Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Riding progress

Very sorry for all the delays. I think my computer is better now. It took a lot of time and work and help from a friend, but it's a lot better now!

I had some dark days myself, but I'm stabilizing too.

First I'll tell you about what I've been up to with my riding!

One of the other boarders, A___, hadn't ridden a horse bareback since she was 9 years old! Bo talked her into it, but first he told her that I would ride Teddy Bear bareback, to show that it wasn't so bad after all.

It had been a while since I'd ridden bareback. I'm always a little surprised at how much harder it is to remain balanced. Actually, though it isn't so much that it is harder- it's that the saddle isn't there to take a lot of that torque that comes from imbalance, so you are a lot more aware of it. It isn't all on the horse's back, it's on you, too. It's harder to grip, yes. But a good rider moves with the horse, and it isn't really ABOUT grip. It's about balance, muscle, timing, and feel.

I am not a good rider yet.

I am, however, improving. It is easier than it used to be. Teddy Bear is much more likely to do what I ask than she was, and to listen to me. Part of this is because she trusts me and knows me more now. She is learning me. A much bigger part of it, however, is that I am learning more about actually giving the cues properly. I am learning her.

We did a lot of turns and figure-8s. There was a time when it was all I could do to not fall off, and Teddy would stop every few steps because I was so off balance, or break into a trot because I accidentally told her to. Both of these things still happen from time to time, but not as often. Not nearly as often.

Teddy is very good at her job. Her job is teaching young people, nervous people, new people, and physically challenged people how to ride. She is not a fancy reining horse, or a world class barrel racer. She is not a bring home 20 colorful ribbons kind of horse.

She's more valuable than that.

What's more valuable than ribbons? Well, I think a lot of things are. But this is what makes Tedders special:

She is patient.
She is kind.
She is careful with her charges.
She is forgiving.
She is steady.
She is a babysitter.
And when you don't give her the proper cue, she won't do what you're trying to get her to do.

"But they should always do what you want," you might protest.

Well, no. No, because then you won't learn how to ask properly. You won't learn how to ride correctly!

So if I tell her to back up and I am hauling the reins up without giving or using my legs wrong, instead of backing up, she'll crane her neck around, very gently rest the tip of her nose on the toe of my boot, and just roll her eye up at me. It's as plain as day. She's saying "Uh yeah, that's NICE, but we're not going anywhere until you do it RIGHT. We can stand here like this all day, or you can ask me properly. Your choice. And mine."

And that right there makes her worth her weight in gold.

Little things like moving a bit out of sync or going a bit off balance she will forgive, though she'll also let you know you aren't doing it right with a tail swish, or slowing down. If you're really out of balance or out of sync, she'll stop and let you figure it out.

Sometimes she also does have her opinions about things, of course. She's a mare. She's a whole horse, with hormones and ideas of her own.

But our rapport is improving. Remember the time I had to back her all the way out of the pasture? That day we went out of the roundpen, which made things a lot more interesting and worthwhile for her. Since then, we haven't had a repeat of that. Now she usually comes right on out with me, though once when she was sleepy I had to back her a few feet to wake her up enough to come along with me. She checks in with me with a little nose-brush, but she has also begun to listen to me more on the ground as well.

Watching A___ ride Tedders was very eye-opening, because I got to see her in action from the ground. Her cues are different from those of a cutting horse, and it was interesting to see her responses.

After A___ finished riding, Bo looked at me and asked if I wanted to ride again. Oh yes I did!

The next time I rode, Fallenupright from the Free Speech Horse Forum was visiting. Great girl, and I will post about her once I can get the pictures from her visit processed. Bo had me get on Teddy Bear with a halter and split reins, no other tack. I think that's the longest I've ever ridden a horse bareback. It was well over a half an hour, and it certainly worked my muscles! There were three people riding around at the same time, and I think maybe Bo was even on a horse himself, though I do not recall for certain. There were times when Teddy and I were left to our own devices. That was good too. Sometimes I need quiet time to focus just on the horse I am riding and not on the person giving instructions, just to work stuff out.

Teddy was a good girl and did what I asked. We mostly did walk, though we had a few walk-trot transitions. At the end of the ride, Bo instructed me to practice an emergency dismount at the trot. I have to say, it's way easier to do that bareback than in a saddle!

It took me a little while to do it because there was a mounting block in the middle of the roundpen, and because of my body and where I was injured, it's way easier for me to dismount to the right than the left. I know it isn't "proper," though one should be able to do everything from both sides if one is to go trail riding in hills of any sort.

Since the left is my weak side, however, so I realized that I had hit my own mental block when I didn't dismount right away- one I didn't really realize was there. Well, sometimes the best way to move past a block is to break on through, so I trotted Teddy bear up again, let the reins go, wrapped my arms as far around her neck as they could go, and threw myself off of her.

Teddy, being a good girl, stopped immediately, and I found myself landing on my feet, off to the side, staring at her face. I traveled pretty far, hah!

So I'm going to talk just a little bit about emergency dismounts and falling. I don't know if I'll change anyone's mind, but maybe I'll give somebody some little thing to think about. :}

I once asked on a horse forum about learning to fall. I asked people, "so what do you do to learn to fall right?"

The responses were pretty eye-opening.

Mostly they ranged from "I just work on not falling off" to "there isn't anything you can do, it happens too fast and you are just going to get hurt!"

Both of these are valid viewpoints with merit. But I think there can be a little more to it than that.

It's better to not fall off, of course! It's good to work on balance, riding skills, staying in the saddle.

If you're walking down the street, and you see a dark alley with rival gangs on either side, the best way to not get yourself hurt is to just not walk down that alley. But what it you are already in the middle of the alley? What if your horse trips and starts to fall? What if your saddle breaks and falls off? What if there's an unexpected buck?

Then it's good to learn how to defend yourself. You might be defending yourself from an angry guy with a chip on his shoulder, or you might be defending yourself from a hard slam to the ground. Do you want to be completely helpless and unprepared, or do you want to have some tools at your disposal to use, in order to help yourself?

Sometimes things happen so fast, you just don't have time to react, yes! Sometimes something is so shocking that you freeze up.

Training your body and your mind can help with this. It is NOT a sure-fire defense against getting hurt. But it gives you better odds!

Something happens too quickly for you to react. It happens faster than you can think about it. But you can train reflexes into your body. You can practice.

If that guy in the alley throws a punch at you, you won't have time to think "okay now I need to make a fist and since he is aiming for my head, I need to raise my arm, palm facing him, and get it up there so my forearm is at an angle, deflecting his blow and forcing his arm to slide away from me." If you train your body and practice, however, you will find yourself automatically blocking.

You can prepare. When you go flying off your horse, you probably don't have time to think "okay, I am flying face-first, so I should put my forearm in front of me and use that as a starting-point, rolling from my arm to my shoulder to my back, then coming back up on my feet so I can get out of the way of the horse." If you can practice this fall, however, you might not need to think about it. You might just do it without thinking.

Does that mean it will protect you from harm, if you practice? Does it mean that it will always work?

No. My sensei dislocated his shoulder when he was attacked by two men with knives. He managed to fight them off, but in the end he fell and instead of slapping the ground and dissipating the force of the impact, he straightened and locked his arm at just the wrong moment. He knew what to do and his body knew what to do, but the shock of the attack threw him off too much. The shock of being thrown from your horse instead of purposefully throwing yourself off might throw you off too.

But you will have a much, much better chance. You will have a tool that you can use. You will have a skill at your disposal, which if you just never think about it and never practice it, you will not.

It isn't a miracle. There is NO sure-fire way to protect yourself from harm, working with horses. Or doing ANYTHING. But practice will improve your odds.

If sensei hadn't trained all those years, he would have been stabbed to death.

I might break my wrist some day, or crack my ribs. But maybe, because I have been practicing and training my body and mind to process falling, I will be able to save myself from getting trampled by rolling out of the way, or avoid breaking my neck. Maybe I will be able to choose the time and place of my departure, when I know said departure is inevitable.

Things will go wrong. Avoiding thinking about them will not change that. It will just make it harder to deal with when they do.

That's my bit of food for thought today. I hope you found it interesting!

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