Monday, October 15, 2012

Guess Who's Baaaack

I took a few months off from riding for various reasons, but I'm (hopefully) back permanently this time! :) This morning I had my first lesson with a new local instructor. She just moved to the Tri Cities area from western Washington, and has set up shop at a really nice facility. This new place has an outdoor arena, a big indoor arena, a dressage court, and a big grassy field for jumping. It's also five minutes away from a super swanky eventing facility. In short, it's a really nice place in a great area. And did I mention that it's less than 20 minutes away from my house? Yeah, perfect.

I can thank my obsessive Craigslist stalking for finding this place :P. I found a listing advertising a new boarding facility. The pictures were really pretty, so I went to their website and it mentioned they also offered lessons and training. I called the instructor (we'll call her S) and after a hilarious, extended round of phone tag, set up a time for a lesson.

This is a (rather unflattering, but cute) picture of Pooh Bear, my lesson horse:

Pooh Bear is an older red dun mustang gelding who, in his earlier life was a rocking eventer and jumped up to 3'6". Now, he spends most of his time as a pasture puff but is dragged out occasionally for lessons. He is stocky, sweet, and well trained, but not a deadhead by any means. He made me work for it, but when I asked him right, he was beautifully soft, round, and responsive.

 But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I got to the barn a little bit early, and Pooh Bear was already in the cross ties. He wasn't groomed or tacked up or anything. S wanted to make sure that I knew how to do all of that. Pshhhh.... I can groom and tack up a horse in my sleep ;). So all of that went okay.

Then, we walked over to the indoor arena and I got on and started walking PB around to warm up. S had me go into a half seat position for a bit to find where my lower leg needed to be, and then practiced keeping it there at the walk while getting PB to soften up and go round and on the bit. We did that for about five or ten minutes, graduating to doing a few leg yields, a little shoulder in, and going from correct bend to counter bend, just to get us both loosened up and used to each other.

Next, she had me pick up the trot and alternate between going all the way around the arena and doing 20m circles at either end. I had to work pretty hard to get him going at a decent pace.... as a schoolie, he is used to little kids who don't have the strength or desire to get him to move out... and let's face it, I don't have a whole lot of strength yet, either LOL. But eventually we got going into a nice working trot. S had us do some spirals in and out, which ended up being pretty tough as he likes to pop out his outside shoulder. Of course, it doesn't help that I am more flexible on my right side than my left, so I was giving him somewhat conflicting cues at times. We had one really nice spiral in and out where I managed to keep him nice and round, with good impulsion and balance. It made me smile. After the spirals, my legs were killing me... more on my left side than the right (hmm.... LOL). We did some more trot work around the whole arena, working on getting him to trot bigger while staying round. When I was right, he was good. When I got wonky, he popped out his nose and slowed down. He made me work! At least I only felt nauseous once... haha. Man, I really need to get in better shape. My core is straight up laughing at me right now.

After oodles of trot work, and some walk-trot transitions (I was sucking at those, ugh), we did a little canter work. For some reason, I was really tense, and the first time we cantered, I was a bit strong on my cue, expecting him to be a typical lazy schoolie. I forgot that he's an ex eventer who, as S said, "really loves a good gallop"... LOL! He started out going pretty fast and heavy on his forehand, and I was flopping around on his back like a sack of potatoes. I'm sure it was funny to watch. I decided to go back down to trot and try again. This time, it was much better. He has a typical stockhorse canter... not the most long-strided or comfortable gait in the world ;). But I managed to get him under control and mostly round. I was tense in my arms, though, so he was a little tense, too. I focused on relaxing my neck, shoulders, pushing my belly button back and down, and feeling long and deep in the saddle. It got a bit better, but there's a lot of room for improvement for me to work on at the canter.

After the canter work, we did a few more trot-walk-trot transitions (I never got one as good as I'd like, dang it!) and then walked some to cool off. I untacked PB, brushed him down and picked out his feet again, gave him a peppermint, told him thank you for taking care of me, and put him away in his pen.

I was really impressed with S's teaching style. She didn't go easy on me once she kind of figured out that I knew how to ride, and adjusted the level of challenge based on how well (or how not well LOL) I did at certain things. So I got my butt kicked, but without feeling like a demoralizingly awful rider, which I'm sure looked like at times LOL. She was good at explaining things when I had questions, and had a good balance between criticism and positive comments. She mentioned that I could probably learn from Pooh Bear for a few more lessons, but then would probably "like something more of a challenge." We'll see what happens there, I guess. Next week she told me that I could come early and tack up/warm up on my own. Guess that's a compliment in itself? :P

I need to work on getting in better shape (it's an ongoing battle ;) ) and consciously fixing all those bad habits I picked up from years of sporadic, mostly western riding without lessons. All in all, it was an excellent lesson, and I can't wait for next week!