Tuesday, 12 February 2008

My Life with Horses - How did I go from a city child to a riding instructor - Episode 3

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3 - which tells you about my sporty drive, loosing fear and the start of an exciting equestrian era.

After the jumping off incident I listened to my instructor and stayed on pretty well. I am quite good at listening to my trainers as long as I respect them ;)
However much I wanted to listen though I didn't have control over my parent's financial situation and so after some time (possibly another half a year but I don't really remember) my riding dried up yet again.
At 13 years old I was really into sport. Since once again I couldn't ride I started swimming and running on long distances representing my school. From running on the track I went into hurdles and I really liked it. Somehow I managed to get a place in an Athletic Sports Club in my area (they only took limited amount of pupils a year) and attended trainings three times a week. I loved the feeling of exhaustion you got when you went farther and farther. I would push myself over every possible physical barrier. I would run until my lungs couldn't make it anymore and my legs felt like made of jelly beans. I also learnt how to somersault, how to walk on my hands (this is an AMAZING exercise for balance and I still wonder whether my reasonably good posture and balance when riding haven't stem from those crazy athletic days) and I would still play about with all fours running from time to time :-0.

My speciality was short distance running but I wasn't fast enough on 100m to make it beyond regionals and they put me in the long distances group. Part of the training there were across country runs. If I ever thought I pushed myself before those runs showed me a new dimension to physical effort. There was some sort of addiction in the pain of the training and I absolutely loved it. I remember running to the point of thinking I couldn't do any more step, then I would do another, then another and another and would jump into this very specific state of mind in which I was invincible.
Who knows, maybe I would have made a good runner if not for one of the routine trainings which took part in one specific wood...a wood used for hacking by a local riding school...

We set of as usual for a two hours run. It was a dark winter afternoon, snow 20cm deep, cold with -5C and it took ages to warm up the muscles. I had pneumonia as a child and cold weather has never been my favourite. The chill had always seemed to make my breathing more laboured. I remember having a low day and finding it hard to keep up with the others.
After an hour I went through my first barrier and that was when I saw them. Three horses, one big grey and two bays, trotting effortlessly up the snowy alley straight towards us. Riders laughing at something. Steam coming up from flared nostrils, sound of metal bits hitting horses' teeth, this amazing power and freedom of movement. And there was I, with my chest burning, shivering in the cold.
Many years later I realised that all my athletic endeavours were not much more but a substitute. That what I really wanted to do was ride horses. That my love for speed when running was just a preface to what I felt when I galloped. That the hurdles were nothing in comparison to the feeling of flying when I jumped 1.30m for the first time.

In winter 1994 I found out that there was a riding school about 20minutes from where I lived. That is how I got back into the saddle and never walked away since!

I helped with everything. Mucking out (that was interesting as all the horses were kept on deep litter so to muck out a single stable you needed a truck parked in the corridor and a few hours
one to one with ever present ammonia), tacking up, grooming, cleaning tack, grinding oats in a massive machine, walking children on ponies, bringing horses in and out from the arena, painting the stables, watering, haying, feeding, swiping the yard etc
Haying was great, especially at the weekends. My friends and I would climb up the ladder to get to the loft above the stables where the hay was kept. If we were lucky there was some loose hay that needed feeding before the baled one. We would then lift the flap in the floor which opened directly onto the stable's corridor. We dropped the hay down the corridor until it almost reached the ceiling and jumped on the top of the pile one by one laughing at the expressions on some of the horses faces. Silly us.

Horses became everything to me. Every day after school I would go down to the stables to help out together with a couple of other friends. In return we were entitled to some free of charge riding lessons. Sometimes we rode once a week, sometimes a few times a day. My favourite time was any bad weather time. This was mainly due to clients not turning up and horses needing exercise.
We had some pretty chilled horses there but they were all fed oats...and that meant that even one day off made rodeo ponies out of them :)
My first encounters with horses were so full of various fears and anxieties that I must have gone over the limit after which I grew completely fearless. The things we did with those horses back then were something today's health & safety would be too panicked to even name them on a Forbidden Activities List.
From what I recall we mostly hacked out or jumped in the arena. We didn't have any excellent instructors but those that were there made sure we rode as correctly as possible from a very early stage. We had to learn many tricks as those riding schools horses were a breed on its own. They were clever, cheeky, talented and could do just about anything we wanted them to do. We also learnt very fast that if you earned horse's respect on the ground he or she would listen to you from the saddle as well.
None of the horses was even close to bombproof as they are required to be nowadays. We had quite a few accidents over the years. One I remember very well was when my friends horse, who was a very genuine chap by the way, jumped a 4ft fence after she attempted to stop him at it. I doubt she has ever tried that again!
We raced with passion. Every longer stretch of any road was good enough. We were fairly imaginative riders - one of the games was to swap horses without dismounting...you had to hold your friends horse while she held yours. You then rode as close to each other as was possible (hoping for no kicking!) and slowly moved from your horse onto the other horse's bum while your friend moved onto your horse's withers/neck. Then just one quick move to get in the new saddle and we would canter off straight away. You never wanted be the one who was still getting sorted so we tried to master the skill the best we could.

Jumping was a must. A hack without a jump was a bad hack. We weren't particularly bothered about what we actually jumped as long as all the four legs of the horse left the ground. The rougher the terrain the better too. Jumping logs on hills (up and down) was a dessert on the menu!
In between searching for objects to jump (from logs, through rubbish left on the ground to roadside benches) we tried to keep ourselves entertained by going underneath various branches. When we got bored with that we started going underneath the washing lines someone left in between the trees. When it got too easy in walk and trot we proceeded into canter. I nearly got strangled once when I didn't lie on horse's back quick enough!

In the summer 1994 I experienced riding on the beach for the first time. Funnily enough, I rode the same breed of a pony that the one on the day of my first canter. I stayed on this time though and it was fantastic. On the back of the picture on the left I scribbled the name of the pony: Palestra. She was tiny but had an incredible stamina and could canter through the water forever!

So many wonderful things happened that year, it seems like an entire decade when thinking about it now. I remember trying my best to learn to jump well. I loved it but wanted to be good enough to be given a horse from the stables I could compete on.
I didn't know it then but just about half a year later my dreams came true and I rode in my first ever show jumping show...

To be continued...
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