Thursday, 21 February 2008

My Life with Horses - How did I go from a city child to a riding instructor - Episode 4

Episode 1 Episode 2 Episode 3

Episode 4 - in which hard beginnings are rewarded by the beauty of constant learning

In autumn of 1994 the stables got a few new liveries which started my adventure with "riding for owners"! I was assigned my first ever "own" horse which means I was the only person to jump it, train it and care for it for its owner who paid for full livery.
The horse was called Iskra [read: eeskra and which translated into English means 'a spark']. It was a she, an about 15.2hh chestnut mare who, should she was a human being, would probably be a drama queen and worked in a theatre!
She had masses amounts of quirks, she liked to nip you when you groomed her and wouldn't hesitate to give you a little kick should she so wished and decided you were staying for too long in HER stable. I adored her and whatever she did she was always in my good books.
It was Iskra who partnered me in my first show-jumping competition. In the run up to it the stables organised jumping training once a week which we didn't have to pay for but had to work for that bit harder. Usually it meant aggravating my mum who rightly claimed that I should had been home doing my homework rather than playing horses all the time. I was pretty lucky as my school records were always good and I didn't seem to have much problems. This meant that even if I wasn't mega ready for some lessons the teachers didn't ask me as they assumed I knew anyway ;))
I spent ages turning my house upside down looking for the picture of Iskra that I knew I had somewhere but I couldn't find it. I will add it here as I know I have it, it just the matter of figuring out where did I put it!
Our trainings didn't go very well because Iskra didn't share my enthusiasm for jumping (to say the least). She had a very dirty stop and liked to practise it at almost every fence. On a good note she taught me a very secure seat as after a few landings over her head I didn't dare to go in front of the movement as well as how to grip with my legs (not too good!).
After a few months I did get some sort of knack of her and we would sometimes managed a course with two refusals, sometimes less. However, that was before the fillers and decorations were added...She hated them with vengeance and would not jump them until she had a very good look at them. This involved about 15-20 refusals underneath the penultimate fence ;) I still adored her! What was I thinking??? ;)
Picture left: one of the livery ponies
On the day of the competition my parents told me they would be coming and bringing friends along. Well, I was not too pleased. I was pretty sure I would have a refusal and didn't fancy this being watched by lots of people I knew.
The show was a pretty big one as our stables usually held regional competitions with classes going up to 'N' (1.20m). I was entered in 'LL' (80cm - 2ft6) and 'L' (1m - 3ft3). The idea being that Iskra would have a good look at the fences in 'LL' class and most likely be eliminated and maybe jump a course in the 'L' class.
Well, we were pretty correct. She got herself eliminated half-way in the first class. In the second we only got to the third fence - an oxer with a filler - and she proceeded to perform top class stops with the third one being on top of the fence!
That was that as far as the beginning to my dream show-jumping career was concerned ;)

I still worked on Iskra and had jumping training on her but I don't remember any breakthroughs. Sometimes she would jump well and on other days she would chuck me on the floor. There were days when I would make her evening food and would make my speech to her before I let her eat it. The speech was more like a prayer mixed with pleads asking her to please, please, please jump those fences for me. Anthropomorphism didn't seem to help much as Iskra
continued to refuse to jump. I guess she was probably telling me I wasn't a good enough rider to jump her and what was I thinking anyway to expect a queen to do what she was told.

Despite our differing opinions as to show-jumping I was still devastated when Iskra's owner moved away and found another livery yard for the mare closer to her new house. I remember turning Iskra out beautifully for the departure and spending whole day with her. I know I have some pictures from that day too, if I find them they will be added here.

Picture left: playing with Alexander and Tonic, the ponies

After Iskra was gone I rode everything I could. Friends and I played with the ponies teaching them various tricks and just basically having fun. The stables dealt in horses so we had a fair amount of them coming and going and there was never a shortage of riding.

I also spent hours watching one of our mares' foal - Lotna. The foal's sire was a show-jumping stallion and the owner had high hopes for it. I loved watching the filly and made it my project later on to teach her manners. It was when I discovered I absolutely loved working with young horses.
The thing Lotna hated, being a very inquisitive youngster, was to be told to stay in her stable when the door was open. She would barge through it and there was no stopping her.
One summer afternoon I had a play with her. Every time she wanted to come out I would bring her back in and gave her a bit of grass inside the stable. I think it took me a couple of days but when she was 6 months old you could leave her stable open for the whole day and she wouldn't go out until you asked her to.
Lotna's mum - Pika [read: peeka, which is a name for a type of sword]- was a pretty special mare. About 16hh, very temperamental (on the verge of being dangerous), she was an apple in the eye of the stables' head groom. Not many people were allowed to ride Pika. She was used for leading hacks and more advanced lessons mostly because she wasn't an easy horse. She would never done well in any dressage contest as her gaits were all over the place - she had a pacey walk, lateral trot and a very strange canter - when she got excited (about 85% of the time) she would canter with her front legs and trot with her hind legs. When she did canter it was almost always four beat pace unless she was out on a hack having a blast ;)
Where Pika excelled was on the show-jumping ground...I was determined to ride her in our October '95 show but had to wait for Lotna to be weaned and for Pika to get fit.

Meanwhile, in winter 1994, I started teaching...and loved it.
The stables organised something alike 'Own a Pony weeks' throughout summer, spring and winter holidays so we always had masses of kids running about. They usually had two lessons a day, on on the lunge and one in the arena.
The lunge lessons were compulsory as the whole teaching was based on developing independence of the reins and the ability to balance on the horse without hanging onto its mouth.
I only took lunge lessons as wasn't really experienced enough to teach groups in the arena. On an average day I would give 7-10 30 minutes lessons. Multiply this by 14 days and you can imagine that however much I enjoyed teaching I was pretty exhausted and bored with those lunge lessons.
If I do get bored with something I try to spice it up. That is how my lunge lessons became pretty creative and varied and how I discovered how many things you can actually learn through them. I still use them as often as I can and try to always convince riders to have at least a couple a month. They help amazingly with the posture, feel for the horse's movement and the build up of the riders' awareness of their own bodies.

The next year brought even more excitement to my horsey world - I went for my first equestrian training camp and learnt that some horses actually loved jumping as much as I did and acquainted myself with the sport of vaulting...

To be continued...
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