Friday, 8 February 2008

My Life with Horses - How did I go from a city child to a riding instructor - Episode 2

Episode 1

Episode 2 - which tells you about my weird childhood game, fascination with wilderness and how I decided to jump off my horse during my first ever canter...


You know when you are in your early teens and your family just loves to ask who would you like to be when you grow up? What did you say?
In my very early teens I was very single-minded as to who I wanted to be. It had nothing to do with horses since they became inaccessible to me. I lived in a centre of a big city and the only horses I saw were on TV. The real ones were miles away in the country. I needed a new focus and found it in cynology.
If someone asked me who I was going to be I replied: a cynologist. Nine people out of ten didn't have a clue what that word even meant but that only added to my fascination of the subject.
I was literally obsessed with dogs. To my family's despair I mastered moving on all fours and would do it constantly! I wasn't a toddler anymore and when I think about it now I am mega embarrassed. My favourite play at the time was to build all sorts of obstacles and jump over them (dog style or horse style - depending who I was playing at the time!). They were pretty big (about 3ft3 - 1m) and it took awhile to actually learn to jump them without collapsing after a few efforts ;) I also did some dressage movements and could probably do an entire GP test if I knew it then. Moving around on all fours was pretty addictive;)

I loved watching animals. Especially dogs, horses, wolves and wild cats. Every movement of the muscle was registered by me so I could then use it and move in the way they did. Crazy, I know. My friends had walls covered with posters of Prince, Gun's and Roses, Whitney Huston, Take That and whoever else was famous at the time; I had images of wolves, dogs and horses doing the wallpaper job.
I do think these obsessive observation has helped me a lot later on when I started playing with natural horsemanship and Join Up, but back then it was quite an issue ;)

As much as I obsessed about observing animals I also passionately read books on them. At 12-13 yrs old I discovered my hunger for reading. One of my earliest memory from childhood is watching my mum reading a book. She was lying on the sofa, there was a lamp above her head and she didn't speak. I asked her how could she read without saying a single word out loud. She told me she was "just reading with her eyes". That was a mystery to me. I must have been 5 years old I think and all I wanted was to be able to read with my eyes ;)
My favourite books were mostly to do with wilderness and nature. I think I read most Jack London's (started with The Call of The Wild and White Fang(click here to read it online) ), James Oliver Curwood ("Baree" and "Kazan" had their pages battered after going through my fingers tens of times).
I read a lot about horses too. As many others before me I cried my eyes out reading about the life of Black Beauty and Silver Brumby - these are the two I remember most vividly.

Sometime around 1992 my parents were in a position to pay for my riding lessons again. We went to the same centre, mostly because that was the only good one we knew about. I got assessed and signed up to an intermediate group - the one that was to learn to canter. I don't remember much of those lessons apart from being extremely anxious and excited all the time. Once again the horses became the centre of my attention. I sit here trying to remember some snippets of what I learnt back then but there is not much that I recall. What comes back to me are the noise the bit makes when you carry the bridle from the tack room, the crinkly sound of the leather when you adjust your stirrups, the smell of manure and sweat and fresh hay. I remember being afraid to pick up back legs and being told to get on with it, the grooming before the ride...Talking about grooming...I remember one day we got stuck in the traffic and I missed my grooming time. I had this massive grey horse to ride, dirty as hell, I was late for my ride and there was no one around to help me with tacking up. I got reprimanded by Koniuszy (a horseman/stable manager) who took care of the grey and told me that it was just unheard of to be late for a ride. He said it was even worse not to groom your horse beforehand. And so I spent most of my riding time washing poo stains of that horse and managing just about 20 minutes or so in the saddle.
It's funny because when children come to the stables nowadays they are given the pony all tacked up and ready, aligned at the mounting block...Tragedy if you ask me! I don't dare to oppose though as it would probably mean the school would be sued.

The day I cantered for the first time I rode a pony. His breed is called : Polish Konik (Konik Polski) and they look like this:

I had never ridden a pony until then and I felt like everything was very easy all of a sudden. The pony was about 13hh and I thought I was ridiculously close to the ground. In fact, I felt so at ease on that pony that when we cantered and it didn't feel quite safe I...jumped off.
Not just like that, oh no. The arena was built in a shape of a big oval with one side being next to a fence and the rest just open onto the surrounding land. I was told to ask for a canter away from the fence. When I did, the pony must have thought it was great fun to finally do something else than trotting forever, he bucked and pulled the reins out of my hands. I remember deciding quickly that I would stay on throughout the whole round until we got to the fence again, then I would thrust myself out of the saddle and grab the top rail. Good plan, hey? I didn't take into equation the fact I needed to steer the pony but he must had been so socialised into going around and around that he followed the track beautifully and I jumped off as planned.
However, I wasn't too good at envisaging that the speed of the cantering pony will make the soft landing a bit difficult. I lent to my right to reach the passing rail, grabbed it as strongly as I could and slid off the saddle. I felt a massive pull as if my arms where going to pop out of sockets and quickly after that I found myself landing flat out on the sandy surface of the arena;)

My instructor was rather amused and slightly shocked when I told him about my plan. I was strongly advised to stay on next time around!

To be continued...

EPISODE 3
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