Last week, while riding Qrac, my most most-likely-soon-to-be new Lusitano (pinch me, someone!), down in Avignon in the South of France, I really struggled trying to keep him straight. In fact, I struggled trying to do everything with him, really. Not in a disastrous, scary, out of control way; I wouldn’t be buying him if that had been the case. I just struggled because I tend to find it hard to ride a horse I don’t know. In addition, I was also riding a breed I don’t know, and I’d never imagined it would feel so different.
My main problem, apart from keeping Qrac straight, was keeping him in a steady regular pace. That Monday evening, I worked my core muscles more in the half hour or so I rode him than in three months of regular yoga classes. At least, that’s what it felt like. Two days after riding him, apart from sore abs, I even had sore ARMPITS, with my pectoral muscles on fire from hauling down my shoulder blades! I’d forgotten how much hard work can be involved in a half-halt, and goodness knows how many half-halts I did in those thirty minutes. All I know is that I did lots, and that I was drenched in sweat. Everywhere. Yes, I even had a sweaty bum. Lovely, huh?! Do you get a sweaty bum when you’re riding? Some people do, some people don’t. I wish I could toss my hair, shrug my shoulders and brag about belonging to the non-sweaty-botty riding group, but what can you do? Botox, maybe?! Gosh, imagine having a Botoxed bum!
Anyway, while I was out there sweating on Qrac, my trainer, Marie-Valentine, mostly kept a low profile. We’d figured it was important to establish how hard it would be for me to handle the horse on my own, knowing full well that almost any horse would be a challenge after having been lucky enough to own an angelic schoolmaster like Kwintus for the past few years. And I’m pretty confident it will be fine, especially as I’ve decided not to take him to where Kwint lives straight away, but instead stable him at another yard closer to where my trainer lives, and where there is a nice big indoor. The indoor at “my stables” should be up before the summer, and I’ll move Qrac back there as soon as it’s ready, maybe even before if I feel super confident. But I don’t want to do anything foolish, and my yard is simply too wide open: if a horse takes off with you in our outdoor arena it’s hasta la vista, baby, see you in Italy!
So I’m going to play it safe, get to know him, take lessons and set up a training program. I’m looking forward to the challenge, as riding a younger horse with nowhere near as much training as Mr. Kwint is going to be interesting. It’s also going to be humbling. Maybe it’s just me, but, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve always found it difficult to climb onto any horse other than my own (or one that I’m used to riding) and feel like I know what I’m doing, which is why I really admire people like my trainer who can hop onto virtually any horse and make the most of it within a couple of minutes.
One thing I’ve always liked about working with Marie-Valentine is that, on top of being blessed with the most enthusiastic, positive and sunny personality I’ve ever met in a horsey professional, she also comes up with great images to help convey what she’s trying to get across. For example, when my daughter was trying to understand the concept of the half-halt, Marie-Valentine came up with the “I” image (as in the letter “I”). Back then, we knew someone who was always very stiff and rigid in the saddle, whereas Olivia and I tend to be a little too soft and supple in our backs. Of course, being supple is a great asset for following the horse’s movement, but the half-halt requires that split-second “rigidity” which doesn’t come naturally to my daughter and me. We’re just not, well, rigid people! I mean, I even have a floppy walk!
Anyway, in order to help us understand that split-second rigidity, Marie-Valentine told us to picture that super-rigid person riding. We have an expression in French for describing someone who holds themselves super straight: we say “as straight as an I”. Since she needed a discreet way of telling my daughter to think of that rigid person in the saddle whenever she asked for a half-halt, the “I” image was born. And trust me, when I rode Qrac last week, Marie-Valentine’s “I” image came in very handy. In fact, I’m fantasizing about half-halting my way to a six-pack by summer!
Another image that had amazing results on Qrac last week was one I picked up from the inside back page of the latest edition of Dressage Today (their inner back page riding tips are brilliant) This one involved imagining a bucket of water in my pelvis and having to avoid tipping it over. Since I’m very supple in my back, I also tend to collapse my lower spine too much when I’m riding, tucking my tailbone too far underneath me, which then tilts my upper body backwards. One of the few things that Marie-Valentine said to me last week as I trotted past her was “sit up straighter (in French “redresse-toi”), upon which I immediately remembered the bucket of water. I corrected the curve of my lower back to avoid the water spilling out of my imaginary bucket, and Qrac reacted by loosening up straight away. Isn’t it amazing how sensitive they are?
Other useful images I try to keep in mind while riding include stopping my pony tail from bouncing from side to side. This image forces me to stabilize my shoulder blades, which further stabilizes my back. It also forces me to keep our chin up, since one of my other bad habits is looking down instead of straight between my horse’s ears.
Do you have any images you use to help with your riding? Would you care to share some useful tips?