Sunday, July 26, 2020

The struggle of falling out of practice

I walked into this new barn...
...for my first lesson with a new trainer...
... I haven’t ridden with any manner of consistency since February...
... that was 5 months ago...
...I haven’t **cantered** with any consistency for, well......

Ok. So when was the last time that I jumped??
I pondered this for quite a while. It must have been 2016. So, 3 years?
NOPE! It’s 2020. It has been 4 years since I’ve jumped. 
Surely, she’s not going to have me jumping my first lesson. I mean, she’s going to have to get to know me and whip me into shape and get me riding like she wants me to...

So, I arrive in plenty of time to watch the previous lesson wrap up. Young girls are hopping adorable Welsh ponies and the occasional Thoroughbred over classic hunter-style fences. There is a gymnastics exercise, an outside line, and a slightly bending diagonal line. 
She’s tough on these girls. By that, I mean that she asks for exactly the exercise she laid out, and she expects the girls to to do the work to gain their mounts’ cooperation. 
She is also fair and compassionate. She sets them up for success with a less-complex exercise before sending them on to a more-complex exercise. 

I’m introduced to “Cherokee”. She’s a cute little chestnut Quarter Horse mare with a kind eye. She’s already tacked up and waiting for me. All I have to do is get on and start warming up. 
Cherokee has a REALLY P-O-K-E-Y walk. I feel like I have to actually *kick* every other stride to keep her walking. Holy cow... How is she going to coach any kind of riding for me if I can’t even keep this horse walking??
We start trotting, and I’m DEFINITELY kicking to keep her trotting... Well, there’s no pony stick at hand, but we’ve got some spurs! Let’s see if that makes a difference!
Sure enough, when I have to nag just to maintain the trot, I applied a little spur. Cherokee was unimpressed and continued to require nagging. So, took my spurs, lifted her rib cage, and said, “Look mare, I mean it! I refuse to work HARDER than you just to trot around the ring!”
In response, Cherokee said “Oh! No problem!! I just wanted to make sure that’s what you REALLY wanted to be doing!”
And I didn’t need a spur after that!

We spent time finding suppleness and stretch, we spent time finding balance, then we did a little bit of cantering. I tried to find the right combination of cues to get a nice transition. I used my inside leg to lift the shoulders, I used my outside leg to maintain the bend and strike off, and I used a touch of rein to help her balance... but I was still missing some ingredient for a smooth depart...
Coach said “Try scooping your outside seat bone!”
Oh, holy wow, the difference that made!!
And it was indispensable on our circles!!

My core was already crying a little as I tried to maintain good balance and position, follow my horse’s annually broad back, and incorporate details like “scooping my outside seat bone”...
Then, Coach sent me to the fences!
We started by trotting into the gymnastic line, and she said something that spun my world around: “Ride the back get to the fence...”
She said it as if she were talking to herself, like it was something she would think to herself as she were riding the same approach...
It never occurred to me which end of the horse I was riding to the fence! I think I was inadvertently riding the FRONT end of my horse to the fence!

Over the next several fences, that single statement made such a difference, I had to tell her about it. She said, “That’s fantastic! Another one I say a lot is ‘wiggle your toes’. It really seems to make a big impact.”
Well, now, I had to ride to the next fence and try to wiggle my toes!!
Oh, what a feeling!!!

We continued on over who-knows-how-many jumps and combinations. Coach was gushing about how fancy Cherokee was looking over the fences. At one point, she expresses, “You have beautiful hands, and Cherokee just loves the space you’re giving her to work in.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. It came to me as the greatest compliment I have ever received. It was exactly the confidence boost I needed that day. 
I had walked in with doubts about my fitness (proven to be lacking), doubts about my abilities (unfounded), and doubts about what my new coach would think of my abilities (unfounded).  

Moral of the story:
Don’t let your doubts stop you!! Charge on ahead and tackle the challenges as they come!

Man, it felt great to be jumping again.....

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