The First Ride Back

Riding Diary – 10/15/21

This week, after about five years out of the saddle, I got back on the horse.

My emotions leading up to the lesson were high. Sometimes, I’d catch myself tearing up imagining what it would be like again. I felt like a kid again, bursting with pure energy.

Other times, I’d desperately wrack my brain for dusty memories. Did I remember how to tack up? What all did I need for a walk to canter transition? Often, I’d have small epiphanies and remember that I do know how to do this. It’s just going to be a matter of unlocking my muscle memories and being open to teaching.

The fateful day comes after an entire week of breathless waiting. Where I am regionally, there was really only one trainer in the area who I thought would match well with me. Being only 15 minutes away was an absolute bonus, as well. When I walked up, I was immediately impressed with how large the barn was, specifically the ventilation horses would get when stalled under a couple Big Ass fans.

I was greeted by the assistant trainer, since the head trainer and owner was at a local show with clients. I was introduced to my mount for the evaluation ride, a senior warmblood named Riley.

My first impressions of Riley were positive. A dark, chocolate coat melts into white legs and a delicate stripe on his face. His topline was nicely sloped and his coat shone with health. He was a bit slow moving, understandable given his age, but his mind was bright and alert. The girth provided some displeasure for him, but nothing that couldn’t be dissuaded.

The trainer took care to show me everything I needed and was expected to do in the facility. The tack room had a color-coded chart outlining which pieces of tack and equipment would suit each horse. My structure-loving heart soared.

It’s the little details that assured me how professional the environment was. Bridles and saddles were hung with labels, stirrups up and throat latches buckled in figure eights. The aisles were free of shavings and the cross-ties were clean. Horses were shiny and healthy.

I was extremely pleased I remembered the small things. Grooming came back naturally. I almost wept. Part of me didn’t want to embarrass myself, but the larger part of me was just so happy to feel the warmth and presence of a horse again.

Improvements & Deficits

Compared to when I rode as a teenager, I think the largest differences were my mental and physical states.

As a teen, I was overall less sure of myself, constantly comparing and rode as if horses were mechanical. Since then, life has improved and matured my mind in ways that directly impact how I think of horses:

  • Bravery isn’t a trait, it’s a choice.
  • Comparison kills joy, but gratitude feeds it.
  • Buying stuff isn’t a substitute for connecting to the experiences I want.

My dressage training was by far the best improvement to my riding. I’m happy to report I retained a great deal of my riding theory, able to answer questions about transitions and respond to the trainer’s notes for improvement. Overall, I was more focused on enjoying the ride than I was with impressing the trainer. Part of this has to do with rewiring my mind to seek wholeness, not perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to do well, because there’s a level of professionalism I think should be brought to riding for the sake of horse. I’m just realizing more and more that perfection isn’t worth what I’ve built it to be. Mentally, it was one of the better rides I’ve had.

Fitness, though? Who’s she?

Ten minutes in, I was huffing and puffing. Riley needed some time to warm up his joints, but I definitely felt I was constantly asking more from him. Horses like this challenge me, because I like to ride delicately and stay out of their way. It’s a difficult balancing act to create and redirect the energy, because any misstep with my seat or hands would squash the energy I was trying to encourage. My legs were noodles after only about a half hour of riding. To his credit, Riley brightened up when we introduced some trot poles and a small crossrail, which gave me hope that a future ride could be a little less laborious.

There’s a mental game within fitness, especially when fatigue sets in. Gulping for breath in the dense, humid air, I wanted to quit. Pushing past uncomfortable physical barriers has never been a strength of mine, so I want to specifically improve there.

In terms of pure physicality, my 9-to-5 desk job has done its damage! I try to take walks during my lunch hour at a local park, but that is really for my joint health by recommendation of my physical therapist husband (PTH). Going forward, I’d like to incorporate some more HIIT to help supplement my sedentary lifestyle.

Speaking of PTH, he saved my legs from crippling soreness. Particularly, the inside of my thighs were heavy and sore for days, made worse by aforementioned desk job. When I asked for suggestions, PTH suggested simple thigh squeeze where I placed a small throw pillow between my legs. The best cure for soreness is using the muscles that hurt, simple as that. This was an exercise I could do while at my desk, so it helped ease my soreness completely in just two days.

This Time + Next Time

This time, it was a great “getting to know you” lesson. I was happy to ride a horse with a mature mind and pleased with the type of instruction I received.

Next time, I want to push myself physically and try to bring out my horse’s high-quality gaits more consistently.

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