Monday, 3 March 2008

My Life with Horses - How did I go from a city child to a riding instructor - Episode 5

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4

Episode 5 - which sees me in the year 1995 and beginning of 1996: the time when I met my first trainer, went to my first training holiday, had my first success in show jumping competition and first taste of the Real thing...

Although my main interest when it came to horses had been show-jumping I also enjoyed all sorts of other equestrian sports and had special fondness for vaulting. It always seemed incredible to me how amazingly coordinated you have to be to perform all the intricate exercises on a cantering horse. When a few friends and I got together and decided to go for a training holiday we went for one which
offered a comprehensive programme and vaulting was a firm element of it!

The camp was fantastic - we lived, breathed and dreamt horses 24/7. We were allowed to do basically anything. I remember one night we went to sleep in a straw/hay barn next to the stables. It was pitch dark as the barn had no electricity in and we spent the night telling scary stories to each other and freaking ourselves to the point when we just run out of the barn, into the night and back into our chalets screaming our heads off ;) I don't think the horses appreciated that but I still remember some of those stories!

The camp lasted three weeks and we rode three times a day on weekdays and twice at the weekends (as then we went for several hours long trail rides). Trainings run early morning, afternoon and evening. One of the lessons was always jumping, one hacking out and one flatwork or various other things including introductory vaulting sessions :)
The latter was great fun. I have had since tried to acquire vaulting belt/leather blanket alike one on the pictures below and use it for teaching but the cost is prohibitive.

On the picture above where I am hanging from the horse you had to dismount via a somersault. You held the special handles, lowered yourself so your legs were above your head and then you just flipped yourself over as if doing a somersault. Of course you had to let go of the handles in the right moment :)

In the end of each week we had an in-house show: something which incorporated everything we learnt during the week. One of the classes for instance required you to design and make your own costumes, dress up, create your own little flatwork show and then jump a course of fences (nothing more than 3ft3). You got points for making your show more difficult so we incorporated riding facing the rear and "round the world" in trot with no one holding the horse...I actually do have a picture of me doing this but I thought it might be a bit too much for today's health & safety ;) However, if I don't get too much horrified feedback I will add it up on here.

My riding improved incredibly over this holiday and I am since a big fan of intensive training weeks. I especially enjoyed jumping a different horse every day. They all actually loved it so it was a very nice change after Iskra!
However, on the last day of the camp something happened that actually secretly started to significantly change my life with horses and who I was to grow into...
The last day was to be a treat to us all and we were going for a several hours ride over a very varied countryside and the nature of those rides can be compared to hunting in the UK. It was fast with lots of various obstacles, gates, dunes, woodland and fields on the way.

On the morning of the ride I was grooming my mount for the day, a grey mare called Pretoria. She was very stubborn and didn't want to give me her front leg so I could pick her foot out. It started to take way too long and as we all needed to be ready 9.00 pronto I was getting really worried. Finally I figured that I could slap her stronger just under her knee on the inside which would trigger the reflex alike in a human and she would quickly lift her leg giving me a chance to grab it. I also figuered that I could stick the hoof pick under her foot to get her to react - what a fool!
Leaving it dirty wasn't an option as I wouldn't be allowed to join the ride.
I started with a gentle pat below her knee and a jab with a hoof pick, nothing. A bit stronger, and wow! She did indeed bend her leg but did it in such a way that she kicked me straight into my own knee sending me flying across the barn - literally a few good meters away.
That was pretty painful. If you ever broke something and you know the feeling of a sort of pain that leaves you blind and feeling sick then you will know what I mean. I could not breathe and could not move for some time. I have no idea how long it lasted but slowly the pain decreased and I stayed sitting on the ground with my knee hard pressed in between my hands as if I wanted to hold everything together.
The next thing I remember was my instructor coming to check on me and enquire why was I taking so long and to tell me everybody was waiting for me. I told him what happened and he asked me whether I could bend and unbend my knee. I stood up to test it and yes, I could do that.
He asked me whether I could walk and I tried. Surprisingly the pain kept decreasing to the point it was bearable. I could walk knee felt very, very weird. Very loose and sort of wobbly as if I had a bag of pudding inside it.
I told him I was fine.

Pretoria stood like a lamb as if nothing what happened had anything to do with her. She didn't even flick an ear when I climbed on (thankfully my injured knee was the right one so I could still get on). I couldn't do rising trot as my knee didn't seem to be able to take any weight so I spent entire trot moments in sitting trot. We cantered a lot anyway and Pretoria had the most armchair sort of canter that I didn't complain.
After 4 or so hours we returned and I wondered whether I would be able to get off. Throughout the ride I was telling myself that everything was all right and I would just get off and be fine. I wasn't.
I did get off, untack the mare and went to pack my bags. By the evening where all the parents arrived to pick us up my knee was three times the size, filled with fluid and I had a fever.

We arrived home late at night and my father, who had a couple of knee operations, put loads of ice on it and bandaged it for the night.
First thing in the morning we set off to the hospital and left with my leg in plaster for 2 weeks with suspected ligament strain. I also experienced one of the scariest moment when my orthopedist stuck a needle long enough to go through your leg and come out the other way into my knee to remove the fluid. That wasn't very nice to say the least.
Throughout this whole ordeal I had only one thing in mind: when will I be able to ride again!!
They said I would be ok in a couple of weeks. If only...

For the time being though, I was indeed fine. The plaster went off and I was riding the next day. My knee didn't feel quite right but I was in denial and pretended all was just great. It sort of was, at least for some next two years.

In autumn 1995 I finally got to ride Pika. Her foal was weaned and she was slowly put back into work. The October show came and we got placed in a 1m class. I still have a rosette from that day somewhere:) We came third or fourth, don't remember and couldn't care less about the placing. I was just elated to be able to ride a full course without embarrassing elimination!

I got her on a month loan after that show and it was my first taste of real horse ownership.

Some time later that year the owner of the stables arranged for a meeting with me and my friend and our parents. She announced that her daughter would be starting a professional jumping training with one of the best riders/trainers in the country and whether we would like to join...Sure we did. It involved not only training at the stables but also weekly lessons at the trainer's then base: The Boguslawice Stud.
When I heard who was going to train us I almost fell off the chair. To give you an idea who he was in Poland: imagine you are 16 years old, you love show-jumping and want to be a professional rider. Someone calls you and tells you that you have just been offered training with John and Michael Whitaker, they will come to your yard to teach you as well as you will be invited to their yards to ride their horses and learn to jump higher, more difficult tracks.
Well, I hope you are with me here.
I was to train with Grzegorz Kubiak - the best show-jumper in Poland, both then and now (currently based with Sobieski Jumping Team).

To be continued...


Rising Rainbow said...

That stuff they do in vaulting, I wouldn't be able to do on the ground. lol

You were a wild child. I am amazed you survived. lol

Unknown said...

Haha, lovely wild days! I doubt I would be able to this again now though :)

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