just roll with it.
Faced with the uncertainty of an unfamiliar trainer, I hoped to ride Jasper, my reliable man. But he was out in a lesson so instead I rode Casper, the grey with the bitless bridle that I last rode this summer outdoors. It was once I got on him and was reminded that he doesn’t ever feel like walking, trots off without being asked, and oh, doesn’t pay attention to requests for downward transitions since he doesn’t have a bit on his bridle (i.e. the thing that controls the horse), that I realized this wasn’t just going to be a lesson, it was going to be a Lesson. Of the “The Control You Think You Have In Life Is An Illusion, Jessica, And You’re Going To Have To Accept That” variety. I sighed, and loosened my reins.We had been going around at a reasonably collected trot at this point, but it was using all my arm and back strength to pull back on the reins and it was accompanied by Casper doing this spastic upward twisting of his neck and head while occasionally charging forward into a faster gait. Not so pretty, or comfortable. I didn’t want to race around the ring at the pace he wanted to go at. It’s too cramped in there for that nonsense. I wanted to ride at a collected trot where I could slowly warm up and ease into working on my position. But I had to connect with and calm my mount, and scrunching him up wasn’t going to achieve that. At the trainer’s urging, I loosened my reins a good deal and stepped up my posting to match the quite fast trot that resulted. We sprinted around the ring a few times, dodging all the slower horses of which thankfully there were much fewer than usual this week. Amazingly, after giving Casper the freedom to go how he wanted, he slowly calmed himself down, settling of his own volition into the collected trot that I had wanted before and had been working so hard fighting him to get.
During the working parts of the lesson, Casper was a gentleman. His canter is smooth and easy and jumping him is a pleasure. But every time I had to pull him down to a walk from the trot or the canter, it was a struggle. And once I had him at a walk for the brief rest periods we take throughout the lesson, it was a constant fight to keep him from bolting into a trot. These are situations in which I couldn’t let him have his way and which I had to exert control. At first, I was wearing myself out pulling back on sitting back in the saddle and pulling on the reins. But that soon turns into a tug of war that, horse v. rider, the rider is never going to win. So I let Casper keep walking with looser reins, but every time he started to speed up, I turned him in a small circle. This exerted control, dissuading him from the bad behavior without a fight because of instead of fighting the behavior, I directed it elsewhere.
This has me wondering if I can redirect the cats’ behavior from respectively pouncing on me in my sleep (the little one) and meowing the entire night (the big one). I sure hope so. But it also makes me want to consider how I can use this soft control on myself when times are stressful, giving myself room to walk around instead of yanking on my reins all the time.