Self-Inflicted Horsemanship

Today I decided to fulfill all of my slightly twisted riding lesson fantasies. My riding buddies all start groaning if the subject of riding without stirrups comes up, but I’m always ready to bring it on. Whenever I get the chance to have a lesson with a bonafide professional horse person (as opposed to riding by myself and occasionally glancing at myself in the barn window reflections), I’m willing to try pretty much anything. I love variety when I’m riding and exercises out of the ordinary are exciting. I’ve always secretly wished that I could have a stern German riding instructor that would bark orders at me in a lovely unapologetic accent and make me ride without stirrups or with one hand behind my back. A las, babbling to myself throughout in a German accent seems to suffice.

Items on the menu:

  1. Riding while holding a brick. I think I read about this in an old fashioned horsemanship manual. It’s supposed to encourage the rider to hold their hands in a steady, correct position and strengthen core and balance. If the rider tips forward, the weight of the brick should make the incorrect position extremely uncomfortable. Also, on an unrelated note, why is it so hard to find regular smallish red bricks laying around? I just have the giant cinder blocks with big holes in them.

Outcome: I actually started with this one because I was so eager to try it. Who wouldn’t want to wield a bulky half-ton object while directing a horse through a complex pattern? To be frank, it did not go well. It’s not that the brick was too heavy. It was just really hard to hold it in a comfortable position and keep the reins from slipping through my fingers. As I kept riding with the brick I eventually realized the futility the exercise and dropped the brick. I almost felt Shiloh heave a sigh of relief when I dropped it. Sometimes my ideas are dumb as bricks.

  1. So I moved on to a simpler version of the exercise, holding a whip in both hands, parallel to the ground. This is supposed to also quiet the rider’s hands and help develop and independent seat as the hands begin to move with the horse.

Outcome: With both thumbs hooked over the whip, there isn’t much leeway for hand shenanigans. I think Shiloh was very glad of this fact, since my hands usually tend to wobble.  It was good for turns and circles since I really had to fight the temptation to just use my inside rein, since both reins were effectively joined together. It was like a perfect electrical circuit from my hands to the reins to the bit. The energy was conserved and circulated, but never lost. Very Zen.

  1. Next came the infamous riding sans stirrups. The idea is that if the stirrups are taken away, the rider will have no choice but to ride with an independent, following seat and not rely on the hands. Relaxation is key, as tension in the rider will transfer to the horse, which will cause disgraceful and embarrassing jackhammer sensations and possibly a roll in the dirt.

Outcome: I was not relaxed. But I didn’t reach the full “human suspended on a fat trotting Thelwell pony” image that I was expecting I would. It took some time, and lots of patience on Shiloh’s part, but I did eventually pull together a semblance of a sitting trot with minimal air time. After posting a little and doing some twenty meter circles, I actually tried Ride-a-buck, where you stick a piece of paper under your inner thigh and see how long it stayed. I kept it for the whole time I was schooling and I won my class. Yes, it was just me. And yes, I did a cantering victory lap.

Now I’m sore, but I can rest easy knowing that I can finally check these torturous exercises off my list.

I found this hand painted horse plate at a flea market. I think it's the eyes. The horse is telling me to hold my hands still or else. He's getting tired of my funny business.

I found this hand painted horse plate at a flea market. I think it’s the eyes. The horse is telling me to hold my hands still or else. He’s getting tired of my funny business.

Skeptical horse is skeptical.

Happy horsing around!!!!

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