Friday, July 18, 2008

Doing My Homework

I've been busy spending every spare moment riding and practicing all that my new equitation instructor taught me in that one-hour lesson. My neighbor yelled out to me today, "You're looking much better!"

These few small adjustments in my position affected both horses in a huge way. Bombay is suddenly riding like a dream. Lostine, who has always had three speeds -- fast, faster, and fastest, suddenly jogged for the first time in the eight years that I've owned her.

My instructor showed up about 15 minutes early while I was in the middle of spraying down the arena, and I still hadn't lunged Bombay yet. I got the feeling he came by early to check things out. Gabbrielle immediately hurried over to him and stuck her muzzle in his face for a kiss. He spent some time petting her and said, "These horses are very well cared for. Their hooves are trimmed, their bridle paths and muzzles have been clipped, and the manure has been cleaned up."

That was good to hear. Every vet who has come by my place has mentioned that I do a good job caring for my horses, so I guess it's unanimous. I'm a good horse mom, according to the experts.

The equitation instructor gave me one other compliment that made me swell with pride. He taught me how to post on the diagonal, which is a concept I've never known. My previous riding instructor did teach me how to post, but posting "on the diagonal" was totally new to me. Basically, you watch the horse's shoulders as he trots. When the outside shoulder comes up, you post up. When the outside shoulder goes down, you sit down. If you catch the inside shoulder, you can correct it by sitting in the saddle one beat, and then posting again. He told me that I caught on in the first lesson when most people take months to get it right. He seemed genuinely excited about my progress.

Unfortunately, everything fell apart at the canter, so he called it a day. I was flying out of the saddle, losing my stirrups, sitting sideways... I think he was afraid I was going to get hurt, so he asked me to stop and said we'd work on it next week.

I found a pair of boots in my boot collection that don't have a smooth sole, but give me enough room in the ankle to allow me to turn my toes in with the heel down more easily. He told me that if I don't practice my leg position, he'll know.

I've also been practicing my arm, wrist, and hand positioning. For years I had been holding both reins in both hands, hanging each rein on the opposite wither from where it attached to the bit. He taught me to ride with the split reins, keeping each on the side where it extends from the bit. (Unfortunately, Lostine is so short that she steps on the reins if I gather them too tightly.) I'm supposed to hold my arms and wrists as if I'm holding a big ball. The thumbs are on top of the reins, and I can see the knuckles of my index and middle fingers, but not the ring fingers.

The riding crop should be on the inside, away from the rail to act like a door if the horse starts moving off the rail. My instructor taught me how to pass one rein to the other hand, and then pass the riding crop gracefully to the other hand as the horse and I turn. It was awkward on the first try, but feels totally natural now.

In the previous post, I talked about the leg position. The rest of the body needs to be like this:

1. Ribcage is up and out over the belt buckle.
2. Shoulders should be rolled up and back, and then should settle into a relaxed position while being held back to avoid slouching.
3. Sit on back pockets.
4. Calves should be held away from the horse's barrel and be kept quiet when the horse is doing what you have asked. If your legs are constantly bouncing against the sides of the horse, the horse will be less responsive to your cues.
5. Breathe to relax.

Other tips he gave me:

1. To cue your horse to go faster, use your calves, not your heels.
2. Post from your center and the knees in rhythm with with horse's rump pushing you up. Don't push up from the stirrups.
3. The noseband or cavesson should be unbuckled when inserting and removing the bit, so that the horse can comfortably open his mouth.
4. When mounting, hold reins tight with inside rein tighter so that if the horse moves, it moves away from you instead of into you.
5. Always insist on an immediate response from your horse. If you ask for the halt, don't let it slow down in a dozen steps or so and then stop. Regardless of what gait you are at, the horse should stop immediately. When asking for a walk from a faster gait, ask for the halt and then let the horse walk out of it.
6. Shorten the reins as each gait gets faster.
7. Wiggle the reins to ask the horse to set his head and round up before moving up to the next gait.
8. Insist on a strong walk. Don't let the horse dawdle or pussy foot his way around the arena.

My instructor was impressed with Bombay and said that he is the perfect horse for me to learn on, because he does everything I ask so that I can concentrate on correcting myself, and not the horse. He was interested in both Bombay and Gabbrielle, questioning me on their pedigrees. He was familiar with both of their sires and dams. He also knew Bombay's previous trainers. The lady who did Bombay's ground driving and started him under saddle was someone who my new instructor respects.

I thought it was funny that he made a face when I told him that I wanted to start Gabbrielle myself. I assured him that I won't ride her until she grows and fills out some more and I lose more weight. He agreed that she's still too petite to start under saddle. I didn't tell him that I've been sitting on her when she lies on the ground, and have been standing in the stirrup and leaning across the saddle.

I was happy to hear that the way in which I currently mount and dismount is correct, so I don't have to change anything there. I'm conscious about keeping the majority of my weight centered over the saddle when doing both. When mounting, I set myself down lightly and slowly. When dismounting, I keep my center mass bent over the saddle, and then once both boots are out of the stirrups, I push out and jump down lightly with knees bent.

I hope there's a little of something in this post that each reader can use. I know that the majority of my readers have more riding experience than I do, but perhaps you might have forgotten some things and this article reminded you of them. I'd be interested in learning how others have been taught to ride. If interested, leave a comment or write post in your blog about it.


Twinville said...

I got a lot from this post actually. And I'm impressed that you got so much out of your one lesson and could relay it all back in your blog, too. Sounds like you did an amazing job.

I was taught to keep my feet turned outward, heels down, when riding. But I can see how toes pointed inwards with calves facing away from the horse's sides would be a better way to have good communication.
And I really like the idea of using calves instead of feet, or heels. My Baby Doll is very sensitive on her sides due to being ridden too hard with spurs in her younger years, so I avoid kicking her. She moves off with a gentle click or a squeeze. But using my calves would probably be even more effective, but softer.

And I wanted to ask you why horses should have their muzzles trimmed? I though horses needed that hair for finding their way around, especially if they are pastured alot and not kept in stalls for shows most of the time.

Also, my Baby Doll had her bridle path trimmed when I bought her 6 months ago, but I felt it was too a wide bridle path, so I've been letting it grow out and then I intend to trim a shorter/less wide path because I think it will look better on my western style horse. :)

Does not trimming these areas mean I'm not taking good care of my horse? You've got me a little worried now. I want to do the best for my painted girlfriend and there's always so much to learn and worry about.

Thanks again for sharing all the helpful info on your blog. I love visiting and always leave with something new :)

Mrs Mom said...

GO NM!!! I am so happy that you found an instructor you are comfortable and happy with! Sometimes, that can be quiet a challenge to do.

Sounds like he gave you loads of good pointers in your first lesson. I'll be looking forward to reading your progress as you go along!

You know, its been so blasted long since i had an actual lesson, I might just have to go and get one for the heck of it... ;) Thanks for the "nudge" here! :)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Twinville - Regarding the muzzles being trimmed, if you don't show your horse you may as well leave the whiskers on. I was adamant about leaving them on to let the horse's feel around with them, but changed my mind when I realized they weren't going to get into much trouble on my property, and they look cleaner and prettier when trimmed. Those horses in the horse show pictures have most of their faces trimmed, not just the muzzle, and many are body clipped as well.

I think that when my instructor made that comment, he was thinking from the point of view of an Arabian horse show equitation instructor.

I let sections of the bridle path grow in during winter too. By summer, I start out with a fairly short path and it gets longer and longer until winter comes, and then I let it grow out again. I like my horse's to have thick forelocks, so the bridle actually sits on their forelock and not the path, so I suppose there is really no point for the path other than that it looks clean.

Mrs. Mom - Wow! You are thinking about a refresher course. I hope it helps.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Your instructor sounds like a perfect fit with you and your horses. I remember years ago when I first was learning my diagonals, there was a saying "rises and fall by the leg on the wall", this way you always knew which shoulder to glance down at to get the correct diagonal.
The lessons are going to make you a much more confident and better rider, good luck.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

grey horse - I'm so glad you brought up that saying. My instructor taught it to me too, but I couldn't remember the exact wording when I wrote the post. Now that you have written it down for me, I can always check your comment when I forget. Thanks.

Part of the reason why I am writing such detailed posts about what I learned is because I need something to refer to when my gray matter fails me.

coymackerel said...

impressed at how much you learned and retained in one lesson. I'm a beginning rider and horse owner so keep those detailed posts coming! Even though I take lessons I find it's helpful to hear how another teacher phrases things - for example I had never heard that saying about rise and fall by the leg on the wall.

Momma / Cowgirl said...

GREAT POST. I and hubby are having riding lessons now also and you have done a fantastic job of putting to words a lot of what we have been told during our classes. This will be a great post for me to print out and have to give me reminders every so often of what was taught to me.
Thank you!!
happy horsin' around!

Nor'dzin said...

I was interested in your mention of knees. When I was first taught to ride in the 1960s I was told to grip with the knees and post from the knees. However when I finally returned to riding in 2002 I was told to unlearn all this and to post from the lower leg and always keep leg contact, but to keep the knees open. Confusing eh? I like the idea of no leg contact unless needed however.

Shirley said...

Seems that you have a good instructer! Glad you are getting so much out of your lessons. There is one point I would like to bring up;when you dismount that way you could be in trouble if you ride a western saddle. You risk getting your clothing caught on the saddle horn, and if you do and are in the process of jumping down, you'll get hung up and have to scramble to get your foot back in the stirrup- if your horse will let you! If you are riding english, it's not an issue. The proper way to dismount from a western saddle is the same way you mount, in reverse. Hold your reins and some mane in your left hand, the saddle horn in your right, have just your toes in the left stirrup, swing your right leg over and step down. This is a safe way to dismount; if the horse moves as you are swinging off,it's easy to complete the step-off; you won't have your whole foot in the stirrup and risk hanging up, and you have control of the horse with the reins.

Katee said...

Breathing is REALLY important. My instructor often tells me to sing, because when you're singing you can't hold your breath. I get nervous and just stop breathing! Silly rider! Singing also helps me keep my horse on a steady rhythm.

LJB said...

Over time, I suspect you will pick and choose from what any instructor offers you, and keep using the stuff that works for you and your horse. I joke about being lazy (not true, really) and so I go for how can I ride with using the least amount of muscle possible. That fits with relaxing in the saddle, not being sloppy or anything, but using only those muscles I need to in order to stay on (first priority *g*) and direct and support my horse to be doing what I want us to be doing together. I've heard from several sources that whatever muscles we have tight, our horses have the equivalent muscles tight. Feeling confident with what you are learning -- what a great place to be!

I found your blog, by the way, thanks to Nor'dzin's blog. I love wandering around the world of blogging and finding new interesting people!