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Brave and happy horse rider

A downward spiral

pony and rider
Before the tears
As Riley and I began our first schooling session of the week I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead to.  The answer; a downward spiral which left me haplessly sitting on board in floods of tears with Riley probably feeling rather confused and wondering what we were supposed to be focussing on.

Cantering has been a real stumbling block for me for quite some time. The long journey to regain my confidence hasn’t been easy, particularly since Riley is still learning how to canter and therefore doesn’t offer anything in the way of help.  He certainly isn’t a schoolmaster and this has in many ways helped me in my journey to be a better rider but has also been incredibly challenging.  Riley isn’t always keen to canter and won’t stay in it when he does without encouragement so it was always going to be a tough journey for us both.

I found myself sat in the saddle crying

There have been some occasional glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel which had been a beacon of hope and provided much needed confidence for me. Riley has sometimes cantered when asked and had shown promising signs of improvement.  Recently however, I was starting to lose faith and was struggling to get an acceptable canter transition. In the past couple of weeks, the problem had grown substantially in my mind and I was becoming fearful and scared to ask for canter. Which is how I found myself sat in the saddle crying and wondering what had happened to make it all go so horribly wrong and why our progress was headed in a backwards direction

Those precious few steps certainly made a difference

Life of Riley
Schooling Riley doesn’t always go as planned. This week was very difficult in parts
  After I had pulled myself together and gathered my thoughts, I decided to take the pressure off, leave the canter and just do what Riley and I are both fine with. So, we trotted around for a while.  After I was, to coin Alison Moyet, “all cried out,” I decided to attempt canter again although this time my aim was only for a few steps as it would be a positive way to end the lesson. Those precious few steps certainly made a difference in my mind.

Immense courage

This week, for probably the first time ever, I thought of myself as a brave rider.  It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves, particularly when we view our triumphs as small or even insignificant when compared to what other riders face, however we should always be reminded that whatever we do that we are fearful of, requires immense courage and is most certainly brave.

A buckle end ride

The following day, buoyed by my newly found courage and determination, I planned for Riley and I to go for a hack off the yard by ourselves for the very first time, albeit for just a short distance.  We set off along the gravel driveway towards the electric gate which marks the end of the farm estate. As we walked along the drive, we encountered an opening in the hedgerow which marks the point where we would normally join the farm ride, which is a brilliant feature of the yard where we are based. Riley, who was walking in a relaxed manner on a long rein, decided that this was to be his favoured route and headed left, off the driveway, through the gap in the hedgerow and onto the farm ride. As I was turning him back around, a man with four loose dogs came walking along the driveway towards us. Rather than getting tangled in that scenario, I decided to hack the farm ride instead.  As it is always a buckle end ride, I loosened the reins and headed off for a relaxing hack.

I could feel his panic as he surveyed the situation

Brave and happy horse rider
Feeling brave and happy after the hack
In the distance I could see cars driving away from a field on the estate which is home to a paintball business and I hoped that by the time we reached that part of our ride, they would all be gone and we wouldn’t have to negotiate any vehicles. This should have been the least of my worries, as by the time we reached that part of the ride, all of the moving vehicles had left. Instead, there were only parked ones, although significantly more than usual, and in places where Riley wasn’t used to seeing them. To add to the scenario, there were lots of people gathered around the vehicles and this was certainly something new for Riley to deal with.

Riley’s head went high into the air and I could feel his panic as he surveyed the situation and tried to turn and run away.  I debated whether or not to get off and walk him in hand, as that would have been my usual reactive coping mechanism. This time however, I stayed on board and took hold of the reins, holding Riley back and guiding him past the cars and the mob of paintballers, whilst all the time patting and talking reassuringly to him.

Who knows what we are capable of?

As this was proving to be a quite a spectacle for the crowd of onlookers, I mentioned to one of men standing closest that you never know what horses are going to be scared of and it is quite often what you least expect.  He observed that Riley hadn’t seemed troubled by any of the cars, but just the people. Once normality had resumed and we were back to the buckle end ride, I chuckled to myself. Partly as I had thought that by not going off the yard initially, I had missed the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone, and also partly because in the past, I would have looked at the person riding a spooking horse with admiration and thinking I couldn’t have coped with that situation.  Little did I think I would ever be that person riding confidently under pressure. Who knows what we are capable of?

If you enjoyed reading this, you can catch up on all of the earlier instalments of the life of Riley here
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Sharon Howe

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