I’m going to Mongolia next month. We arrive on Thursday night and start a 5 day horse ride on Mongolian ponies on Friday morning! Travel weariness won’t be an option!!
I am not a horse rider. I know the front of a horse from the back. I’ve hardly ever been on a horse and never in complete control. My backside is already worried. I have my homeopathic Arnica packed and Rutagrav, which is also excellent for saddle soreness, is at the top of the “to be acquired” list.
Several people have suggested I do some horse riding before I go. I mentioned this to a lovely friend of mine Katrina and she readily agreed to give me some lessons.
I had my first lesson last weekend. I was so nervous. Horses to me at these huge power packs of muscle. On The GO, the farm where I live, there is currently one horse Ollie who is an ex-racehorse. He has it all over me. He knows I am scared of him and makes the most of it. I am always happy to have a fence or gate between him and I.
But now I had to have nothing between me and Beethoven, Katrina’s beautiful horse. No fence, no gate, no electric fence, no person who is confident with horses in control. Just me and the horse. Gulp!
Beethoven has a different energy to Ollie – he’s quieter and accepting. I’m sure he hasn’t had such an aggressive life as racehorse Ollie. The memories of how they were treated early in their life by people I am sure are permanent in horses’ minds and effects how they interact with people.
My lack of confidence plays a big part too just as it does when you meet anyone new. If you let an aggressive person feel you are intimidated by them then they will “take over”. If you are bubbling over with enthusiasm then the person you meet will probably be “infected” by this energy and become enthusiastic. If you’re feeling tired or sad – this projects onto the people you meet. Horses are no different to people.
Someone said to me to approach horses with confidence. Lots of self talk:
“Mmm….. ok….. I’m feeling confident… Sort of…. he’s very big… but I’m confident…. aren’t you Fiona? Yes, of course I’m confident. I can control this mass of muscle… can’t I? Yes. I can.”
Meeting Beethoven with Katrina was easy. He was patiently waiting for us. I let him smell my hand (I hope he doesn’t go to bite me), he snorted (Is this the first sound he makes before he bites me?), sort of nuzzled me – it was okay – Beethoven smells so earthy and horsey and nice (but is he then going to make some move where he will push me and trample me…. self talk…. this is fine…. he’s calm…. you be calm Fi), and then he stood still so I could rub his neck (ok – this is feeling comfortable).
Katrina saddled Beethoven – there was a confusion of buckles and metal bits and leather and holes and straps and pulling and adjustment. Wow – in a twinkle Katrina had this heavy saddle flung on Beethoven’s back, tightened the girth strap (new term!) and was ready to go.
Katrina gracefully mounted Beethoven and then showed me what I was going to learn.
My turn. Always mount from the near side (2 weeks ago I learnt that there is a near side of a horse. Is the other side the “far side” where you fall off onto?). Hold the reigns like this, and your foot in the stirrup like this, hold like this then “just” pull yourself up onto Beethoven.
Beethoven is the size of a skyscraper! Katrina is a gymnast. I am a nervous beginner but somehow I have to get way up there on Beethoven’s back.
One, two, three….. suddenly I feel like a clumsy elephant as I, without any grace or decorum, groan and heave and pull and cling my way up onto Beethoven. I do not feel like a lady at all. I feel in my clumsiness my backside is a focal point as it seems to be spending a lot of time waving in the air when I was hoping it would be sliding gracefully in the saddle.
It seems ages before I manage to get all of me into position – backside on saddle, feet in stirrups, helmet in place, reins held in hands, head settled, body balanced. I’m on a horse!! How cool! It feels good. Scary but fun to be so high off the ground on a calm, placid animal (he won’t change into a runaway express train will he?).
Plus I have Katrina’s calm reassurance beside me telling me I am doing fine – despite how I feel and probably look.
We start off with a walk. And left. And right. And stop.
It feels so cool being in control. I can direct Beethoven left and right and he even stopped! I ignore the fact we are walking and that this hunk of muscle can gallop. Stick with the present Fi!! Basics first.
I then advance to a trot. Beethoven starts to trot and I bounce unrhythmically on his back. Again I feel terribly ungracious. I have none of Katrina’s poise and fluid movements. I rise and crash back onto Beethoven as he is rising. I make a loud slap sound on the saddle. I feel awkward. I even sound awkward! My legs are suppose to be pushing me up and down but my backside seems to weight a ton so I can’t get my backside off the saddle – oh, but then I did, but oh, at the wrong moment, and oh…. there are some muscles in my legs I didn’t know I had.
And then Beethoven breaks into a canter. My heart races. I feel so totally out of control but also sort of not out of control as Beethoven seems to know what he is doing. It’s just my head which is out of control.
“He likes it when you talk to him. Say “Trot on” and pull the reins a little” coaches Katrina.
I pull on the reins and gasp “Trot on” and magically Beethoven slows. And then stops.
“It’s a good idea if you let off the reins if you want him to keep moving into a trot or walk rather than stopping.”
Katrina is ever patient, ever lovely with her advice, pointing out the obvious to my adrenaline filled mind which can’t see the obvious!
Yoga breathing. Calm. Listen to Katrina. Feel Beethoven.
I end up sometimes getting the rise and fall of a trot. When it happens I love the natural feel of the flow between Beethoven and I. And then I lose it and slap back into the saddle. I feel I have progressed though. I can bring Beethoven back into a trot when he canters and keep trotting. I feel confident enough to urge Beethoven into a trot. I’m riding a horse! I’m in control (more or less)! It feels great.
Glenn, Katrina’s lovely husband, observes as he walks passed, I have a “good seat”. I ask if this is a nice way of saying I have a big backside?
Katrina and I go for a long ride across the paddocks to “The Guardian” – and ancient tree on their property. Every movement Beethoven does is new for me – bending down to eat grass, slipping a little on a steep slope, scratching his head on his leg, shaking his head. Gradually I adjust my reactive nervousness and feel more comfortable. Katrina is ever vigilant of my lack of experience so gently suggests things I can do, a route I can take which will be better suited to my skills.
I enjoy being out in the sunshine and nature with a wonderful person and two lovely horses.
By the time we get back to the hitching post my inner thighs are looking forward to stopping.
With much ungraciousness and floundering I manage to drop off Beethoven. The ground feels odd. I really liked riding. I am already looking forward to next time despite the discomfort in my thighs.
It’s amazing how a little exposure to something unknown, such as horse riding, can make it seem less scary. The first steps are always the hardest. The first steps into something unknown. What a bonus to have a calm, knowledgable mentor beside you, to pass on their wisdom and experience to you and help you learn faster. To make the first steps easier and more sure.
One step forward from being a beginner but a huge boost in confidence. Those Mongolian ponies are looking more ridable now.
Thanks Katrina and Beethoven for such an enjoyable time. I really appreciated your patience and time.
Hasta pronto (until soon).