My birthday may have been way back in January, but my best friend gave me my gift yesterday. And it was awesome.
I had my first riding lesson. On a horse.
I write, read and live for fantasy, and so horses are generally a preferred method of transport. Come on, you all know how bad I am. But holy crap, after one lesson on a 23 year old training horse, the idea that someone can simply jump on a horse and ride it somewhere is absurd! It's not easy. Sure, I bet it comes naturally to some people, but for most of us, it's a trial to keep it moving around a square track. Corners are hard.
My best friend, Lucy, has always loved horses, ever since I knew her in primary school, and she's always wanted to ride them. For her birthday last year, a friend of hers got her her first lesson, and it quickly became habit. She's been riding for a year now and she has good confidence with it, but with one lesson a week about 30 minutes long, there's not much room for quick advancement, and that's assuming she has the time between work to book a lesson at all.
She wanted me to go and watch her ride - it's something she loves and she wanted to share it, even if that meant that the other person would be standing in the rain by a smelly stable watching her. And I was excited for her excitement, so I went quite happily. I brought my camera, too, figuring she'd surely want some pictures, and bless her heart, she did. She'd brought her compact camera with her, but after 3 pictures the battery died, so I was glad I brought my DSLR, which I'd fully charged the night before.
Of course, it left me wanting a go. I'd never been around horses before, and while I'm a huge animal person, I was a little intimidated. I could never afford it or find the time to do it either, so it never happened, and then in the end she decided to do it for my birthday. I'd put off accepting the invitation for a little while because I was intimidated, but last week she basically threw it on me, and, having not seen her in a month, I accepted.
It. Was. Awesome.
Lucy told me, as it was my first lesson, that I would be led around the track with either her or the teacher holding a lead so they could steer the horse and I could instead just experience being on its back. That hit me as kind of rubbish, but I figure that such things are in place for a reason, so I didn't argue, I just accepted it.
Boots and hats were provided by the school, and the field was small. There was a box so you could get on the horse, so I got on easily enough without comically slipping off the other side, but my goodness it was weird. I sat in the saddle, got comfy and found my sit bones easily enough - all this yoga and exercise helps you to identify precise areas of your body as well as strengthen them - and listened to the instructor talk me through basic details, such as how to hold the reins, how to steer and so on. All while she was doing that, though, the horse was beneath me, and at one point I thought it was falling over sideways and that I was going to go with it. Fortunately, rather than panic or react in any visible way, I froze and stayed as upright as I could. Then I realised it was just shifting its weight. It was a really strange sensation.
I got the grip of the reins quickly and I was sat perfectly, or so I was told, and then we set off.
Now, I didn't expect this to be easy, otherwise you wouldn't need lessons. But I didn't expect it to be this hard. It took me a good ten minutes to get to grips with steering. I had thought that, as the horse knew the track well, it would just follow a usual route, but no! It did what I told it! Unfortunately, what I told it to do wasn't what I wanted it to do. To steer left, you leave the right rein slack and pull gently on the left, but you push your right leg into its side. I just couldn't get that co-ordination, and the horse, at one point, just turned in a full circle on the spot because I was struggling so much, and a couple of times tried to return to the teacher in the middle of the field.
Yes, the middle of the field. It took me about 20 minutes to realise that there was no lead. I was in complete (and poor) control of the animal. I had forgotten that detail, so preoccupied I was with trying to come to grips with steering, and suddenly I felt a lot better about it. The trouble I was having was my own fault and subsequently something I could work on, because they'd changed my lesson to give me a better taste of the experience.
They did put me on a lead, eventually, but that was because we were going for a trot. A trot. It took Lucy weeks to build up to a trot! This meant I also needed the balance and leg strength to rise in the stirrups. Fortunately my balance and strength wasn't a problem and I got to grips with it quickly, but that's not to say it was easy. Trying to do that while the horse was stood still was one thing, while it was walking was another, and while it was trotting was another altogether! But I did it.
I did have a few other problems. March in England is a deceptive month. Spring is coming, and we all look out of the window at the golden sun and think "ooh, I don't need a coat!" You go outside and it's 15C and you think it's positively tropical. And then, once you've adjusted, it drops back to 5C and you're holding the reins without gloves, unable to feel them in your fingers, and instinctively pull the reins closer to you to try to keep yourself warm by compacting yourself, and then you just confuse and upset the horse.
If I'd brought (read: owned) gloves I might have gotten on better. So, when I go back, I'll be sure to bring some.
Oh yes, I'm going back. It wasn't so hard that I wouldn't want to try again; quite the opposite! It was just difficult enough for me to think "next time I'll nail it!"
It was frustrating, there were a few moments when the horse stopped and I dropped my hands because I was cold and confused (yes, the instructor had to remind me which was my left and my right) and he wouldn't move. I wasn't afraid of hurting him because these are strong creatures that can bear your weight, and these horses in particular are used to it. I was told to talk to the horse, urge him on and tell him well done, and I found he was particularly co-operative when I said "Come on, Rufus, we can do this! Let's go!" But I also made sure to apologise to him for being a nuisance, but I was told he's had much worse.
I'm good at stopping the horse, and I can sit and maintain my balance with little trouble and without having to be told not to lean forwards or backwards. I didn't find it the slightest bit uncomfortable, though I've been told it can be hell on your thighs with rubbing and aching, but I was fine when I woke this morning, even with the 75 minute workout the day before.
Steering was my only issue, and I think we can all agree that while it's good that I can sit comfortably on the horse, if I can't steer it's little use. I'm not going to get where I want to go if I tell it to go left when I want it to go right. But that's all the more reason to have another go!
It's affordable, too, and if I stick to weekend lessons I certainly have the time to do it since I don't have to stay home and care for my mum if my dad's home. But I'd rather do it with Lucy than on my own. I feel like it's her domain, and it's something we can certainly do together. The trouble is...I'm not sure about taking that plunge. In all honesty I have no excuse not to, I'm fit enough to do it, it's fun, it's cheap, and I've got plenty of time to do it on the weekends...but...I suppose, even after that one lesson, I'm still daunted by it.
Still, it was an amazing experience and one I will have again. With gloves. And a bottle of water.