Sometimes I find it amazing when I realise how far Riley and I have improved since moving to the new yard. The plan was originally for us to be on schooling livery until the end of January, although towards the end of each month I can see Riley’s progression, and the need for his education to continue, not to mention how helpful it is for me to have support with my riding. Because of this, I keep on extending the schooling livery arrangement and I must say that I am really happy to have this level of support and progression.
Riley has entered the building
Upon arrival at the new yard, it was straight to business and the following day my instructor Emma lunged Riley, he isn’t the easiest to lunge so was his usual argumentative self and even threw in an excited buck. After spending December in his stable I think he thought he was a retired pony and wanted to announce his disapproval soon after arriving at his new home.
The excitement continued when I first turned him out, he practically ran to the field and I jogged along trying to keep it all together.
Riley regresses in protest
One thing that I hadn’t expected when I moved to the new yard was the loss of Riley’s ground manners. I was used to having a well-behaved horse and this was not what I was getting. This quickly became evident when I went to tack up for to ride him for the first time and he was naughty when I put his bridle on. In that moment it felt as though we had gone back to day one and the work to date had vanished. It got to the point where I didn’t dare put his bridle on outside the stable as he might walk away and head for the nearest bit of green, so instead I put his saddle on outside and moved him inside for the bridle as he had nowhere to escape to.
About a week into life at the new yard, I had a lesson which was brilliant although it made me painfully aware of how rusty I was after such a long time out of the saddle, and it took a period of time just to settle into being on horseback again.
Green shoots of progress
Over the next few weeks, Emma schooled him and started working on canter so that he could begin to understand what the leg aids were and what was being asked of him. I began to notice some green shoots of progress although he didn’t always enjoy the experience and I lost count of how many times he bucked when she was riding him. On one occasion he bucked so many times I was embarrassed and wanted to apologise on his behalf. Luckily, Emma is an experienced rider and none of it phased her.
Weekdays were a mix of Emma riding, long reining, plus a lesson for me. At the weekends I would hack around the beautiful farm ride which forms part of the estate where the stables are based. One afternoon, a few weeks after arriving, I noticed that Riley seemed a little subdued. I tacked him up ready for our lesson and walked him towards the manege. He seemed a little reticent and kept stopping. Since this behaviour wasn’t too unusual for Riley, I carried on walking. I did take a closer look at him and wondered if he was walking strangely although I couldn’t be sure if that was due to the angle I was looking from. I mentioned it to Emma who lunged him to assess the situation and concluded that he was stiff, so back to the stable we went.
The following day Emma lunged him briefly and afterwards I hacked him, which wasn’t problem free as he was a little spooky and jumped out of his skin a couple of times. By day three he was back to form and we had a great lesson over poles.
That cheeky Riley charm returns
Slowly but surely his ground manners returned, the bridle battle diminished and with my confidence slowly returning, I was able to put his bridle on outside the stable again. I began feeling happy that he was behaving once again but hadn’t lost that cheeky Riley charm that I love. As if to prove the point, when I was bending down in his stable, I felt my hat leaving my head only to see it hanging from Riley’s mouth by the bobble.
The dreaded day arrived. And I survived!
Riley’s canter work was also progressing and whilst I was happy about this, I was also growing nervous. Deep down I knew that each day he improved was a day closer to Emma announcing that it was now my turn to canter on Riley. The dreaded day arrived mid-February after Emma had ridden Riley first, and afterwards I hopped on or a brief attempt. It wasn’t at all elegant and I won’t go into detail about the steering (or lack of it), but at least I had done it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps the fact that I survived intact, and the subsequent sense of euphoria overrode my other senses.
To date I have cantered a number of times and with each attempt it has felt a little better, although I am still losing my stirrups, tilting forward and not steering properly so there is much work to be done. Emma has been incredibly supportive and has just made this stage feel as though it is simply getting me back to cantering and not worrying too much about the other stuff which we can work on moving forwards as confidence slowly returns.
Riley and his first attempt at jumping
Riley also had his first jump on the lunge. He took to it so well that I felt ridiculously proud. I imagined that there would be more sessions like that and rather naively, wasn’t getting nervous as to where this might lead to as I thought that any attempts at me jumping him would be in the distant future. Imagine my state of pure dread when Emma announced that I would be jumping Riley tomorrow. I spent the following hours feeling terribly nervous which may have seemed excessive given the size of said jumps, however I managed it and came out of it the other side luckily still on my horse.
Crying in the tack room
One of the biggest surprises during the last couple of months has been my own emotions. Finding myself crying in the tack room and questioning as to whether I am a good enough rider for Riley as it has often felt like he needed someone better than me. These emotions had been a constant in the early days of owning Riley with me regularly wiping away tears. I had learnt that there are highs and lows in the life of an equestrian but as I hadn’t had that feeling in a long time it still came as a big shock.
The last few months have generally been about highs and whilst it has been amazing to see Riley improve the biggest takeaway has been how grateful I am to have him in my life. Deep down I know that together we are a perfect match.