We have been in lockdown for five weeks now and although riding has not been banned riders were asked to consider whether riding was really essential for us and our horses. Obviously, the answer is different for all of us but for me personally the answer is, ‘probably not’. The ponies are not hugely fit event horses and they have plenty of turnout so have no problem in stretching their legs. I have therefore not ridden since the morning of 23rd March.
That doesn’t mean the ponies are just lazing about getting fat though. They are bound to be less fit than usual – and I know I am – but I am trying to make a habit of getting them out to do some form of exercise or different activity every day. Mostly that has meant lunging, although we have been for some nice walks together over the fields and I am planning on building ourselves some trec style obstacles this week.
When I first started trying to lunge them years ago I had completely opposite problems with them. Galahad was so scared of me that he would take off, whilst Cookster would just stand and stare at me, completely bewildered. No amount of talking, waving or being led round by someone else had any effect – he would just stand there.
Now they are both much better and go round me quite happily. In fact, Cookster is now the one who can be a bit too forward and he has got very good at leaning out of the circle and pulling me with him if I’m not careful. I find that much easier to cope with than the nothing we had before though!
Several times recently I have been at demos which have told me that when I’m working on something with a horse and they get it right I should stop. This is something I know very well in theory but for some reason I find it very hard to put into practice.
It is just so tempting to think, ‘Hurrah he’s got it – we’ll just do it once more and then we can stop.’ Of course, then we make a complete mess of it and end up doing whatever it was five times more until we get it right again. Every time it happens I remind myself that next time I must reward Galahad by stopping as soon as we get it right.
Yes Galahad is still wearing tinsel here. I took the picture last weekend – before Twelfth Night. All tinsel has since been removed!
It’s not necessarily that easy though. We have recently been working on a pole work exercise which doesn’t always go to plan. Today we got it right first time and it’s very difficult to stop after only one attempt – it doesn’t feel like a proper schooling session at all! It’s yet another thing which will take time to learn.
Galahad and I have recently received permission to use a small indoor school just up the road from us. It’s not a full size arena but it is certainly big enough to do a little schooling.
The main reason I hoped to use it was so that we can still school even in the depths of winter – the fields are lovely but just a bit too slippery when it has been raining for weeks on end. Of course, that isn’t an issue right now but I was too excited to wait until winter to try it out. Besides, it is good for Galahad to explore new places.
We had a lovely hack up the road, met the chickens and ventured into the school. Galahad was slightly disturbed by the exercise ball – he’s never seen anything like it before – but was otherwise pretty unfazed. No silly spooking or anything – he has come a long way!
He did actually spook once but as that was when a chicken flew up onto the wall behind him I think it was forgivable.
We had a good session in the school and then another lovely hack home again. This is going to be a great addition to my riding.
Yesterday I went to have a lesson on a mechanical horse.
The riding club have organised several of these days but I have never before managed to get there so I was very excited to finally be able to have a go. I was more than a little nervous as well though as I really didn’t know what to expect.
I honestly do not know what I’m doing with my hands here. I can only assume I am describing something but I cannot remember what!
This particular mechanical horse is people powered so it is the rider using their weight correctly which makes the horse move in different gaits. It’s incredibly clever and means that if you do something wrong you can really feel it because the horse stops what it should be doing. At one point I was trying to get the horse to canter and instead managed to make it buck!
It was such a fun experience and extremely interesting too. I learnt a lot about how to use my body more effectively in the saddle and got some useful pointers about my feet too – they always want to turn out! Being sat on a mechanical horse rather than a real one means you can concentrate properly on how your body is working rather than on what the horse might be doing. I woud definitely recommend the experience if you get the chance.
Now I know how it should feel when I’m using it correctly – all I need to do is put it into practice when I’m riding the ponies!
On Thursday Galahad and I had a fantastic lesson.
The eagle eyed among you may spot that these photographs were not taken during the actual lesson. I didn’t have a tame photographer there so we had to recreate the scene afterwards!
We started off with flatwork and spent some time doing work without stirrups. Galahad hasn’t really done much of that before and he definitely hasn’t done the exercises that go with it. They can be a bit scary for a nervous pony like him so I wasn’t quite sure how he would react but he was as good as gold. It may be time for me to stop assuming that everything will scare him because most of the time that isn’t true anymore. In fact, when I think he will react badly I know I make it more likely – I tense up and that definitely affects him badly.
We then moved on to some jumping. Specifically – gridwork. Galahad hasn’t even done a single bounce fence before, let alone a line of fences. More than that, we started off without reins which was another new thing for him (and something I haven’t done for years).
Galahad just pinged through them like a pro. He never fails to amaze me and once again I was so proud of him. I feel like I say that a lot but it is true!
On Saturday I rode Galahad for the first time in almost three weeks. It was so good to be back in the saddle! It has been very strange at home without the ponies – I get home from work and there is no need to go outside. Really odd.
Galahad and I had a fairly short lesson (I am still not quite 100%) but I was pleasantly surprised with how we did. Galahad was nice and calm and even when I couldn’t stop coughing he didn’t really react. One of my main concerns had been that he would spook at the coughing and I would not be able to control him so I was very pleased!
We even managed a little jumping which I was not expecting to be able to do quite so soon. We had three small fences lined up across the arena and jumped them in a figure of eight pattern. I was thrilled with Galahad during this exercise – he was very responsive and didn’t put a foot wrong. I on the other hand started coughing a bit more at this point and my legs were running out of energy – I struggled a bit to keep him going forward. As I said – still not 100%!
I was so glad to be back in the saddle and I am very much looking forward to getting back to full fitness.