"I am going to teach you how to RIDE."
As a pre-reading note: I slightly wish this could be a funnier entry - and I have no doubt they'll be coming. But I have to remember these moments, and keep them in this online memory book, and look back on them during times of hardship and sadness or self-flagellation. Sorry, dear readers.
Post-show season and pre-Florida has become known as Boot Camp 'round these parts. Trainer is fairly big on concentrating on showing when we're showing, and fixing and adding to your knowledge toolbox during the off season. Well, now is the off season, and I couldn't be more excited for it. I feel like a kid at Christmas who is also in a candy shop who also knows they are getting everything they want in their gift boxes.
Equestrian boot camp involves a layering of things: a lot of flat lessons, a lot of new concepts introduced by Trainer, a *tremendous* amount of education, the realization that you have never learned how to actually ride, a whole hell of a lot of practice, and a significant amount of time spent without stirrups.
At the mention of all these glorious things to come, my barnmates consider their own deaths and I just get weird and giddy. This gif about sums it all up (that would be me, in the middle):
BRING. IT. ON.
The first day of this magical string of lessons came yesterday. I was pretty early, and somehow ended up displaying a horse to a prospective client, which was interesting. After that, I tacked up Riley and went in for my lesson. Trainer was in an excellent mood and we spent some time chatting about the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, during which he, and the country, had a truly excellent showing. Can I just say again? How unrealistically lucky I am? How fortunate I am to have landed somewhere with that kind of insane talent and knowledge? AHH. Boggles my mind.
Anyway, my lesson started as they always seem to: abruptly. One moment I'm trotting along purposefully on a loose rein to stretch Riley out and the next there are commands sailing across the arena to my ears.
Trainer generally picks one fairly specific concept per lesson (or week, depending) and introduces it to everyone. It varies by riding level - the more advanced riders will go way more in depth where the barest duskings of it will be introduced to the riders who aren't quite there yet. Trainer started by working with me on a circle at the walk, and having me ask my horse for inside flexion while ensuring that his shoulder didn't pop and his hind end didn't go flying off into the sunset. The big instruction was to give, give, give with my outside elbow and relax through the elbow and shoulder, not the fingers (as he kept reminding me; whenever someone tells me to relax, my fingers open!) and just maintain contact, not pull, with the inside hand. We did this both directions at the walk, then moved to the trot, with no real problems. Then we went to the straightaways, asking for slight inside flexion by giving with the outside elbow and hand, getting some kind of reaction from the horse, and going back to straightness, then outside flexion, then straightness, then inside, then outside, then straightness, and a lot of nothing when you got the proper reaction. It was very bare, and very small movements but Riley was like "oh, I like this" and began to really frame up beautifully. We worked this at trot and canter, did square turns, lots of Trainer being very vocal about yes/no/maybe, then we started doing collected work.
Now in the past I've done what I would consider collected work, but apparently wasn't too terribly proper, ha ha. Trainer's instructions involved putting on a lot of leg, but just holding - not pulling, holding - the contact, then slowly (and later more quickly) easing the contact back and asking the horse to rock back and shorten his step. Sounds easy, right? It's not. But we worked collection, medium, extension, medium, collection at trot and canter, and Riley was like, "OH." and I apparently started doing a lot of things right, at about the same time he started getting it, and evidently got the hand giving thing down to some sort of science, since Trainer seemed quite cheerful about my (apparent) ability to collect and properly use my hands after thirty minutes of instruction.
At this point I would like to point out I'm still not exactly sure what I did, but I practiced what I thought might be right today on a few different horses, and got some pretty excellent results, so I'm hoping I'm on the right track!
Trainer always likes to connect whatever specific exercise we're doing to the bigger picture (which is jumping courses, basically) and spent some time talking about the (obvious) benefits of collection before fences and after and stuff like that. So for shits and giggles he threw in a tiny vertical, had me jump it from normal rhythm but with the correct use of hand and leg to hand, then collect collect collect after, lead change, same thing the other way.
Dear readers, while I'm still not entirely sure what I did that was so right, it felt... well, it felt amazing. Because there was obviously something really, really right about it. I finished and was just walking on air and could not stop thanking Trainer. He was so fantastically interactive about all of it too, walking next to me, showing me exactly what he wanted me to do, talking at great length about collection and forwardness and all of it, and the muscles it affects on the horse's body, and how I could take all these tools and put them on all of the future horses that I ride, and a lot of other really nice and complimentary things about my riding that I am honestly embarrassed to put here but will probably remember forever. I literally sat there and grinned like a total moron, tried to come up with coherent responses, and thanked him about 300 times.
WE ARE TOTILAS.
Then I tried to be funny, and also slightly make light of the fact that I could barely get around a course when he showed up last year, and said, "every time I have a proper lesson with you, I realize I don't know how to ride at all!"
He got kind of annoyed with me about that statement, for the briefest moment. We had been talking and laughing, then all of a sudden it was *deadpan silence and French staredown* and I was like, *cringes in terror.* And he kind of thought for a moment, and then goes, "you know, you are always saying zis, zat you do not know how to ride. You are not as educated as you could be, zis is difference. But zat much different than not knowing how to ride. I will educate you. It obvious you want to be educated, look at what you done over ze past year, your whole riding is totally different. You embrace what I tell you. You work ze hardest. Now we get to do more advanced ting, like today, zis advanced stuff." And then another unexpected flood of compliments. (For interested parties, I have no idea how to take a compliment. So that was awkward.) It's obviously very validating to have your trainer tell you you don't suck, but this one is not prone to compliments really, and is pretty much never effusive, so to hear all this come out in a flood of "hey, I'm an Olympic rider, and I don't think you suck, in fact, I think you're pretty cool!" is fairly weird in a rather good way.
I'm glad I practiced and worked as hard as I have. While I have no expectation it's going to be easy from here on out, I am really starting to think it's going to be *better.* Plus one for perseverance and chasing dreams.