Saturday, November 29, 2008

Riding Pretty

Appy and I continued to struggle to maintain a circle when he decided he wanted to bolt. I will have to say, the riding instructor helped me a lot. He taught me how to properly fence Appy. In my mind, fencing was most useful for teaching a horse how to pivot off of his hind leg. It wasn't until after I learned how to control a horse's shoulder that I realized just how many wonderful things fencing teaches a horse, when it is done properly!

But the day that Appy bolted and T-boned another horse and rider, was the day the instructor lost a bit of his patience. Everyone was okay. Shell-shocked, but okay. Finally, the instructor got mad and told me that if I "wasn't so damned concerned with riding pretty, I could fix this problem."

Uhhh??? I guess I had never thought that I tried to ride pretty. To me riding pretty was what people did in an equitation class. I trained colts and grew up riding in pastures...not the show ring. Luckily for me, he went on to tell me what I was doing wrong...cause I don't think I would have had the guts to ask him what he meant. Since it has been 21 years since that instructor yelled at me, I don't remember the exact words he used, but it boiled down to-not using my hands, not using my legs and sitting there like a damn lump. Ouch...that will hurt your feelings.

Now see here is where I learned that people parts have a direct connection to horse parts. It didn't come overnight. It wasn't an Ahhh-Haaa moment. But it was the start of understanding that what my body does affects what the horse's body does. It took a lot of watching other people, asking the instructor questions and some figuring out on my own. Some instructors and clinicians today are better about explaining things to their clients than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Some choose to ignore explaining that to their clients for fear their clients may figure out how to do things on their own and not need them anymore.

I figured out that when my instructor said I was riding pretty, what he meant is that I didn't really change my riding position at all to compensate for what the horse was doing. That is probably the most common fault that people experience when things get ugly. I could pull gently on Appy's face all I wanted too. He gave it...all the way around to my boot. I could gently kick on his side all I wanted too...he didn't feel a thing. He just kept going.

I'm sure a lot of you realize why Appy was blowing his shoulder out and leaving...I was opening the door for him to do so and then rather than slam it shut, I was just sorta tapping at the problem. Appy wasn't a bad horse, he wasn't rank or mean or even problematic. He was smart and once he figured out how to get away with something, he just did. And each time he got away with it, he got a little worse about it. I had to learn how to slam that door shut or I was going to leave a real problem for his next rider. These were after all, horses we were training for their owners, not our own horses.

So I had to break it down. Appy was good at the walk and trot. He went everywhere I tipped his nose. Hands control reins. Reins control face and neck. Got it!. I rode with my hands low and worked on light leg pressure. Legs control shoulders and ribcage and hip. Got it! I never had a bit of problems with him. He was good about picking up his leads and I could lope him to the left without a problem. It was only to the right that he would blow out that shoulder and leave. So I had to start thinking about how I rode when I rode to the left at a lope. I practiced riding sitting straight up and slouched down. No big difference, except in my back. Hands low and hands higher...Yep, that made a difference. Legs moving around to different spots on his side...yep that made a difference too. And I did start to notice something about myself. When I was loping to the left, I usually sat straighter and looked where I was going. My head was up, my shoulders were up and my inside hand was leading the way. Pretty! When I went to the right, I had a tendency to watch Appy's shoulders, my inside shoulder was down and my hand wasn't leading the way, it was just sort of there. Every single one of my body parts was closing the door for Appy to continue loping to the right and opening the door for him to exit left. I was tipping his nose to the left, but just leaving his ribcage and his shoulder hanging out there in the wide open. Not so pretty!

It took quite awhile for me to fix that riding habit and Appy still would blow left, but now...Now I could stop it. When he blew left, rather than pull his head around to my right leg, I would lift my hand. This effectively lifted his nose and inside shoulder. And I stopped tapping politely on his left side, I went to banging the hell out of it. He didn't get better right away. For a bit it seemed like it got worse. He resented not being able to get away with his little trick quite as effectively as he had before. Several times, I had to resort to whacking his shoulder with the bridle rein. If I remember correctly, he even resorted to taking a couple of jumps.

I knew things probably looked pretty ugly to the people watching. My hands weren't nice and low, my legs weren't quiet and Appy was fighting everything. His head was up, his mouth was gaping and he was fighting hard to blow to the left, while I am whacking the hell out of his shoulder and gaping him with my leg. And the funny thing is, he never felt as out of control as he did when I tried to keep everything quiet and nice. A few strides of fighting him and he quit and headed right again. Drop the hand, quiet the leg, stop whacking him and everything went back to pretty.

It's easy to see, that I created that particular problem with Appy and I was pretty lucky to be able to learn how to fix it. I was after all at an equine college with other students and instructors to be able to help me learn how. But to overcome problems a person has to be willing to take it to the next level. You have to be willing to get just a little more ornery about it than your horse.

Sometimes you just have to ride UGLY to make things pretty!!


Melanie said...

What a happy ending and I know exactly what you mean by riding!!!

I am sure that we have all been there at one time or another, and that we will find ourselves there again!

How is the weather holding out for you guys?

Vaquerogirl said...

I Concure!
Bobby Ingersoll once told me that he liked riding Cowhorses because you had four other people helping you, you could hold on and you could look as ugly as you pleased doing it!
I've always said that a good dose of Frustration makes for better riders.Get Mad! Get in the dirt! Don't worry about falling off or riding pretty! Just get the job done!
Great story!
Thanks for sharing it!

Andrea said...

Oh, I love that last line!! I really need to ride ugly more often. I get really nervous about "fixing" problems. I worry that the big kick will send my horse into a bolt of bucking frenzy!! I am such a worry wart these days.

Loved the story!!

kdwhorses said...

Great post! It took me awhile to get to the point where I don't care what people think of my riding or worry how I look! It is harder than you think! But you hit the nail on the head, sometimes we look ugly, but we are getting the job done!

Stephanie said...

And here I think I am the opposite, sometimes its hard for me to shut the "trainer" in me off and turn on the "show" switch so I sit pretty and show off my horse for competition.

cdncowgirl said...

Left you a little something on my blog :)

Rising Rainbow said...

I know about riding ugly too.

There are flowers for you at my blog, from the looks of it, this is your day for awards and stuff.

jacksonsgrrl said...

I guess I have been riding ugly!! I have a pretty green horse so I have been just the opposite then pretty. I started riding with two new friends in June and they have only seen my working on issues with my horse. I rode my friends horse yesterday and she looked at me and said, "Wow, you looked great, I didn't know you could ride so well!" Hmmmm. I guess I need to think about pretty more often!!!

Cindy said...

I think I ride "ugly" more than pretty. Every once in a while I actually think about where my legs and hands are. I can still hear my instructor telling me to keep my elbows in and look where I am going instead of at my horse. It was really bad when I was jumping as I developed a habit of looking down at the jump.